TV Timecard and Sound Report Writer apps

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wires Are For The Birds

Wireless audio is one of the many necessities in reality television.  A typical setup will include multiple wireless lavs for talent as well as wireless camera hops for the cameras, as well as some IFB feeds for producers to listen in on the action.  And choosing exactly the right tool for the job isn't always the simplest task either.  It's easy to go with what you're comfortable with, and typically that's not a bad idea, especially if it's top of the line gear.  Though over the past couple years or so I've seen a lot of different wireless options, transmitters and receivers alike, that have really opened my eyes to what can be done with wireless audio.  I own and use several different brands for my wireless needs.  As the Sound Supervisor on my current show, I had the opportunity to snag some of Zaxcom's RX900 Stereo Receivers for our shoot...5 of them.  When paired with their sister stereo transmitters, the TX900 (x2), beautiful things can happen.

 Five Panasonic HDX900s geared up with Zaxcom RX900 Stereo Receivers
There are several things I like about these products, with only a couple minor setbacks.  Holding the lion's share of the market, Lectrosonics' products are my standard to judge other wireless transmitters and receivers on, in terms of product quality, fidelity, wireless capabilities, and user friendliness.  Zaxcom has done a really good job with this line of camera hops.  First off, to get two channels of audio to the camera, there's only one transmitter, one receiver, and one frequency.  This makes it super easy, and more importantly super light, to carry and maintain the units.  The frequency scan functions a little differently than the Lectro 400 series in that the RX900 automatically selects a frequency rather than you choosing your own based on the graphical layout of all 256 channels.  Plus, you save a little time by only coordinating one frequency rather than two.  Having said that, the Zaxcom stereo signal eats up about 5 times the bandwidth of a single Lectrosonics channel (a little tidbit I learned firsthand from Jay Gerber, the Super Bowl Frequency Coordinator).  So the whole "one frequency" thing can be a little deceiving, especially if you're in a tight RF space.  Even though Lectro has their dual-channel SR units, you have to run them on two different frequencies.  So while the math favors Lectrosonics's technology, most applications will allow for the extra bandwidth.  Having only one unit with one frequency also makes for quick adjustments on the fly, which with two bags on our current show, can come in handy if the director wants to split a camera off to a different destination or changes the coverage dramatically.  With the RX900, we can just dial in the frequency with just the touch of a few buttons and be back up and running.  I also like how the buttons are designed on the RX900 over the SR.  They are raised, just like on a 411, which makes it easy to navigate the menu with just one hand.  I've found that with the SR's recessed button design, you have to apply a little counter force to have it recognize a depression.  When it's on a camera operator's shoulder and you're running around, that's something to consider.  And speaking of camera operators, I had 5 immediate friends when they walked in on Day One and saw that just the one unit on the back of their cameras.  Not having two 411s extended off the back or in a straddle bag makes their life easier, which makes me look like the good guy.  The biggest design flaw is the battery door on the receiver.  In order to keep it closed, you have to either have it filled with 4 AA batteries or tape it shut.  This was the same with the older, black version as well.  Even though the SR can fit in the slot of the HDX900, you still have to have the TA5 option since most HDX900s are upgraded to have the second channel activated in the slot.

I actually already own an older Zaxcom Stereo ENG set on Block 28 (shhh, don't tell), and I've found these newer ones have a few useful added features.  The transmitter is technically a transceiver, and can record the transmitted audio in its native .ZAX file format, which proves more useful when used as talent transmitters than camera hops since you're already recording a multi-track for the primary audio.  Rather than a separate transmitter for mono and stereo transmission, you just add on a stereo adapter to the mono transmitter, either the STA100 or STA150, to send a stereo signal.  I was kinda surprised at the robust connection of the adapter.  With just two small screws, it's an extremely rigid device.  The new transmitter adds numerous features over the older style.  Most notable was the lack of a need for an external filter antenna.  All the bugs seemed to have finally been worked out.  I like the fact that the input to the transmitter is a single TA5 connection, as opposed to the older version that was two mini-Lemo connectors.  There are fewer possibilities for failure with the current connections, which is extremely important in our line of work.  It also has the ability to receive timecode and a return feed from the camera with the correct compatible equipment.  All of this in a 100% digital transmission and you got yourself a winner.  At least for this job.

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