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Old November 4th, 2008, 11:53 PM   #1
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FCC Decision May Impact Your Work!

Hi all:

WIth all of the excitement over the elections today, I doubt if many noticed another monumental decision was made that will affect many of us. The FCC, over the protests and complaints of our industry, voted 5-0 today to license unused spectrum for future wireless devices.

"A coalition of powerful groups, including broadcasters, Broadway theater producers and sports franchises, hoped to derail or delay the decision. They have argued that their own transmissions — whether from television signals or from wireless microphones used in live music performances — could face interference from new devices that use the white spaces."

I just researched and wrote an article on this subject that will appear in the February 2009 issue of HD Video Equipment - HD Video Tips - HD Video Technique | HDVideoPro.com magazine. What it boils down to is that as users of wireless microphone systems, all of us will be affected by this and the immediate future of how usable our wireless mic systems will be is in question. The beacon testing that was conducted to see if the "white space" wireless internet devices could recognize already used spectrum by wireless microphone users was an inconclusive failure.

I have spoken with representatives from Lectrosonics, Sennheiser and Shure and all I can tell you is that we will face challenges and most of us will experience interference and at times, our wireless systems will be useless in certain times and locations. All of the manufacturers have various game plans and technology they are developing to circumvent these issues ranging from new 944Mhz systems to 2.4Ghz technology and some other solutions but the bottom line is that we have officially just become unlicensed competitors for our own air space and we are in competition for the use of that air space with companies that have a little power and political clout including the best lawyers that money can buy. Who has been unceasingly petitioning the FCC for this airspace? Why our friends at Google and Microsoft amongst others. There are tens of billions of dollars worth potential business involved here and frankly, our industry groups like NAB and the Broadway theater owners cannot compete as far as having the ear of the FCC.

Today, nobody can state exactly how this will affect each of us, but we can say that this decision is very significant and may grow to the level of monumental in the next year or two.

Read about it. http://tinyurl.com/6emnhh

Nobody has the answers yet but we all have a lot of questions.

Dan

Last edited by Dan Brockett; November 5th, 2008 at 10:18 AM.
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Old November 5th, 2008, 02:15 AM   #2
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While I agree that this will definitely put a lot of wireless mic users into a difficult situation, I have to admit I also agree with the FCC's decision.

The problem is that Lectrosonics, et al. have been illegally squatting in unlicensed spectrum. The fact that they got away with it for a long time doesn't mean that what they did was right or that they should be allowed to keep what never belonged to them. While this change might cost them a few sales while they transition their products over to licensed or shared spectrum, the real victims are working pros who are left holding the bag of gear that may or may not continue to work in the near future.

I don't think Google or Microsoft has done anything wrong here either. They have as much right to play in the unlicensed bands as anyone else. "But, I stole it first!" is not a valid excuse. And it's not like the FCC told the wireless mic makers "You can't use that spectrum anymore." All they said was "You've been playing in a sandbox that doesn't belong to you, and now you have to learn to share it with the other kids who ARE playing by the rules."

The truth is, the wireless mic makers have all known that this change would happen sooner or later. They could have purchased spectrum licenses at any time, or switched to digital systems that can tolerate interference, but instead chose to let their old analog technology ride for as long as they could get away with it. What remains to be seen is if they will do the right thing and offer free or discounted upgrades or replacements to their users.
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Old November 5th, 2008, 03:39 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Jason Livingston View Post
The truth is, the wireless mic makers have all known that this change would happen sooner or later. They could have purchased spectrum licenses at any time, or switched to digital systems that can tolerate interference, but instead chose to let their old analog technology ride for as long as they could get away with it. What remains to be seen is if they will do the right thing and offer free or discounted upgrades or replacements to their users.
Jason:

The real problem in this is nearly all of the wireless mic companies make a fraction of what the 'big boys' who are now coming into this arena make. I would guess that the marketing arm alone of a few of these has a budget larger than what companies like Lectro and Zaxcom make in a year. Purchasing the spectrum simply wasn't an option.

In my opinion, and I'm slightly biased, is that Zaxcom is the only company poised to ride this out without too much of an issue because they switched to all digital with the TRX line of wireless and that line also can be used as a recorder, so they don't have to transmit anything from the transmitter, they simply record direct to a mini-SD card with timecode. But there is a cost, and it isn't cheap. We're talking $3,000 for each transmitter/receiver pair.

As far as what these manufacturers will do, I think each is in a quandary because few of them have real options at this point. Giving away products, as you suggest, probably isn't going to work because most can't afford to absorb that much of a hit. Life of the soundman just got a whole lot harder and unfortunately few film directors and producers cared much for the sound department to begin with, so this issue won't be seen to them as "their problem", but our problem. They simply want results.

Wayne
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Old November 5th, 2008, 05:37 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jason Livingston View Post
While I agree that this will definitely put a lot of wireless mic users into a difficult situation, I have to admit I also agree with the FCC's decision.

The problem is that Lectrosonics, et al. have been illegally squatting in unlicensed spectrum. The fact that they got away with it for a long time doesn't mean that what they did was right or that they should be allowed to keep what never belonged to them. While this change might cost them a few sales while they transition their products over to licensed or shared spectrum, the real victims are working pros who are left holding the bag of gear that may or may not continue to work in the near future.

...
The truth is, the wireless mic makers have all known that this change would happen sooner or later. They could have purchased spectrum licenses at any time, or switched to digital systems that can tolerate interference, but instead chose to let their old analog technology ride for as long as they could get away with it. What remains to be seen is if they will do the right thing and offer free or discounted upgrades or replacements to their users.

The argument that wireless MANUFACTURERS should have puchased spectrum makes no sense. Licenses for the rights to use a transmitter in a segment of the spectrum are not issued to the manufacturers of the equipment. They are issued to the purchasers / operators of the transmitters. Would you personally be able to go up against Microsoft's economic clout in order to secure exclusive license rights to use your Lectro kit on 678MHz for your shoots in Maryland if they wished to use that same frequency to turn your town into a giant wireless hotspot connection to MSN?

Wireless users weren't illegally squatting or illegally operating. The rules specifically permitted low power users to operate in the guard-band areas ("white space") between licensed users as long as they did not interfere with the primary users and in turn accepted the risk that they might be interfered with by the primary user's transmissions. There was nothing illegal about it, any more than it is illegal for you to operate a cordless phone or a wireless home network without securing a formal broadcast transmitter license.

There was nothing to prevent the FCC setting aside bands of the spectrum for unlicensed low power use. They could have just have easily ruled something to the effect that the band between XXXMHz and YYYMHz is reserved for and restricted to low power wireless users only. The only thing standing in their way was their belief that big time corporate greed trumped individual consumer and small business interests. The myth of operating the government "like a business" is the belief that it will always be in society's best interests for the government to favour corporate interests in return for multi-million dollar license fees and of course reserving some portions of the spectrum out of the license auction would run counter to that notion.
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Old November 5th, 2008, 09:09 AM   #5
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Jason:

The wireless mic makers have not been squatting on any particular bandwidth, it is we, the users, who have been.

It was incumbent upon the FCC to enforce the section 74 laws and for decades, they have turned a deaf ear toward enforcement of that regulation. They could have enforced regulation at the point of purchase and they have not. We as wireless users are the ones who have driven the market and have failed to license ourselves as wireless users as required by the law. The manufacturers may hold some small amount of complicity in this issue but ultimately the entire issue falls back on the FCC. Based upon my research, there are only approximately 940 licensed broadcast wireless users in the U.S. market registered out of an estimated user base for wireless in the U.S. that runs into the tens of millions.

We pay our taxes so that entities like the FCC will justly and fairly administer our airwaves. Many in our industry feel that this ruling and the entire issue were voted on and a decision was made much too early, with not enough testing and not enough potential solutions found. We, as users, will now pay the price.

This time table of this ruling is a failure of the normal process of vetting, opposition getting a fair shake at stating their side of the issue because of the tremendous amount of money and political clout of the Microsoft, HP and Google led coalition. Even some of the FCC commissioners who voted on this issue admitted that they felt the decision was made in haste and too soon, yet they voted on it anyway because their boss, Kevin J. Martin, the chairman of the FCC was a champion of this technology. I am not sure if you have ever dealt with the FCC, I have on some indirect challenges and they are not my favorite governmental body as you can tell.

Of all of the microphone manufacturers I have spoken with, Lectrosonics has the most concrete solution to the upcoming 700mHz issue as soon as the DTV transition is complete in February, 2009. Today, you can send them your wireless system and for $200.00 to $500.00 per system, they will install new boards that will allow the system to operate legally. However, this issue is much different than the white spaces issue which is a whole other can of worms. White spaces are all over the overall spectrum and their is no quick, easy or logical solution.

If you use wireless mics, you may not be able to use them in the near future with any kind of reliance or reliability no matter what the operating band. This is a big deal for anyone who makes their living using this technology. This ruling effectively takes us out the process, we will have to just live with it.

Dan

Last edited by Pete Bauer; November 6th, 2008 at 09:50 AM. Reason: TOS political statements, personal innuendo, and accusations removed
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Old November 5th, 2008, 12:12 PM   #6
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More details emerging from the FCC about the process

More details as the story unfolds. The FCC says that they will make sure that the new devices will not interfere with wireless mics through their own testing?

FCC Votes For Unlicensed White Space Use

Dan

Last edited by Pete Bauer; November 6th, 2008 at 09:55 AM. Reason: TOS political meta-comment
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Old November 6th, 2008, 03:27 AM   #7
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Just a note for the record...

Any solution like the Zaxcom self-contained unit that does not allow real-time monitoring of the recording at a remote location is doomed to fail in our industry.

The point is not just to broadcast the audio signal to another location to RECORD it - but rather to remote it to that location in order to MONITOR it and know that your recording isn't degraded by anything like clothing noise or RF hits.

Remote recording may work for the casual event practitioner, but not for the working professional.

FWIW.
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Old November 6th, 2008, 06:24 AM   #8
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Just a note for the record...

Any solution like the Zaxcom self-contained unit that does not allow real-time monitoring of the recording at a remote location is doomed to fail in our industry.

The point is not just to broadcast the audio signal to another location to RECORD it - but rather to remote it to that location in order to MONITOR it and know that your recording isn't degraded by anything like clothing noise or RF hits.

Remote recording may work for the casual event practitioner, but not for the working professional.
The Zaxcom TRX units have been adopted and are currently being used by several of the big mixers in NY and CA working on major features. So you theory is very flawed from the outset. In fact because of certain things, it's the professionals who use these rather than the casual practitioner, this becomes evident when you understand how these units work.

The TRX unit is a thing of beauty in that it does in fact allow you to use it as a standard wireless unit. However, you jam it with timecode and set it to record. All audio is being recorded with time code on a Mini SD card in full 24-bit resolution. RF hits are a thing of the past with these units (at least from the recording perspective), since 99% of the RF hits you get are related not to the mic/transmitter combination, but the transmitter/receiver side of the equation. You may hear the RF hit when you are monitoring (although they are less susceptible to RF hits since they broadcast a digital signal across the analog airwaves), but the audio recorded on SD card is unaffected.

The SD cards contain metadata in the BWAV file that identifies the transmitter and time code. This file is read into a computer and then the post house uses the time code to make the daily/mix/etc.

Because this system relies on time code and aligning the audio in post, the casual user isn't going to like it. In fact, I've worked on many projects (some with fairly large budgets) that didn't use time code because they want to run audio directly into a camera. This is going to be the major shift people are going to have to understand. They are either going to have to deal with the new FCC rules and more RF hits if they choose to go wireless into a camera (common), or go wired from the mixer to the camera. But then they still will have to deal with any wireless lavs, or they are going to have to start using post audio a bit better and not relying on camera audio all the time.

Wayne
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Old November 6th, 2008, 08:56 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Wayne Brissette View Post
The Zaxcom TRX units have been adopted and are currently being used by several of the big mixers in NY and CA working on major features. So you theory is very flawed from the outset. In fact because of certain things, it's the professionals who use these rather than the casual practitioner, this becomes evident when you understand how these units work.

The TRX unit is a thing of beauty in that it does in fact allow you to use it as a standard wireless unit. However, you jam it with timecode and set it to record. All audio is being recorded with time code on a Mini SD card in full 24-bit resolution. RF hits are a thing of the past with these units (at least from the recording perspective), since 99% of the RF hits you get are related not to the mic/transmitter combination, but the transmitter/receiver side of the equation. You may hear the RF hit when you are monitoring (although they are less susceptible to RF hits since they broadcast a digital signal across the analog airwaves), but the audio recorded on SD card is unaffected.

The SD cards contain metadata in the BWAV file that identifies the transmitter and time code. This file is read into a computer and then the post house uses the time code to make the daily/mix/etc.

Because this system relies on time code and aligning the audio in post, the casual user isn't going to like it. In fact, I've worked on many projects (some with fairly large budgets) that didn't use time code because they want to run audio directly into a camera. This is going to be the major shift people are going to have to understand. They are either going to have to deal with the new FCC rules and more RF hits if they choose to go wireless into a camera (common), or go wired from the mixer to the camera. But then they still will have to deal with any wireless lavs, or they are going to have to start using post audio a bit better and not relying on camera audio all the time.

Wayne
Hi Wayne:

That was my understanding of the TRX system and why it impressed me so much. Am I correct in thinking that I can use the unit as a wireless transmitter but if I do experience a hit, I have the SD card audio to work with as well (as long as I keep feeding it blank SD cards) to patch any hits, correct? If I have this right, I think this is one of the most brilliant solutions that anyone has come up with.

So you still would have your regular wireless signal to record and use, but the SD card audio is there, "just in case"?

How much are we talking retail as far as per channel cost for a TRX transmitter and a receiver? Comparable to Lectro or more?

Dan
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Old November 6th, 2008, 10:15 AM   #10
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Dan:

Your assumptions are correct. The MiniSD cards are placed into the transmitter unit, and it is recording while it is transmitting. So, if you experience the RF hit, you can go back and pull the audio from the SD card. Zaxcom has developed their own proprietary .zax file format (lossless compression), that you need a computer to extract the the BWAV file from. They do this since the MiniSD cards are currently limited to 2 GB. So, it's possible to use any or all of the audio direct from the SD card, but you also have the receiver which can be used to feed a mixer/camera/comtek.

Cost is the biggest challenge, each TX/RX pair will set you back around $3,000 USD. Both mono and stereo versions of the TRX900 series are available. I use a stereo version when I'm getting a soundboard feed to mix in with my microphones. Works brilliantly, and this Sunday, I'll use this setup with a local orchestras recording where I'm using their board feed to supplement my microphones.
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Old November 6th, 2008, 10:35 AM   #11
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Wayne, is the radio transmission of the TRX digital or analogue? I heard a few years back that digital radiomics had synch problems because the A/D and D/A parts of the system introduced delays, a headache when mixing in with other sources. Presumably this has now been sorted out?

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Old November 6th, 2008, 10:42 AM   #12
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Wayne, is the radio transmission of the TRX digital or analogue? I heard a few years back that digital radiomics had synch problems because the A/D and D/A parts of the system introduced delays, a headache when mixing in with other sources. Presumably this has now been sorted out?
With ANY radio mic you have approximately 2 ms of delay. This has not changed. To get around this, the Deva has an adjustable delay that can be set on any of the inputs. This allows you to sync up the signals. Recently the amount that can be delayed was fine tuned, so you can change from ms to frames. Typically I use ms to get into the ball park, then change the setting to frames, and fine tune the input signal. I have to do this with every wireless unit when used with a boom. You have to add the delay to the boom mic to compensate for the wireless units. If you're going directly into a camera or mixer without the delay feature, then run into all sorts of issues.

Wayne
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Old November 6th, 2008, 10:51 AM   #13
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Very interesting, and thanks for the info Wayne. Once you have set the digital radio mics up with their delays compensated, and the wired mics delayed to match does everything stay put, or do you have to tweak every morning, or every time you change location or whatever?
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Old November 6th, 2008, 10:57 AM   #14
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Very interesting, and thanks for the info Wayne. Once you have set the digital radio mics up with their delays compensated, and the wired mics delayed to match does everything stay put, or do you have to tweak every morning, or every time you change location or whatever?
Once they are setup and you have a feel for the delay, you set them and forget them. There may be some odd changes every now and again, but once you figure out where approximately things need to be set, it only takes a couple of seconds to add or subtract delay from an input on the Deva. There is no delay compensation on the receivers (and you don't usually want to add delay to the receivers), I say this because I want to make sure I'm leading you down the right path and you understand this compensation is done on the recorder, not the wireless.

Wayne
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Old November 6th, 2008, 11:04 AM   #15
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Yep, I have that; thanks for the clarification. Definitely not for the guy running around plugged into the back of the cam corder. I must say it seems a little daunting, but anything new does at first. We old film codgers thought that ENG would put the cows off their milk.
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