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Review: Newtek TriCaster Studio
Posted Feb 1, 2008 Print Version     Page 1of 1

here have been few reviews that I have looked forward to writing as much as this TriCaster Studio review. The TriCaster Studio is made by NewTek, creators of the seminal postproduction product, VideoToaster (now VT[5]). TriCaster Studio is the latest development in the TriCaster product family line, joining TriCaster and TriCaster Pro. For more information on NewTek’s other products, I suggest that you visit their website where you can view a great side-by-side, feature-set comparison of the entire TriCaster family.

As the name suggests, TriCaster Studio a self-contained "studio-in-a-box." It is capable of live switching between six cameras; real-time chromakeying; multiple upstream effects; dual DDR playback; live CG, audio mixing, and video editing; live video streaming; live, simultaneous AVI and WMV recordings; and more. In effect, NewTek has squeezed the capabilities of a broadcast control room into a large black shoebox. The TriCaster Studio is designed to be a live production workhorse. In addition to the features mentioned above, the TriCaster has the capability to capture and edit to get media in and out of the box.

I must admit, after glancing at the operators’ manual I was a little nervous about how user-friendly the TriCaster Studio was going to be. My worries were quickly laid to rest after operating the TriCaster for only a short time. Its interface is easy to follow and it makes sense. It’s rather impressive to have the capabilities of the TriCaster Studio presented in a user-friendly package.

Setup is uncomplicated and straightforward. NewTek understands the need to keep the I/O simple, with very easy assess. While the front of the TriCaster Studio may not be inspirational in itself, it’s incredibly easy to connect to. Each of the 6 inputs has the option of Composite, S-video, or component. There are also 4 XLR audio inputs, giving some flexibility for smaller audio setups. On the output side, you have the option of 2 Composite, S-video, and component outputs as well as one pair of 1/4" and RCA audio outputs. There are also 4 USB ports and 1 FireWire connection on the front of the TriCaster Studio to use while transferring media on and off.

figure 1Live Production
We do a lot of live switching at the university, so I was really excited to see what the TriCaster Studio could do in that setting. With the TriCaster, you have the ability to switch between 10 different sources: 6 cameras, 2 direct disk video files (the TriCaster refers to them as VCRs), 1 iVGA for computer presentation such as PowerPoint, and a customizable background. As in a broadcast studio, the TriCaster has 3 banks of buttons: live, preview, and effects. You can also choose from more than 200 transitions for use between sources.

One of the "wow" features that people always notice when walking into a TV control room is the number of monitors. The TriCaster Studio gets the same reaction, with 6 available monitors to view while doing a live production. They are designated as 1 program/live, 1 preview, 2 for each VCR, 1 for the iVGA and a waveform/vectorscope. While researching and writing this review, NewTek released an upgrade that allows you to configure the TriCaster to monitor 3 cameras instead of the VCR/iVGA layout. This is a big plus for anyone switching 3 or more cameras. The TriCaster Studio is very flexible, suited for use in at least 4 different scenarios. One configuration would be as a traditional broadcast news setup with CG and VCR playback and I/O to multiple sources. As is needed with most broadcast production, the TriCaster could switch between a combination of camera sources and VTR playback, adding CG when desired.

Another setup would be to use TriCaster Studio as a remote field switch for live events, such as sports, concerts, etc. With this setup the emphasis would be one switching unit for many sources and cameras. The bulk of live events aren’t focused around playback as much as getting good video from a multitude of cameras and devices (decks, computers, etc.). The TriCaster would be a good option for college and high schools sports events as well as "image magnification" for theatrical houses.

A third desirable configuration would be to use the TriCaster as a presentation switcher. One of the unique features of the TriCaster Studio is that it can output a VGA, SXGA, or SQXGA resolution. The TriCaster has the capability to switch between 3 iVGA sources. By using this feature throughout the iVGA video feeds that you are switching, you can avoid a down-res to SD quality. This means that computer presentations keep the same high resolution going out as they did going in. Houses of worship (or similar) would find these features especially beneficial.

The fourth scenario would be using the TriCaster Studio as a virtual set switcher. Virtual set production operates much like a standard broadcast production, but with the added difficultly of switching between real-time chroma-keying. The TriCaster Studio is preconfigured with 6 different virtual set designs that have 4 different camera angles for each set design. The TriCaster also understands that you’ll want to use VCR playback to insert into the virtual set design and automatically configures it for you. The TriCaster Studio showcases its versatility in the ability to do all or any combination of these different configurations.

Video Mixer
NewTek also sells a video mixer interface with live and next source buttons as well as the familiar T-Bar. Unfortunately, this product wasn’t available for my review. And while I did not have the physical mixer to operate, I found it fairly straightforward to use the computer keyboard that interfaces with the TriCaster Studio. The auto transition function is the space bar and the take function is the enter key. This was good planning on NewTek’s part, considering that they are the two largest keys on a keyboard.

Capture and Edit
Along with its live production capabilities, TriCaster Studio also allows you to capture media. The capture device that you can connect to has an analog input. This means that you can capture Composite, component, or S-video. The TriCaster can also capture real-time DV and HDV source material through the FireWire input. For the DV sources you also have deck control to assist during capturing and export to tape. (Note that TriCaster cannot export HDV over FireWire.)

The video editor is like a light version of NewTek’s SpeedEDIT. The editor lets you edit in either a storyboard or timeline mode. While it wouldn’t be efficient to edit a full documentary on a TriCaster, the editor is more than adept at quickly capturing and editing clips to be used for the live production "VCRs." As with most editors, you have control over audio, colors, size, adding filters, transitions, etc. You can also add stills or animated CG during the editing process, in order to merge to the video before you go live thus leaving you free to use the live CG for other sources. While I didn’t spend a lot of time with the editor, it includes all of the functionality that you’d expect in an editor.

figure 1

This is one of the areas where the TriCaster Studio truly shines. With the TriCaster there is the ability to use up to two DDRs during a live production. You can create a playlist for each one of the two VCRs. After each clip is played, the VCR will load and ready the next clip to be played. Using Cue mode, the TriCaster Studio will automatically start playing the clip once the take button is hit, giving you almost fully automated studio control.

Live Streaming
Another area of where the TriCaster Studio has exceeded expectations is with its ability to simultaneously stream out a live-switching event. You can choose nearly a dozen different push or pull streaming profiles, type in the IP address, and simply push Stream Output and the TriCaster will do the rest. How convenient is that?

iVGA is difficult to explain or can at least sound complicated. The iVGA has the ability to connect to any other computer that’s on the same network and display the desktop as an iVGA source on the switcher. There is a small little file that acts as a utility when you install it on either a Mac or PC. Simply launch the application; TriCaster Studio does the rest. As long as TriCaster can "see" the other computer it will display its computer screen, usually running PowerPoint.

In my world of live event production, this is a huge benefit. Typically, we would use an expensive scan converter and a couple hundred feet of cable to function as our switcher to capture a PowerPoint presentation. The TriCaster has changed all that. By using the TriCaster with its iVGA technology for live event production you benefit in two important ways. First, there is no need for any other device(s) to display a PowerPoint—no scan converters or video scalers. Secondly, you don’t need to run all that extra video cable! That saves time and money. Within any building wired with network access, you simply plug into the wall and the TriCaster Studio will find it.

figure 1
The virtual studio that is used with LiveSet is amazing. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a video switcher in a long time. With each virtual set there are up to four different camera angles, which means that the LiveSet is giving you four different points of view in the virtual studio.

One of the most powerful and useful features of a virtual studio is that you can create one using very little space while maintaining the appearance of something far larger.

When I tested the LiveSet with our chroma key, it took very little time to get up to speed with switching in a virtual studio environment. It was absolutely incredible to work with! As with any green/blue screen work, the secret to a successful key is good, even lighting. I choose my two camera angles, picked out our chroma key color, made a couple of minor tweaks to the tolerance and choke levels, and we had one great-looking virtual studio!

As the creators of LightWave, NewTek has nailed how to create a realistic 3D environment. A key component of the believability of this virtual studio is how LiveSet functions to simultaneously correlate the reflections and shadows that are reacting to the talent and/or video on the screen in real time. In the above example, the desk in LiveSet will give off a reflection of the video that you can play from the VCR. Truly amazing!

As mentioned earlier, NewTek released an upgrade for TriCaster Studio at product review time. This upgrade provides additional enhancements and functionality to TriCaster. The upgrade includes three-camera source monitoring (mentioned earlier), full-featured character generator, iVGA underscan, improved keying, an updated editor (based on SpeedEDIT 1.5), and additional tools to help you create your own LiveSet (with Lightwave 3D v9). The upgrade is free to all existing TriCaster owners.

TriCaster Studio is a broadcast studio and mobile production truck at a fraction of the size and cost. NewTek has set a new standard for mobile production switchers.

Todd Gillespie works in Television Production at UC-Santa Barbara.

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