The GWS Giants have been representing Western Sydney’s passionate AFL supporters since their first big league match in 2012. Their home ground is Spotless Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park, originally built for the 2000 Olympics.
This footy season, game day production provider MicroHire have brought in comms specialist Paul Barrett and his company Pdb3 to provide communications for the production and broadcast crew. Every home game, Paul rolls out a system that has Clear-Com’s HelixNet at its core, providing a fast, easily configurable solution that’s as flexible as it is powerful.
“We’re using most of Clear-Com’s HelixNet range,” explained Paul. “We bring in two HMS-4X HelixNet master stations, a HRM-4X HelixNet t remote station, and a HKB-2X HelixNet desktop station. We put one master with the audio operator and use that to interface programme audio, talk-to-ears paging, IFB, the ground announcer’s comms system, and an audio feed from the OB truck for the broadcast director. We then run an IP link to the comms tech’s rack, where we have UHF bases that can interface with HelixNet via their four -wire module and relay connections. We also run an XLR cable to the showcaller’s remote station, and another to the camera switcher’s desktop station.”
Running through the specs of Paul’s setup, the HMS-4X is a 1RU digital partyline main station with four channels of full-duplex audio and program audio feed that can support up to 20 beltpacks.
The HRM-4X is a 1RU, four channel remote station that connects to the HMS-4X main station, providing access to four simultaneous channels of comms, plus assignable program audio.
The HKB-2X is a four-channel, two display digital partyline speaker station that connects with the HMS-4X Main Station and can assign and monitor four channels of intercom while communicating on any two of the four channels. Paul also provides four Clear-Com CC-300 single-ear headsets and one Clear-Com CC-400 double-ear headset.
HelixNet’s new Version 3 firmware and software, with its ability to configure devices over the Core Configuration Manager (CCM) web interface, was one of the main reasons Paul decided to steer MicroHire away from the matrix system they’d used previously.
“Version 3 enables full web-based control of the comms system, which makes it much easier to configure,” he continued. “Previously, we had to physically push buttons and turn dials on the master station to configure the system, but we can now do it through the web. The benefit is that it’s very fast to install and remove.”
Another key new feature that helps Paul and the crew get up and running quickly and efficiently is User Roles, which enables the comms tech to save and load favourite audio settings and key assignments for any device.
“Because our comms equipment is sub-hired, the User Roles feature in V3 makes it very easy to deploy,” Paul elaborated.
“I can simply save my files, and the next time I get equipment, load it up and set the User Roles I want each device to have, and we’re away. It’s all about faster deployment when it may be different hardware each week. Because CCM is a simple web interface, it would also be easy for a non-comms tech to deploy the system, if need be.”
On game day, Paul integrates 20 two-ways radios into the comms system, which are spread across camera operators, floor operators and the audio team, bringing them in on three channels into the master station.
“HelixNet gives me some of the matrix-type functionality of integrating two-ways, IFB and programme, but with the simplicity of a partyline system,” Paul stated.
“Traditional partyline has the problem of cancelling the transmit and the receive if you need to integrate a two-way radio or a four- wire feed to a broadcast truck. With HelixNet being natively four-wire, there’s none of those issues with echo or cancellation which you get on a matrix system.”
Other new features in HelixNet Version 3 include an optional channel expansion license, which increases channel density by adding an additional 12 channels, bringing the total to 24 on a single main station.
The new ‘Stacked Keys’ feature allows users to assign multiple channels to a single beltpack key, and the ‘USB Flasher’ means beltpacks can be configured as a call light by making a connected USB light glow steadily, or blink.
Changing an established system on something as performance-sensitive as live production and broadcast can make technicians nervous. How did the crew react to the rollout of HelixNet?
“There were some concerns that they might lose some functionality by going away from a full matrix,” Paul reported, “but there’s been no problems or complaints at all. Everything MicroHire have wanted to do we’ve been able to accommodate with the HelixNet system. It’s a great half-way between partyline and matrix that fits really well in the sports broadcasting environment.”