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Com together: Optocore and Clear-Com

Phil Ward talks to Marc Brunke and Simon Browne of Optocore and Clear-Com (respectively) as the two companies strike an alliance to combine intercom with fibre-optic networking.

German fibre-optic distribution pioneer Optocore has embarked on a series of strategic partnerships; and, given the reach of the company’s technology into so many sectors and so many applications, it’s hardy surprising. With early successes in broadcast, founder Marc Brunke’s ambitious but egalitarian manufacturing concern has branched into every area of pro audio.

Once the quantum leap into fibre-based connectivity is made, the arguments against begin to take on the characteristics of global warming denial: you have to wonder what is the hidden agenda that so rigidly preserves scepticism over curiosity. Well, gradually the industry is warming to Optocore, and the latest of these alliances involves US-based intercom expert Clear-Com, itself concerned with linking arms right around the globe via comms systems.

The first fruits of this labour are the V3R-FX-Intercom, a four-channel unit, and the eight-channel X6R-FX 8, both of them Clear-Com devices based on Optocore’s X6R and V3R signal converter platforms, for which the analogue I/O has been replaced by intercom-standard RJ45 connectors. As a result, Clear-Com Eclipse matrix systems, four wires and intercom control panels are ushered into the fibre-optic world, their audio and control data passing through the Optocore router connecting intercom panels with remote matrices and audio channels to every device on the network.

“Essentially the idea is that we can now piggy-back on the backbone of the Optocore system,” says Clear-Com product manager Simon Browne (left of picture, with Brunke right). “The intercom can join the video and audio programs that are already there, together with any control feeds such as DMX lighting and GPIs. They’re all bundled within a common fibre-optic network, and we as Clear-Com gain the advantage of being able to place the intercom wherever you need it – over a large event, a large sporting OB, between studios… The Optocore system, meanwhile, gains all the resources of an intercom system.”

Browne reports that Clear-Com has noticed a significant rise in demand among its customers for fibre-optic connectivity. “The install period for large events is very expensive,” he says. “To bring it all down to a bundle of single fibres really reduces operational costs, and if your system can’t take advantage of that you’re not reaping the benefits of a common backbone. With Optocore, we get that advantage and we get those benefits.”

According to Brunke, this is the first such relationship between Optocore and a leading intercoms specialist. “We have worked on a few projects with Riedel before,” he says, “but that wasn’t out of the ordinary because they are AES/EBU based, and we’ve always interfaced with AES/EBU. With Clear-Com it’s a different story, because it has necessitated a joint venture to achieve the integration. We produce and market the devices, but Clear-Com is also able to sell the devices through their distribution channels. This gives them a very good solution even when there is no Optocore at all involved in the installation: they are completely self-sufficient. For our customers, the benefit is this: when they already have a large Optocore system in place, they usually have some sort of intercom as well – this is now a Clear-Com product, and they can get rid of all the cabling.”

Typically for Optocore, the fallout from the alliance spans a number of key markets. “In broadcast applications the set-up period is usually very long. Now it’s much shorter,” Brunke points out. “And in the theatre, just as important, you can change the routing by software and not by having to physically re-patch the cabling. You often have the situation in theatres that there is a completely different intercom set-up during rehearsals and during the show. With these products you can switch between different rehearsals and different shows completely on the fly.”

The details of the joint venture reveal a classic OEM arrangement. “The technology is owned by Optocore,” explains Browne, “while we offer another sales channel for it, to build our system on it. We are bringing more sales to Optocore; it helps us, it helps them. There has been an exchange of technology in order to work out the interfacing. We’ve provided information about our gateways, but 99% of the ‘invention’ belongs to Optocore. As this develops, there may be more interaction in terms of technology.”

There may also be more interaction between Optocore and Clear-Com’s home market of the US. “It certainly adds to our attraction,” agrees Brunke. “We’re very strong in the live industry, that’s our roots, but over the years we’ve evolved into permanent installation too. Clear-Com is very strong in broadcast, so for us that’s a very positive development. By the same token we can take Clear-Com further into theatres, multipurpose venues, churches and all those areas. In fact, the advantages for both companies are truly global.”