Evolving AV design

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:

photo credit: Provision AVS

“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.”

Audiovisual System Design
photo credit: Provision AVS

“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.”

photo credit: Provision AVS

“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.”

Build a device in 20 seconds

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

Be your own artist with schematics

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:

Schematic Diagrams with connectCAD and Vectorworks

Schematic Diagrams with connectCAD and Vectorworks

Schematic Diagrams with connectCAD and Vectorworks

Schematic Diagrams with connectCAD and Vectorworks

Schematic Diagrams with connectCAD and Vectorworks


Options are endless, and creativity is the only limitation. After all, it’s your design your style.

Happy new year! Stay connected

Coming up in connectCAD 2016

Coming up in connectCAD 2016:
Cable Paths extend beyond schematics to the physical world:where the cables go in a building,what are the specific locations of wallboxes/cable drop points & the paths between them.You’ll be able to make your own customised Devise Placement Tools that can insert into circuits, eg, if you’re designing RF distribution systems you can create your own handy tools for splitters / taps etc. using duplicates of Insert Device each set up to place a custom device symbol..

Read more

Labelling conventions and human nature

Labelling when you think about it is what keeps the world organised. And in our crazy little world with all its wires and connectors without some kind of labelling system we would soon lose our way.

The completely arbitrary nature of labelling makes it a special challenge for a CAD developer. We’d love to provide you with super-automated tools for this, but no matter what road we take someone will tell us it’s wrong, or agree with us but not be willing to change their habits.

Take patch panels for example. Some people label them like this:

A 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
B 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24

C 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
D 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24

So the top row of a panel has one letter, the bottom row has the next letter and the patch points are numbered across.

Others like it this way: each panel gets a letter to designate it and the patch points are numbered left-to-right then top-to-bottom.

A 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
A 25 26 27 28 … 45 46 47 48

B 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
B 25 26 27 28 … 45 46 47 48

The snag here is if there aren’t enough connectors you can’t easily change the patch panel size in mid-design. A good workaround for this is to label panels as though they were 50-way regardless of actual size:

A 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24 (25) (26)
A 51 52 53 54 … 71 72 73 74 (75) (76)

That let’s you easily extend your panels to 26-way or 32-way without having to re-work everything, and makes efficient use of the available namespace. That’s quite smart. And if I had to pick one this would probably be it.

Most people agree you should skip the letters I and O because they can be confused with the numbers 1 and 0. But guess what? there are some folks in the world who didn’t do that and now they’re stuck with the system they have.

Others like to use numbers throughout and add a prefix to show if it’s a video or audio patch panel like this:

V01 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
V02 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24

V03 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24
V04 01 02 03 04 … 21 22 23 24

And many variations on these themes exist.

And then we move on to location-based naming. Great idea but very hard on the designer. Think about it… In order to know what equipment you have to mount in racks, you will probably have to finish the schematic designs first, right? So you do the rack layout and then go back and label your patch panels! and guess what happens if you have to modify the schematic???

By now you’re probably beginning to see how the simple business of writing a patch panel tool becomes a nightmare of complexity.

The problem with labelling conventions is that people are very attached to their own way of doing things. And with some justification because who wants to go back and re-label everything?

But there’s another psychological dimension to it. The more arbitrary and fundamentally insignificant the decision the more emotionally invested people become in it. A well-known cognitive bias known as “bike-shedding” or Parkinsons Law of Triviality. In labelling there is no absolute truth so you can fight to the death over it and NEVER, NEVER BE WRONG!