The Future is SMART

The Future is SMART

Suddenly, the matter of audio has raised its head again! Following Eric Thorn’s report on electronic digital screens versus traditional projectors and fabric screens, some of our supportive MEN readers provided some welcome and well valued feedback.

They quite rightly suggested that it is all very well debating what people may watch, but what about those who would also like to hear. So, it seemed appropriate to ask Eric Thorn to share his general thoughts on this essential topic.

Bearing in mind that MEN (Maintenance and Equipment news for Churches and Schools) is, as the full title makes clear, a premier resource magazine for both the church and education communities, I was interested to note that only readers from the church societies had raised questions about audio, following my jottings on digital screens. But this is only to be expected, bearing in mind that, firstly, clients of the educational sector are generally young people who tend to have better hearing than most of us and, secondly, both the private and public educational establishments have professional contracts in place to ensure the best equipment, hardware and software, is employed in their respective seats of learning.

With the foregoing in mind, my scribbling hereunder tends to be focussed towards our MEN church and organisations societal readership. Having said that, I have no doubt that some of our readers from schools, colleges, universities, and so on, will discover snippets of well tried hints that they can incorporate into their particular establishments and/or ideas that they can use to tweak their individual systems. The bottom line is, of course, that clients of all and sundry, whether church, school, or otherwise, should enjoy the receptiveness of audio as well as video messaging.

Hearing the message is essential; seeing the message is significant; the marriage of both is incredible!

Smart systems

In a previous feature like this, I debated the twenty-first century move towards analogue projection systems becoming replaced by a normality of high definition digital technology supported with flat screen hardware.

For our readership, Smart systems are those boasted by selected so-called digital churches, chapels and other faith related organisations. They are progressively investing in fine quality wi-fi (wireless fidelity for accessing the Internet) so that they can stream live Internet content. Increasingly, churches and other places of worship of all faiths with wi-fi are announcing “free wi-fi available here” for use by their members and visitors.

It is now considered commonplace for an escalating range of electronic hardware to be described as Smart. This indicates that it is digital equipment that is enabled so that it can access the Internet in places where wi-fi facilities are available on either a free or chargeable basis. We are already being familiarised with Genesis generations of Smart domestic applications designed for home use, with Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home and other unit-based Smart audio devices vying for attractiveness.?All of these enjoy operating via voice recognition software which would be unacceptable in a public building, where remote control therefore comes into its own.

Already, buildings that have installed Smart high definition digital screens are using these to stream material gleaned from the Internet. Only recently, I heard of a church that regularly screens songs, Bible readings and more from the ever growing number of titles stored in the internationally famous online library known as You Tube. Such screens, just like domestic television receivers, incorporate loud speakers enabling projection of a complete package of both video and audio.

Many establishments do not have Smart digital screens, but they do have high definition screens with integrated loud speakers. As HDMI connections combine both video and audio signals, it is often convenient to project video and audio in addition to just video or audio only. I have been known to use this facility to play an audio track from a computer, so that the screens have effectively been used as loud speakers!

Please note that I am in no way suggesting that digital screens should replace the loud speakers of public address systems. Far from it! Both systems command a rightful place in most public buildings and they fully complement each other.

Central control

Public address systems are, just like so many installations in contemporary times, growing increasingly up-market. The latest digital audio systems go very hand-in-glove with their video counterparts. Digital amplifiers often incorporate noise cancelling technology which filters out unwanted background noises such as hums.

Most places now have a designated central control console. This is where trained operators sit to twiddle knobs, push buttons and watch banks of colourful flashing LEDs (light emitting diodes). In some larger buildings and greater churches the central control desk is reminiscent of some theatrical or television studio consoles. This is especially true of those places that record church services and other events so that the media team are taking on considerable extra responsibilities.

With special regard to the audio side of things, the operators are charged with getting the sound balance just right, so that everybody hears exactly what they should hear without any undue interference.

With HDMI, a feed from the public address amplifier can be routed to the digital screens. The volume emanating from each screen can be adjusted by remote control, so that the screen loud speakers fully complement the public address speakers.

A recent addition to the digital church audio portfolio is the latest generation of remotely controlled Bluetooth loud speakers. These wireless digital speakers are remarkably versatile. With no cables to run, a blue tooth speaker is easy to install and may be located virtually anywhere to suit requirements. Indeed, such speakers can easily be moved if it is later found that another position is believed to be favourable.

Smart buildings

At some time in the future, new places of worship, schools and colleges, other public buildings, care homes and even private homes are almost certainly to be built as Smart buildings.

These futuristic structures will include all manner of Smart equipments as standard. Already, a good selection of hardware is available that can be operated remotely thanks to Smart phones. Although it may seem a long way off into the future, it cannot be avoided that the technology being actively developed today will be common place just a few generations down the line. We cannot envisage what that will be like.

But in our mind’s eye, we can imagine that worship leaders, for example, will plan their programmes at home and use their Smart phones or other Smart gadgets to transmit the entire fruits of their labours directly to their worship venue. Later, when their church service is under way, the public address operative is likely to be at home within the congregation, adjusting volumes and switching microphones from the convenience of an Internet phone or tablet.

A recent study by Juniper Research (https://www.juniperresearch.com) has concluded that revenue from Smart audio hardware will more than triple over the next four years. Not surprising, considering its convenience combined with standard features including active noise cancellation. Yes, the future of audio public address equipment is positively Smart!

Farfetched

However plausible these digital futuristic developments may seem, that is exactly what they are: futuristic developments. Many Smart devices are available now, especially Bluetooth speakers and other digital audio hardware. Other items I have mentioned above are still in development. Some inventions appear rather farfetched, but if any get rejected others will almost certainly come along to fill their place. We should not be excessively anxious about these effects.

No, rather than being concerned with reference to these things, we should just have them in the back of minds at times when we upgrade the hardware in our various places of worship. For instance, if a new public address system is called for, we should seriously consider the latest digital availability to suit our needs. Digital amplification, Bluetooth speakers, wireless microphones, remote control and the rest!

By doing this, we are paving the way for those generations who come after us. Consider it a sort of legacy that we have ensured that our hardware improvements have not only enhanced our buildings today, but made it as easy as possible for others to upgrade when their time comes to follow in our footsteps.

It is always advisable to take advice from specialist installers of audio equipment. Some of these advertise in the pages of our favourite magazine, MEN, so do take advantage of your subscription and flick through the advertising pages as well as reading the articles! Incidentally, please mention MEN when responding to adverts, as these companies do like to know how you came across them.

Background music

A few days ago, as I write, the news media of the United Kingdom was discussing the temporary silence of the world famous Big Ben gong. Being in London, I could not help overhearing somebody remark that could be a good thing, as the gong is so loud.

The very next day I was in a restaurant with my wife and a couple of our friends from a local church. The background music was so loud we could not understand each other, so left for elsewhere rather than damage our ears.

Later that very same week, I visited another restaurant, this time with some residents of a nearby care home. Once again, the music was over loud. We requested that it be turned down, but the request must have been to deaf ears, because the response was along the lines that patrons from other tables had made an identical request, but the music was part of the ambience. Sadly, we had to take the care home friends away, but not before people from other tables had also left.

Although this experience has nothing whatever to do with audio in places of worship, other than serve as a reminder to keep the volume level on track, I thought it worth sharing with you in case you ever have to endure over the top background music. In which case, I recommend a visit to the website of the charity Action on hearing loss, previously known as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) https://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk. Click on their News and events tab and, unless it has been taken down by the time you read this, you should be able to read a report of a survey of restaurant diners.

Nearly half (45%) of people said that background music being turned up too high is the noise that irritates them the most when they are eating out. This was a close second to the noises from other diners’ children (51%), and ahead of the noise of people talking on their mobile phone (33%).

The charity’s Speak Easy campaign is calling on restaurants to take action on background noise. Visit www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/speakeasy.aspx for more details about this which you may wish to pass on at your church or school.

Keep in the loop

It is always good to receive your comments and queries, so a big Thank you to those readers who send me emails. Now, no less than three (3) readers responded to my article about Induction Loop systems, with an identical query.

Apparently, our beloved readers had checked their respective hearing aids. They seemed all satisfactory, and switched to T in order to receive full benefit of Induction Loop systems. But they all experienced difficulty following what was happening at their church services.

Other hearing aid wearers at their churches did not share this negative experience and it was reported that the loop amplifiers were working well.

The remedy for our three readers was simply to move to a different seat in their worship arenas. Most, if not all, loop systems have an unfortunate dead area in which the Induction signal is not at its best. Do please bear this fact in mind for users of your loop system!

Eric A. Thorn
Email: EricAThorn@msn.com