Remote-Control Camera Systems Steering Users to Broader Coverage

Technological advances have reduced the size of remote-control cameras
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Advanced Broadcast Solutions’ multi-camera, HD production controller designed for TV Channel 10 of Bellingham, Wash. Small remote control cameras and sophisticated operations systems increasingly make it easier for producers to broadcast live governmental meetings— from City Hall meetings in Bellingham, Wash., to the French National Assembly—or even to record video from under a moving vehicle.

Remote control, or robotic, cameras have been around for years and usually feature a pan-tilt-zoom camera that is operated by a wire or by a wireless device. Technological advances have reduced the size of the cameras, and new production systems have made them easier to use.

When government officials in Whatcom County, Wash., wanted to expand coverage of public meetings and events, they turned to the integrator Advanced Broadcast Solutions to help produce a multi-camera HD production for the entire community. Bellingham TV Channel 10 has a limited budget, and Dal Neitzel, the station’s coordinator, told ABS that a multi-camera remote production requiring a crew of six, including three camera operators, was cost-prohibitive.

In response, ABS built a low-cost, portable multicamera production solution tailored for a crew of up to two. “We were looking for a way to cover meetings, indoor events, and presentations in other locations that were of interest to our community,” Neitzel said. “ABS had answers. They had solutions.”

ABS assembled a remote production system around three Panasonic AW-HE120K HD PTZ cameras with Libec LS-22 tripods, Panasonic AW-RP50 remote camera controller and Panasonic AG-HMX100 digital AV mixer with built-in multiviewer/ audio mixer. Each camera is connected by a custom-built, 60-foot serial digital interface multiconductor camera cable with power, local area network and serial control. In addition, a Matrox Convert DVI Plus scan converter enables BTV10 to feed presentations from a computer or projector into the Panasonic switcher, rather than use a camera to shoot an on-site projector screen or monitor.

“I was skeptical at first,” Neitzel said, “but once I saw the cameras in action, they were definitely a step up from what we had,” he said. “The images just look wonderful.”

Among available offerings in remote-control cameras and equipment are:

CAMERA TURRET TECHNOLOGIES

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Camera Turret
Technologies’ Feather Touch Zoom
Camera Turret Technologies, of Halifax, Mass., uses computer algorithms to power its new Feather Touch Zoom controller. The external controller can be mounted on a digital single lens reflex camera lens or video camera lens and moves either of the lenses like a broadcaster’s zoom.

The secret behind the movement is a computer program that compensates instantly for friction in the lens, allowing for smooth movement, according to Lou Chighisola, Camera Turret president. Some of the controllers have been acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense department and have been deployed at bomb ranges, and are helping lasers (instead of a camera) guide a projectile to—or “paint”—a target, Chighisola said.

HITACHI

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Hitachi’s DK-H100Hitachi manufactures remote observation cameras to suit various budgets. Those cameras include the DK-H100 and DK-Z50 that are designed as 3-IT CCD sensors with 2/3-inch image formats, said Emilio Aleman, engineering manager, Hitachi Kokusai Electric America. The Hitachi 2/3-inch sensor models offer better than F10 sensitivity, low –60 dB signal-tonoise video performance and very high resolution, according to Aleman.

Because the cameras can be controlled via serial data, or through a local area network, using transmission control and Internet protocols, those cameras have been used by the U.S. government in mission-critical applications such as aboard unmanned aerial vehicles, at NASA launch pads and at bombproof housings, he said. The French National Assembly was so impressed by the DK-H100 that the legislature recently purchased eight. The Hitachi cameras replaced existing SDI equipment to become part of the first HD broadcast system deployed within the Assembly’s debating chamber.

INNOVISION OPTICS

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Innovision Optics’ Radcam Innovision Optics of Santa Monica, Calif., takes the idea of remote controlled cameras to a different level. The company’s Radcam is a tiny, self-powered and remote controlled camera platform, allowing the camera to go where they have not gone before, like under the axle of a moving van or dashing through the legs of a skater, said Mark Centkowski, company spokesman.

Innovision’s remote controlled camera car is lightweight and its suspension can accommodate rough or bumpy surfaces. It has been used in a variety of productions including the “Stuart Little” films and in commercials. The camera can get shots from an angle or location where the operator should not be, Centkowski said. For example, during a commercial for the Chevrolet Sonic, a Radcam was used to get a shot of the car jumping a hurdle, which would otherwise have been impossible to capture, he said.

RUSHWORKS

Rushworks’ touch screen interface for the VDESK and REMO. Rushworks’ VDESK and REMO integrated PTZ production systems use a touch screen interface that eliminates the need for any camera operators, said Rush Beesley, president of the Texas-based company. The systems are each designed to be used by a single producer, making it possible to record multi-camera meetings such as events and worship services.

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The system reduces costs and allows a non-technical person to do the entire production, Beesley said. This is a benefit to municipal governments that lack trained video operators. “With our systems, they can make a professional production with a camera operator, just one person getting all the shots, which are very tight and pre-framed,” he said. Those systems can switch faster than with a camera operator, he added.

SHOTOKU

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Shotoku’s TR-S The Shotoku TR-S control system is suited for governmental broadcast applications requiring several cameras to be controlled by a single operator producing a large number of shots per camera.

A clear bright LCD display shows the status of all the cameras in the system. Hundreds of shots may be stored on each camera to be recalled manually or through the company’s Orchestra Camera Management System, which can re-position remote cameras rapidly to the required shots without any operator intervention, such as during a heated legislative floor debate, according to Shotoku.

In addition, the TG-27 is Shotoku’s lightweight pan and tilt robotic camera head. Designed for on-air use with precise control at all speeds and zoom angles, it has all the CMC motion control electronics built in. Full configuration of the head is achieved remotely over a TCP/IP network, which can be an advantage when the heads are mounted in restricted or inaccessible locations, according to the company. The TG-27 can support almost any typical SD or HD electronic newsgathering camera and lens configuration, and it works with the minimal payloads encountered when using some of today’s miniature box cameras, officials said.

VARIZOOM

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VariZoom’s Cinema Pro JRVariZoom, in Austin, Texas, manufactures focus, zoom and iris controls for nearly all video, DSLR and cinema lenses, said Tom McKay, a company vice president. The VariZoom VZROCK-J600, a camera/lens control for JVC’s new GY-HM600 and GY-HM650 camcorders is quite popular, he said. With its wide-sweep zoom rocker, it combines the attributes of broadcast controls with a compact, affordable design, McKay said.

Additionally, VariZoom has a range of PTZ-focus remote control heads that can operate via wire up to 2,500 feet or wireless up to a mile, McKay said. The systems feature repeatable real-time motion control memory for PTZ-focus, as well as time lapse and various control input options such as through a joystick or hand wheel.

The Cinema Pro JR motion control head goes to work with minimal training and setup, McKay said, with no menus or complex settings. The Cinema Pro JR K4 model offers on-the-fly custom motion limits, independent pan and tilt speed control, smoothing control, motor power toggle and independent response direction switches for PTZ-focus, McKay said. It also has a digital and analog lens control input, on-the-fly zoom centering, PC-compatible USB interface for advanced setup and firmware updates, he added.

THE FUTURE

Remote observation cameras will continue to see increased growth by governments, said Aleman from Hitachi. Further increases in resolution and image size will lend themselves to “smart” image acquisition, including face-recognition programs, which is a project at Hitachi, he said.

Farther down the road, scientist are making advances in quantum physics yielding better performing light transducers, which is the key in realizing both smaller lenses and smaller cameras simultaneously, according to Aleman.

MORE INFO

Advanced Broadcast Solutions:
www.advancedbroadcastsolutions.com

Camera Turret Technologies:
www.cameraturret.com

Hitachi:
www.hitachi.us

Innovision Optics:
www.innovision-optics.com

Rushworks:
www.rushworks.tv

Shotoku:
www.shotoku.co.jp/worldwide

VariZoom:
www.varizoom.com

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