In the nearly 50 years that Clear-Com has been in the intercom business, every working product that it has ever sold can be adapted to the latest global internet technology. That means these intercoms can be expanded to connect with the nearly one billion internet telephones and walkie-talkies and millions more mobile iOS and Android devices.
Among the world’s pro audio companies, few can claim the continuing expandability of working products that date back to early two-wire intercom systems introduced when Clear-Com began business in 1968.
Owned today by HM Electronics, Inc., Clear-Com was the first to bring portable professional wired and wireless intercom systems to market and is now a leader in providing broadcast, sports, live performance and a host of other events with audio communications throughout the world.
At IBC in Amsterdam this year, Clear-Com is introducing to broadcasters its most ambitious expansion of compatible devices in its history. The company’s LQ Series of IP communications products has expanded to allow any Clear-Com intercom system ever manufactured to connect with all internet-connected SIP telephones, walkie-talkies and other devices, as well as all iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets.
That’s a gigantic expansion. There are estimated to be more than one billion VoIP internet telephony systems in the world by the end of 2017, according to Jupiter Research. In the last quarter of 2016, 432 million iOS and Android phones were sold, according to Gartner, Inc., adding to the millions more already in existence. Any of those devices, using a Clear-Com LQ system, can be connected to traditional intercom systems for making communications more accessible and less cost-prohibitive.
An LQ Upgrade at IBC
At IBC, Clear-Com will introduce Version 4.0 firmware, a major upgrade to its LQ line of internet connection products, which has become the essential “glue” that can tie any two-wire, four-wire, digital matrix or other system to the net. This new firmware enables LQ devices to dial up any SIP internet telephony device or digital walkie-talkie.
With Clear-Com’s Agent-IC mobile application, users of any iOS and Android device — even ones using Bluetooth headsets — can communicate with any LQ-equipped Clear-Com system. That adds to the already impressive range of wired (including fiber-based) and wireless systems that Clear-Com can connect with.
Though intercom technology has rapidly grown more complex through the years, Clear-Com has sought to keep its systems as simple and hassle-free as possible for the end user to operate. From the smallest theater group or broadcast station to the largest international sports production, the company’s goal has been for any user to instinctively adopt their intercom equipment for daily use without having to think about it.
Bob Boster, president of Clear-Com
“We have the most flexible set of capabilities, but we do it in a way that feels traditional and is understandable to the end user,” said Bob Boster, Clear-Com’s president. “By the end user, I don’t mean the technology guy who decides on the intercom system, but I mean the people who use the system every day. That’s an important distinction and is even more important as IP continues to develop.
“Intercom is not what people come to work to do — they use intercom for the making of content. We want to deliver a tool that can be handed to a professional and they will instinctively know how to use it. That is a big difference between us and our competitors,” Boster said.
Interestingly, Clear-Com’s product line, through the LQ interfaces, will also interconnect with the gear sold by its two main competitors, Riedel and RTS. In fact, in many installations, especially big broadcast remote operations, systems from different manufacturers are often melded into single communications systems.
No Customer Left Behind
With such a wide range of users, Clear-Com seeks to level the playing field by ensuring that no customer or system is left behind. “I often use the term democratization of IP,” said Boster. “What I mean is we can bring the flexibility, power and connectivity advantages of IP to any customer, regardless of size or skill level. We can take any intercom from the earliest days of Clear-Com and use it over IP. We can connect that customer to any other system in the world, whether new or old. The workflow will be seamless.”
There are eight LQ boxes in Clear-Com’s line, beginning in price at under $2,500. The boxes differ by the interface to the intercom system being used. Each LQ box is set-up and operated from a web app that appears on a standard web browser on any device.
Cliff Emerson, Clear-Com product manager
“We can connect multiple browsers to the same device,” said Cliff Emerson, a Clear-Com product manager. “If I make one change, the LQ boxes will see the change immediately. I can control all the LQ devices from one browser if they are linked. Administrators are provided with the ability to manage the system either locally or remotely without the need for installing additional software.”
I.V. Core, said Emerson, is Clear-Com’s packeted transport of audio and data for IP networks. It resides within LQ, sends audio at very low latency with high audio quality through a wide-band codec and contains forward error correction for preserving signal integrity on “dirty” networks.
The new 4.0 firmware for LQ, said Emerson, expands the intercom features in many ways. “Take for example copper phone lines in OB trucks commonly used for delivering IFB feeds and back-up connections. With LQ as an alternative to copper lines, there will be less cable weight on the truck, more cost-savings with SIP as the means to send IFB feeds and more flexibility to interface with other intercom or audio devices.”
For customers on a budget, Clear-Com’s Agent-IC app and smartphones are a major breakthrough, Emerson said. “Users can bring their existing party-line equipment into LQ and use Agent IC for their mobile phones. They can also call SIP phones that exist throughout the venue as well. This is a game changer.
“That said, we make sure the customer understands the pitfalls of using a consumer product like the iPhone or an Android device in a professional intercom system. In a venue where people come in with other mobile phones, heavy usage can disrupt the system. We promote these phones as a backup or an ancillary device. Clear-Com tries not to dictate workflow, but to accommodate workflow.”
Another of the powers of LQ is the network quality of signals can be adjusted on the fly. “Let’s say it’s the Olympics and a couple of feeds have to be very high quality. But I’m paying by the kilobit,” said Emerson. “The quality of each stream of audio being sent can be varied by the user from the browser. You can decide exactly what you want on the spot.”
LQ can also achieve high audio quality over secure IP networks. This is accomplished through high-speed data links providing up to the full 20kHz audio bandwidth through the adaptable OPUS codec. The audio quality levels can be adapted on the fly, allowing for adjustments from any web browser.
The Interconnected World
Today, the intercom business is defined by two words: interoperability and interconnectivity, Emerson noted. “Take Dante, now a big thing. If you don’t have Dante in this day and age, you are behind. Think of a matrix as a way of bringing in all these different interfaces into a ubiquitous communications platform. I might have Dante, I might have MADI, wireless, four-wire, two-wire, a radio interface — you want to be able to interoperate with all of the equipment that surrounds you in the venue. SIP was a big one. Radios, telephony, even doorbells — there are all kinds of things now with SIP connectivity available.”
Competition in every part of the intercom business is higher than ever — from matrix to wireless to IP, said Boster. “All these areas are duking it out and that’s good,” he said. “At Clear-Com, we focus on having the power of these advanced technologies without making the end user's experience more complicated than it needs to be.
“We extend the new technology to achieve anything the customer desires, while maintaining simplicity for the end user. That can be quite a trick, but we do it very well,” Boster said. “We also protect the customer’s original investment by extending the lifespan of their existing their system. That’s a business proposition that’s hard to beat.”
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