Widgets Magazine

It's Not Just for Breakfast Anymore!

Fiber Optics and the coming revolution in Live Events signal distribution.
When you mention the word fiber to most event staging folks it is likely that the reaction will be a commiserating hand on the shoulder and a comment that their doctor said the same thing to them followed by an invitation to compare medications prescribed as well.  In truth for most of us employed in the collection of industries I like to call the Live Life any practical experience with fiber optics is usually limited to having one of those color changing tubes shaped like a Christmas tree.  Oooooh pretty! There is a good reason the industry has paid very little mind to the coming revolution in topology- we need to be confident in the pathways and conduit which we send video and audio down.  We cannot ask of a do-over when things go amiss, its live People!
Because of the nature of these live events the staging industry is resistant to and even suspicious of changes to the main backbones infrastructure.  One only has to take a look at how long it took DMX to truly take hold and the rather limp implementation of the ACN protocol, which has many called for applications and improvements yet still is relatively unknown.  One only has to look at how few shops implement Ethernet control on their devices to understand the situation. Don’t get me started in how bumpy the early days of wireless mics were!  Beyond the confidence factor and mantra that you are only as good as your last show – heck these days you are only as good as your last CUE!- there is often a good deal of information and skills ramp up required.

I spent ten years away from the event staging world earning my living in the cushy upholstered rooms of an AV manufacturer- helping folks get their residential and corporate boardrooms systems designed and tech supported.  These types of projects always involved some cutting edge product, technique or interface but alas, fiber was almost never used – unless it was as a run to the pool house from the main living area to prevent damage from a lighting strike. When I reentered the world of live events the first few months were like looking at the fishbowl from within. So much had remained the same with the switchers,   miles and miles of Copper and DVI connectors!  A DVI connector would have caused a near riot if spotted being installed to a home or boardroom – how quaint! But the changes were almost too daunting to consider with full blown media servers which have built in tools for projection geometry/ image masking, HD-SD everywhere and Fiber by the reel stacked on tall shelving units with bins of SC and LC connectors.  I would be lying if I did not feel just a bit intimidated by it.
Fiber is just too much to learn and the terminations are so finicky as to require special epoxies and clean suits in special rooms like those you see in Intel commercials, certainly not a field termination system! I mean, really the price alone is prohibitive enough to restrict its use to esoteric shows or the ‘Big Boys’ only.  Well Buck-O’ I am here to tell you in the simple words of Col. Sherman T. Potter – Horse Hockey! Well, mostly. The Truth is that Fiber is not nearly as delicate anymore and new termination tools make the job easily mastered by anyone who has terminated BNC connections.  Tactical fiber and connectors make the topology as rugged if not more than its copper compatriots – Heck the military uses this stuff in the field nowadays. The issue of cost is where the ‘Well, mostly” part comes in but it might not be on the scales of differential you have pictured in your head.
On Episode Seven of AVNation.TV’s Live Life Podcast we tackle this emerging and growing use of Fiber on Live Shows.  We dig deep into the topic with experts Barry Grossman of WorldStage Inc and Bill Brady of Alford Media. We learn the basics of fiber, pitfalls to avoid and the practical knowledge to begin your conversion from copper. Fiber has solutions for event companies of all sizes and we ask- when will your shop be next? Join us for an entertaining and informative hour of all things fiber – I promise it will wake you up!

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