Dalarna University: Connecting Students with Dante for Long-Distance, Real-Time News, Theater and Music Productions
DALARNA UNIVERSITY, FALUN SWEDEN
Dalarna University College is a public institution located in Dalarna County, Sweden, about 125 miles northwest of Stockholm. With nearly 13,000 students, the university's two main campuses are located in Falun, and in the neighboring town of Borlänge. The college has a broad and forward-looking media school comprised of five bachelor programs and a masters program, all focused on media production.
The media programs at Dalarna are recognized for their AV network distance productions. The university’s Mediehuset (The Media House) has worked with distance productions for several years and is regarded as one of the leading institutes of higher education in Scandinavia within this field.
The Media House comprises the university’s music studio, radio studio, television studio, 25+ student film and music edit suites, and all things media related. Today, a Dante audio network is used extensively within The Media House to provide a fast, efficient, and reliable audio network for a wide range of production and learning opportunities.
Dante is a complete media networking solution and the de facto standard for digital media networking. Dante distributes uncompressed, multi-channel digital media via standard Ethernet networks, with near-zero latency and perfect synchronization. It enables digital audio distribution via standard Ethernet networks — the same networks used for home or office data networking. In fact, Dante is designed to allow audio, control and all other data to coexist effectively on the same network.
Along with unparalleled audio quality, Dante delivers ultra-low latency and near-perfect synchronization. Dante’s intuitive user interface and network management features enable even the most complex networks to be set up and configured quickly and easily, making system integration simple.
Seeking a Secure Networked Solution
Each semester, The Media House takes on several remote-distance media productions as a way to expose students to AV network technologies and to demonstrate how the technology that is used for distance productions in broadcasting can be used for music arrangements over vast geographical distances.
Henrik Carlsson, an Instructor for the Sound and Music Production program, teaches courses on audio technology and audio theory. He is also responsible for coordinating the school's own audio technology and its technicians. The first Dante-enabled audio equipment at The Media House was brought in around 2010.
"In the early years, before Dante, if we had equipment in one room but needed it in another, we physically had to either rack up and move the gear or patch it to the other room somehow. This took a lot of time away from learning, and carried a level of risk in damaging the equipment," said Carlsson. "I always wanted a way to have all rooms and studios network connected, but in a secure way with multiple configurations backed up. The system has to be easy to use and a bit foolproof, we don't want to expose ourselves to student mistakes."
Evolving Distance Productions
Carlsson and his team began using Dante-enabled equipment as a way to simplify TV broadcast projects on campus where instead of moving the entire control room outdoors for an event, students could just take microphones and cameras outside and make a connection over the school's network, sending the signals back to the control room for production. The Dante connectivity worked so well that the staff and students began coming up with ways to expand their remote connectivity capabilities.
In one scenario, live stage productions held in a theater nearby the University are broadcast to movie theaters in surrounding communities, greatly expanding the theater group's audience. In addition to the video and audio being presented remotely — often by as far as 50 kilometers away, and to multiple remote theaters simultaneously — live AV audience feedback is brought back to the performers so they get the experience of performing for a full, live audience.
"What we do is rent a fiber connection between the remote locations and The Media House, and we connect the data network on location to our Dante network here. That way we just have stage boxes at the remote location," explained Carlsson. "And here in our studio we have our Yamaha mixing console and it works the same way as if it were an all-in-house production."
In addition to theater projects, the team also produces a series of remote interviews and talk shows, collaborating with other local schools and their media students. Often regional middle school or high school students will conduct interviews where the students plug their microphones and cameras onto their local network, and the Dalarna Media House students capture the signals remotely. The high school students stay focused on their interviews, and The Media House students do the live editing and post-production for streaming or rebroadcast.
"We turn the student's work into a remote television production by taking cameras and microphones to the site, with our team back here in the studio," said Carlsson. "The remote aspect is that we don't need to move an audio mixer and our entire control room team stays in house, just the cameras and the microphones need to travel."
Carlsson and his students also use a similar system allowing for remote coverage of sports events, speeches and presentations, VIP announcements, and other news-type productions. Some events are shared live; others are edited and produced for posting through YouTube or Facebook. The team usually works on several of these types of productions per semester.
The Long-Distance Jam Session
Another area where the Dalarna University Media House team has excelled is within live music remote collaboration and production. Recently, as a way to support and demonstrate technology for a regional conference on digital creativity, the team produced a live music collaboration between musicians in different locations — performing live, together.
"We took a four-piece band and placed two musicians here in The Media House and the other two in Leksand, where the conference was, which is about 100 kilometers of fiber away," said Carlsson. "We had two musicians here, two musicians there, and they played live with each other for an audience at a remote location."
In Leksand, the audience enjoyed a concert remotely with Marigold, a Swedish band. Two members of the band were at Tegera Arena, and two were in Falun.
"The part that impressed me was the fact that every sound that was heard at the remote location, actually came back here to our studio first," said Carlsson. "So, when the guitarist in Leksand played his guitar, the line signal was converted with Dante, sent here to The Media House into the main computer, processed with amp simulators, overdrives, delays and similar things, and then returned as part of the PA mix back to Leksand. Because of Dante, we had no latency issues, and the musicians had a great shared experience even though they were over 100 kilometers apart."
Technology Behind the Teaching
Carlsson stressed that it's essential students be familiar with Dante, but at the same time they should be able to use the equipment without really knowing Dante is there. When a student sits down at an edit suite and opens project files, they don't need to work with Dante Controller. For most students, the Dante system is transparent — it just works. For more advanced students, Dante has become a core focus of their course learning.
"Our students who work on the remote productions need to know that there's a thing called Dante. Our Sound and Music Production students get a focused lesson on Dante at the 10-week mark in the semester," added Carlsson. "Students start using Dante within just a couple of weeks in live sound, with basically a stage box and a Yamaha mixer, not a very big setup, but a few weeks later we start digging into Dante Controller and setting up actual Dante networks. These are the skills needed in the real world today."
He explained that the team has also set up a VLAN for the various RJ45 ports for the range of audio equipment, creating a dedicated subnet on the media LAN for the Dante equipment. By using a Dante network, Carlsson has essentially expanded from three control rooms connected to the studio, to the equivalent of a few dozen control rooms connected to the studio by bringing all available edit suites fully online with network connectivity.
Managing Security and Subnets with Dante Domain Manager
Carlsson added that he has a goal of keeping the Film and Television edit rooms and the Sound and Music edit rooms as similar as possible. If all the video suites are booked up, but there is a free suite on the audio side, then the film student can use a music edit suite, and vice versa. The Dante network enables this level of equipment sharing, and Dante Domain Manager provides the necessary management tools to make it viable.
Dante Domain Manager is network management software that enables user authentication, role-based security, and audit capabilities for Dante networks while allowing seamless expansion of Dante systems over any network infrastructure. Dante Domain Manager organizes a network into zones called “domains” that each have individual access requirements, making it clear and easy to know who can access any area of the system. All activity is logged, tagged and date-stamped so problems can be quickly identified and solved.
"We now have almost all of our infrastructure moved to a Dante network, and with around 400 students in The Media House at any given moment, Dante Domain Manager has become critical for protecting the network, setting permissions, and isolating subnets," said Carlsson. "The way we have it set up now, it works very well with everything connected basically to the same switches that the IT department uses for bringing internet and intranet to everything. But we are very secure and protected from mistakes or malicious intent."
Dante Domain Manager coordinates multiple subnets, allowing Dante audio to be used across networks of nearly any complexity or size. Dante Domain Manager enables audio to be plugged into any Ethernet jack, anywhere on campus, and route the audio data to where it needs to go. Users of Dante-enabled devices do not have to perform any special configuration; Dante Domain Manager completely automates this task.
An Impromptu AVIO Loudness Meter
While Carlsson and his team are using Dante AVIO adapters for a variety of uses — to bring various analog and USB signals onto the network, to share and route music to the school's PA system — they have come up with a unique use for an AES/EBU AVIO converter as a way to feed an audio loudness meter, the main meter in the control room for the television studio.
"While this was done out of laziness on my account, it came in handy because I had problems matching the analog outputs of the console to the analog inputs of the meter. The meter expected European signal strength, while the console refused to give anything other than American Standard. So, there was a six-decibel difference in the end, and that's a big problem."
The Dante AVIO AES converter bridges the gap, and it has proven very valuable to have a Dante-connected loudness meter. Carlsson relies on the Dante-enabled meter as a fast way to troubleshoot issues.
"When you need to look up some kind of error, it's so simple. Is the problem with the playout system, or is the problem that the desk isn't receiving?" said Carlsson. "I'll just patch the playout to the meter... ah there's the signal, so there must be something wrong with the desk."
Available for analog input or output, for AES3 and USB conversion, Dante AVIO Adapters allow users to connect their favorite legacy audio gear with any Dante-connected system, delivering the interoperability, performance and scalability that only networking can bring. Cost effective, compact and built for the road, Dante AVIO adapters deliver the network connectivity that every audio pro needs.
Continuing with Dante Expansion
As the team continues to explore more remote production possibilities, and ways to expand their audio network capabilities, Carlsson is now looking to use the Dante network to tie together the school's three large lecture halls, to be able to expand the audience for large lectures. If a hall becomes standing room only, and additional coverage is needed, the team wants to be able to quickly send audio and video to another lecture hall for an overflow audience.
"Dante has allowed us to create a production network learning environment that is very reliable, flexible and easy to use. Our students benefit immensely from exposure of this technology," said Carlsson. "And now Dante Domain Manager is allowing us to manage the system in a way that we can continue to expand and integrate more opportunities safely and securely. I look forward to seeing how we will apply Dante in the future."