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Virtual studio on a tight budget

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Matthew Skibor
Virtual studio on a tight budget
on Feb 8, 2012 at 9:34:45 pm

Hi!

I've been working in a live TV environment for almost 10yrs now, but I always wanted to own/operate my own, little virtual TV studio. The problem is, my experience is mostly that of being a producer / show editor (position names may vary), although I like to think I know something about equipment, too.

I need some advice with setting up a virtual (bluebox) studio for live broadcasting with regard to equipment.

budget: 16-20k US$ (I know it's always not enough, but it's the money I can spend as of now, to be spent on electronic equipment only, i.e. excluding lighting etc.)

target destination: local cable TV stations (so the quality is not a main concern) receiving signal via fiber

video sources:
  • camera (to be positioned on a person sitting behind the desk

  • animated background via chroma key (from a DVD/Bluray player)

  • "lower third" graphics via downstream luma key (from a PC with some titling software, must be able to change on-the-fly)

  • headline/title sequence video (from a DVD/Bluray player or a PC)


  • My main concern is a choice of video switcher and underlying technology - I have no confidence in PC-based switching, maybe because we are currently using this solution so I know its drawbacks.
    The switchers within my price range are probably:
    Panasonic compact HD/SD switcher
    Edirol LVS-800

    My thoughts on Panasonic: it's a more professional, regular SDI switcher with compact size although requires SDI signals on input (albeit with one scan-converter for PC input)
    My thoughts on Edirol: looks more rugged, solid with its t-bar, more consumer/prosumer oriented as it can accept composite/s-video, has 2 scan converters
    If I decide on prosumer switcher (Edirol), I can also use prosumer sources like cheaper camera with s-video out so I don't have to pay for SDI-compatible camera, but it also outputs so-so quality video so I'll need to use external analog>SDI converter to run it through fiber.
    On the other hand, the Panasonic probably yields better output quality so there's no conversion, save from SDI>optical. The problem is I will be forced to use SDI-compatible camera (higher cost) and component>SDI converters to hook up optical players (possible quality loss?).
    I'm just wondering if composite/s-video signals will somehow distort keying with halo/color bleeding. Keeping in mind that chroma keying is a difficult and fragile trick, which switcher would you choose?
    I know it's been a long read, but any advice is very appreciated!


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    Jim Brown
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 11, 2012 at 6:50:00 pm

    You did not mention if you would like to do high definition or if you are SD for now. Two suggestions based upon the answer to this question.

    Suggestion 1: If you are planning to remain SD for the near future, look at getting a used Tricaster Pro or Studio by Newtek. These have recently been discontinued and are available used at quite good prices. I would strongly recommend you subscribe to their support program if you do this. These boxes accept composite, svideo, component and the computer can come in via ethernet.

    Suggestion 2: BlackMagicDesign has the ATEM ME1 switcher which can operate in SD or HD mode. Inputs are via HDMI or SDI with a component or composite input available in input 1. You can switch from a PC or the control surface. The switcher is 2495 and the surface is 5k. So for 7.5k you are still in budget. ....and if you decide to use HD cameras the switcher provides a downscaled SD output. You can use consumer HD cameras with HDMI outputs and produce very high quality programming. Also, the switcher proides a multview output so you can use a consumer HDMI monitor(TV) and see all your inputs, preview, and program out. Saves a lot of money on monitors.

    For the budget you mentioned you could have a first class operation with 3 consumer cameras, sticks, lighting, and a couple good mikes and mixer for audio. Originate it in HD and supply a downconverted SD signal and it will look as good as anything you will generate by starting with SD cameras.

    Jim Brown
    M&M ProductionsUSA


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    Jim Brown
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 11, 2012 at 7:32:59 pm

    One other very important caution is regarding the dvd player. Most dvd players now and all blur ray players support HDCP which is content protection. As far as I know all switchers which are capable of accepting a digital signal via HDMI or SDI will not accept an HDCP encrypted source. I would recommend playing your opening and closing segments using a PC or better a MAC running Playback Pro.

    Jim Brown
    M&M ProductionsUSA


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    Matthew Skibor
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 13, 2012 at 8:37:42 am

    Jim,

    thanks for your input.
    HD is not a priority for me, but I guess it's always smart to be somehow ready for HD-era so I was thinking about doing SD but with the equipment ready to accept HD as well.
    The problem I have with Atem or Tricaster is portability/footprint issue. With a full hardware switcher, under ideal conditions I just need a main unit/panel combo in a box + previev/pgm on one monitor + optical player. The other thing that bothers me is reliability. Where I work the PC solution has proven a bit fragile (although it's not Tricaster), and, honestly, to me using physical buttons seems more natural than clicking on graphical UI.
    In my previous workplace we successfully used consumer-grade DVD player to feed animated background to a For-A Ginga switcher (probably via component>SDI) and it worked out even with quality-concerned major broadcasters, so I think I'll go for it.
    Glad you mentioned HDMI - it never occured to me, perhaps I could use HDMI>SDI converter to hook up a camera/camcorder with better optics. In my workplace we have Sony BRC-300's, but since I won't need PTZ remote control, maybe Sony/Canon camcorder with HDMI converted to SDI would be a better idea. SDI-outputting cameras are often expensive and have features I don't need, do you think I should go for (perhaps cheaper) HDMI-outputting prosumer camera converted to SDI? In other words, would you choose versatility, better optics and perhaps lower price (HDMI cam) converted to SDI or a typical SDI camera head with no conversion?


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    Jim Brown
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 13, 2012 at 2:59:40 pm

    Have you looked at the physical size of the ATEM? It is 3 1/2" wide (2 rack spaces) and about 2" deep. It is a hardware device so you do not have the PC reliability issues which I agree with you on. BlackMagic also makes hdmi to sdi converters for about $295 I believe. Match that up with a $5-600 camera from Best Buy and you can make some nice video especially in a studio setting where you do not need long throw lens.

    I used to use dvd players as sources, but about 6 months ago I tried all 4 Blue ray players we had and could not use those on even non Blue Ray material because of the HDCP. You cannot use the digital interfaces and might get around it by using the analog outs (Composite or s, if you can find a player that even provides them. My Sonys do not. The component outputs would not work either.

    We have used the Z700s extensively for live event production and still do. We connect to the VGA output port and convert it to 1080i SDI using a BlackMagic converter. Pictures are stunning! We normally do large corporate meetings >1500 people with a couple of those and a single manned camera. Works great, saves personnel, easy to cable and is less obtrusive than three manned cameras. We also use them at football games to shoot the scoreboard clock and another for crowd and sideline shots.

    Jim Brown
    M&M ProductionsUSA


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    Mike Jeffs
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:11:41 pm

    I might suggest looking at the Newtek Tricaster if your budget is 20k you can easily affort the Tricaster 300 (around 11k). whats great about this little guy is it can provide you a all in one Virtual set desginer and switcher. not to mention a CG and VTR playback. with your extra cash you can purchase come of their Virtual set backgrounds, which i would say are pretty high quality.

    Mike Jeffs
    Video Coordinator
    BYU-Idaho


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    Mike Jeffs
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:17:37 pm

    Sorry should have read the whole thread you have already talked about tricaster :)

    Mike Jeffs
    Video Coordinator
    BYU-Idaho


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    timothy chew
    Re: Virtual studio on a tight budget
    on Feb 25, 2012 at 2:00:09 pm

    DO u guys think if a live event can use tricaster or atem
    will it be delay ..

    in the live projector //

    Tim


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