My new favorite Router!

Every once in a while you come across one of those products that really change the game.  For me the latest one is Ross Video’s new Ultrix router.  I recently put one in on a project of mine and the whole time I was freaking out (in a nerd type of way), and I am happy to say that it has lived up to my expectations! Using new technology in a project is always mixed emotions, it is usually exciting but it can also be scary.

As an integrator I have found routers invaluable, such a great use of money when properly implemented.  Before routers came down in price I had a hard time justifying them as an expense and would spend hours carefully designing every detail of a system, but for a while now routers have been inexpensive making them totally worth it and selfishly making my and many other’s lives easier.

I have been keeping my eye on hybrid video/ audio routing for some now. Looking at the big router manufactures such as Miranda (GV), Imagine communications, evertz and Utah who all have hybrid solutions, I have been waiting for the day when such technology would be affordable for the average church/ small system.  Ultrix has completely crossed this line in a big way.

Whenever you have new products on the market that incorporates multiple solutions into one it can sometimes be hard to see beyond the surface. People see a video router, and a price tag and either ignore the functionality or don’t understand it.  But when you do a full apple to apples comparison the picture really starts to make sense.

When I was approached with my latest project, there were a few stipulations.  The biggest one for me was the idea that audio and video needed to always be tied together and extremely simple for an end user.  I could have built a multi-level routing system to handle all of this, but this includes a lot of wiring, conversion, and outboard pieces of gear.  The other option was to fully embed the system through a single level router, but that too requires lots of embedders, dis-embedders, and DA’s.  I had done a few systems like that before and functionally they work great and are easy to use, but it is never as flexible as one would hope.

The next big thing for me was that the size of system required additional monitoring, and I wanted to make sure that whatever multi-viewer I had in the system was reliable and robust.  The hard thing with Multi-viewers is that they take a ton of router outputs (if you need that functionality) and tally is usually a nightmare (unless you have an external Tally interface).

I started to do some price comparisons between video routing, audio embed/ dis-embed, Multi-view, labor and expandability.     Now because I am a bit of a bias Ross fan boy I kept as much gear in the Ross family as possible (NK & Opengear) with the exception of the multi viewer, since they don’t make an external one. What I found was the pricing wasn’t very far apart at all to the Ultrix, enough to when presented to the client they didn’t think twice and went with the Ultrix.  By going with the Ultrix though, allowed us way more flexibility then we would ever have had with any other system.

I put in a 64×64 router, I made half the router fully enabled with audio processing with full MADI support.  We put in 2 MADI SFP modules and tied 2 separate audio consoles to include 56 mono sends and receives per console! Any device with audio was easily able to tie to both audio consoles.  I was also able to embed up to 16 channels of audio on any output on my audio processing cards, from any SDI or MADI source. There is so much audio flexibility on this system.  I basically have 32 SDI embedders and 32 dis-embedders that each do 16 channels each with a crazy amount of audio sources to choose from.  And then without any external gear I can incorporate MADI to any source and send any source to MADI (we even sent MADI to MADI because we could).  At first glance the audio processing looks expensive on the Ultrix, but the benefits easily outweigh the cost.  And with so many consoles using the MADI standard (or using MADI conversion) it is so easy to integrate!!  I could go on for days!!! So much flexibility, so easy to incorporate, so much Power!  (neither console we tied in were native MADI).

Now you may think you don’t need that much flexibility, but think about being able to ISO 16 channels of audio per record device, sending out 56 Audio channels to your audio consoles, being able to easily route different audio feeds to different places.  You will be surprised how much you utilize this feature and not know how you ever lived without it!

The Multiviewers are extremely economical and you can monitor any of the 64 inputs and any of the 64 outputs with only taking up a single output.  It is easy to setup and change.  I found the output monitoring incredibly useful as the UMD’s display the destination and the source going to it, with proper audio metering.  Tally is seamless from the carbonite switcher making the whole thing streamlined.  It is one of those things where the MV’s just make sense, look great and are powerful.

The last thing I will say about the Ultrix is the SFP modules.  The SFP modules can be swapped out for a number of different standards.  I mentioned that I used a couple of SFP modules for MADI audio but I also added some SDI I/O, as well as some Fiber I/O all right within my router without going to a conversion frame.

If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about this product.  But the best part is, just like Carbonite was built with a software upgradeable mindset that brought us tons of features throughout the years, Ultrix is built the same way.  Ultrix is already pretty great! But who knows what features are to come.  I have only hit a few of the amazing feature-sets.  I just hate to see a product this great go un-noticed.  For the HOW community I really don’t think there is any better product to put in your facility.

If you are thinking about an upgrade or a new Video router of any sorts, you have to consider the Ultrix! But with all these features wrapped in one (most that are software unlockable at any point), be sure you don’t just wing it, create a careful design and work with the kind folks at Ross video to make sure everything is setup correctly going in.  Ross has done it again with the Ultrix, and it has me excited!

 

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Control Room Pet Peeves

I have been in a lot of control rooms, some good, some bad, some pretty and some ugly. But when it comes to designing a control room you want it to be first and foremost, functional.  Something that will work well production after production.  But after being in as many control rooms that I have been in, there are certain things that drive me completely crazy!  When you are looking to build a control room for your facility be sure to sit down and carefully plan it out and try to avoid these pet peeves.

 

  1. Noise:  The Best control rooms are quiet control rooms.  There is something about that calm before the start of a long day of shows when it is nice to sit in silence and begin preparing for the day.  But realistically noise can come from many different sources, bleed from adjoining rooms, fan noise from gear, or even being in a spot where people feel the need to constantly come in and out.  I have found there is nothing worse than feeling like you need to constantly shout to fight the noise.  Now sure, when directing music I like to crank up the volume and get into it, but I also like to have the option to do that.  One of the biggest mistakes that leads to a noisey control room is when all the gear is racked in the same room.  I have been in many control rooms where this is the case and it always leads to more un wanted noise than it is worth.  When designing a facility, I always push to rack the gear in a room other than the production control room.  Fan noise makes you tired and requires you to shout over it.  I once lost my voice because of a control room I was training end users in.  Using an inaccurate iphone app I measured over 80db from fan noise alone.
  2. Temperature: Being from Minnesota I have never minded the cold and I can’t stand the heat, but when you are working it is always good to be comfortable. Control rooms are notorious for being cold, fridge’d places.  I have seen control room stacked with coats and blankets for the operators. Now obviously it is very important to keep the gear at a cool temperature to maximize the life of the gear.  But when a control room is so cold that people can’t work, that becomes a problem.  Again, I always try and put the gear in a temperature controlled room away from the production control room.  That way the operators and the gear can have different climates.  However, I have been in many control rooms where the gear and operators are separate, but their HVAC units are not.  This is a major design flaw in their HVAC system, because now the operators are getting froze out while the gear is nice and happy.  Sometimes some simple dampers do the trick but make sure you can easily control the climate of the production control room separate from your rack/ engineering room.  The other pet peeve with temperature is when you have cold air blowing right on you during a show.  No matter what the temperature in the control room is, that is miserable.  Especially if you are in the construction phase of a building, be sure to really think through temperature control and where vents are placed.
  3. Lighting: I always tell people I work in cold dark caves. Many control rooms feel cavernous and sometimes it sucks the life out of you.  But this is usually done on purpose.  Because we are dealing with video, we don’t want any unwanted glare on monitors, and we want everything in the room to be easy on the eyes.  The best control rooms I go in have 2 types of lighting, work lights, for doing maintenance and cleaning, and then track lighting on a dimmable switch.  This allows you to point light out of peoples eyes and onto the gear and off monitors.  Dimmable is also important so you can get the right level to make it really easy on the eyes with still being able to see the gear and production materials.  Whatever you do, plan on lighting and try and have both work lights and a dimmable source.  I personally am not a fan of recessed canned lights as they usually aren’t always placed the best and end up hitting me in the eyes and driving me nuts during a show!  If all else fails, buy some nice desk lamps that have goose necks so you can place them exactly where you want them.
  4. Monitor placement: My Mom used to yell at me when I was younger because I used to sit too close to the TV, I’m just glad she doesn’t go to work with me now! Monitoring is incredibly important and needs to be carefully planned in a facility.  There are 3 things that peeve me the most about monitoring.   The first is when people buy monitors that are too big.  A 65” TV placed 3 feet from an operator is too big!!  In one of the fly packs I frequently use I have 2- 25” monitors placed 3 feet or less from me and I love it!!  I hate having to scan left /right/up/down on my main Multi view monitor.  When directing I need to quickly look for my next camera shot and I like to have all my primary sources viewable in a quick glance.  So many control rooms I go to buy the biggest monitors they can and call it good.  That is ok if you aren’t right on top of them but many places are only a few feet away from their monitors.  For 5’-6’ I go with a 42”- 55” TV depending on the space and number of monitors.  My second pet peeve with monitoring is monitor placement.  Many times when hanging monitors in a facility monitors will be mounted higher than lower.  I find monitors should be mounted in such a way that the primary monitors she be placed strait ahead of the director.  Looking up only hurts your neck and is less than optimal for longer shows.  I usually place my main monitors so that the bottom of the monitor matches the top of the front desk in the control room.  My last pet peeve with monitoring is when operators are in a position where they can’t see what they are doing.  I have seen graphics operators facing a wall on their own with no monitors.  I have also seen operators placed on a back row that can’t see anything with low monitoring.  This can easily be solved with more monitors on a monitor wall placed higher up or placing a small monitor or two by the operator.  Plan your positions accordingly and make it easy for each operators to see everything that they need to.
  5. Volume control/ Speaker placement: Ever watch a movie with someone and they tell you to turn it down and you think it is too soft?  Volume war in a control room is never fun.  However, I believe that the director should get ultimate control with a volume knob right next to them.  It drives me nuts when volume control is placed on the wall or in another room.  Volume in a control room needs to go up and down quickly at a moments notice.  I can’t stand having to get up or call someone to adjust the volume.  I know in many HOW facilities graphic operators sometimes need their own control.  My preference here is to get them a nice com unit that has a program input so they can have their own volume control going right into their headset.  One of the best setups I worked on had a “My Mix” station feeding the program input of the com unit and then the announce out of the unit was set to feed the talkback into the worship leader’s ears so they could converse during rehearsals.  The other side of this is to properly place speakers in a control room so they aren’t shooting over everyone’s heads or only hitting certain people.  Plan converge for a nice sounding control room.
  6. Traffic: Production and part may both start with “P” but they are nothing alike. It drives me nuts when the production control room is a revolving door of people coming in and out.  It’s not the crew or even off duty crew that bothers me, it is the people that stop in just to see what is going on, or the talent that thinks we are the ones who can pull up a video on you tube for them during a show.  I get that sometimes there is little control over where the control room can be.  But when I lay out a control room I always try and get the room to face away from the door, this allows you to avoid eye contact with people and get distracted when they walk by.  If I can put locks on doors (preferable key cards) that is always ideal.  But the simplest thing I do, is I never put high level positions close to the door.  Such as TD, Directors, and sometimes even CG operators.  In fact, I try and make those positions the hardest to get to in the room.  If I could put up baby gates to detour people I would!! I just seem to have the worse luck with people talking to me during a show while I’m working resulting in me getting thrown off my game.  Anyone that needs to actually talk to me during a show can usually do so on Com (I may be on a rant). I would be happy to let an assistant director, Shader, or even producer talk to the random flow of people that come in and out of a control room.  Now I say this as most of my shows now days are out of fly packs and placed back stage.  This is why I always box myself in.

 

These are just a few of the things that drive me nuts in a production control room.  I could go on and on.  But if you are planning a new control room really think about the environment and carefully plan the layout of a control room. You wouldn’t guess it by this post, but I really am not as picky as many other people I have met.  Usually as long as I can see and hear (with a good chair to sit in) I am happy!  But don’t take the planning of the production control room environment lightly and maybe consider some of my pet peeves.

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Genlock Part 2: Is it still needed?

I often get the question that with so many switchers offering frame syncs on every input, why would you still need to genlock an entire system? Can you just lock everything using the frame sync’s on the switcher? And the answer is: Yes, you can lock everything at the switcher using internal frame syncs, but as your system expands beyond your switcher, you may not want to.

In the last post I explained how genlock works and what it does to your system, but before I answer the question of if it is still relevant I want to go deeper into locking and syncing your system.

Every destination that accepts a video signal has to get it’s timing or sync from somewhere, including monitors, waveform vector scopes, record decks, projectors, Graphics machines, and everything in your system. There are 2 ways that these pieces of gear get their timing. The first is through Genlock, if the destination has a reference input, not all destinations do. The second is through the inputted video signal it self. Because all video signals carry Sync and timing in them, destinations can inherently time themselves from the source that feeds them.

In the last post I compared genlock to a conductor of an orchestra, setting the beat and the rhythm of your system. If you have ever been to an Elementary school orchestra concert you know that as hard as the conductor tries, the musicians vary in how they interpret the beat. They are still playing together but each musician isn’t as tightly in sync with the next musician as they could be. But if you go and hear a professional orchestra, each musician is very tightly in sync with each other as the conductor directs the orchestra. Your video system is very much the same way. Each piece of gear may be hitting the beat, but within what window? We call this the “timing window.” Because genlock is still an analog signal, there can be variations to the signal from device to device. This can be caused by: cable distance, cable integrity, distribution amps and simply how different devices are built. So as one device may be perfectly timed, another device may be off by a little bit.

Switchers utilize a timing window that as long as the video signal falls within the widow, it can mix seamlessly between sources without any issues, but if it falls outside of that timing window, you can get timing errors and may be required to use a frame sync anyway. Other pieces of gear though, don’t usually have any type of timing window, instead they just have to accept the video signal as it is and when that signal changes it has to physically re-adjust it’s timing to match the incoming video signal even if it is only off by a pixel. In fact switchers are the only device that I know of that has a timing window to allow for differences in timing.

Ideally we want a tightly sync system, much like we want a tightly sync orchestra. Most devices allow us to not only sync up frames of video at the same time, but we can get as detailed to align the exact pixels so all sources scan at the exact same time. We call this “Phasing” a system. There is “H phase” (horizontal phase), “V phase” (vertical phase) and “SC phase” (sub carrier) phase. H phase aligns your signal left and right, Vertical up and down, and SC phase aligns the hue of the video. In the world of SDI we have H phase and V phase, SC is no longer needed thanks to digital video. Most of the time when we genlock a source it will fall in our switchers timing window, but in the old days when composite systems ruled supreme, phasing was much more of a necessity and could take hours to accomplish.

Side note: If you have any sources that shift down when you take them or add blank lines on the top, this is usually due to a vertical phase issue and can be quite common. The devices I most commonly have vertical phase issues with are scan converters. By simply adjusting vertical timing will fix this issue.

The only way to phase out your system properly is with a tool such as a waveform monitor (not all scopes will analyze timing in todays world). I tend to use a rasterizer brand called Phabrix which provide detailed timing information, but Techtronics, Leader, and Harris all have great products that can analyze your signal and gives you timing information.  I am not going to tell you how to phase out your system as it can be pretty complex. Find a good local broadcast engineer or a system integrator to help with this.

If you are tracking with me at this point you may be thinking that this is all well and good, but the question still remains, why should I genlock all my sources when I can just use a frame sync in my switcher? The reason is that all of the destinations in your system receiving video signal need to get their sync from somewhere too. In your system you probably have projectors, monitors, record decks, shading stations, converters, streaming systems and many other destinations receiving some type of video signal, hopefully from some type of production router. If your switcher is the only device where all sources are synced together, then any device that gets routed a new signal needs to re-sync itself every time your route a new source to that destination. Every device handles this differently but if you don’t genlock all your sources then you will more then likely see a flash or jump of some sort when you change the source going to a destination. But if everything is genlocked then you can switch any timed sources to any destination with little to no flash, and the better timed or phased out your system, the less jump and flash you will see.

For example: I always setup my shading station as a router destination, that way I can see all sources in their organic state so I can analyze timing, colors, brightness and more without seeing it go through a switcher first where it could be manipulated in some way. If I am comparing 2 cameras I may be flipping back and forth quickly, if my cameras are not genlocked and phased, it can take seconds before a camera or sources syncs up on my monitor and scope, but if they are locked and phased then I can instantly compare sources with no waiting. Or, lets say you are ISO recording cameras, but because you don’t have a dedicated recording deck for each camera, you cut to a certain camera when your speaker walks to the lefts side of the stage and a different camera when they walk to the right. If things are not synced then you will get a nasty, long cut between cameras. And depending on the record deck it may even stop recording on you. But if everything is lock and perfectly in phase you will have a seamless cut. Or, you may want to route a source to your projection screens before service while people are coming in so you can run through stuff on your switcher without it going out for everyone to see.   Once again, non-locked signals will go crazy and flash the screens, where a locked signal will be seamless.

Now with all this said, I still use internal switcher frame syncs if I am adding in a quick POV camera or running a scan converter from a far away place. They are convenient and easy and although they usually add a frame of delay I am ok to deal with it on certain sources. But every piece that is permanently hardwired and considered a pivotal source in my system are all locked and phased together for as tightly a timed system as I can get it. And sometimes you can perfectly phase your system and devices will still jump as they can be overly sensitive, you just can’t win them all. (this is usually due to a line drop caused by routers and the device not allowing this in it’s timing window)

I could go on for pages on this topic giving different examples; but I hope that you see that as valuable as internal frame syncs are to a switcher, it is far better to genlock your system everywhere you can so that every piece of gear on it’s own starts off in perfect sync to one another, so that no matter what destination it ends up to, everything stays locked. It is far better to sync sources on the front end then the back end. Your system will be much happier because of it.

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Project spotlighting: A powerful cohesive system

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I want to highlight a project that I was able to be a part of over the last couple of weeks with systems integrator Reach Communications. Embrace Church, based out of Souix Falls South Dakota, decided to launch their 4th campus 260 miles away in St. Croix Minnesota. Embrace had some big video requirements on a small budget.

Requirements:

-Large dual blended center screen for content and message playback

-Side screens for content and speaker Prezi-Presentation

-Distribution of 2 feeds around the building (Speaker playback and Prezi-Presentation)

-Simple and easy for volunteers to use

-Small footprint to maximize FOH booth space

As I was a sounding board for tossing ideas off of, I had little to do with the design of this video system, the mastermind…. Brad Van Voorst of Reach Communications.

The biggest hurdle was the dual blended center screen in the middle of the room. As ProPresenter was going to be a primary piece of the puzzle for this blend, it couldn’t be the only piece. There needed to be the ability to not only stretch an HD 1080i source across the screen but also the ability to format a 16×9 window on the screen for video playback. The key piece of gear chosen to partner with ProPresenter for the blend was a Ross Carbonite+ 1ME production switcher. With the use of the MiniME’s in multi-screen mode, it made it easy to go between the high-resolution ProPresenter sources, stretched 1080i sources and PIP boxes. All the data doubling (overlap) was done in ProPresenter and the Ross Carbonite+, but the featuring of the blend was done inside of 2 8K Panasonic Projectors for a seamless blend!

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There also needed to be a camera in the back of the room to get a wide shot of the auditorium to distribute to the TV’s around the building. The challenge is that there wasn’t space on the desk for another controller. With a little bit of research the Marshall CV620 was chosen because it was cost effective and used Sony’s VISCA protocol which allowed the Ross Carbonite+ to control the camera eliminating the need for an additional controller.

Message delivery was deployed using a proven transport method that Reach and Embrace had already been using at one of their other campuses; Evertz H.264/ MPEG4 encoders/ Decoders , Grass Valley T2’s for time-slip and an AJA Ki-Pro for backup. To make it easy for volunteers, AMP protocol was setup between the Ross Carbonite+ and the Grass Valley T2 to control playback with the push of a single button.

After everything was setup, presets were built using Ross Video’s custom panel builder inside their Dashboard control software. This makes it easy for volunteers to press presets on a touch screen to recall different service elements. From this panel they can easily route video to their side screens, center screen, confidence monitor, and 2 distributed lobby outputs. They can also roll the message from their T2 and recall camera presets. Each service transition was thought through so that with 1 push of a button all pieces can move seamlessly with assurance that everything will be execute as designed.

I think the biggest win with this project is how clean and efficient everything turned out. The reason this was possible is primarily due to knowing the production gear inside and out to know what it can do, what it is best at, how to best implement the features needed, and what the limitations are. The Ross Carbonite+ was the perfect tool for the job with the multi-screen mode, Camera control, server control, and Dashboard integration. The Panasonic projectors allowed us to do the blending in them so there wasn’t conflict between ProPresenter and the Carbonite+ and it looks amazing! All pieces were strategically chosen to fulfill a purpose and to work in a cohesive system that turned out clean and efficient.

List of Materials:

Ross Carbonite+ 1ME live Production switcher

Ross Dashboard

Ensemble Design Mitto Scan converters (4)

Marshall CV620 PTZ Camera

Panasonic Projection

Evertz H.264 Encoder/ Decoding

Grass Valley T2 Video Server

AJA Ki Pro

AJA SDI to HDMI converters

Blackmagic 20×20 Router

Renewed vision ProPresenter

Apple iMacs & Mac Mini’s

Planar Touchscreen monitor

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Switchers: Understanding how they work and how to set them up for IMAG use

I love production switchers! One of my greatest joys is seeing how hard and how far I can push a switcher to pull off my show. As a trainer I always enjoy coming up with solutions for complicated effects, it’s what gets my nerd juices flowing. I have worked with both Broadcast and IMAG applications and even though it is the same product being used, the operational approach is usually much different.

ME’s

Production switchers consist of 1 or more ME’s (Mix effect). An ME allows you to cut, dissolve, wipe, and handle multiple key layers that can do a variety of things such as luma key, auto key, Chroma key and Resize sources. They have a full preview, full program and in many cases a clean feed which would be the background minus some or all of the key layers. If a switcher has multiple ME’s it is essentially like having multiple switchers in one. These additional ME’s can be used a number of ways and this is where the approach between different applications can change.

Screen Shot BroadcastTraditionally, switchers read like a book. If you look at a switcher panel the top ME is made to feed down to the bottom ME. In most cases the top row is considered to be ME 1 and increase as you go down. Once you get to the end, that is the ME considered to be Program. So if you have a 2 ME switcher, Program is ME 2, and if you have a 3 ME switcher, program is ME 3. If you have a half ME on your switcher, the half ME ends up being Program as the half ME is always the most down stream. (A half ME is a stripped down ME made to cut, dissolve and add in simple linear keys)

Broadcast

For most broadcasters it is all about Program. Program is where you cut the show going from source to source and adding in some key layers over the top of program. The additional ME’s are used to build effects to be brought into program when needed, such as chroma keys and boxes. It makes it easier to switch a show with complicated effects, because each ME is simply a source on that can be cut to at any time, making complicated effects as simple as hitting a button during a show. This makes the switcher act like a funnel, all the sources and all the ME’s flow down to one single output. That is why program sits on the highest ME at the end of the line.

So if you are sitting in front of a switcher this makes sense, start at the top and work your way down, and right in front of you on the highest ME is where you cut your show, everything flows down.

IMAG

When we start dealing with IMAG, most of us want to use a switcher exactly opposite of our broadcaster friends. We want our program cut to feed other sources that get distributed to many other locations. But switchers are made to flow down. Start with ME 1 and go down from there, we aren’t able to start with our highest ME (program) and go backwards (Although this may be an option in some switchers). When we are dealing with IMAG, we don’t often deal with complicated effects, especially in the church world. Since we don’t need to bring these complicated effects into program, we should start our program cut earlier in the chain.

Rather than cutting cameras on my highest ME, I will usually start with my lowest ME. So all my cameras get cut on ME 1 and many times this is my record feed because it is the most generic and bare. Although I may include a few graphics, for the most part is a glorified clean feed. And as I move down stream I add in more graphics or change up the cut in some way. But the idea is ME 1 is where I do a majority of my cutting. Then this ME gets distributed to the other ME’s which take care of specific destinations such as IMAG screens, cenScreen Shot IMAGter content screens, web feeds, satellite campuses and more. The switcher begins to act more as a big router that can dissolve and key; as you move down stream you can either use the main camera cut and add in graphics or there is still the option to do something entirely different. I have just learned that none of the outputs require as much attention as the main camera cut and most of the time you want this to go to other outputs, or at least have the o
ption of it going to other outputs.

Even if you have a different philosophy of what each output should look like, most will agree that the main camera cut requires the most attention and thus see why operating a switcher in reverse can be beneficial. But if you want to run a switcher this way, there are 3 very important features to consider. First make sure you can tally cameras on ME 1 without having to take them to the Program ME. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Tally is an important tool, especially for camera operators. The second is to have a switcher that can re-assign ME Buses to panel rows, so that you aren’t reaching over all your ME’s to cut cameras but can re-assign ME 1 to the bottom row for comfort and setting up your panel backwards. And if you need to do a lot of complicated things on different outputs, be sure to have a switcher that can be programmed to easily execute complicated transitions.

I have always felt that it is important for churches to buy quality gear that is both flexible and powerful. Being able to use gear in a different way from what it was initially designed because it fits your workflow better is the sign of truly seasons and quality gear. If you don’t know and understand both how you want to use a piece of gear and how it was meant to be used then you will be starting off on the wrong foot.  When it comes to production switchers I hope this makes you think about your workflow and how you intend to use your switcher.

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Directing: Beyond calling cameras

I have written posts about directing for music and directing for speaking but it has all been centered around calling cameras. However, directing is much more than calling cameras. I recently did a show where I was Technical directing (operating the switcher) while one of the Clients personnel was calling cameras.   It became clear quickly that calling cameras was all they wanted to do rather than actually direct the show. This created an interesting situation to say the least, because cameras are just one piece of the puzzle and if you are directing you need to have a good understanding of all pieces of the puzzle.

If it goes on screen, you call it!

Most production switchers don’t just have cameras going into them, they also have graphics, lyrics, video playback devices, still stores and more going in and out of them. All these pieces should be held and called by the director. The control room is a team of people and everyone should be moving to the beat of the director. Now there are times where you need to let people do their job. But as a director it is important to take control of the ship and control everything that goes on screen.

The show that I was on had a producer/ program director calling the show giving cues to sound, lights and video. But even though my producer had a multi-viewer in front of them giving them the ability to see everything, they shouldn’t be directing video too. For example, lets say a speaker has a graphic coming up, the producer may mention that a graphic will need to be sent to the screen soon, but it is the directors responsibility to make sure it is the right graphic going up at the right time. Or if a video needs to roll, the director should be the one making sure the right one is cued and rolls on the directors call.

Don’t just call, Cue

Half of directing is making sure everyone is ready for what is going to happen next. “Stand by for Graphic, video, logo, lyrics, or Person A to come up on stage”. Directors need to make sure everyone is ready well in advance for their next part in the production. Decreasing errors in a production is a direct result of proper cueing and inversely most errors are the result of improper cueing.

Now I understand that some productions have lots of people and some only have a few. You may be a TD/ Director and only have a Graphics/ lyrics/ video playback person. Or you may have someone in each and every role. Let’s say you cue a graphic, this gives the CG operator enough time to make sure the graphic is loaded and it gives the TD time to get ready to put the graphic on screen so that as soon as the director says take graphic, it happens at the right moment (not after) with the correct graphic on screen.

Transitions are key

Transitions are the hardest thing to get right because in many cases multiple parts have to move at the same time. The ability to smoothly execute difficult transitions is what separates the good directors from the bad directors. Now even the best directors are at the mercy of their operators but as I have said before in previous posts is that directors have to set expectations with all their operators and adjust based on their operators skill levels. If the person playing videos has a slow response time then you need to call “roll video” before you say “take video.” This is one example of how you should adapt in those situations.

The key to calling good transitions is knowing exactly what needs to happen at every transition. Getting the information ahead of time so you can properly cue and call the transition as needed. In some cases this could be easy, but in others it can be more difficult. The last event I did had a center LED screen that we frequently did video rolls on. Every time a speaker would come up we would roll a speaker intro video on the LED screen, take our wider transition shot, get the close up as soon as possible and then run a lower third with their name as well and then switch back to the holding graphic on the LED screen. In order for that transition to have happen smoothly the right video needed to be cued, the right lower third ready to go, cameras ready for their assignments and the TD ready to hit all the right buttons at the right time. All in all this was a pretty simple transition but if not called right could be a train wreck (which it was the first few times). Know the transitions and rehears them if you can.

You have to be one step ahead of the game

Everything mentioned really comes down to the director needing to always be one step ahead of the game at all times. While you are directing for the moment, calling camera shots and what not, you need to know your next move and make sure your crew is ready. Depending on the production, your producer might help you out on this one or if you have the ability to have an assistant director they can be a huge asset as well. But the director should always be leading, and the crew should be taking commands from the director because as a director you need to be that strong leader. If multiple people are giving cues, that is where once again mistakes can happen.

In order to truly be ahead of the game requires a detailed script that should be reviewed before going into the show. As a director I look at all the detail to know exactly how I am going to execute the transitions and make sure I have all the content before going into a show. During the show I should only have to glance at my rundown or script in order know what needs to happen next, If I have to study my script that means I didn’t do my job properly during preproduction. And beyond that I always assume as if no one on my crew has seen the script, even though most of them have.

Maybe it is because I have trust issues, but I just don’t trust that if my AD or producer calls something that my operators are truly ready for their next move unless I physically hear a confirmation on Com. A while back I was working with a company who does a lot of big corporate shows and one of their full time guys was running video playback for me. He got so mad that I was constantly checking up on him to make sure the right video was cued but I told him that he hadn’t earned my trust yet and it was my responsibility to make sure the right video went on screen. This guy’s boss heard the grumblings and verified what I had said because it is the directors responsibility. I needed to be one step ahead of the game and in order to do that I needed get on some of the operators case.

Make the calls and live with them

I have been on many different shows with many different producers and structures. I have very involved producers that want to call some of the big pieces like graphics and videos taking the responsibility from the director (as long as everyone can hear them) but I have also been in the opposite with no producer at all calling anything. Most of the time it is a combo where the producer calls the big transitions and key elements. But in any case as a director you have to make decisions to get things on air and sometimes you get it wrong, and others you get it right. When I have made the wrong call by sending up a graphic too early or even the wrong graphic all together I just have to suck it up and learn from it and do my best to get it right the next time.

The show I was just on had a director that kept asking the producer if a graphic was correct and waited for their approval before sending it and taking it down. This was not one of those scenarios when the producer wanted to be calling all the graphics. I turned to the director and told him he needed to step up and make the decisions on when to send and pull graphics, if he pulled one down too early then he would have to adjust for the next graphic because the producer had enough on their plate that he needed to own these calls. Really this just comes down to being a strong leader and properly leading your teams and being will to make both small and big calls.

This isn’t the art side of directing this is the technical side and in many ways it is the most important side of directing a clean show. Cameras are fun because you get to be creative and set yourself apart from other directors. But if you can’t get the technical side of directing then you will never have a good clean show, no matter how creative you are. Directing takes leadership and organization to lead crews through complicated transitions and key elements during a show. Think of a newscast, I have sat through many news casts and they are not artistic at all, they are all technical. These directors spend a half-hour of constantly directing all the pieces to get the right stories up at the right time and the directors that are never sure of when to take something or bring it down never make it to prime time. Because at the end of the day hitting your transitions and confidently calling a show and all the pieces is what makes a good director call a good show.

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Gateway Gear

I think it is pretty obvious that I am a bit of a Gear snob… I know you all aren’t surprised if you have read any of my posts before or know me personally. But with my strong opinion I usually cringe when Churches or facilities purchase gear that I think is sub par or that I know won’t last / easily grow out of. But I had a new realization recently that this gear isn’t all bad. At NAB this year I got to talking to a lot of people who said, “I currently have gear X and we have out grown it” or Gear Y just broke and we want something that will last now that we know this is what we want to do.” It made me realize that this cheaper gear in most cases just leads to better gear… hence the term “Gateway Gear.”

Here are 4 things you need to know about gateway gear:

1: Gateway gear allows for testing time

If you ever want to try something new, or implement a whole new system but aren’t sure if it is right for your facility, then Gateway gear might be the way to go. Because of the low cost in nature you can try things for far less money before you commit to them. Once you decided you want to go down a certain path you can replace these lower cost components with better, more reliable components that may get rid of some issues you were living with.

2: Gateway gear leads to bigger gear

Gateway gear usually has many limitations that may include flexibility, longevity, latency, and more. For some facilities these things may not be an issue therefore never needing anything but gateway gear. But most facilities will outgrow gateway gear in only a few years needing to put in better components that do more. This is common when installing a new system to not be sure how you want to use it, but once you figure out how you want to use your system you will quickly realize that you have outgrown your system, thus the need to replace gateway gear with better gear later on.

3: Gateway gear can be dangerous

Because of the low cost nature of Gateway gear it can be easy once you realize you have out grown it to buy more gateway gear and to try and make it transform into better gear by tying it all together. This doesn’t necessarily increase you flexibility or your longevity but only fixes a temporary problem. And when things change, and they always do, you may be in the same position you were before adding more gear to the situation where you would have been better off replacing everything. It is easy to cloud your judgment with gateway gear thinking it is good enough or we will just buy “X” to fix “Z.”   You end up digging yourself a hole that becomes increasingly hard to get out of. It’s important to know when you need to move on from gateway gear.

4: Gateway gear may cost more in the long run

When you do finally decide to replace gateway gear with better gear you are paying more overall. Let’s say the life span for most systems is on average 10-15 years. Gateway gear has a lifespan on average of 2-3 years (again because of longevity and that it can be out grown easily), you end up spending more money in a shorter amount of time than if you jumped right to the better gear. Keep in mind some times Management needs to see the small investment first before they can dive into a bigger investment to make sure it’s the path they want to go. There is usually no way to truly avoid spending money twice.

If you must invest in gateway gear from the beginning just know what you are getting into. I definitely think there can be good reasons to go the gateway gear route as long as you understand what it means.

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