Information for a Visual Age

Skype to the rescue

In Technology on January 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm

The power went out in our building a few days ago. This would no’t have been a big deal but it was on the day of a big event that was going to be teleconferenced to some remote participants. When the power came back, our phone system was fried and not working. Panic ensued.

We discussed a number of different options. We could use a cell-phone conferencing feature, but we judged them to have inadequate sound quality to pick up the conversation in a large conference room. We could purchase a new phone and run a long telephone line to our fax line, the one direct outside line that was working (because it was bypassing our internal PBX system). But that was still judged to have too many risks (using a new phone during an event).

So we resorted to Skype. I plugged a laptop into our sound system:

  • line-out on the laptop plugged into an input on the mixer
  • microphone input on the laptop plugged into the auxiliary output of the mixer

It worked surprisingly well. The teleconference participants got the direct sound connection from our sound system, resulting in very high sound quality to them. And their speech was routed through our sound system and broadcast over the loudspeaker system, so that all the conference participants — whether they were in-room or on the telephone line — could hear each other.

The one improvement I think I will try to make next time it to get a mixer that has two separate, individually controllable output channels. Our existing mixer had two outputs — main and control room — but when the volume on main was turned down, it also turned down the control room. So there was no effective way to eliminate line chatter from the remote end. This was a problem at one point: one telephone participate started chatting with what was presumably someone in here office, for all the conferenece to hear. This problem could be avoided with two individual outputs: the sound technician could monitor it the mix on headphones, for example. The technician could then instantly mute the telephone output whenever needed.

It’s amazing what one can do with a little ingenuity and a few audio cables.

  1. What model mixer was it?

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