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.


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)


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.


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.

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

  1. Tyler says:

    I know you’ve suggested Carbonite in the past. Have you had any luck with the Blackmagic line?

    • brhoda says:

      Hi Tyler, I haven’t used one, but hearing from those that have, it hasn’t been all great things. It’s low in features, support and product longevity and stability. I have heard only a few people being happy with BMD atem. I would highly recommend if you can to invest in the Carbonite, it will pay for itself in longevity for sure!

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