Gear & Now: Live Event Switchers
Posted Jul 30, 2007

Whether live in the field or back in post, media producers and event videographers have choices for their acquisition, production, and postproduction strategies. Live-event production and on-location packaging can be rewarding in more ways than one. Regardless of whether the job in question is a wedding, school function, or corporate event, a program that’s already available on the web or ready for handing out at "lights up" or soon thereafter is often perceived to have greater value than one that takes weeks or months to finally deliver.

Given the expectations created by the refined and stylized product that we do create in post—years beyond the era when popping out a raw tape and handing it over was the norm in event video—this kind of instant or near-instant turnaround is a specialty that often leans heavily on creative capability and technical dependability under pressure.

Many videographers think of themselves as editors as much as shooters, and define their products and sales approach by the quality and creativity of the edit. Others simply decided at some point early in their video careers that live switching and same-day delivery was fine for other videographers but not for them—even though that probably meant turning down certain clients and jobs that would require them.

While it is important to have a good handle on your own work preferences, styles, requirements, and client expectations to make the right decision about how to produce and deliver event video, it is also good to know that a number of new products are providing dedicated solutions for the live recording, editing, and mixing of audio/video and computer content—and not just in standard definition, but HDV and HD as well.

figure 1Datavideo
For example, video producers can now shoot, mix, and edit in the high-definition environment with the MS1000 Mobile Studio from Datavideo. This live-switch package includes (in a preconfigured shipping case) rackmounted LCD monitors, intercom, optional record deck or HDD, and a seven-input switcher with frame sync and tally capabilities.

Based on preliminary information from the manufacturer, this new unit will be well-suited for higher-end live event production and distribution. As such, it supports several export and delivery options, including standard-def output to tape or DVD, HD projection, and live webcasting.

Datavideo’s longstanding SE800, a four-input DV format switcher with timebase correction, chromakey, and character generation capabilities, is still very much a player in this market. It’s priced around $4,800. Datavideo’s SD-only SE500 is priced around $2,000. Rackmounts, LCD monitors, tally lights, and multiple output options are available for both.

Focus Enhancements
Focus Enhancements, also long-known for its live event gear (switchers, mixers, direct disk recorders), is offering HD video switching capabilities with two new models: the HX-1 Portable HD Video Switcher and the HX-2 HD/SD Video Switcher. Wipes, keys, 2D DVEs, and other visual effects are built into both models.

The HX-1 is a four-input HD-SDI switcher; the HX-2 has eight such inputs. List priced at $10,995 (HX-1) and $19,995 (HX-2), they are not necessarily for the faint of heart or the tight of budget.

But with full 10-bit internal processing, HD-SDI input and output, both these switchers deliver imagery of the highest quality, and either unit is conveniently operated or connected to a PC or Mac laptop for on-location editing, image processing, or playback presentation.

figure 1Newtek
As far as built-in effects go, perhaps no one tops out the live event product line better than NewTek. With the newest TriCaster STUDIO entry added to the base and PRO models (EventDV Best of 2005 and 2006 selections, respectively), the company is really stretching its production appliance concept, now with live 16:9 3D virtual sets, multiple switching, and keying capabilities. TriCaster STUDIO has import/export support in Windows and Mac environments; it has integrated nonlinear editing (including with HDV); and it offers multiple and simultaneous output, so you can be streaming, recording, rendering, and projecting your switched video.

Add inputs for up to six live cameras and two DDRs into the LiveMatte keying system, and anything from a fairly straightforward two- or three-camera shoot to a complex corporate production with multiple angles on virtual sets, can be creatively managed and produced live and on location. It’s remarkable what can be achieved with these systems, especially given their $5,000–$10,000 price points.

Newtek recently released iVGA for Mac, a small software client that allows a presenter’s screen display to be integrated into a live TriCaster production or presentation. A software application launched on a network-connected Mac, iVGA sends its screen display across the network as a video input into TriCaster’s live switcher, or as a full-resolution image to a projector.

The entry model uses Y/C or composite video, along with RCA or phone audio inputs; component and balanced XLR inputs—and more of them—will be added in the subsequent models. But for your own peace of mind, time management is one of the TriCaster’s consistent features—it really can help you manage your production time, reduce your workload, and enhance your output.

TriCaster lists for $4,995; PRO for $6,995; and TriCaster STUDIO (just introduced at NAB in April) shipped recently at $9,995 MSRP.

figure 1Edirol
The Edirol V-44-SW ($9,995 list; HD is $12,995) video mixer and live-switcher system can support SD, RGB, and HD signals, and as such is a very capable multi-screen video-wall presentation tool. Cuts, dissolves, wipes, keys, PiPs, and soft-edge effects are among the available transitions.

The rackmount SW unit can be remote-controlled via MIDI or RS-232C serial interface, and can work as a slave unit. Interestingly, Edirol`s dedicated portable audio recording system, the R-4, has a video angle to it that should not be ignored. While the R-4 (street-priced around $1,200) is strong for audio-only recording on location (direct to internal HDD or external device), it can be connected to a digital video camera, and synced up to record when triggered by the camera’s own Start/Stop button.

That’s one way to get six channels of audio (two on the camera, four on the R-4), which can be very handy for shoots with important ambient audio, multiple speakers, and various sound sources—in other words, the kind of shoot wedding and event videographers do all the time.

Equipped with a 40GB hard disk drive, the R-4 can record up to 17 hours at maximum sound quality or up to 58 hours at CD quality (operators can choose among 16-bit or 24-bit quantization and sampling rates of 44.1, 48, or 96kHz). Data is saved as WAV files.

The four XLR/phone combo jacks come with switchable phantom power and a choice of mono, stereo, stereo X 2, or four-channel recording. Digital input/output is provided.

Lee Rickwood is a media consultant and freelance writer.