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Education on Technology
Have you heard about Soundplan yet?
Our industry is constantly changing - that's one of the things we love about it! We also love helping our clients thoughtfully consider how their presence will affect their communities, especially when their facility is in a residential area. We recently caught up with Tom Donohue, Clark Project Consultant, and George Clark, Principal and Co-Founder, to hear about a software we've begun to use that is truly a game changer. Get all the details in the interview below.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Tell us about the new software and why Clark is so excited about it.
GEORGE: Many modern churches - with modern audio systems - are building facilities in residential areas these days. They want to be close so that it's convenient for people to attend and get involved, but with that comes a responsibility. The audio systems generate incredibly low frequencies and, unless you pay special attention to the construction, the building is very transparent at those frequencies. That's why we started looking at tools that would help us estimate and design so these churches know how they're going to affect their neighbors when they're developing their property.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What's the software called and how does it work?
TOM: It's called SoundPLAN. It's basically for mapping sound transmission (noise pollution) through a building and across a site plan. We can import the site plan we get from a civil engineer on a project into the software and, with a little guidance, the software will import all of the topography, any changes in elevation, trees, ground cover, barrier walls, bumps, etc. We can factor everything in that makes up the site, as well as any other neighboring buildings. On top of that, we can input a building, whether it's new or existing construction, and, within that, define where the sources are and what the walls are made of. We can then map out the audio levels across the site and into any neighboring residential areas. Using the computer calculations, we can do a whole map and really see where the problems are. It factors in other things that would be impossible to calculate by hand, like how much sound sneaks through if you're in the second row of houses, for example. (See screen shots.)
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Are we using the software with any current clients?
GEORGE: Yes, we are working with several clients to make sure they meet their individual church's noise requirements and expectations.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Why is this so important?
GEORGE: Low frequencies can transmit hundreds and hundreds of feet away and be a nuisance to people. At 6am, on a Sunday morning, when soundcheck starts, you don’t want to bother your neighbors. I can't think of anything that would be more disrespectful.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: At what point in the project do you apply the software?
GEORGE: In the real estate phase. There should at least be some type of introductory study done before a site plan is developed. It could determine how you orient your building, putting it on one side vs. the other. (The wrong location can literally drive construction costs up by several hundreds of thousands of dollars.) All those kinds of questions can be answered with this tool and others like it. You can make more informed decisions that allow you to be a good neighbor and spend less money.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: How did Clark come to use this software?
TOM: The software was originally used to study airport flight paths, highway noise, train noise and wind farms, but it can also be customized for our clients. Sound is sound.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Are there other applications for this tool in our industry?
GEORGE: Yes, d&b (d&b audiotechnik), the loudspeaker manufacturer, is incorporating a limited version of SoundPLAN into their ArrayCalc software.
TOM: They're using the software for speakers that are outside - for outdoor concerts and other outdoor events.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: How does the software work with all of the other tools used by Clark?
TOM: It goes well with the simulation we've always done with internal acoustics. Now we can simulate how the sound leaves the building and affects the site and areas around the site as well.
RE LED HOUSE LIGHTS A GOOD CHOICE FOR YOU?
If it's been a while since you looked into buying LED house lights, you might want to look again. A lot has changed in the past few years. We caught up with Clark's Creative Director, Paul Green, to talk about the improvements in the technology and why you might want to consider LED house lights for your project.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Paul, tell us a little about the history of LED house lights.
PAUL: LEDs have been around a while. White LEDs were being developed in the 60’s, but their color and brightness weren’t anything you’d want to light a room with. So until recently, the best choice for house lighting was typically a tungsten based, dimmable fixture because they looked and performed so well.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What caused the shift?
PAUL: Like any technology, LEDs are constantly changing and improving. We now have some amazing fixtures that can produce a warm, natural white light very close to what we’re used to seeing from traditional house lights. As manufacturers are finding better ways to produce LEDs, they’re also becoming more affordable every year.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What makes LED house lights a good choice for our ministry partners?
PAUL: There are a few benefits to LED lighting. The first is power consumption. A traditional fixture might produce 10¬15 lumens of light output per watt of power, while some LED fixtures can produce upwards of 70 lumens per watt. This means you could get the same amount of light for 1/6th the power.
LEDs also produce less heat than their tungsten counterparts. Less heat will lighten the load on your A/C system.
One huge creative advantage to LED is the option to install color changing fixtures. The house lights not only provide a bright warm white during a sermon, but smoothly transition to deep reds and blues for a worship set. House lights are now a huge creative tool during a service, extending a beautiful lighting look from the stage around the audience. It’s a great way to take spectators across the room and immerse them in a moment together.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: How about the financial investment?
PAUL: LED fixtures are still more expensive than a traditional house light, but you’ll see a remarkable savings in your operations budget. Less power and heat mean significantly lower energy bills each month. In new construction projects, we don’t have to buy as large of an HVAC system for the space. LEDs also dim themselves internally, meaning you don’t need to purchase a closet of dimmers to power everything.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What if someone asks, "How do I know it's not going to feel clinical and cold?"
PAUL: That’s a great question! We’ve all had the experience of walking into a room where everything feels sterile and lifeless because of poor lighting. There are definitely bad lights out there. That’s why we test fixtures in-house, putting them under a color meter, watching them dim and subjectively evaluating how they look to our eyes. We won’t recommend anything unless it looks warm and natural.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What are some of the things you look for when evaluating LED house lights?
PAUL: Smooth dimming from zero percent to full. We’ve run into many architectural grade LEDs that will only dim to 5%, or even 10%, and then cut off. This doesn’t work when you’re trying to make smooth transitions in a service. Color quality is the other thing we look for. Different LEDs use different methods to produce white. Some feel natural, while others just look strange. We look for fixtures that look as close to a traditional light as possible.
is 4k in your future?
We've had recurring conversations lately - with a variety of clients - all centered around 4K broadcast technology. It's only natural. After all, it's now readily available to the consumer market at affordable prices. Walk into any Best Buy and the back wall is covered with 4K television screens. You'd be hard pressed to find an HDTV anymore. So what's all the fuss about? And is 4K technology something you should consider for your church? We sat down with our Co-Founder, George Clark, and Broadcast Systems Design Consultant, Bob Nahrstadt, to get the answer to these and other burning questions.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What exactly is 4K video technology today?
GEORGE: Basically, a 4K signal stream uses four SDI signals to make one picture.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: How does that differ from Standard HD?
GEORGE: Really the only difference today is resolution - a higher number of pixels results in a greater definition of the picture. The standard format for HD is 1920 X 1080p (pixels), while the current resolution in 4K broadcast technology is 3840 X 2160p.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Is there any 4K technology being used by churches today?
BOB: There are cameras readily available and affordable that do 4K recording. Many of our clients use 4K cameras for pre-production videos.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What is the biggest challenge in using 4K broadcast technology today?
BOB: Transmission. It requires a completely different kind of infrastructure. Currently, it's not possible to get the signal from point A to point B in a reliable and efficient manner. 4K pictures generate so much more data than Standard HD. The wires we've used for the past 20 years in broadcasting can't carry that much data. The current approach to solving this problem, using 4 HDL-SDI wires, is cumbersome and unsustainable.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What do you tell a client who's interested in making the move to 4K?
GEORGE: Wait. Or at least be very selective about its application.
BOB: We've talked with a couple of churches about considering 4K for their large center screen virtual teaching application (where there's one camera) and being able to route that with one camera. Right now it's a buyer beware situation; the technology is rapidly changing and we don't have standards yet for broadcasting. It won't be long though.
GEORGE: It looks like everything will be resolved in the next two years.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: Two years?
BOB: Yes, we think that at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), 2018, we will see standardized 4K distribution on Ethernet. And the best part is that our manufacturers have told us that the equipment will be readily available and the prices will be reasonable.
CLARK NEWSLETTER: What does the future look like for 4K video technology?
BOB: Hardware manufacturers are working on standardizing the use of Ethernet cable and IP signal protocols to get the 4K signal onto one wire. Once that happens, they'll start to introduce other things that will differentiate 4K even more from Standard HD. For example, the 4K signals will be able to have more information so they'll have greater dynamic range (the difference between the whitest white and the blackest black). We'll also be able to increase the frequency from 60 frames per second to 120 frames.
But there's more...at NAB this year, Hitachi was demonstrating an 8K camera. Needless to say, there are exciting times ahead in video technology! Rest assured that in the midst of the constant changes in technology and culture, Clark will continue to partner with our clients to help them effectively communicate with their audience.
Multisite Streaming Solutions
When designing a multisite campus, it's important to understand the streaming options available. There are subtle variations between each solution, but usually there is one that makes the most sense for an application - both practically and financially. We talked with our company's Co-Founder and Principal, George Clark, to get his take on the streaming options used by Clark.
Sneakernet/FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Site Distribution
The least expensive option, Sneakernet gets its name because a person has to physically walk the hard drive to another location. George says, "It may be old-school, but it's old-school in a good way. It's very reliable and very high quality. It's just time delayed - either by a day or a week." With FTP, a church loads a file onto an FTP site and people can then download the content at any time.
CDN (Content Distribution Network)
Another option is to use a cloud based system to stream content up to a CDN. The CDN handles all of the transcoding and then the other remote sites connect to the CDN, using a player to play back the file. "Our experience with the CDN is that it is slightly more limited on the amount of bandwidth available for a video signal. They usually max out around 6 megabits, per second, per video stream," says George. While this solution doesn't provide the highest video quality, we still believe it is a good option.
Metro E (Ethernet) Connection
This solution uses a large private network, which can be set up through the church's telco provider. This virtual, private network allows the church to transmit data between sites and is an especially good option if the campuses are all in a large metro area. If you want to use higher bandwidth HD, this streaming level works great. It provides a 10 megabit signal.
LTN GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS
LTN streaming uses the public internet. George explains: "An appliance is put on each side of what I call an on ramp - onto the LTN private network, where an appliance sits on your network (think along the lines of a business class cable modem) and one of their appliances sits on the other end, metering and correcting, before sending the content over the public internet onto their network, where it can then be distributed to anywhere in the world." A distribution can be sent to a satellite uplink facility, a CDN or to another LTN box. One of the benefits of using an LTN is that it is so scalable. George adds, "The interesting thing about LTN networks is that we can multiplex multiple channels of video and audio into that same packet. It's a very elegant way to transmit audio and video. And we've found that it's very reliable." The cost is similar to the Metro E streaming option, but allows churches with campuses in different states and/or regions to distribute data in real time.
Direct fiber connection between sites - In this case, there is literally a piece of dark fiber between each one of the campuses. This option provides the best picture quality available via streaming and works well for clients wanting to go with uncompressed HD. The downside is that it’s the most expensive solution.
While the levels of streaming vary greatly in price and functionality, George is quick to point out: "There's no right or wrong solution. It's up to the client to determine what they're satisfied with. I tell people it's all in the eyes of the beholder. We just want to help them understand the differences in streaming options."
5 Tips FOR a Successful PA
We recently sat down with Co-Founder George Clark and Sr. Design Engineer Ed Crippen to discuss some of the key things they keep in mind when designing a PA for a client. Below they share their top five considerations.
When designing your system, you need to give special attention to the way it will be timed together. This is critical to having a linear frequency response. Time can be your friend or your enemy. If you don’t think about aligning things in physical space correctly, you can’t use time to your advantage. There has to be a purpose and a role for where the system components are placed in the space. Our systems sound “different” because we think through the “time” side of things. We choose families of loud speakers that complement each other and have the same sonic signature. The coverage has to be correct from front to back and left to right. We want every seat to be intelligible, providing a great listening experience. There are no cheap seats; every seat should be viewed as a good seat, with excellent audio coverage. Finally, when it comes to the install, prepare your organization. They need to understand that this is not a load in and load out, one or two day event. The choices you make now usually last seven to ten years, so it's important to get it right!
There are several things to consider when choosing speakers, including the shape of the room and the sonic signature you want in your space. There is a different experience mixing on a Line Array versus mixing on a Point Source. Neither is right or wrong. Decide what you like to mix on, and we'll help you find the right system. Also, keep in mind that the best fit may actually be a combination of Point Source and Line Array Speakers. Many companies will only give you the option of doing one or the other, but we often use a hybrid of the two. This could be a better fit for you and your room as well.
There needs to be enough space in the infrastructure of your room and facility to support future needs. In other words, don’t think small! It's important to make sure your infrastructure, power and conduit are sized appropriately so that you can change out or add to your system as technology evolves.
How many times have you gone into a room where a projector was blocking speakers or speakers were shadowing the screen or interfering with lighting? It's essential to respect all of the arts being used within an auditorium. Part of our job is to help bridle them together and keep each system from interfering with another. All systems are equally important. Making sure each is integrated with the others correctly prevents a battle over which area of production is perceived most critical.
Having a full range, balanced electro/acoustical audio system should be at least 50% of your acoustical consideration. Putting acoustical panels on the wall is not the right application for every room. Absorption materials have to be carefully selected so that you are not absorbing the wrong frequencies. Frequency specific absorption ensures that you are only absorbing the desired frequencies. Keep this in mind: without the acoustics being considered correct in the room, you have a very slim chance of producing great audio.