Last month we introduced theatrical intercom systems and described how invaluable they can be to a house of worship. Let’s looks at the different types of intercom systems that are available.
The "traditional" intercom system is called a party line system.
It works over normal microphone cable and often allows for multiple channels of intercom. Each channel can have a number of "stations" that can listen and talk on the channel simultaneously. Unlike a radio system, a theatrical intercom doesn't require that only one person speak at a time.
Most stations are usually hard-wired and range from very small and simple packs that can be clipped to a belt and support one channel; others can be larger rack-mount cases with a built-in speaker and access to multiple channels of intercom.
Wireless belt packs are also available for these party line systems. These systems typically have a "call" button that one can press to get the attention of another person on that channel by flashing a light on all the stations connected to that channel, and a talk button to activate the user's microphone.
Some also include features such as a "kill" button that will turn off all microphones of stations connected to a channel in case someone forgets to turn of their mic after speaking and is no longer wearing their headset, and a way to override default volume or mute settings on remove stations so that if an important message needs to be transmitted, all stations will hear it regardless of their mute or volume settings.
With the introduction of digital audio systems, some manufacturers of party line systems introduced digital systems with clearer sound. A Digital Matrix system evolved as well and provides the ability to group stations into their own "virtual" channels (the matrix aspect of the system) and support literally thousands of users.
Digital systems can also be run over network connections between remote facilities, allowing multiple campuses be on the same intercom system.
This can be very handy for video venue campuses where the sermon is being transmitted live to remote campuses.
And with the creation of the smart phone, numerous systems have popped up that work over these ubiquitous devices. Each user loads the intercom app onto their phone and is used with a headset to communicate with each other. Some are cloud-based; others require a server application running on a local computer.
These systems tend to be more cost-effective; however, being app-based usually means you need to click the right place on your phone screen to activate your microphone instead of having a physical button that you can easily find by feel. It also relies on the battery life of your mobile device.
Trying out a system such as this before committing to it would be a good idea; I've used one at an event in the past and while it worked, it was not nearly as convenient as a dedicated party-line system.
Clear, reliable communications are always important in a live event situation. Would an intercom system help your church produce better and less distracting services?