With the proliferation of digital audio, video, and advanced lighting technology, many theaters, houses of worship, stadiums, and other AVL venues need advanced power protection and control solutions that will provide connectivity to power and convenient on and off control. While many of the new AVL technologies draw less electrical current than previous models, there are simply many more devices added to the average installation.
It used to be that AVL installations fell into two buckets; there were the large venue installations with widely distributed electrical gear, and then there were the smaller single room AV installations that could be managed by a single 15 or 20 Amp rack mounted sequencing module.
The large venue installations were best served by wall mounted power control solutions such as motorized circuit breaker panels or wall mounted electrical relay control panels. The theory here being that all electrical devices, regardless of installed location, had to eventually be protected by a circuit breaker at a centralized location. If you add control to this centralized meeting point, then you’ve greatly lowered your installation and maintenance costs.
The small AV installations have historically been best served by the single-circuit, rack mounted sequencing module — of which there are many options. The theory in the small installs was simple as well, all the gear is in a single rack in a single location so integrators can mount the control where the devices requiring electricity are housed, and bring control to one point.
Today, we are seeing the electrical game change. There are new digital technologies deployed and others that are gaining in popularity that require decentralized equipment racks with power control being coordinated at multiple locations. In other words, there is a new power control solution needed. Solutions here are harder to find but increasing as new products are being developed and introduced into the pro AVL marketplace.
Consideration 1: Venue Size and Gear Distribution Area
AVL gear is being more widely distributed all of the time. Power management these days isn’t limited to one room, and even when it is there is probably gear in every corner. There can be screens, video walls, audio devices, speakers and lighting fixtures spread out over the entire area, which can make convenient control more complicated. However, with today’s power control options, controlling large venues or equipment across a venue can be done by networking units to operate as a single system — provided they’re hooked up to the same IP network. There’s no distance limitation. In addition, these sophisticated systems enable control of lighting and AV gear across multiple control zones and via multiple control protocol inputs and simple contact closures. Networked power control systems allow you to operate far-flung gear on the same operating interface.
Consideration 2: Power Automation for Today’s Digital Audio Equipment
Although traditional sequencers were originally created to spread out the electrical inrush associated with turning on high-powered amplifiers to prevent nuisance breaker trips or damaging loud speakers, the advent of soft-start amplifiers has rendered the sequencer’s protective role less and less important. Sequencers today are used primarily for simple system turn on. However, as systems evolve, they offer new problems. Today’s sophisticated digital consoles, wireless microphones, and other installed audio equipment demand specific boot-up and shutdown sequences. They also require a set amount of time before they’re fully booted and can perform the necessary “handshake” to communicate with other equipment in the chain to function properly. If one or more components of a digital system doesn’t “see” the console, for instance, then the whole system won’t function. In short, digital systems must be turned on in a specific order, with specific delay times between each step for the system to function correctly. What’s more, the delay times and step rates differ dramatically between manufacturers. Today’s power control solutions featuring advanced sequencing capability can be programmed to provide the proper order of sequencing and the time required between each step in the sequence.
Consideration 3: Managing More Powerful Equipment
More often AVL gear requires 208/240 volt power. This is true for both audio and LED lighting. Higher voltage provides greater wattage availability for high performance gear. Many older power control solutions only offered 120 volt power. New systems make 120 and 240 volt options that allow for the control of all electrical loads on a single platform.
In addition, superior electrical control systems offer multiple circuits of current control in single rack mounted or wall mounted enclosures. This saves rack space and eliminates the need to jury-rig multiple single circuit power control boxes together.
Investing in proper power management also protects other sensitive gear in the rack and the venue. More sophisticated solutions will offer the ability to program auto shutdown as well as provide under and over-voltage protection to protect very expensive AVL systems.
Consideration 4: The Cost of Electrical Contractor Installation
In smaller venues or with small installations, the cost of electrical installation may be prohibitive. In many smaller jobs, the work is installed entirely by the low-voltage integrator. In this case, a rack-mounted option with standard cords and plugs will be the least expensive option.
With today’s advanced power control options, rack mounted units can be networked together to create a comprehensive solution. Users simply plug in to a power source, connect whatever system needs power, and set the start-up parameters on the browser interface.
The rapid evolution of AVL systems demands that power solutions evolve as well. Installing and scaling power management properly ensures that any size system can be run without fear of constant reboots, or power loss. With more sophisticated power control and management solutions being offered at the rack, it’s never been easier to deliver great installs and protect the bottom line.
Mark Bishop is president of LynTec.