For years, video content providers whose talent and ideas exceeded their budgets have had to settle for less-than-optimum production values when working outside the studio. That changed with the introduction of portable video switchers capable of producing video that previously required a truck or a room full of equipment.
A typical large mobile production truck usually houses a technical director operating the switcher, someone else to operate recording equipment, an audio mixer, a graphics operator and outside the truck are likely camera operators. The latest switchers are doing the same amount of work with one or two users. In addition, those content providers have come to rely on portable switchers for live broadcasting and Web streaming, often simultaneously. That has made portable switchers genuine technological marvels.
Broadcast Pix says its Slate Portable Fluent-View touch screen monitor is the most powerful heads-up display in the industry, equipped with the best control surface for combining cameras, clips and graphics.
The Slate’s switcher is HD/SD with eight inputs and five outputs, and there are 14 internal and key inputs for clips and graphics. The unit’s graphics system is integrated with Harris Inscriber CG, workflow software, and format and aspect conversion for 1080i, 720p, SD and analog. In addition, Fluent Watch-Folders enable clips and graphics to be imported from popular editing and graphics systems, and its dual-channel clip store can hold up to 200 hours of QuickTime, H.264 and ProRes HD and SD clips with audio. The unit’s macros combine switcher moves and specific files for powerful effects, while its “Multi-View” capabilities also produce clips and graphics that enable a single operator to create live video.
Datavideo’s HS-2000 is an all-in-one mobile studio designed to broadcast live events. It not only provides the features content providers have come to expect from a portable production unit, but is also a wired intercom and tally system with belt packs and headsets.
Broadcast Pix’s Slate Portable Fluent-View
Newtek Inc.’s Tricaster 300
The HS-2000—which is designed for high-definition (HD) cameras only—uses the Digital Video SE-2000 video and audio switcher, with five channels, 10 bit, 1080i or 720p and HD-serial digital interface. The unit’s 17-inch monitor displays multiviews that include each source, picture-in-picture preview, preview and program, and it has 14 prestored logos, a digital clock display, five operator set-up memories and title overlay. A built-in audio mixer allows up to four channels of microphone or line-level audio inputs.
Newtek Inc. introduced the tabletop-production concept about 20 years ago with its Video Toaster. The Tricaster series has improved upon that product, which was originally a card that ran in a Commodore Amiga computer.
Newtek says a single user or a small team can operate the Tricaster 300 and deliver networkquality video. The Tricaster 300 can simultaneously broadcast—or Web stream—live programs or project images or record full HD programming. It features an end-to-end HD 1080i video pipeline, including effects and virtual sets. It has three simultaneous external video inputs but is capable of simulating six live cameras from three actual sources. It has an inboard digital disk recorder (DDR) to play back pre-recorded clips, and there is a capacity for unlimited Ethernet networked sources or Skype.
Switching can be accomplished with a computer keyboard, but Newtek offers an optional hardwarebased control panel called LiveControl featuring a fader bar, buttons and potentiometers.
Also featured are three digital media players for video clips, graphics and titles, and an input for sharing computer screens and displays from wireless iOS devices. Add five M/E-style virtual inputs to stage dozens of live virtual sets, or create custom picture effects and presets.
The Tricaster provides “all the bells and whistles” users need, said Philip Nelson, Newtek’s senior vice president of artist and media relations. Through the Tricaster, Newtek is providing a solution that allows users “to adapt with the changing landscape,” he said. Among Tricaster users is the Department of Homeland Security, according to Nelson. “DHS conducts a number of stakeholder conferences, but many municipalities don’t have the budget to send staff to attend them,” he said. Therefore, DHS is using the Tricaster to produce streaming video and audio that allows participation from home or office. Participation is possible through online chat. “We’re at that point where streaming video is no longer a black art,” he said. “It is no longer a novelty and is part of the strategy.”
Roland Systems Group’s VR-3 is among the smallest units offering an array of production features. At just under a foot long, eight inches wide and three inches thick, the VR-3 features a touch screen for video viewing or easy access to menu items, and it can handle three composite video sources including keying, split screen and picture-in-picture. It also features four mono and two stereo mixable audio channels, a built-in stereo microphone for mixing in ambient sound, as well as an array of audio effects as well. The VR-3 operates under its own power supply or with external battery options.
RUSHWORKS, based in Flower Mound, Texas, offers the REMO II Remote Production System that integrates switching, graphics, encoding and streaming with pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera control. That combination allows a single operator to produce a broadcast quality multi-camera show.
“Remote switching requirements using any system are pretty basic,” says Rush Beesley, founder and CEO of RUSHWORKS. The REMO II’s “integrated touch screen PTZ control is the point of difference that enhances return on investment by eliminating labor costs.”
The REMO II—in both standard and high-definition (SD HD)—is configured in a rugged, carry-on sized case with built-in 17-inch touch screen and drop-down keyboard with touchpad. It is available with four or eight video inputs, making available any combination of PTZ and manned cameras based on your production requirements.
There are nine user presets for each camera, as well as presets linked to specified lower-third graphics. The new “Producer” interface enables users to create a screen graphic that simulates a production environment, complete with picture icons of people, musical instruments (called “musicons”) and other objects that the user touches to select. The Hot Shot feature automatically takes the shot when an object is selected. The “DoubleTake” feature supports unlimited presets covered by two PTZ cameras with cloned preset data.
Roland Systems Group’s VR-3
RUSHWORKS.tv’s REMO II
Sony’s Anycast Station AWSG500HD
REMO II supports typical video transitions including dissolves, wipes, split-screen, 2D or 3D picture-inpicture and chroma key. It also supports multi-format encoding to its mirrored hard drives, and simultaneous Internet streaming. Adobe Premiere and Photoshop Elements are included for graphics creation and post-production editing.
“It’s a one-man-band production system that saves people a lot of money because they don’t have to hire crews, cameramen and trucks to produce a high-quality show,” Beesley said. The design and operational features make REMO II “a versatile and more cost-effective solution for the customer,” he added.
The Sony Anycast Station (AWS-G500HD) also is designed to facilitate the production of live events by operators with little or no technical knowledge, the company says.
The AWS-G500HD is HD-only but retains the original multifunction aspects of the previous standard- definition (SD) version. The unit combines the capability of a six-input video switcher and six-stereo channel audio mixer with a special effects generator and wide-aspect liquid crystal display (LCD) screen for graphical user interface (GUI) control. It features a preview/program monitor control of PTZ cameras, red, green, blue (RGB) connection for PC and projector display and an encoder and Web server for delivering streaming media. The AWS-G500HD also offers a still store, character generator, scale converter and frame synchronizer.
The system is preconfigured with an HD analog component interface module (BKAW-560) and an HD-SDI interface module (BKAW-590). The late physicist and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Some might say that today’s portable switchers do not meet that exact definition, but they sure are impressive.