Can You Hear Me? - Review of Unity Intercom
Communication during a production is one of the most important elements of a high functioning broadcast. However, in many school broadcasts, this is considered a luxury and broadcast programs settle for the least expensive option. At the CHSLive Studio, we had been using an off-brand Clear-Com system that worked, but provided little flexibility. Besides a daily newscast, we produce several events utilizing our production trailer, as well as multiple events around campus. Trying to move our intercom from location to location was impractical.
While looking for different communication options, I came across an ad for a new system that utilized smart devices as user stations and was hosted on a single Mac computer. This system isn’t restricted to one location, but is accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. The company is called Unity Intercom based out of Norman, Oklahoma.
Unity Intercom has several different products, but the most school friendly is their flagship, Unity Intercom. From their website, the program is described as a 6-channel full duplex intercom system that connects over Wi-Fi or Cellular data. Unity Intercom has two parts, the free client apps which run on iOS and Android devices and a server app which runs on a Mac computer.
We decided to test it on an older iMac that was being used as a producer computer in our control room. The server app installed in less than a minute, and after a few basic configuration settings, we were ready to go. We downloaded the free client app on an old iPad 2 and iPhone 7 Plus. Amazingly, the apps connected to the server and we were online within a few minutes. Our campus has Wi-Fi coverage throughout which is a great asset to use this system, however that also means there is a lot of traffic and limited bandwidth. Our first test was sending a camera operator to our gym, which is about 600 feet away with countless concrete walls in between. The connection was solid and our director could communicate perfectly to the operator’s device.
Unity Intercom sells several different headsets that work with Apple and Android devices, however we used Apple earbuds and the operators and talent could hear very well. The system also supports third-party intercom integration and program audio feeds which both worked in our tests. In order to really put Unity through its paces, we setup 17 different accounts and tried to use them all simultaneously. Again, the system performed as advertised and allowed everyone to talk together or individually. Since it works anywhere there is an internet connection, we even had a former student 3 hours away from our location, get on one of our channels and talk with the crew before a production.
Unity allows you to setup 6 different channels for communication. We only used 4 which included, talent, production, camera ops, and producers. Another great feature is the ability to directly communicate from person to person. In the educational environment, this allows me to work one-on-one with a student camera operator during production without interrupting the rest of the crew. The only minor negative compared to a regular intercom system is a small latency during communication. This is not an issue for crew, but when the talent is hearing themselves through program audio, a tiny delay is enough to throw them off. We compensated for this by simply removing the talent audio channels from the program mix going back into the Unity Server.
The pricing structure is built around the organization’s needs. The base license is a one-time fee of $499 which includes 3 users. Then you can add on as your crew grows. When comparing this to any other intercom system in the market, it’s much more affordable, and it uses student devices, which saves our programs even more. If you are looking for a great option that can work in any production environment, Unity Intercom is definitely worth the free trial. You won’t be disappointed.
For more information or to download a free trial, go to http://www.unityintercom.com