The 7 rules to avoid that your event goes up in smoke due to computers

The world of show business has evolved in an important way if compared to when I started working in it.

I started in 2000: all the audio was analog, in lighting the dmx had just arrived and the video was made up of cathode ray tube monitors, dvd players, various cassettes and 3 tubes video projectors.

First, it was the lights that got digitized.

When the first MA Lighting GrandMA lighting console was released, it was an unparalleled instrument on the market. It had an 8″ touch monitor! The only antagonist was the Compulite Spark, a computer with a black and white display that required an iron memory or pages and pages of notes to be used in programming a show. Both technologies were based on dedicated Linux systems.

Then the media servers arrived and the trouble started.

«What do you mean?»

I mean that media servers were the first tool in this area to use computers with a “traditional” operating system to work. Mostly they use Windows, but also Apple.

Now, let’s think according to Murphy’s law: in the unfortunate event that your computer stops working, when do you think it would do it?

Exact! The moment you need it the most!

I have seen and heard of such a number of media servers that have stalled at the topical moment of an event that I am sick of. I admit I found myself in very embarrassing situations when, alas, it happened to the machines I was using myself.

I leave you to imagine the nerd conjectures and the mutual accusations that have emerged after all these disasters … Operators pointed out as incapable, entire software pilloried, speculation that the PC did not work because it was too hot, too cold, the electricity, the sabotage, cosmic rays.

Obviously, not all accusations and speculations were unfounded, indeed! But without digging into faults and judgments, I would say that at the base there is a big problem of inexperience and lack of knowledge of the medium, ie of computers.

Now, in any event, more than one computer is involved: they are used everywhere, just think of keynote or powerpoint presentations!

Among digital mixers, lighting consoles and media servers, there is almost always a computer with a Windows operating system.

It is important that, after a problem more or less disastrous, at least the tears are not shed in vain, so I have treasured all these experiences. I’ve been using computers in events for years now. It took me hours, indeed nights, to study them and, above all, to configure them correctly, going through 4 operating systems: from Windows XP to 10. Apple OSX has notoriously less need for particular configurations to be reliable, but Windows absolutely needs them.

In short, I’m going to the point.

Here are my 7 rules to stop you from losing the support of your PC right at the best part of your work:

  1. use your computer only for what you are doing
    1. It may seem trivial, but I’ve seen so many people hurt themselves on this point. Using personal PCs to broadcast powerpoint presentations, or worse media servers, is always a very dangerous choice. Use a clean PC, with no software unnecessary for the presentation that can take control or consume its resources.
    2. If you must necessarily use your PC, at least have the foresight to reboot and close all the applications you don’t use before going live.
  2. If you have a large audience or if your event requires is mission critical equipment, use industrial hardware
  1. This mainly concerns media servers. However, when the game is hard it is better not to rely on consumer or gaming hardware. The industrial hardware costs, it is true, but there is a reason:
    1. It is designed to work with a wider temperature range
    2. It warms up less
    3. It is protected against electromagnetic interference
    4. It has a longer life cycle
  2. Disconnect internet
    Also this point may seem trivial, but it’s fundamental! The Internet is a repository of inputs and information for the computer. And then again … you won’t be happy if your last sweetheart would text you on Skype just while you are presenting!

  3. Disable automatic updates
    1. I have never been a fan of updates and terrorism that travels around computer security. I know that the IT readers could turn to this statement, but my experience taught me this:
    2. Works? Don’t touch it.
      It is important that a PC used in an event is stable rather than secure. If you have complied with point 1, you will connect your computer to the network only to download new software or content, certainly not to connect to the bank or read emails.
      It should be taken into consideration that the event use of the computer is extremely different from what you do in the office. In the office or personal use the PC MUST be updated, as 99% of the risks come from emails and websites.
      In event use, instead, the machine is configured to run a single software and fewer things are added the better it is.
    3. Clean up everything you don’t need
      Windows is an operating system designed for personal computing.
      It comes with a series of tools, protections and software that you don’t need. Many of these software work in the background, like the indexing service, and guess when they could decide to start? That’s right, when you’re showing the video your client have been preparing for months! Slowing down the whole system and making your video go jerky.
    4. Take the time to test the contents
      In the theater and in the concerts, where everything runs smoothly or almost, dozens and dozens of rehearsals are done before going live. Time is a tyrant, I know, but at least a test of your content with everything “as if it were” should be done.
      Often the events begin without the technicians having understood what will happen on the stage, and in that case the disaster is assured. Your client spend a lot of money to organize the presentation, so why ruin everything just because you didn’t want to commit yourself to doing an extra test?
    5. Avoid updating content at the last second: this is for the clients 🙂
      Especially when you are giving your content to someone who will manage it during your event, remember to give him or her enough time to check it as if it were on the air. Media servers are not an Apple TV, they are complex tools that need to be programmed deeply to be reliable. There are many distractions in pre-event fibrillation and it is very easy to fall into one of the pitfalls of these tools. Add that the technicians who are taking care of the direction probably come from 3 days of set up and calibration with an average of 12 hours of work a day, they probably don’t share your interest in the event and are notoriously lazy 😉
      I don’t want to justify anyone, but I just want to make you realize that the team of technicians you pay counts more than the equipment you rented for your event.

If you apply my suggestions and rely on a good team of technicians, I assure you that your event will be as smooth as silk.

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If you have any doubt, don’t hesitate to contact me, I will be happy to help you.

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