New switcher and cameras improves workflow and production for city council

CHELMSFORD, Mass. — All politics (and school board issues) are local: A refrain all too familiar for residents of the city of Mankato, Minn., a college town of 42,000 in the southern half of the North Star State. The city keeps its residents informed about the political and school goings-on by covering city council proceedings and school district meetings from new chambers that the council moved into five years ago.

Despite the new digs, however, most of the legacy video equipment that the production team was using remained in place and simply transferred into to the new space. That left the city with three aging SD cameras in its council chambers and outdated hardware in its control room.

To keep its residents better informed, the city recently decided to invest in new technology to upgrade its video productions to HD. At the heart of that new installation is a new BPswitch FX integrated production switcher from Broadcast Pix. Installed in mid-April, the new system is designed to simplify the production workflow and improve the quality of meeting coverage.

[Read: Broadcast Pix to Debut Automated Graphics Option for BPswitch at NAB Show]

“It was time for an upgrade,” said Christine Buller, computer and network administrator for the city.

Located in its own small production room, the control room views the activities in the chambers through a large window. While the area had previously been crowded with equipment — including a switcher, CCU and multiple monitors— the workspace is now streamlined to a simple keyboard, mouse and two touchscreens.

“It’s just so seamless, that’s what I like about it,” Buller said. “We used to have so many different pieces of equipment. It was just kind of cumbersome.”

Today, meeting coverage can be found on local public access channel KTV, and is also streamed live and is available on-demand via the city’s website. Meetings are recorded to the Broadcast Pix for archive while the system simultaneously outputs a live stream for the web.

Instead of a traditional control panel, Mankato is using a Broadcast Pix Commander touchscreen interface that offers controls designed to simplify switching, camera control, and the use of graphics and clips for those users who are not high-end production professionals. As a result, the personnel responsible for Mankato’s meeting coverage have been able to produce high-quality meeting coverage via touchscreens.

The system integrator on the project was the local firm Video Services Inc., which provided training and built lower-third graphics for participants in both the city council and school board.

Buller thought she’d rely mostly on the mouse during production, but she quickly adapted to the Commander interface. “We’re finding it so much faster using the touchscreen,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the touchscreen is.”

The new setup also includes three Panasonic HD PTZ cameras that are controlled through the Broadcast Pix. Two cameras are positioned in the back of the room; one provides a wide shot of the council and presets of several council members, while the second has presets for other council members. The third camera was installed in the front of the room and focuses on the guest speaker table. The BPswitch can also display the meeting agenda or other visuals from a connected laptop. Presets are used to follow the action, but the cameras can be adjusted on the fly to fix headroom or other issues.

So far, the new system is only being used for two city council and two school district meetings per month. However, Buller said the new system could be used to record training sessions and other meetings in the future.

“[N]ow we know that we’ve got some options,” she added. “This will allow us some future growth.”

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