For years, patch bays have provided critical flexibility and convenience to media facilities of all types, including studios, entertainment venues, campuses, houses of worship and even outside broadcast facilities. In today’s rapidly evolving broadcast and multimedia environments, however, they are not just convenient, they are essential.
In basic terms, patch bays consist of circuits that can be connected with internal normalling or interconnected using patch cables. Typically, they are placed in a centralized and convenient location so operators can rapidly patch audio and video signals without having to plug cables directly into discrete equipment. Theoretically, every signal goes in and out of a patch bay in a complete wraparound system design. Even in the event of a power outage or equipment failure, the patch bays can be relied upon to continue working. Because all changes can be made at the patch bay, operators can make changes to signal flow far more quickly and easily.
Just how critical are patch bays? They are the true physical layer backbone of any media operation. In live production environments, they allow operators to configure and reconfigure equipment on the fly. They are also a cost-effective complement or alternative to electronic signal routers. Even sophisticated facilities with complex routing equipment rely on patch bays to simplify cabling. Whereas a router requires additional monitoring equipment to view signal paths, a patch bay provides operators with instant visual confirmation that cabling is properly configured. A monitoring patch bay goes a step further by allowing operators to patch into a circuit to see what’s there without interrupting it.
Patch bays are among the most versatile and flexible devices in a broadcast or AV operation. They can serve as a backup system in the event of a router failure. They can be added as test points in any system for troubleshooting maintenance or inserting an external piece of outboard equipment. They can also be used to separate audio, video and data signals in a physical location.
In studios, patch bays can assist with device interoperability. Output from one device can be patched to a transcoding system for signal translation, then output back to the patch bay to be redirected to wherever it is needed.
In entertainment venues and for live sound, patch bays permit cabling from a central control room to multiple locations, whether they are small theaters within a larger complex or multiple bands using the same PA and primary mix consoles. Nobody wants to be re-patching the back of a console in the dark!
In houses of worship and large campuses, patch bays facilitate a spoke-and-hub cabling topography that saves enormous amounts of cable and reduces complexity. Keeping in mind that these types of organizations often use volunteers or students instead of AV professionals, simplicity and access are key considerations.
In remote broadcast trucks, where space is at a premium, patch bays consolidate and organize the workspace. With their streamlined footprint and easy serviceability in the field, they can enable on-the-spot coordination between talent, production and broadcasters, all while providing a demarcation point connecting the truck to the studio.
In most any use case, patch bays can play a critical backup role. Further, they are indispensable for signal isolation and their ability to hard-disconnect. Finally, when used with DAs, there is no easier way to handle signal distribution to satisfy multiple needs.
With the emergence of 4K resolution and its delivery to Ultra HD (UHD) televisions, one of the biggest challenges for today’s media operations is adapting infrastructures to the increased bandwidth required by 4K and UHD formats. In a 4K postproduction environment, for instance, patch bays supporting uncompressed 4K signals with embedded audio enable operators to configure editing suites with monitors rather than expensive computers, with all of the cables connecting to a single machine room. By simply rerouting a few patch cables, operators can configure each edit suite to perform specialized tasks using different NLEs or motion graphics systems.
Patch bays play a vital role in the media and broadcasting systems of today and tomorrow. Although many broadcasting technologies claim to be futureproof, patch bays fit that description to a tee. With their ease of use, low maintenance and versatility, they’ve not only stood the test of time, but continue to fit into and improve the latest media and broadcasting operations.