Affordable conferencing

Manufacturers of conference systems understandably often focus on the latest and greatest technology. However not every integrator is lucky enough to have the United Nations as its client, so here Chris Fitzsimmons rounds up the mid-range offerings available for those on a tighter budget.

Many reams of editorial have been written over the years about the cutting edge of technology in all fields, far more than is ever written about the middle market or mass market equipment which actually accounts for far more volume than the top end stuff ever will.

Unless you’ve somehow managed to become a preferred supplier for the European Commission or your national parliament, the chances of successfully specifying and selling a high-end conference solution are fairly remote. Apart from that, how many clients really need touch screens, multipurpose displays or the ability to read emails whilst in a meeting? In many cases a discussion system needs to be just that. A system to facilitate a discussion by providing basic speech reinforcement, probably a priority system and lastly a simple (and easy to use) voting system.

Beyerdynamic has spent much of its recent efforts on integrating the Revoluto microphone system into its range of conferencing solutions. However, recognising that there is still significant demand for a more cost-effective solution, at Prolight & Sound the company launched MCS-20, a wired system, with only three components. This makes it very simple to install and specify. IT consists of the MCS 221 delegate unit, MCS223 chairman unit and the MCS 20 power supply. Each power supply can feed up to 60 microphone units and supplies can be stacked together to accommodate more. Despite its basic appearance, the chairman unit enables a conference to be run in open, request or first in first out modes. You can run eight open microphones at once.

Another important player in the high-end market is of course Bosch Communications, but it too has a moderately priced offering in the shape of the CCS 800 Ultro discussion system. Ultro is an upgrade to the CCS 800 that Bosch inherited from Philips, but the latest revision has added several features. Designed for the meeting and courtroom market, Bosch have added MP3 recording and playback to the central controller, which allows meetings to be recorded on SD cards.

The system is designed for both permanent installation and temporary use and also features many of the functions of its big brother the DCN. It can operate up to 150 delegate units and even includes some basic DSP functionality in the shape of its acoustic feedback suppresser.

German supplier Brähler offers Automic, a 99 microphone solution designed for rapid set-up and tear-down in temporary conferences. Instead of a dedicated chairman unit, instead the system includes an Apad, which is a keypad to activate or deactivate any microphone in the room. There is the option to control the system using Brähler’s MicControl software, which allows additional functionality to be unleashed such as automatic camera control and speaker ID. The AMic delegate units also include the companies latest microphone capsule, the TM58. The central control unit, the ACon can be stacked together, as with most of its competitors, and features the usual outputs for external sound reinforcement or recording solutions. There is also RS-232 connectivity.

The EDC and it’s older brother OCS series from BXB Electronics both fit the middle market mould very nicely. OCS comes with two different versions of its PA-5120 main control unit. The PA-5120A variant features in built DSP for feedback supression. The EDC 1000 series features more advanced integration options, including RS-232 connectivity and a variety of conference management (microphone priority) modes.

Danish Interpretation Systems’ CDS 4000 is a veteran of the mid-range and rental market. It’s reliability has found it in hotel conference centres, press conferences and in the hands of events organisers. There are two control unit options – the CU 4005 and CU 4010, which can run 50 or 100 units respectively in a daisy chain configuration. Up to ten of these units may be chairman type. Ease of use is key, and with very few buttons on the central control unit, there isn’t too much to tinker with. Standard XLR and Sub-D connectors are used throughout.

Delegate and chairman units are available as standard or flush-mounts and there is also the option for detachable microphones. The system allows for up to 6 open microphones at once, and operating modes including automatic, first in first out, and request to speak. There is also optional, but not essential software control in the shape of the CDS 4000 Commander Software. It allows advanced delegate database handling and PC control of the system.

Italians Omnya have a single scalable offering in the conference market. It consists of the MS 10501 president units and MS10502 delegate units paired up with the CS 40305-T amplifier. Each amp can run up to 60 units in daisy chains of 30. There are a selection of audio inputs and outputs for recording and additional sources, but the priority system is fairly basic – you are either a chairman, or not. Additionally there is no option for RS-232 control.

However we are talking mid-range here so the inability to connect to AMX / Crestron perhaps isn’t such a draw back. The system does feature a two channel language selector for all delegate units as standard, with the interpretation feed distributed from the main controller.

The RCF Forum 6000 system offers all the performance features you would expect of conferencing or debating systems, as well as some functions and modes that are usually only available in more complex products.

The main applications include: meetings, small council chambers, congress halls, conference rooms and auditoria. It can also be used for more “mobile” purposes, such as temporary events or halls where the system needs to be uninstalled after use.

The system also offers a range of options including, the automatic management of a speaker booking queue, and with an accessory, the control of the cameras and a functional PC interface to enable/disable microphone consoles from a synoptic panel. The 6000 System is easily assembled using RJ45 type connectors.

The system components include the DMU6100 central unit and DMS6410 and DMS6410X delegate units with permanent or removable goosenecks respectively. Any of the delegate units can be configured to operate as the chairman unit.

Taiden’s HCS-3600 has replaced it’s 3100 product, and now includes the same digital audio technology as the more expensive 4100 solution, minus the simultaneous translation features. It does include card readers and three-way voting on each unit and if used with the accompanying management software, more complex voting is possible. The full feature set is dependent on the delegate / chairman units you select. The most basic, and cost effective 3632C and 3632D units feature no voting features at all, and at the top end, the 3630C & D offer voting and card readers. The 3632 models also run off a stripped down and cheaper central unit, the 3600MAP as opposed to the better featured 3600MA model. All variations in the system offer a degree of external integration via RS-232. The 3600 series system can consist of up to 240 delegate units.

Belgian congress veterans Televic is perhaps better known for its higher end products, which are also OEM’d to a couple of other audio providers. However it too recognises the market for more modestly priced systems, fulfilling this demand with the TCS 2500 solution. The most basic unit, the DM2500 features 3 button voting, with the most expensive, the DMV2500 featuring 5 button voting, a chip card reader and graphical LCD display. The cost of the system is largely determined by the selection of delegate units as the central unit remains the same. Televic have targeted ease of set-up and break down via the use of standard Cat-5 cable to provide the infrastructure, including the power distribution. There are also flush-mount versions available of all delegate and chairman units.

Most major conference system providers have a product to serve the lower end of the market these days, and some of the more advanced features you might have expected to pay more for are starting to find their way down the food chain a little. The eastern manufacturers are also coming up with very attractively price systems with a bunch more features than the Europeans. Although, even assuming the quality is the same, you run the risk of buying a system in which the spares and support have to come from a time zone 8 hours ahead. If that isn’t a problem for your customer then go for it, but even if it is, there are solutions out there to suit any budget.

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