Are you producing DVDs using multiple cameras and a non-linear editing (NLE) system like Final Cut Pro® or Adobe Premiere®? Are you comfortable with the multi-camera features of these NLEs? If so, you have the skills required to make the leap to live! All you need is a good live production switcher and some pre-planning.
Before we begin, let’s answer the obvious question: What is the advantage to implementing live video production? In short, sophisticated live video production has the potential to engage participants by making worship programs more compelling and exciting as well as easier to see from every seat in the house of worship (HOW) – and even from corridors or other overflow facilities.
A video production switcher is the piece of equipment at the heart of the A/V system that makes live video production possible. It can make it easy to switch between multiple cameras, and to add graphics such as lyrics or pre-recorded live video or graphics clips. For a HOW that is already using a projector to display an image from a single live camera, it is a relatively simple matter to add a production switcher and make a big leap forward in terms of enhancing the message and impressing the viewer.
In fact, the addition of a video switcher ultimately may reduce the audiovisual team’s post-production tasks. Many HOWs simply burn their live output to DVD so that people can take home the program they just witnessed. Others stream a worship experience to the Internet so that people who are unable to attend the service can still experience it.
If you are already producing a multi-camera show and own two or three high-quality cameras, can you use them for live production? The answer is yes – if you have a way to synchronize them. Unless the cameras are in sync, you cannot cut between them cleanly. In fact, all inputs to the live production switcher – not just the cameras – must be synchronized. Of course, synchronization is also required in postproduction, but NLE systems handle this internally.
In a live production, the video switcher performs the synchronization function using either genlock or a frame synchronizer. Genlock works like an internal timer to keep cameras in sync. A frame synchronizer is more like a system of multiple turnstiles that rotate together to align the incoming video signal according to the boundaries of an input’s individual frames.
Genlock requires additional equipment and cabling but has the advantage of reducing overall system delay, which makes for a modest benefit to the quality of the final product. Frame synchronizers simplify cabling and allow you to use more sources, including Indie cameras, iPods, and DVD players.
Once your cameras are working in sync, it is time to consider graphics. Many worship facilities already have a system like ProPresenter® for the addition of lyrics and other graphics. A facility that is using an NLE system for postproduction editing may also have Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro. Certainly you want to continue using the editing system to play opening and closing timelines and the graphics system to play lyrics, hymns, and backgrounds.
There are various solutions for connecting your graphics and editing systems to the production switcher. For example you might use an I/O card from BlackMagic or AJA that can be installed into a desktop computer and provide SDI outputs, or you might use external boxes like the Matrox® MXO that do the same thing on a laptop.
Alternatively, some up-to-date production switchers offer their own DVI or HDMI inputs, which enable you to connect your computer system directly to the switcher – no need for external conversion gear. This saves money initially and, because it makes for a simpler overall system, it may save you maintenance costs over time as well.
There is one more significant difference between NLE and live production. In the world of NLE, you never have to worry about how you are going to view your camera input. Instead, you simply drop it into the source viewer and multicamera view allows you to see more than one clip at a time.
Live production, on the other hand, requires constant monitoring of every input. Conventional means of accomplishing this are expensive. But, modern switchers from various companies come to the rescue. For example, some systems feature built-in multiviewers, which allow you to see all of your inputs on a single display.
When comparing switchers that have built-in multiviewers, you should ask two important questions. First: Is the quality of the program and of the preview windows good enough that you can tell if the camera is in focus? And second: Will you be able to connect the switcher and monitor without additional conversion gear?
It is necessary to do some pre-planning if you are going to make the best possible choice for your production. To start this process, count the number of layers you are using in your current post-produced projects.
While modern NLEs offer limitless capability when it comes to the number of layers and the content on each of the layers, production switchers do not. In the world of live production, a keyer equals a layer, and on a production switcher, the number of keyers is fixed.
Let’s take the example of an interview show with opening and closing sequences built by a graphic artist in Adobe® After Effects®. The remainder of the show will be transitions between three cameras with lower thirds naming the guests. At some point, shots from all three cameras are shown simultaneously over a background. In this example, the minimum number of keyers is four: one for each of the camera inputs and an additional keyer for a graphic overlay.
The switcher you purchase should have enough keying power to enable you to build compositions similar to those built in your NLE. At the same time, because we are talking about live production (which has the inherent element of time pressure) bear in mind that easy access to the keyers is important.
Because user-friendliness is essential to a production switcher, it should be considered during the shopping process. One way to assess this is to ask a switcher manufacturer to demonstrate their product’s ability to build a composition from one of your own NLE productions. As it is built, observe how easy this is to do, and how easy it is to recall. Will the typical operator in your HOW be able to accomplish this in the context of live production?
Implementing live video production at your HOW can help you deliver your message more powerfully and help you engage more of your audience. It can also simplify postproduction by enabling you to simply create DVDs or stream programming to the Web. With some planning and the careful selection of a video switcher that uses up-to-date technology, it is not only possible but almost painless to make the leap to live production. •
Ankit Patel is senior product manager at Echolab, a leading provider of video production switchers. He is happy to answer reader questions about live production or switcher technology. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org