Few projects have more challenges and rewards than recreating your workflow environment. Building a finely tuned system with the latest in technology and products can save operational time and dramatically increase the quality of your work. This article may help you understand the strategies for planning your upgrade or a new build for a professional audio or video creative work environment.
Many of the best integration practices are well documented by engineering groups, while some techniques can only be learned though experience. When contemporary integration and design methods started in the 1970’s, “digital” was a technology well off into the future. Despite radical changes in products in recent years, the basic game plan for building systems remain unchanged with a few exceptions.
Let’s cover a basic game plan as our compass and with some hard work and a little luck we can mange our budget and deliver a working system on time.
System integration value points:
- Design and document for future flexibility
- Quality pays for itself
- Value = functionality & reliability
- Stay focused and think “system” based functionality
- Avoid unproven products and technologies (if you can)
- Define Your Success Metrics
- Have a tested backup/recovery plan for custom presets and programming
- Make operation as simple as possible
- Align your budget with productivity and ROI
- Consider operating expenses compared to capital expenses
- Choose the right people
Design For Flexibility
The chart below illustrates the rapid rate of change with the popular broadcast formats over the recent years. For much of the past 50 years, broadcast systems have remained relatively unchanged. Then, with digital technology and exponential growth in audio and video data rates everything starting changing rapidly. This required production facilities to upgrade their systems to keep pace with content demands and client expectations at an increasingly frequent rate.
If you plan on staying in the same facility for multiple generations of upgrades, invest in cabling tracks and raceways that can be reused and handle bandwidth upgrades. Avoid congestion and cable paths that are sealed or inaccessible for future upgrades. Cables used to be reusable, however as data rates double every few years there’s a strong likelihood that nothing you install today will be usable for your next upgrade. Fiber is a possible exception and should be considered for more expensive longer distance infrastructure.
Quality Pays for Itself
Whether you have an enterprise class environment or a one man shop, doing it right the first time always pays for itself in the long run. And since most people have budgets and limitations, there are some tricks to getting the best value from your efforts.
Stay focused, beware shiny objects! Is your goal to take an existing process and improve the output quantity or quality? Is minimizing human effort important? Does it need to scale easily for growth? Defining your goals before you start will save you from being distracted by the next “new thing” effect. A piece of equipment at 50% off is only a great value if it fits into your system and reliably helps you achieve your goals. If you are distracted by added features and demands for the system, step back and take a deep breath.
Most requested features fall into one of a few general categories: (examples)
- Creative (editorial, effects, review and approval)
- Media management (collaboration, delivery, 3rd party access)
- Processing (encoding, automation, quality analysis)
If you plan your core system capabilities well, you’ll be on solid ground as demands for the system change and grow with time. Don’t be fooled into “bargain hunting” or cobbling a system together, you may be saving dollars but reducing your system compatibility or functionality. Define your core system and metrics, then look for value in each component.
New, But Not Beta
As an investment, buying the latest generation is the best way to insure a long life cycle for your purchase. If you’re building a system, the safest way to integrate is to include equipment of the current generation, but not version 1.0 (if possible). Many upgrade projects stop dead in their tracks waiting for just one component to get a stable software release or a firmware patch. An example would be choosing a file format that has great advantages but is too new to know if it will be widely supported before the next generation replaces it. The best option would be to build around proven standards and design a way to migrate to newer formats into your system. Most high performance systems do a proof of performance test on a backup system. If you can’t afford the time or added expense of this approach, stick to proven products and software releases.
Bringing Together Different Technologies and Manufacturers
One of the most difficult and time consuming tasks for designing, building, and completing a project can be “big-picture” issues of dealing with many different types of equipment and corresponding with many manufacturers who may be involved with the project. This is where a one-source integrator like EAR can save you considerable time and money by handling all the necessary communication with various vendors and most importantly, be responsible for ensuring proper operation between many different types of equipment. We can provide project management and will help make sure your budget, time frame, technical issues, and final completion is handled properly by our experienced staff.
Building and designing integrated systems for content creation can be exciting and at the same time a highly profitable investment for media related companies. EAR is the Southwest’s largest provider of broadcast and content creation systems, we’d welcome the opportunity to help you design and build your new system to a successful completion. We can get started today!
part 2 of 2 – Deployment, Return on investment, the People and more!