Addressing the floor.

Chris Fitzsimmons wraps up developments in the congress market over the past twelve months, including upgrades, updates and a some brand new solutions for 2010 launched at Integrated Systems Europe.

International conferences were back in the headlines again at the end of 2009, as the world’s leaders met in Copenhagen hoping to thrash out a meaningful agreement on climate change. Representing one of the largest such meetings ever held, it was always going to be important that everyone was able to make themselves heard.

More importantly from an AV perspective, it was also the first application of Bosch’s brand new conference system – the CCS 900 Ultro.

After several upgrades to its high end product – the DCN-NG system – Bosch has turned its attention to the ageing CCS 800 Ultro. This mid-range product has been replaced by the, newly announced, CCS 900 Ultro.

Intended in the European market for meetings of 15-50 delegates, the system has benefited from a complete re-styling bringing it into line with the rest of Bosch’s conference products.

The key addition compared to its predecessor is a new function called the “Possible to speak” indicator. This gives delegates an indication of when the microphone is available to them.

During the meeting, the PTS indication on each delegate unit displays on of three options: red, white or off. A red light indicates that the delegate actively has the floor. A white light indicates that it is possible to switch on the microphone for speaking, and an off light indicates that the maximum number of active microphones has been reached.

Additional options include long or short microphone variants of the delegate and chairman units, as well as three different central controllers. Options on here include a basic model, a model including digital acoustic feedback suppression, and a third model with both feedback suppression, and MP3 recording functionality.

Also new at ISE is Televic’s latest line. This is an extension of the Confidea brand, which is currently a wireless system, into the wired arena. Confidea L, as it will be known, is a replacement for the existing TCS2500, which is now obsolete.

Confidea L uses Cat5 cabling to connect units in a daisy chain arrangement, however, to make the system easier to install and more fault-tolerant, the input and output connections are fully agnostic. Provided there is a cable in both sockets, the daisy chain will work. For added robustness, the chain can be connected at both ends to make a closed loop.

Confidea L also shares a full feature-set with its wireless cousin, which means that the two systems can be fully integrated into a hybrid wired and wireless solution. Useful when a larger conference is held and more units need adding to an existing wired installation.

Beyerdynamic has continued to press ahead with development of its Revoluto microphone line. The latest additions, being the MPR 210 and 211 models. These are more compact than previous desktop microphones, but offer a couple of additional features. The basic 210 model is simply considerably smaller that its predecessor the 110. However the 211 offers a number of options including serial control inputs/outputs, a programmable microphone activation button, and status indicating LED.
The MPR range represents an interesting cross-over between the congress and conference worlds, with the microphones being eminently suited to both applications.

Beyer was not alone in updating its microphone options in the last twelve months. Danish Interpretation Systems, DIS, came to market with a new set of gooseneck options. The GM652x series consists of the GM6523 (40cm long) and the GM6524 (50cm) models, both of which are RF shielded using the company’s DIS RF Shield technology.
They can be used a simple desk microphones with XLR connectors, or attached to the 6990p congress system with lockable attachments. The microphones have also had a face-lift from the previous range, which the company says should make them more popular for video or televised applications.

Q1 of 2009 also saw German veterans Braehler come to market with a new congress solution. Bringing back its famous Digimic brand with a completely new product, the company unveiled a hybrid wired, wireless system.

The key innovation the product is the ability to seamlessly combine wired and wireless connectivity. The DMic (and DChair) units simply mount on a wireless docking station, the imaginatively named DDoc. According to Braehler it features over 20 hours of rechargeable battery life, and transmits digital audio over a interference-robust, adaptive frequency hopping carrier.

The second part of the solution is the DSpark wireless transceiver unit. This connects to the central control unit and provides reliable reception for the delegate docking stations.

Braehler has developed its own adaptive narrow band protocol called APRON, combining several wireless transmission security features into a single protocol. These include, adaptive frequency hopping, a dynamic frequency diversity system, and forward error correction using a spread spectrum method. The system is also self-adjusting to on-site frequency usage conditions.

The digital audio spec is based on a 48kHz / 24bit compression solution with a 20-20kHz frequency response. Digimic further states a 6ms microphone latency using the system.

At the end of 2009 RCF added the DEC 6104 Expander Board and DPS 6202 Additional Power Supply to the Forum 6000 system. The 6104 expander provides a USB or RS 485 port to connect the system to a PC, allowing remote control functionality. The DEC 6104 is also equipped with an automatic dome camera control facility through the connected PC.

The DEC 6104's built in dsp limits acoustic feedback caused by open microphones or speakers located too close to the mics. The DEC 6104 allows one to connect 120 addition delegate units over four ports (30 on each). Whenever this feature is used, the additional DPS 6202 power supply unit is required. The system can therefore now handle up to 160 delegate units.

For several years, the established western manufacturers have attempted to pass off their eastern competitors as at best inferior imitators, and at worst cheap junk. However, given the competition amongst those same competitors this argument hardly seems sustainable. Also, the language from western manufacturers has altered subtly in the last year or so. The argument has changed from “poor quality” to “difficult to support over long distances”.

Whatever the pros and cons, these vendors can no longer be ignored.

BXB Electronics has recently announced its new flush-mounted additions to the FCS series. These are replacements for the existing flush-mount options, which until now have been unsightly and rather basic. The new models however improve significantly on the look of the older ones, whilst still benefiting from the same functionality. The company says that it can be scaled up to accommodate up to 1099 discussion units on a single system.

Whilst FCS contains a relatively standard feature set in the grand scheme of things, it does contain some fairly powerful integration features. These include the ability to control up to sixteen PTZ cameras, which will track to a particular talker with an active microphone.

The system is also designed with third party control in mind – there are no tricky hurdles should you wish to use Crestron or AMX rather than the company’s own control systems. Talk to anyone who’s tried to integrate several other major vendors into such a system and they’ll tell you this is A Good Thing™.

Creator has also just released a new conference system component, this time a table-top discussion product called the M4202/04B2. This is an alternate delegate or chairman unit for the company’s existing M4-series discussion solution. The new unit features an, as far as we can tell, unique display panel on the back, which displays the delegate’s name clearly to other participants.

It also has several standard features such as 3-option voting, speech modes including normal, FIFO, free and apply for priority. The devices feature built-in IC card readers for automatic delegate identification and sign-in.

The rear-mounted display is a 256x64 dot matrix, which can display up to 16 roman letters or 8 asian characters. The front display serving the delegate is a high brightness LCD panel for operational information.

The controller paired with the units – the CRM4101 – can individually handle up to 128 delegates, or if stacked, the system can be expanded to accommodate a theoretical 4000.

JTS professional has begun to offer the i-Conference system to the EMEA region in the last twelve months. The simple solution contains just three SKUs – the CS-1CU controller / power supply, the CS-1DU delegate unit and the CS-1CH chairman unit.

Each controller unit can control and power up to 50 delegate / chairman devices, but using expansion pieces that total can be upped to 150 by stacking more controllers together.

The delegate units are basic, with a single PTT button and loudspeaker on each. The chairman unit has a second, override button, which allows the user to mute all active delegate microphones.

Finally, there is Taiden. In the EMEA region the company is probably the most well known of the Asian brands. The company has a number of product lines in the congress market, and has led the market in China for a number of years.

Its latest product offering is the HCS5300 – series, which it claims is the world’s first digital IR-based wireless congress system. It contains a fairly bewildering array of SKUs, including 3 delegate units, 2 chairman units, 3 control units and a huge collection of IR radiators, receivers, booster units and mounting options. The transceivers are available in wide or narrow angle formats, depending on the applications.

In addition, the IR emitters on the delegate units can be switched between a number of different emission patterns to make best use of their battery life.

Which delegate or control unit you need depends on which voting options are required – Taiden offers versions with 5 voting buttons, zero voting buttons and a shared device for one-between-two conferencing.

Congress equipment is one of the most competitive sectors in the market at the moment for the audio fraternity. There are something like 15 serious players in this space right now, most of whom are competing in both the high and low ends of the price spectrum. The buying decision is no longer as easy as it used to be, so its worth spending the extra time to check out some of the newer entrants to the market before making an historical decision.

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