TELEPROMPTERS – THE SECRETS OF THE PROS ARE NOW WITHIN REACH
Just about anyone can get video to a world audience now, thanks to the Internet. Video technology is more affordable than ever and hardly any training is needed to post a video online.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that if you expect to connect with your audience, you must be a compelling communicator.
Connecting with your viewers is very important, just as a nightly news anchor establishes rapport with his audience. For those of us who do on-camera work without the luxury of a broadcast studio, that can be difficult to do, especially with complex messages.
But now, with the magic of the network professionals – the clever device called a teleprompter – the experience can be much more pleasant, even fun. One traditional broadcast prompter provider has found a pent up demand beyond the traditional broadcast market.
Autocue Group has supplied prompters to the broadcast market for 50 years. Its Business Development Director, Richard Satchell, describes the success of its new line of prompters as “phenomenal”.
“Our work has been driven by a wide range of customer groups and applications including houses of worship, corporate, independent and freelance videographers, and YouTubers, all demanding professional video equipment at an affordable price. It was clear that big broadcast brands were not adapting quickly enough to meet the needs of these non-broadcast customers, and we saw a great opportunity” Satchell said.
Autocue, which is recognized internationally and QTV, serving the Americas, are industry icons that introduced prompters to the broadcasting world in 1955 and since that time has installed systems in some of the world’s most prestigious studios.
While the company is still widely regarded as the market leader for professional broadcasters, Satchell says that thanks to the strength of the brand and the product design, the company has been deluged with requests for its newer entry-level products, especially those that center around Apple’s iPhone and new iPad.
PROMPTING WITH APPLE’S IPAD
“Once we had designed the seven inch prompter, we immediately saw the opportunity to replace the monitor with an iPhone/ iTouch and create a truly mobile and even more cost effective solution,” Satchell said.
“The iPhone prompter uses the same metalwork and hood as the SSP07, but replaces the monitor with a simple cradle that holds your iPhone/iTouch either horizontally or vertically. This innovation received a lot of attention upon launch and was awarded an IBC pick hit award (by TVB Europe Magazine).
“Having seen the success of the iPhone prompter, we knew that the iPad could be used to create a similar product using the larger metalwork and hood for the 10- and 17-inch models. A few days before NAB (National Association of Broadcasters Conference), we managed to take delivery of an iPad and demo the concept. The iPad Prompter is now in its first production run and is shipping,” Satchell said. (A third-party prompter application can be downloaded from iTunes.)
Satchell says most prompting, however, is still based on a LCD screen placed horizontally in front of the camera which reflects text onto specialized glass that’s in front of the camera lens. Software allows one’s script to scroll (displaying a reverse image reflected by the glass) using the LCD display.
PUT TO THE TEST. JUST HOW EASY IS THIS?
But just how easy are these devices to assemble and to use? We decided to see for ourselves. I asked Richard Satchell if he would send me a system to review and he graciously obliged with the SSP17, a prompter that features a 17-inch LCD display and includes free PC or Mac software. It is priced at $1,899 (smaller versions available from $599 upwards).
To my great delight and surprise actually, my experience was extremely pleasant.
I opened the padded transportation case, pulled the teleprompter out and discovered that the unit pops into place. The only thing I had to do was to position the glass like I wanted it, attach the camera seat, then lock everything down using thumb screws.
In other words, hardly any assembly is required. In fact, within 10 minutes I had it balanced on my tripod. Most of the set up time was figuring out how much height I needed for the camera riser so my lens was positioned in the center of the glass.
The camera riser can be raised or lowered using the varying lengths of screws that are supplied. A quick mount bracket for the tripod also comes with the unit.
“In speaking to our new target customers in more detail, we knew that they were looking for not only a low price, but a product that was easy to understand and simple to buy and use,” Satchell said.
“We recognized that many of these customers were buying teleprompters for the first time and didn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of the technology and therefore what features or configurations might be important for them once they started using it,” he said.
“To us, this meant it was vital to provide a product where everything was included in one box so they didn’t have to ask the question “What else do I need?”
The prompter is solidly built but weighs only 16 pounds. (Of course, you should never exceed the tripod weight limit spelled out by the tripod manufacturer.)
Once I put the prompter on the tripod, all that was left to do was to connect my computer to the VGA input of the 17-inch monitor. A 12 ft. VGA cable is supplied which is certainly ample length to achieve adequate distance between the talent and the camera. The monitor also accepts BNC inputs.
I easily loaded the free QStart prompter software onto my Windows XP laptop. The software works with Windows 7, and thankfully Autocue Group has just released software for the Mac.
Text can either be typed straight into the prompter software or you can do as I did, paste your text from your word processor application. You can set the scroll speed to your liking and use your mouse or your keyboard to stop and start the scrolling text.
If you’re a one man on-camera operation, as I usually am, it’s easy to set the mouse or keyboard just out of the framed up shot, but within reach. Autocue Group makes controller accessories that generally are paired with its professional broadcast gear, including a foot controller but these devices can also be used with this software.
“Many of our competitors and customers focus on the hardware elements of a teleprompter, think it’s easy and forget the importance of the software,” Satchell says.
“Our software is developed in-house by the same developers who write scripting and newsroom software for live broadcast environments; they are extremely experienced and have expertly distilled that down into something easy to use and reliable for our starter customers.”
And don’t think controlling one’s own prompter is for amateurs. On a recent visit to CNN Headline News studios in Atlanta I saw that the anchors not only controlled their prompter but framed up their own camera shots using desktop controls.
What makes the SSP17 such a good investment and so different from other models at this price point, is that it doesn’t have to be relegated to the configuration below the camera. Using the exact same hardware it can be set up so the talent reads the text straight from the LED display mounted on a tripod (required when using a light ring) or the unit can be set up in a wedge configuration on the floor. This flexibility would be a tremendous asset in a classroom or on stage for a church pageant or school play.
Ask not what you can do for your prompter but what your prompter can do for you. If you’re feeling a little presidential, you should check out Autocue Group’s Manual Conference System, which can be bought separately or as an add-on to the on-camera unit package. Satchell sent along one for me to try, and I quickly fell in love with it (although no presidential bid has been announced yet).
If you’ve never seen a podium prompter work, it’s slick. The audience sees transparent glass. From the presenter’s perspective, however, the glass displays a mirror image of the LCD monitor at the base of the stand. Ideally there would be two of these prompters set up to the left and right of the podium but I could teach a speaker how to use just one to grab lines and recite them.
Like the SSP17, here’s a device that once was relegated to only expensive productions but now is priced to be accessible. Can we expect Autocue Group’s creative roll to continue? Satchell says absolutely.
“We have more than 50 years of Broadcast experience and very talented designers and developers – we want to continue to bring this experience and expertise to the fore in serving non-broadcast customers. We have just added entry-level tripods and lighting to package with our teleprompters, a DV cam /DSLR flyer, and an affordable video server,” Satchell says.
IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO …
For those of us who depend upon connecting with our audiences, it all boils down to credibility. Despite all the advances with communication technology, eye contact is still the most important aspect in achieving effective personal communication. There’s no excuse now. The secrets of the professionals are clearly within reach and Autocue Group offers the most versatility for the money of any of the personal prompters I’ve seen. The equipment is rock solid and as I work with presenters across the country, Autocue Group is the magic I’m now recommending to effectively make the connection.
Find out more about the full range of products from Autocue Group at www.autocue-qtv.com. By the way, when you order, they offer same day shipping.