Sight & Sound Theatres communicate with Pliant
USA: With locations in Lancaster County, PA and Branson, MO, Sight & Sound Theatres is the largest faith-based live theatre company in the United States. The current Sight & Sound theatre in Lancaster County went up in 1998 after a fire destroyed the Sight & Sound Entertainment Centre on the same site. ‘The theatre is a large complex with a little more than 2,000 seats and a panoramic 90m stage that wraps around the audience,’ elaborates Warren Keeney, electronics/animatronics designer, Sight & Sound Lancaster.
Communication is key for theatre technical teams; over time, Sight & Sound had begun struggling with an existing intercom system. ‘The old centre started with UHF wireless communication,’ Mr Keeney explains. ‘But as we grew, adding equipment from various manufacturers, eventually we couldn’t keep it all working. Also, these days, available bandwidth is shrinking. Given that we also run about 60 wireless microphones besides the intercom systems, we compete with audio to manage bandwidth and fit all the wireless systems into a smaller (RF) space.’ The solution for Sight & Sound, supplied by Dale Pro Audio, was the installation of a Pliant Tempest900 wireless intercom system.
Sight & Sound addressed its need for a high user count and system flexibility by installing three Tempest900 BaseStations and 32 BeltStations operating license-free in the 900MHz band, where the system’s longer wavelengths can transmit through structural objects. ‘The people who use the comms stay in the same general area much of the time,’ says Mr Keeney. ‘And other digital systems we tried gave us poor results. We had trouble handling the number of users and having sufficient bandwidth in that common area. Only Tempest900 stepped up with full coverage and quantity of packs. Now three BaseStations cover the whole facility and easily integrate with our existing wired system. Our remote transceivers are over the stage, yet the system works in the basement and in third-floor offices with no problem.’
Tempest intercom systems employ Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) Technology (in which frequency changes between a predetermined set of frequencies 200 times per second), which allow it to coexist with other nearby wireless systems. Depending on the mode of operation, a Tempest900 system can have as many as five BaseStations supporting from 25 full-function BeltStations.
‘Right now we have 32 Tempest900 BeltStations,’ says Mr Keeney. ‘A few are spares and packs for people here on different days, but the majority are used on most days. Even with the additional packs we don’t worry about interference or people talking over one another. If the BeltStations need to be reconfigured to receive different channels on the fly, it’s easily done.’
Gary Rosen, global sales manager of Pliant Technologies, creators of the Tempest wireless intercom systems, shares further details: ‘The 32 users all are accommodated by using Tempest’s Shared Mode. Tempest offers three software-selectable modes. Normal Mode can run five BeltStations with all features with one BaseStation. Split Mode allows for four BeltStations with access to all features, plus a single channel with unlimited BeltStations listening to one person talking at any time. Shared Mode, the most appropriate for Sight & Sound Lancaster, allows any BeltStation user to listen to any of the four channels, and as many as five BeltStation users on each BaseStation to talk at a given time. Thus the system can support a complex audio communications environment at a low cost per user. Sight & Sound Lancaster has three Tempest BaseStations, but could easily run all 32 BeltStations from a single BaseStation. Adding more BaseStations opened more flexibility in the number of intercom channels available for the users.’
‘Obviously wireless communication is the key to our doing what we do,’ Keeney concludes. ‘Tempest900 is the venue coverage we need – it allows for all the additional packs, and we don’t fear anyone talking over anyone else. If someone needs to change a position, or does something out of the ordinary, no worries about what pack they have – anyone can communicate with anyone, and that’s probably the main advantage of the digital system over analogue. It’s a good, clear, solid communications.’