Broadcast Pix Granite 1000 control surface Experts weigh in on capable, cost-effective and easy-to-add video switchers for existing facilities
Video switchers are the heart of any production center, no matter how large or small. For government video professionals on a tight budget, this fact presents them with a dilemma: How can they upgrade their video switcher to provide optimal HD capabilities now and into the future, at a cost they can afford and without having to replace the rest of their infrastructure?
To answer this question, Government Video spoke with experts at the industry’s top video switcher manufacturers. Their responses provide a practical roadmap for government video professionals trying to do more, for less.
CHECK YOUR NEEDS
Every video production unit has its own distinct needs and duties; understand that when it’s time to go shopping.
“It’s essential for government video producers to evaluate the switcher based on what features they need to support their current workflow, while at the same time future-proofing for future workflows,” said Bob Caniglia, Blackmagic Design’s senior regional manager for the eastern U.S. “These features include quantity and types of inputs/ outputs, form factor and footprint, as well as support for creative features, such as keyers, graphics, effects and transitions.”
To do this evaluation correctly, government video producers have to scope out the capabilities they need now, and what improvements they plan to add in the future—in detail.
EXAMINE THE CURRENT PLANT
A procurement manager needs to review the existing infrastructure into which the new board will plug. To make sure this is done properly, a complete inventory of the existing production facility is required, from the monitors, video servers and edit stations in the production chain right down to individual connectors and cables.
“The main step would be to check the source and connection types—are they HDMI or SDI, or is it composite connections?” said Lisa Baldwin, spokeswoman for the Roland Systems Group. “This means basically checking the signal routing and infrastructure cabling and finding a switcher that matches this.”
Ross Video Carbonite 2X Switchers today not only switch—they also provide clip/program storage, graphics/title capability and controls for external devices. Broadcast Pix, among other companies, has switchers with capabilities and control surfaces for all these activities and more. This makes integration of a new switcher simpler in many ways, as long as all the functions are carefully considered.
“[It’s possible to] integrate graphics creation, clip playback, camera control, audio mixer control, and other external device controls into a switcher, but do so in a way that makes the job of managing all of the devices easier for the operator through a single control surface,” said Benjamin Taylor, chief technology officer of Broadcast Pix. “Some examples include automatically starting a clip when it comes on air, rewinding it when it is done and advancing to the next clip, or quickly editing a lower-3rd graphic or even automatically populating fields in it from external data sources.”
EASE OF INTEGRATION
Fitting a new switcher into an old plant is challenging at the best of times. This is why smart government procurement managers look for units that are easy to integrate with legacy equipment.
This capability translates into seamless broadcast integration with clip servers, machine control, automation control, graphics and complex device control capability with a variety of third-party manufacturers.
“The equipment should be able to work within a modern infrastructure,” said Baldwin. “For example, determine if there is Cat-5/6 network capability or BNC cable capable of running SDI with embedded audio, or if there is a form of web-streaming capability.”
In addition to handling a growing range of formats and signal types, switchers are increasingly designed to get greater efficiency from a single operator.
“Most individual components can accomplish the task they were designed for very well, but in a modern system, efficiency is more essential than ever,” said Nigel Spratling, Ross Video’s production switchers marketing product manager. “Being able to produce more with the same personnel, lowering operating costs and providing operators with systems that are simpler and faster to use are all important factors in gaining efficiency.”
If you will be upgrading an existing facility from SD to HD, it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new.
“Almost all components of a video system require upgrading when migrating from SD to HD,” said Will Waters, NewTek’s senior video and workflow specialist. “An HD video signal is technically a different-sized image, with much more data than SD, and it requires a mechanically different signal path that is rated for HD transmission.
“Cameras, cabling, switcher, routing, monitoring displays, character generation, media playback insertion and transmission are all points included in the signal chain, and it’s important to make sure that each one supports HD,” he said.
It’s easy to look at the cables in your existing SD facility and think that it’s really not necessary to replace all that professionally installed wire. Think again.
“Be sure that you use properly rated video cable (coax) for high-definition sources,” said Rush Beesley, president of Rushworks. “Technically, it’s necessary to upgrade to SDI-rated cable for optimal results with the HD signal path.
“Monitoring is the next major consideration, since virtually none of the older SD monitors support HD image display,” he said. “Switchers with multi-viewers, or stand-alone multi-viewers, are good choices.”
“The most-often overlooked difficulty in HD migration is the cabling,” agreed NewTek’s Waters. “Another overlooked issue is using SD graphics and media once the HD migration is complete. It is necessary to rework all the graphics used in a show’s production to make them look as clear and crisp as the video image they overlay.”
NOT A FULL UPGRADE?
If your budget is too tight to support a full HD infrastructure upgrade, consider straddling the gap by purchasing a switcher that supports both SD and HD production. This allows you to add the new unit while preserving the existing SD plant, making the move to HD down the road when the budget allows.
“If budget is a concern ... it’s vital to find a switcher that will allow for simultaneous transmission of SD and HD signals, so that the upgrades can be executed in phases,” said NewTek’s Waters. “Having the ability to use existing gear and keep a production running while upgrading components as funds become available is the single most important feature a switcher should have.”
Meanwhile, even those agencies that have moved to HD still have to work with archived or third-party SD legacy video from time to time.
“As such, government agencies need to consider the applicability of a dual SD/HD switcher for two reasons,” said Kevin Basquill, Grass Valley’s senior account executive. “First, they may still be in SD today, but tomorrow might bring HD. Second, an HD switcher should be able to handle legacy SD media and convert it to the proper HD format.”
Buying a new switcher isn’t just about getting the latest-and-greatest in today’s HD technology: It is also about preparing for future advances such as moving to 1080p/3G, or even 4K resolution video— which is four times as detailed as conventional 1080p.
Hiro Tanoue, president FOR-A, advises that government video producers need to look for switchers that are a future-proof investment. To Tanoue, being “future-proof” means having the ability to handle 3G and 4K, as well as other production advances that may be on the horizon.
Moving to a new switcher is an excellent opportunity for selecting a unit that is user-friendly, both for seasoned producers and newbies who have never touched a switcher before.
This means a switcher that is intuitive and easy to use, with a familiar M/E setup.
“Transitions should be instantly available at the push of a button on a hard control surface and/or the keyboard of a computer,” Blackmagic Design’s Caniglia said.
If all this sounds expensive, it doesn’t have to be.
“With today’s technology, there’s no need to pay tens of thousands of dollars for professional features or settle for a switcher with limited capabilities because of budget,” Caniglia said.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Installing a new video switcher into an existing video production facility can revive a legacy system while adding HD capabilities, but only if the move is made with careful planning and foresight. The good news is that a complete SD-to-HD transformation is not a done deal: There are many ways to get an old video dog to do new tricks—if the new video switcher is right for the job.
Panasonic Solutions Group:
Roland Systems Group: