Next steps: Video Servers

Back in the old days control rooms were filled with decks and more decks, multiple formats, makes and sizes.   There would one poor person running back and forth loading tapes, adjusting the TBC’s, making sure the videos are cued and rolling them at just the right moment.  But now we are in the digital age and racks of deck are being replaced with video and storage servers.  But how can these servers fit into the church market?  Pro-presenter, pro video player and playback pro all do a great job playing videos, but at what point do you move to something better?  I think once you make the decision to move to a video server that the quality, stability and creative output are far better than you have ever thought.

Now, you don’t need to invest in a 500K EVS system (EVS is the market leader in video content servers and pioneered slow motion instant replay). Yeah it would be great to be able to iso each camera, with the ability to do instant replay and still keep a few channels available for play out; if you have the budge then that is exactly what I would do but for most of us that is overkill.  I’m talking about a 2-4 channel server, and maybe an extra channel or two for record.

So here is how I believe video servers can add to your productions:

Quality: How many times do you edit something and you play it back and everything looks choppy, de-saturated, or like the quality is being cut in half.  Video servers are made to have native outputs, Example: SDI, composite, and component.  There is no other conversion going on.  As long as the codec that you use is a compatible codec for the server, your quality is going to look great.  By using a PC, you are having to convert the signal output and high quality scan converts or even signal converts can cost over 10K and still are dependent on computer graphic cards.

Servers also force you to stick to a certain codec for all your video formats, which keeps the standard the same, and your video’s looking good.  Multiple formats can be taxing on a computer and can greatly change the quality of the video.  Servers tend to be picky but that in turn becomes better in the long run for production workflows.

Stability: Let’s face it, computers crash! Ok, Servers can crash too, but… not as often and every time a video server crashes on me it is usually my fault.  But what I have found is on the big weekends when I’m pushing the server to it’s max, it performs!  Video’s always play smooth, in time and there is nothing else happening on the server to bog it down. Or it doesn’t decide to do an auto update at the wrong time (anyone else experience that?).  Video servers are made to be up 24 hours a day and play out multiple channels at a time.  They relay more on hardware than software in order to run smooth.

At Eagle brook we play a lot of videos out that have a click on them so the band can play to the video.  If the video doesn’t play in the right timing or gets hung up it can throw off the entire creative element.  The server provides the stability to pull off the creative things we want to do.  If video content is important in your ministry, then you need to have something stable to play videos out of.

Multi-channel play out:  Video content is becoming a major part of production these days.  It could be an Alpha and fill situation or you may have multiple screens that are part of your set.  By being able to play multiple videos at one time, even sync up multiple videos at one time will allow you to do a lot in your production.

At eagle brook we do a lot of alpha & fill type situations.  An alpha channel is a separate video signal that works on a gray scale.  Switchers recognize the gray and when it is white it allows no video to key through, but when it is black it allows video to key through, thus giving us a perfect key with full color range and opacity.  We roll 2 videos together, the actual video and then the alpha channel video, and it automatically takes us in and out of IMAG or does a cool media transition.

We also have set pieces that we feed video to, most of the time it is moving graphics, but other times it is separate videos that have been timed out to a song; different videos for different set pieces helps to add a lot of creativity to our productions.  I’ve rolled 2, 3, 4 even 5 separate videos at once and sent them to all different sources.  They always roll in sync with one another and creates an amazing effect.

Audio: Audio on videos can always be a little sketchy,  Audio out on a mini-(1/8”) output can be a little sketchy.  Servers provide high quality audio out.  In fact you can do more than just stereo.  Some servers allow for over 16 channels of audio!

So what can you do with all of these channels of audio?  At eagle brook we do a lot of video’s with click and more and more songs have loop sounds in them.  So we will have a stereo loop channel and then a click track as well.  We may have a video that syncs with a song that needs a spoken track in there as well.  We have found that the more we separate things and the more control we give the FOH engineer, the better it sounds and the happier everyone is.  We have done up to 6 separate audio channels! (slowly inching to 16)

How many of you have interpreters for different languages.  You can do multiple audio tracks for those different groups and send the audio into your translation systems.  (Side note, you can also do closed captioning for hearing impaired, not that that has anything to do with audio).

Control:  When you start taking the next steps to improve your Video systems the more you can integrate things the better.  Severs are meant to be controlled, sure you can control them via their gui, but you can also hook up an external controller that helps with cueing, playing and syncing up clips.

Our production switchers have full server control.  By having the server controlled by the switcher, the TD can then pre-program all the clips, in order, and roll them at exactly the right time.  This has eliminated a lot of error just with the pre-planning part. It also eliminates a volunteer position, which can be difficult to fill.  All in all the control piece has been one of the biggest advantages to having a server.  It is what allows us to pull off multiple channels of video, send them to all their sources and keep our entire productions seamless.

A server is so much more than a time delay system, or a way to record.  It can also be used for more than to just play a promo video or a recorded youtube clip.  It can open up the possibilities for creativity to really spruce up your production and add a seamless value to the equation.  If you feel like you are stuck creatively or are extremely limited to what you can do, look into getting a video server.

Here are a few manufactures of Servers:

Ross SMS

360 system Maxx

Grass valley Turbo

Grass Valley K2

Avid Airspeed

Harris Nexio

EVS (also known as Elvis)

And more….

About brhoda

I freelance doing a few different thing in the video and live production market. I worked for a church for 5 years directing services and designing control rooms.
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