While rebuilding a studio for our AM talk station I decided to investigate options to replace our aging Gentner TS612 studio phone system. It had served us well but it was time for a change. I had recently upgraded the office phone system to a Linux-based VoIP phone system using the open source software package Asterisk. I was looking to use a spare T1 port on the Asterisk system to use excess capability on our incoming PRI lines and eliminate some POTS lines in the process. I happened upon a new product announcement of a software-based VoIP product from Broadcast Bionics. The Phonebox Solo product seemed almost too good to be true.
The Solo product is a smaller version of the company's Phonebox 2 product, a software-based call handling and caller information system. Solo turns the studio PC and sound card into a dual hybrid with caller recording and playback, caller ID and caller tracking. It also has the Buddy call screener option that allows caller flagging, comments and an integrated chat screen.
|Performance at a glance
Software-based call system
Uses existing studio PC
Displays on-screen details
Optional integrated call screener program
Call recording and editing
Four and eight-line systems available
I didn't have to tie up a T1 port on our Asterisk system because the Solo just looks like another telephone extension to the PBX. Integrating the Solo and Buddy system was as easy as setting up the studio extensions in Asterisk, configuring Solo as an SIP-based phone and adding a USB headset to the Buddy PC for call screener connectivity. I had to configure the extension the Asterisk points incoming calls to, the user name and a password, if any, and the Asterisk PBX IP address. These settings are accessed from the Solo toolbar along with audio card settings, license management and other general settings. Solo can connect to any industry-standard SIP gateway or a PBX that supports SIP. SIP gateways are available for POTS, ISDN or PRI services.
In our installation, the studio PC is an HP Compaq DC7100 and is also used for Internet access, RCS News Builder and has a TV/DVR card installed for cable TV access, so the Phonebox installation does not require a dedicated computer.
Inside the system
Our system uses an Audio Science ASI5000 audio card for the caller audio and the PC on board sound card for on-hold audio. We chose that card because of its low latency. Two of the outputs are used to feed the console, one for callers and the second for a VIP line. Either output can be used to conference multiple callers. The additional audio outputs are used for the TV card, Internet audio and News Builder.
A screenshot showing audio editing capabilities.
On-screen timers show how long a caller has been on hold, ringing or on-air. Calls are answered with the mouse or keyboard function keys. The call screener can mark calls with preset category icons, ratings, alerts and comments. Each caller's information is also stored in an SQL database for tracking. Outgoing calls are made by clicking on an open line and using the on screen dialer. There is currently no way to send DTMF once the call is established to access voicemail or automated attendant menus, but that feature is being added in the next version (to be shown at the 2009 NAB Show). An optional handset connected to the Solo PC could be used for those situations.
Our experience overall has been positive. Broadcast Bionics tech support has been helpful and responsive. Setup took minutes, and in the rare instance of a system crash, a built-in e-mail program can send the captured log and error files to the company's tech support email. Documentation is online and up to date.
I'm the engineer, so the real test is to ask the system users. Morning show host Chris Smith likes that it works very well with our dual screen setup. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “the program works so well I don't give it a second thought”.
Call screener Trey lane finds the caller database function and chat screen useful but wishes the chat screen had the ability to change font sizes. I am told this will be available in an upcomgin release. The only feature I would like added would be DTMF capability while connected so our talent could access their voicemail for editing and storage while in the studio. DTMF is available on the big brother Phonebox product. I would also like to see a concurrent user license for the buddy system rather than a per-machine license so a call screener could easily be moved to different PC locations.
Peacock is chief engineer for Clear Channel Radio, Mobile, AL, and Pensacola, FL.
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