Audiovisual installers in theaters often need various types of non-standard connector panels. Creating the technical drawings to include these connector panels with all their details, it’s normally time-consuming and quite fussy.
Here’s the fast connectCAD way to create this panel layout:
Beginning with a schematic:
Using our Connector Panel Tool, we create the panel connectors on the schematic with all its parameters. For example, in this “Front of House 1” panel, we add mic inputs 1 to 8 with female XLR connectors.
We can then add a “Stage Left” panel and a “Stage Right” panel, and continue the mic numbering.
Now we can connect all the panels to the mixer using the Multi Connect command…
.. and continue drawing all other audio and video connections in the same way.
And, we easily created a schematic for a typical small audio system in less than 4 minutes!
In the connector panels layout, we create some connector panels with the connector panel object.
We then set them up assigning the panel names, add the connectors, get connector types and connector names.. and there we have it!
We follow the same steps for all 3 panels. If we like to change things about these panels, we can easily go in, move the connectors about, edit them etc.
So all our basic work is done in literally 5 minutes!
We got into a mess recently. Happens to the best of us…
In development you can go too far sometimes without testing to see if it works. Then you have a rats nest of interacting problems to unravel. We rewound to the state of play four weeks back where we were manipulating existing tested objects and started again improving the way we handle them. So I took a lesson from evolution.
Biology works one step at a time making a change, testing it on the world and making the next change if it all survives. Doesn’t always get you to the most elegant design but it does inexorably lead to a solution that works!
Throwing away a months work was hard but we gained some insights…
Now I can put my sunglasses back on and look like a cool dude!
When you’ve been to a lot of trade shows you notice the types of people who are coming past. If somebody is carrying a backpack they are usually an assistant sent to check you out. The ones who take decisions have someone to carry their backpack for them.
Shoes are another classic clue. Investment bankers in the US tend to wear a particular kind of loafer, which has leather flaps and tassels on the end of their shoe laces. Flaps and tassels tell you that they’ve come to buy your company.
Sitting on an exhibition stand you get time to watch the flow and wonder what it all means…
So are trade shows really what they’re cracked up to be?
Exhibitors spend an huge amount of time and money on them. Yet the results are almost impossible to evaluate. Most of the visitors coming past waste your time. They don’t buy anything and they’re never going to buy anything. Lonely people who like to talk to salesmen. Be nice to hang a row of car tires on the booth, like they do in fishing boats, to fend off the tire kickers… or just give them something to kick!
Trade show addiction For companies going to trade shows is almost a forced kind of addiction, because you can’t just go one year and expect that anything is going to happen. It takes three years to get noticed.
The first year you are there, people walk past and they don’t even see you.
The second year, they may look and it takes the third year for them to actually stop at your stand and come and ask you a question.
You have to be part the environment. Unless you are doing something that’s absolutely WOW from the beginning and you’ve spend a huge amount of money advertising it, you are not really going to be seen. It’s amazing how the regulars attending trade shows have already mapped the thing out in their mind and just ignore anything that doesn’t correspond.
Once they know you and you are on their little mental list of things and places to visit, they’ll ask you “So, what’s new?”
or “So, what do you guys do?”
What makes people stop at a particular stand? Great products? Hmmm!
A comfortable sofa, free coffee, and a pretty receptionist definitely works and occasionally they might just be interested in your product in between personal phone calls.
But once a company starts attending they can’t stop or people think they’ve fallen off the planet! When you go you are part of the furniture, until you don’t go and they think you’ve gone bankrupt. So the trade show industry has got you for the rest of your life.
Length matters! In the broadcast world I’ve attended IBC in Amsterdam for more years than I care to think about and it’s always 5 days long and it’s actually been cut down from 6 days but it’s still too long.
NAB in the US is only 3 days – short and sweet, and people come there who make decisions, intelligent conversations and fewer backpacks.
But long or short, the last day it’s like tumbleweed blowing down in the aisles: the only people you see are other exhibitors giving away the leftover freebies, you know, torches, spinners, sandwiches.. you name it. Off-loading their giveaways to everyone else so they don’t carry them home and get told off by their boss.
So.. is it worth it?
The good thing about trade shows is that you collect together all the people in your industry and you do get an idea of what’s going on. That’s one of the useful things. You find more about industry trends in a trade show. You don’t really do much in the way of sales and it’s very hard to attribute pretty much any sale to the show. It’s good to get an idea of what’s happening but do you actually need to go to the expense of a huge exhibition stand in order to find out what’s happening? You might as well shoulder your backpack and go for a walk, take one day there and find out everything you need to know.
There are of course premium add-ons – workshops and seminars. The trade show industry is expert at up-selling. IBC conference for example, tends to gather together people who are talking about the future of the industry which is quite funny because the future of television is bleak and is already giving way to the future of Youtube and and other things like Youtube, but there are still lots of people who firmly believe that if only we could just get the message right, television is still going to work. That’s really debatable.
A recent survey shows that for anyone under 35 television has become more or less irrelevant. People tend to start watching television when they’ve got two children and they’re basically immobile in the evenings. And mostly in countries where the only legal form of entertainment is shopping.
Apart from that, the demographic of television is definitely heading toward the 50s and over which doesn’t say much for its future.
Another source of wry amusement are the standards committees where every manufacturer seeks to promote their own standard and the committee make a standard of many standards to please all the stakeholders. And guess why there are no standards any more… The standards organizations do quite well by charging people a lot of money for copies of their standards, which go out of date a soon as the next (multi)standard comes along. Another self-serving service to the industry.
These days most people already know what they want because they’ve searched on the internet. They’ve already found out everything they need to know and they might just come by to see that you have a human face and maybe to see if the gizmo actually works. But even then there’s no guarantee of that either..
What somebody says to you in a trade show isn’t recorded anywhere and you have no guarantee that it’s actually going to materialize. I’ve even seen demonstrations in trade shows that were almost certainly fake so I wouldn’t rely too much on what you see.
At least on the internet you’ve got some written documentation from the manufacturer which actually states what their promises are. So if the promise isn’t delivered you’ve actually got some evidence.
The only time I bought something from a trade show was when the deal was already decided as to what we wanted. For example for the Olympics we tended to have the meeting to close the deal at the trade show because that’s where the sales staff are most vulnerable because their competitors are just around the corner. They know that in five minutes you’ll be having a meeting with the competition so they really do their best to give you the best possible deal.
The social aspect of the trade shows can be nice. But it’s a mixed bag because yes, you’ll meet quite a few people you like but you’ll also meet those people who you don’t like at all. You still have to be polite to them and the trouble is you actually can’t get away either…
So will the trade show survive? Difficult to say. These things have their up and downs but with so many cheaper and effective alternatives via the internet perhaps headed for smaller affairs that are more to the point. And that will probably be a good thing.
Conrad Preen is an experienced broadcast system designer. In the past 10 years he is developing connectCAD tool for Vectorworks, a cad plugin for designing audiovisual systems. He he’s attended a good number of the AV industry trade shows as a visitor and he’s been at the exhibitors stands at IBC for years.
About a year ago, I had a chat with AV designer Justin Linville from Provision Audio Video Solutions. We talked about one of their projects that was going on at the time, a new church facility adjacent to the existing church building of Richland Creek Community Church.
The new facility had a main worship space which was actually a multi-purpose room, a recording suite behind the main stage, a youth room, lots of classrooms and overflow spaces, fellowship hall areas, ancillary rooms and outdoor facilities, all of which required AV integration and needed to be tied together on a central system for audio, but also some video interaction to happen bi-directionally between any of these spaces and the existing building next door.
Here’s how Justin used connectCAD in this project:
“From the start of this project, we talked about digital audio networks and integrating all the spaces in a way that would make it really easy to configure whatever audio paths were needed going from one location to another. We used a variety of Dante-based interfaces to get audio in and out at various locations, and that really added a big big level of versatility to the whole project. There was a lot of the design that looked very very similar to network topology, so we had to plan certain switches, and we had to plan all the cable paths and the interconnections really meticulously, so there was a lot from the beginning that really added to the complexity of the design.”
“Because of the way this project evolved over time, we sort of evolved the system design with the industry offerings. We had a lot of options in terms of flexibility, and because of the various in and out points of the a/v network, we had to develop a very concise plan before heading into installation. This is where the connectCAD tool came in and really made a difference. For example, every time you change one component in a typical CAD system, you have to go in there and redraw all the connections, and you have to reconfigure all your routing paths etc. But, on the connectCAD system, with all of the tools that are available (and ever-growing), that becomes a real breeze. So, I can take a 40 mic/line input module and use the ‘multi-connect’ tool to get all 40 of my connections in about 2 seconds; whereas with the conventional CAD approach that would take an hour to redraw all 40 of these connections and get them properly labeled and assigned.”
“Once we started building the system from scratch, I’ve gone into connectCAD and built a library of all the common devices that we use, and even the not so common ones. I’ll just go ahead and create them, and I’ll put them in the system. At the very beginning, when I’m creating the device blocks or the device symbols, I’ll go in and, whether I think we’re going to use it or not, I will put every single connection point on that device into the drawing.”
“In this church project, we’ve used a front of house console that had a variety of contact closures and logic inputs. There are a lot of different things that can help in an automated system that we are not necessarily going to be using at this stage or in any future stage, but I’ll go ahead and put it on there, so I’ve got it accessible if I do need it down the road. And once I have this library built up and kind of built around this complex system design, then it becomes really easy on other projects –knowing that I’ve already got the symbols created- to just go and grab those and import them into a new design; or even to take whole system maps from one project to another in just a really quick amount of time. And this speeds things up a lot. In this project, we’ve got this big massive system and just hundreds and hundreds of different connection points. And so I sat here and probably knocked out what normally would have taken me 3 or 4 weeks’ worth of design work in probably 3 or 4 days.”
“We originally acquired connectCAD for Vectorworks just to do system schematic drawings, but then we started digging into a lot of other features and, knowing that, I could go in and create a system schematic drawing and then automatically have the data available to do my rack elevation layouts.”
“There have been some interesting work-arounds that we had to do for this church design project. We had all these different elements – a speaker reinforcement system that would cover this whole room and it’s massive, a versatile personal monitor mixing system on stage for all the bands that get distributed audio through all those paths. So it’s just a really, really vast, fairly complicated system to make it all interact the way they needed it to interact.“
“We originally acquired connectCAD for Vectorworks just to do system schematic drawings, but then we started digging into a lot of other features and, knowing that, I could go in and create a system schematic drawing and then automatically have the data available to do my rack elevation layouts. The equipment is already there, I put in all of the dimensional specifications on the front end and so when it comes time to actually do my rack layouts -because this project has 5 or 6 really fully loaded 44U high rack units- then it becomes a lot easier to just say: here are my elements, I can come in and I can place them around in the racks however I need to, so that really is a big time saver.”
“One of the best things overall is that the connectCAD program really keeps you from having to think about certain things. For instance, when I specify a device, I can go in and I can make the connections from one device to another and I don’t have to worry about going back later and typing in or designating what connector type that is, because I’ve put all that information into building the device symbols themselves on the front end; as soon as I make a connection it will automatically pop up and show me what the connection type is. If I’m connecting an audio device to an audio device, I can look at that really simply and say ‘That end of the cable needs to be a 3 PIN XLR female and that end needs to be a TRS connector’ and that takes a lot of the guess work out; it really simplifies and keeps me from having to go back and double check a lot of little detailed stuff like that, because it automatically populates and automatically shows me this is exactly what this connection needs to be.”
“I haven’t totally dug into connectCAD meticulously yet, but I really like the cable schedule features. I can go in and say ‘here are the cable specifications’ and can hand those to field techs and know exactly how much cable needs to go from front of house to this rack, or whatever the case may be. We’ve already got a labelling system called out, which makes it simple to just throw the label onto each end of the cable that matches what’s on the schematic; so, it really also helps to simplify and streamline communication from design to implementation.”
Since the release of connectCAD 2017 we’ve been saving the devices you uploaded. In connectCAD 2017 v.2 we have added a major new feature. Now you can browse our community database from within the Device Builder tool and choose from device definitions uploaded by connectCAD’ers from all over the planet.
So now, you can build a device in just 20 seconds!
Already we have more than 200 regularly-used devices in the database and more are being added every day.
As you work, life keeps on getting easier.
connectCAD 2017 v.2 will be available on March 25th
As I was reading Justin’s case study reminded me just how important it is for audio-visual consultants to be involved in a project from the word go. When this is not case things can get very interesting. Here’s a story from my life as a designer.
A rich benefactor has a vision – to build a really wonderful concert hall. He gets together a bunch of wise men and women to realise his dream. Architects, acousticians, structural engineers, electrical engineers and HVAC specialists.
But wait says the patron, let’s also put on operas, and show films, and theatre, and let’s make some money by holding conferences. All great ideas! The design team look worried at first, but soon they are rubbing their hands and looking forward to putting their grandchildren through college on the back of this project…
As the last concrete is poured, the electrical engineer mutters something about “weak currents”. Sounds like a minor detail. But indeed, there is some infrastructure needed that no-one has thought about. Those “weak currents” that carry the audio, video, lighting control, comms in fact everything needed to make the building fulfill its proposed function. About time isn’t it to bring in the “weak currents” guys?
Nothing like the last minute for the audio-visual designer. And somehow he’s expected to equip the building with state-of-the-art systems when no-one else on the team has given a moment’s thought to providing space for equipment, control rooms, cable paths, places to mount lights etc. etc.
A familiar scenario? Let’s look at the impact of this awful decision.
Control rooms with no access to backstage areas. So a shabby-looking technician has to elbow his way through the foyer crammed with well-dressed paying audience. Not good.
What about interpreter booths for those conferences? We’ll squeeze them in somewhere. Aren’t there standards for these?
To get light onto the stage you need at least some holes in the ceiling to poke the luminaire through. Did the acoustician think about that? Now we’re in a bargaining exercise for each and every lighting position.
Sight-lines? Not good for films if you can’t see the screen. Key-stoning? What’s that? Big projectors are kind of bulky and produce quite a bit of heat. Any air-con in those minuscule control rooms? No, let the technicians have a free sauna.
Who needs cable paths? Isn’t everything wireless these days? Anyone think that some signals don’t travel well so you can’t route them all the way around the building? That’s assuming that a path can be found. In an earthquake zone structural engineering is a serious business. Each hole needs the building to be re-calculated. Not to mention the cost of drilling through 1 metre thick reinforced concrete.
All in all a recipe for a massive budget overrun and a permanently unsatisfactory result. So it’s good to see some projects like Justin’s getting it right.
When you’re building a new venue of any kind get the “weak currents” people on board right away. They’ll save your project.
Computer-aided design when it first appeared swept away a mass of drawing boards, scale rulers, compasses, protractors and the highly trained draughtsmen who used them. Gone were the traces of Tippex and eraser marks. CAD became synonymous with neat plotted scale drawings. But I still come back to the question “how much is the computer really aiding me as a designer?”.
In the ’90’s I began work at a company and was momentarily impressed when I saw them using a spreadsheet program for their quotations. Until I realised that the secretary was adding up the numbers on a pocket calculator and typing them in. Nobody there knew that the computer could do sums! For them it was just an infinitely erasable piece of paper. And in a way general-purpose CAD software still seems to be struggling to leave that phase.
For sure we have 3D now and there are many special purpose add-ons to CAD to help with a multitude of design tasks, but very basic real-world concepts are not built in to the software at a deep level.
For example in my world of audio-visual technology we work with connectivity. Equipment joined by cables. The concept of a connection, ubiquitous in our world today, is a perfect instance of what’s still missing from most CAD software.
Too often by the time an add-on product has matured the problem has moved on. What we really need is a fundamental shift.
ideas for people
Design is about creating things that people will use. There’s a lot more involved than just the dimensions of objects. It’s about making things that work. Computer-aided design should help us to try ideas out, see things working, and catch problems before they arise in reality.
Yet even now most of the design process – the actual thinking behind it, is more in the designer’s head than in the CAD model. And the key word here is model. CAD drawings are still a very limited model of the systems they represent. To broaden and deepen the way in which designers work with CAD the software itself needs to evolve into a system modelling tool.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”?
Not in the world of CAD it seems. Just look at it – our drawings are still full of text: text to explain what the lines actually mean. Not exactly visual communication nor even helpful to the human mind. For sure text is needed sometimes but what about colour, texture and shape? Text belongs to the logical one-thing-at-a-time left brain. But it’s that massive integrative power of the visual right brain that lets us understand things at a glance and see the big picture. This is the power of a good drawing.
A few years ago I found myself writing code to grab desk ID texts from office drawings and integrate these into smart desk objects so we could model who was sitting where and how well the design fitted actual human needs. This “non-drawing data” ought to be an integral part the model, not something sprayed on afterwards.
In the construction industry Building Information Modelling (BIM) is finally moving in the right direction. Now at last we can ask the question of a drawing “how many windows are there in this room?” and get a sensible answer. How long has it taken for the CAD system to “know” what a room is and what “in a room” means?
modelling not drawing
Highlighting the issues is the easy part. Knowing what to do about them is another thing altogether. I’m not short of ideas.
We need to move away from drawing primitives like lines, rectangles, arcs and text, and start drawing objects. Yes, these will contain all of the above but they will be functional models of the real-world objects they represent. Their properties won’t be limited to drawing attributes. They will “know” where they are in relation to other objects. Visual properties e.g. size, shape, color etc. will be able to be linked to other properties of other objects even bi-directionally. Imagine being able to drag the height of a rectangle and change the temperature in your model. Or being able to visualise that as a heat map?
We need a class hierarchy of objects that inherit properties from their parent classes. And we need to be able to link class properties with properties of specific objects or external data sources to visualise the effect of changes and engage that right brain.
Objects should be able to consume resources from other objects. So often design problems revolve around figuring out how much or how many we need. Resource usage gives us that in a nutshell.
Creating a model lets us ask questions. Once our right brain has seen and liked what we’ve done, we still need to analyse the design and present the information in a step-by-step manner for implementation. So now we need to treat the drawing as a database.
There’s no need to re-invent the wheel here. SQL should be built-in to all CAD programs. Of course we can add lot’s of nice UI to help users build queries, but that’s the power we need underneath.
How to express the answers? Visually of course! Queries should be able to drive the drawing and give us pictures as well good old traditional tables of text and figures.
complexity and where to put it
There seems to be a law of conservation of complexity. You can move it about, hide it in corners but you can’t get rid of it. And I realise that what I’m proposing is complex. But so is the real world we are trying to model. So the question is where do we put the complexity?
For the purpose of designing a model it’s nice to deal directly with objects and their properties and relations. This keeps complexity distributed over the model and local to the objects.
But any programmer will tell you this is hell to debug. Dependencies all over the place can lead to hours of work trying to track down what’s happening. So we need to find the sweet spot. And I think it’s this:
Although you create and edit locally to objects the actual “code” that executes the model should be stored and run from a central place so you can step through and see what’s happening. This also has advantages for delivery. Quite often you want to give a client a snapshot of how your model looks but not the model itself. So having the intelligence outside is handy.
As the developer of an add-on to Vectorworks, I often feel with connectCAD that I’m struggling to add features that should really be part of the platform. And Vectorworks is one of the better platforms. It already has a lot of advanced features that were in it from the beginning. But linkage and connections are still a tough call.
Expressing frustrations does one good of course. But I also hope that we can move towards a new era of design software where the designer spends less time trying to guess the outcome of decisions and more time in a genuine interaction with a model.
Just to get away from CAD issues for once… well almost.
The world of broadcast television is headed for a disruption similar to what Skype did to telephony. And it’s all about IP. For years now broadcast technology has been using more and more standard IT infrastructure. As computers have got faster and faster software has become capable of doing the jobs that once needed custom hardware. So now where are we at?
Let’s look at what a TV station does.
We take in content as streams and media files, adjust them to our standards, add branding etc. and create… a stream.
Until now this process involved cumbersome conversions of incoming media into broadcast signal formats (e.g. SDI) to do all the processing and monitoring etc. But we are seeing software products emerging that can take the incoming content as is, and produce a branded stream. That renders existing playout systems obsolete.
So what do you need to do this? Well in terms of hardware basically nothing. You can rent storage and processing power from cloud providers and deliver your stream anywhere on planet Earth. Removing a whole swathe of capital investment from the equation!
For broadcast engineers this means a gradual phasing out of in-house plant. Systems design gets a whole new focus. The hardware element moves out to the design of bulk IT plant, and the workflow aspect becomes an exercise in visualising the flow of content.
Broadcast is not the only area that will be swept up in this revolution. Audio-visual is fast moving towards IP-based systems. Again distribution and routing of AV becomes the province of IP networks. Audio is already there with systems like Dante. Video is coming on fast.
Systems design is not dead. You won’t be able to just hook everything up to a network and hope it will work faultlessly, but the design process will fork into two-levels: function and implementation. The design of hardware will focus on providing “pipework” of the right size for the anticipated traffic. And function will be abstracted into the configuration of the network. Since the line between configuration and status is a rather blurred we could well be seeing diagrams linked live to the systems they depict and providing control, configuration and status in one go.
Schematic diagrams can be just a common-looking plan.. or you can choose to add a personal touch and express the artist in you, by making stylish diagrams with colors and images. So you can illustrate your personal style while making the whole project more amusing for installers and other collaborators.
connectCAD lets you customise all design options and give your drawings a unique look. Just create a custom template and please all the people all of the time!
Here’s some examples of stylish schematics using connectCAD:
Options are endless, and creativity is the only limitation. After all, it’s your design your style.
Over the last year I’ve been working to devise a convenient way to design cable paths. What I mean is to be able to show locations of equipment on architectural plans, and the paths of conduits, trunking or cable tray that will carry the cables that inter-connect the equipment.
It’s a problem that’s nagged me for many years. At one point in my life I was involved in designing broadcast TV signal distribution for a large international sporting event. As a design experience it was like wrestling jelly.
Real world cable path design is not a stately progression from schematic to details of trays and conduits . There are big rocks in the road. When you get to the site you’ll find problems like the aircon people have filled your hole in the concrete with their duct. And that’s not all – you get caned for over-capacity and vilified if the pipes are too narrow. It’s a no-win situation.
As a broadcast or audio-visual designer, the detail of cable-carriers are not your job- electricians do that. BUT they need a specification to work from. They need to know where the ends of the cables have to be, how many cables of what type go from where to where, and maximum lengths and bends radius limitations. So they need a plan like this.
Your boss will also be nagging you for an estimate of how much cable long before the electrical contractor can give you actual path lengths. So… in fact you do have make your own design of cable paths. Only by modelling in 3D can you really get a proper estimate of the lengths.
But, you definitely don’t want to show that to an electrician. In the construction industry people are trained to seek any opportunity to avoid responsibility and throw blame on others. So if you hand your electrical guy a plan like the one above, regardless of practicality he’ll go put the conduits exactly where you drew them and produce your drawing if anyone complains.
So our problem becomes one of making fast convenient tools to do a fairly detailed design for estimation purposes but be able to present it as a specification drawing with paths shown as arcs, plus a “riser diagram” which just shows connectivity.
We also have the problem of finding the cable tray fills. If we have a schematic of our system or a cable list then we know the theoretical inter-connections. So it then becomes a case of assigning physical paths to these. In many cases (but not all) there will be only one path. Analysing cable tray networks into discrete A->B paths is not altogether simple since there may be loops in the topology.
As you can see from the drawings above, we’ve been making progress. However…
In to all this soup came Revit. The reality is that more and more projects are beginning life as a Revit model. That raises many questions.
We wanted to bring cable path planning into connectCAD 2016 but our feeling is that we need a closer look at where our data is coming from. The days of 2D plans and elevations are numbered. Perhaps the question is a different one? How can we depict cable paths in Revit and extract their topology, connectivity and lengths?
Has you’re life as a designer brought you in contact with this? Comment below. It’s good to talk 🙂