Alphabet Soup: Decoding the A to Z in Audio Visual
Barco RLM-W14 DLP projector… Clair Brothers i208 Line Array element… Hippotizer V4 Taiga media server… VariLite VL3500 Spot luminaire… To an AV professional, those are names and phrases they use every day in their work. But for meeting professionals, those words may as well be in a different language. Indecipherable jargon is a major culprit for why so many meeting professionals hate dealing with AV services for their events.
And the reason is simple: those words are used all too often to confuse, belittle and con meeting professionals into buying AV services they don’t actually need. Professional audio-visual equipment is complex, highly engineered technology, but it doesn’t need to be shrouded in secrecy and jargon or acronyms and model numbers. We believe the right equipment for the job can be described in simple words.
Simply put, we believe that it’s our job to be the AV professionals, not yours. We don’t believe in hiding behind a mysterious cloud of letters and numbers that make little sense. But we can’t always say the same for the other guys, so to help every meeting planner out there get the most out of their AV (even if they don’t work with us), we decided to do something about it. Behold, the A to Z for Event Audio Visual, including some of the most important terms you’ll need to know both before an event and behind-the-scenes!
Audio Board: The main control device for all inputs. Inputs include microphones, iPods, even computers that generate audio of any kind. Lots of inputs? Big board.
Backstage Area: The space behind the stage that’s typically reserved for cast and crew members and most technical positions. Often overflowing with gear, cables, cases and assorted production elements, backstage is also a great place to create space for presenters and performers BEFORE they take the stage.
Backlight: A term to describe an area to be lit with a variety of lighting instruments, specifically designed to provide separation and definition of a subject and the background. Best understood by picturing a person standing on stage. That person will be lit on their front/face so the audience can clearly see them. To provide greater separation from the scenic elements, additional lights are focused on that person’s shoulders / back of the head / torso. This additional element is especially important when shooting videos and I-Mag.
Call Time: The agreed upon time when the crew will arrive. Generally speaking, call time includes the unwritten rule of “if you’re on time, you’re late”. So, a 6am call time means you are ready, not arriving at 6am. Most crew members arrive 5 to 20 minutes before the scheduled call time.
Deck: Shorthand for “stage deck”. Typically provided by the venue, usually in sections measuring 6’ x 8’ and often of variable height, stage decks are dropped in place, connected together and used to create the main stage for an event or meeting. Added elements can make a stage far more than a simple rectangle. From curved, internally-lit step structures at the front of a stage, to complex, multi-level stage areas, the base decks are just the beginning.
Electrical Distribution Box: Usually referred to in shorthand as a “distro box”, this highly specialized device routes electrical power to where it needs to be within the various production systems. The distro box is the central hub, and like spokes on a bicycle wheel, allows for various cable runs to power discrete gear.
Usually, electrical distribution boxes are “tied” into the main venue power source with the help of the venues’ in-house electrician. Once the box has been tied-in, the individual production company is free to distribute that power accordingly.
To do that, most production crews include a master electrician. This person is responsible for proper distribution of power to various departments. For example, video projection requires a far greater power draw than audio.
Front Projection: a term to describe how an image is projected on a screen. As the name implies, the image comes from the front, which means in the “house” or the same space in which audience members sit. The projector itself may be relatively near the screen, and thus visible to the audience. Or, it can be much further away, typically along a back wall, out of the way of the audience. The opposite of front projection is rear projection.
Hippo: The brand name of computer-based system that allows for the projection of motion-based images on surfaces. Highly specialized, a Hippo system is used for “projection mapping”, a technique that turns any hard surface into a projection screen surface. The images can be generic or custom and create a tremendous visual appeal.
Hazer: A piece of equipment that produces atmospheric fog to enhance lighting. Haze creates an all over smokey-ness to the air which amplifies the ability to see individual beams of light. Always great during live entertainment elements and award shows, this simple addition adds a tremendous amount of drama and effect to any event.
Note: Hazing a room often requires a “fire watch” which is a specific labor need fulfilled by the local fire marshal’s office. This a precaution to ensure guest safety, requires approval and scheduled labor in advance and carries a small fee.
I-Mag: Shorthand for ‘Image Magnification’, this is a system of cameras, projectors, screens and personnel to “broadcast” stage activity. Most often used when meetings or events grow past 350 attendees, I-Mag helps those sitting in the back of the space better see what’s happening on-stage.
Jib: Unlike a fixed tripod, a jib is a device used to mount video cameras, specifically to give unique views and smooth, steady movement. Sometimes incorrectly called a crane, a jib is manned by a highly specialized camera operator. Available in a large variety of sizes, jibs are usually used in large environments; stadiums, permanent theatres, convention center show floors, etc. Jibs seamlessly sweep over the audience, creating movement and dimension unavailable with traditional fixed camera positions.
Kicker: A general term used to describe a lighting instrument, typically erected at the very front edge or downstage edge of a stage deck to “kick” extra light on the face of the presenter. Used specifically for presenters with deep set eyes or dark bags under the eyes, the kicker provides light from below instead of above. Kickers can also be used for special lighting effects, typically with bands or other performers. This is for drama and intrigue versus lighting for quality of appearance.
Line Array: A loudspeaker system that is made up of a number of usually identical loudspeaker elements mounted in a line and fed in phase. Line arrays can be oriented in any direction, but their primary use is in vertical arrays which provide a very narrow vertical output pattern useful for focusing sound at audiences without wasting output energy on ceilings or empty air above the audience.
Limitimer: A clock that counts up or down so the presenter knows how much time their onstage. BTW, we know what you’re thinking. Go ahead and Google this one; you’ll immediately see it’s not a Limit Timer. The proper word is in fact, Limitimer.
Mix Position: The term that describes the front of house area within the ballroom or event venue where the technical crew monitor and operate the production elements of the show. This small area, often walled off with black drape, is within the larger ballroom or venue space where guests watch the show. It is NOT backstage, the mix position resides within the main space. Typically staffed with the show director, lead lighting designer and lead audio technician, the mix position personnel communicate to the remaining crew members backstage. The mix position is usually at the very back of the room or off to one side. This physical position allows the lead crew technicians to see and hear directly.
Network: A term to describe linking computers, projectors, lighting instruments and other production equipment together.
Outboards: Shorthand or lingo to describe video screens that flank the stage at the furthest point both right and left. Used by crew members and event producers to describe the location a certain image should be seen. For example, you might hear, “let’s put the I-Mag on the center screen and the presenters’ PowerPoint slides to the outboards”.
Perfect Cue: A professional grade, radio-frequency (as opposed to infrared) based system that allows an on-stage presenter to advance slides from a computer. The system is much more than the simple handheld device often referred to as the ’clicker’ or the ‘pickle’. The Perfect Cue system can directly interface with a computer and programs like PowerPoint. It can also be used to signal a live operator to advance the slides; both methods have pluses and minuses. A major concern while using Perfect Cue is the unintentional hijacking of the clicker itself. Presenters will sometimes fail to pass the clicker on to the next person, which can result in a minor panic attack for the person on stage. Back-up clickers and a stage runner, production assistant, or backstage manager come into play during these situations.
Pickle: Another term for the handheld device that a speaker uses to advance presentation slides using Perfect Cue.
QC: Shorthand for “quality control”. Done throughout a show, typically lead by department leads and the overall technical director, QC ensures all systems are properly installed, operating and removed. While obvious on the surface, quality control is wildly important if a system fails. QC ensures that all personnel and systems can be easily and rapidly attended to. Cables are where they’re supposed to be. Back-up systems are operational. Spare parts are easily accessed, cases open and paths clear. In short, QC is about making sure everything is perfect before, during and as the show concludes.
Ring the Room: During the production load-in, usually after one too many tequilas, you’ll walk into a ballroom that seems mostly ready… but you hear loud, eerie noises filling the room. What you’re experiencing is the lead audio technician conducting a series of exercises known collectively as “ringing the room”. Each microphone and channel of the sound board being used is tested to be sure any noises, pops, clicks, rings, interference, etc., has been tested for. The process, while annoying as mosquitos biting on your ankle, is important to ensure the highest possible performance of the entire audio system.
Snakes: How AV professionals refer to the equipment used to get a signal from backstage to the mix position in the house for audio and lighting.
Trim Kit: Drapery trim kits add a theater look to finish your stage set around screens. All trim kits are available in multiple material types, weights and colors. Trim kits in standard widths to fit all projection screens.
Truss: The equipment that’s used to hang items in the air.
Visqueen: A brand of polyethylene plastic sheeting, Visqueen is used for many purposes. It is commonly used as a temporary tarpaulin or as a visible light barrier for some fabrics or other materials. Often the backing material in scenic elements where there is a desire to allow zero light penetration, visqueen is also a simple, inexpensive and easily deployed tool for a variety of needs. Another use of visqueen along with a few gallons of common water is a low-budget Slip-N-Slide. Just sayin’.
XLR: A type of cable and connector, XLR is primarily found on professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. The connectors are circular in design and have between 3 and 7 pins. Using a “male to female” system, they are most commonly associated with balanced audio interconnection, but are also used for lighting control, low-voltage power supplies, and other applications. Three-pin XLR connectors are by far the most common style, and are an industry standard for balanced audio signals. The great majority of professional microphones use the XLR connector.
Yoke: A rigging term meaning to harness, fasten, hitch, couple, or attach something.
Zip ties: The ubiquitous tool used to secure cords and other pieces of equipment backstage. A bit like duct tape, zip ties have a way of being the go-to fix for a whole host of AV challenges. Common purposes for zip ties during a show include zipping segments of stage deck together, securing groups of cables into tight bundles, securing scenic elements in place, hanging banners with grommets, handcuffing nefarious characters until the authorities arrive.
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