CrewCom by Pliant Technologies is an incredibly capable wireless communications solution. The system consists of 2-channel or 4-channel radio packs, headsets, up to four control units, HUBs for copper or fiber distribution, radio transceivers and system software. We put the system to the test on productions staged for the National Black Theatre Festival, as well as a school musical at Winston-Salem’s historic Reynolds Auditorium, and overall, we had a great experience with the system.
Pliant CrewCom was able to interface with our existing 2-wire communications system by way of XLR connections on the control unit, preventing us from having to choose one system or the other. Each CrewCom control unit can support up to 18 radio packs, and when deployed in combination with wired comms, it really expands your system. As there are several components in the system, I’d say CrewCom is better suited for use in a permanent install. It would require additional cases to be practical for a temporary or on-location setup.
The front panel of the unit shows all the packs that are linked up. The name of the pack is displayed, along with battery life and RF strength. You can use the control unit as another wired headset location if needed, as it has a front headset port for monitoring.
We chose to keep all our board ops on our wired com and used the wireless as an expansion for our fly operators, props manager, stage managers and production manager, a setup that allowed for extensive flexibility for shows with a lot of movement.
We found the Pliant CrewCom system’s wireless packs incredibly useful during our school’s production of Peter and the Star Catcher. In our theater, fly operators have to travel up and down from the rail to get back to the deck level. Our main curtain operates from the stage level on stage right, while our double purchase fly system operates from up a ladder on stage left. In the past, they had to take off their headsets and packs to move to deck level and put on another set once they got there. Having wireless packs was an incredible benefit because they never had to disconnect.
Meanwhile, our stage managers help with major set changes, including moving the set on stage, which requires them to coordinate their movements. The wireless headsets allowed them to hear the call at the appropriate moment, keeping them in sync. Our production manager usually has to travel back and forth between backstage and front of house to check on progress with the box office and seating; the wireless system, allowed him to hear any questions or concerns from the production team while he was assisting with front-of-house duties.
In Pliant’s CrewWare system management software, you can assign packs to specific profiles, giving the packs individual names (and then labeling them) and assigning channels to them, setting channel options and so on. You can set system routing with a visual representation of your network connections and signal flow. Our radio packs were not preconfigured with a talk latch button like we were used to, but we were able to configure them with latching talk buttons in the profiles.
The packs themselves worked well. They are slightly bigger than some standard wired beltpacks but are still a manageable size, and we were able to integrate our existing headsets with them easily. The rechargeable batteries are simple to charge, but we found the battery hatch somewhat complicated. Aside from that, the packs were robust and seemed ruggedly built to handle the most challenging of situations.
Of course, the most important function of a wireless intercom system is communication, and this system excelled in this regard. The system’s range was impressive. The venue, Reynolds Auditorium, is a 1,900-seat classic theater built with plaster, stone and steel. Without putting up additional network infrastructure, I was able to post the receiver at backstage right, head out to our lobby and walk around most of the building without drop-outs. We did not notice any issues with interference. There was a bit of a noise floor with the wireless units compared to a wired com system, but you can set a noise gate on the unit that helps eliminate most of the white noise.
We had additional transceivers to connect via a supplied copper hub, but it was not easy to install it for a temporary review situation. Pliant uses a proprietary network, so it can’t piggy-back on something like a Dante network. If we were purchasing the system, I would do a permanent install and mount one in our dressing room area, one in the green room (located below the stage) and one in our lobby to ensure we had clear signal on the front of the building.
All in all, Pliant CrewCom was a reliable and easy-to-use system, and I would proudly use it again.
Pliant Technologies • www.plianttechnologies.com