Buying, wiring and using an intercom system for camera operators

I’ve outlined before what you should do with an intercom system once you have one, but here is some more detail on how the system itself can be best configured for camops (camera operators) and vision mixing.

There are basically two pro intercom systems around that use 3pin XLR cabling. They are very similar BUT incompatible so can’t be mixed: RTS – which is what most camera CCUs work with and ClearCom which is what the majority of audio folk use.

Clearcom sell their own stuff, but lots of others sell clearcom compatible units, the best example being Canford TecPro systems in the UK. Another example is Stonewood Audio

So the first choice you have is whether you are going to be using studio cameras with built-in intercoms and CCUs, or whether you are using DV cams or standalone studio cams with no CCU and a totally separate intercom system..

In our case, we have a mix of studio cams and DV cams and don’t have CCUs, and we already had a TecPro system for our audio guys, so we just extended that.

I would suggest that Clearcom/Tecpro systems are much more common in the UK, and cheaper to source, so unless you REALLY need CCU compatibility I would go for that.

OK – a couple of tricks to look out for.

Firstly, from reading the blurb, it looks like you need to buy an expensive basestation rack unit and then your headsets and beltpacks. Actually you don’t. You just need a power supply (which also terminates the audio lines) and then you can use all beltpacks if you want. So the cheapest option to get started (notwithstanding getting stuff s/h or on ebay) would be to get a PSU, and then as many beltpacks and headsets as are needed for camops and vision mixer.

Next, the assumption is that you have to daisy chain all the beltpacks. This IS the normal way to do it, but for camops it is a pain as they end up with one xlr cable coming from the previous beltpack AND one going back to the next one on their umbilical, which just adds weight and makes it more prone to snagging etc

Actually you don’t have to daisy chain at all. The system is a party line and you can tee off as many parallel connections as you like as long as there is only one PSU with only one termination. So what this means is that you can bring all your camop comms lines back to your vision mixing position as single runs, and then have a BIG splitter that takes one XLR in (from the PSU, or from FOH or whatever) and splits it out to multiple XLR outs, one for each camop. This also means that if your PSU is at FOH, you only need to bring one comms line down the multicore. We bought a 1U XLR connector rack panel from Canford and wired it up as a big XLR splitter for comms.

Next, try not to skimp on the headsets – the canford ones are a good price but have two failings to watch out for – they are uncomfy to wear over a long period and they aren’t very good sound quality – especially the mics in loud environments. This contributes to having to repeat lots of commands which is a pain. In the end we replaced all our canford own-brand ones with Beyer DT109 ones which are expensive but a lot better.

Finally on headsets I recommend that you definitely buy dual muff ones – i.e. ones with an earpiece on both sides, not just one side. There is nothing worse than being a camop stuck next to the main FOH speaker stack, trying to hear commands in one ear while you are being deafened in the other. You CAN use earplugs to block out the ambient sound, and I recommend you have a pack of foam earplugs handy for the occasions where you have no choice.

If you are worried about not hearing what’s happening around you with dual muff headsets, you can always slip one side off your ear if you need to.

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One Response to Buying, wiring and using an intercom system for camera operators

  1. Mike says:

    If you do decide to use cameras with CCU’s, they may be compatible with the rest of the intercom system. I’m currently using JVC KY-19’s with the RM-300 CCU configured for two-wire intercom. Clear-com and Telex TW will both work by connecting the two wires that are _NOT_ the positive voltage….pins 1 and 3 on the XLR if I remember correctly. On a Telex TW two channel system, you get channel 2 at the camera headsets.

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