The Importance of Routing Switchers
Today’s churches and other religious institutions are increasingly incorporating broadcast tools into their worship services, meetings, lectures, concerts and other events, both to enhance the experience for members and to improve delivery of the message or performance.
With this integration of cameras, video screens, and videotape or DVD recording and playout systems into the worship environment comes the need for signal management and routing, provided by a routing switcher. A routing switcher routes a signal (audio, video, etc.) from any input, or source, to a designated output, or destination.
The routing switcher is possibly the single most important piece of equipment in broadcast production, regardless of the setting. Whether a church is using it to route video and audio signals among just a few sources or a religious broadcaster is using it to manage the immense volume of signals required for production and 24-hour broadcasting to viewers around the world, the routing switcher serves as the hub through which every signal passes at least once before it reaches the display or transmission device.
Because of its role in handling all signals before they are sent to a video display or to air, the routing switcher must be exceptionally reliable. It should also have the capacity to handle growth or changes in the types of production and number of signals required by the facility.
“Each time I engineer a broadcast system, I begin by determining how many inputs and outputs will be required, depending on needs and budget. I select a routing switcher to match these needs and build the rest of the system around it,” says Steve McNeal, director of engineering at the Daystar Television Network, the second-largest and fastest-growing Christian network in America. The seven-year-old Bedford, Texas-based broadcast network currently serves 55 television stations across the United States.
McNeal oversaw Daystar’s transition from analog to digital as the network moved into a brand-new building equipped for state-of-the-art digital operations. With his engineering team, he evaluated, selected and integrated best-of-breed solutions for Daystar’s new studios and control and edit rooms. McNeal has also helped churches in his area implement much smaller production systems suited to their unique needs.
The Daystar routing switcher installation, a 512×512 Cheetah digital routing switcher from PESA, handles SDI signals from approximately 250 sources – such as cameras, output busses, satellite receivers, and tape machines – and routes them to nearly 400 different destinations. The 512×512 system, PESA’s largest Cheetah frame, accommodates future expansion through the addition of fiber inputs and outputs. Daystar is also using PESA’s TDM large-scale audio routing switcher, building it out to 512×512 as needed. Most churches will deal with a much smaller signal volume, but they too require a routing switcher to move signals to multiple destinations.
A distribution amplifier (DA) offers from four to eight outputs, so it can only distribute signals to four or eight locations. A church that is progressive in bringing technology into worship may use about five cameras, several DVD and tape machines, and display devices or projection systems. When all inputs and outputs are taken into consideration, one or even two DAs are not enough to handle a typical signal load effectively. A routing switcher is the only viable solution for moving signals to different destinations. The flexibility and comparatively small size of a routing switcher winds up saving the user space and, as a complete routing solution in one box, reducing equipment costs.
“How do you know today what you want to do five years from now?” asks McNeal. “The routing switcher gives users their only opportunity to distribute signals inexpensively with the future capacity for added signals or reconfiguration of sources and destinations.”
The routing switcher enables the technical director (TD) to provide video and audio to those within the sanctuary while switching the program as necessary for a broadcast version, whether streamed, televised, or recorded for later use. By isolating one camera focused on the pulpit, for example, and recording continuously, the TD can feed that image to the main screen while the switched program for airing might show shots of the audience, the sanctuary as a whole, and other clips only appropriate for viewers of the televised version.
With a routing switcher, the TD is able to display the images the audience needs to see, rather than the image the control room is recording onto its tape machine. By providing more control over what is shown to the audience, the routing switcher facilitates a much less disruptive display than if the switched product were displayed during a service or event. The isolated feed revealing the pastor, presenter or performer also can serve as a back-up in case of switching error.
“Though the video switcher allows for a lot of neat visual effects, wipes and other fun tools, the broadcast for worship is all about the message, not the skills of the TD,” continues McNeal. “Instead of constant switching of images upon screen, the video display fulfills its primary goal of image magnification; letting people in back of the audience see what people in the front are seeing: the pastor or church leader delivering the message.”
The demands on the routing switcher at Daystar are a bit more complex than in the church setting, but the versatility it provides the TD is much the same. Live programming from the network’s studios includes seven cameras. Depending on the guest and the format, whether it’s a music or interview set, as many as seven or eight tape or DVD machines will be isolated directly to another recording device so that operators can go back and make any necessary changes prior to replay of the live show later in the broadcast schedule.
The routing switcher also allows Daystar to feed any source into any of 16 plasma displays built into the studio set, behind the talent. It may be the network logo presented in the background or display of other programming. The host might discuss upcoming live programming as the first frame of the roll-in is fed to the set display, and a smooth transition between live shows is completed with a cut to the live video.
Audio routing within a church can likely be handled by DAs due to the small number of signals being used. For larger churches and networks such as Daystar, an audio routing switcher enables efficient movement of numerous audio signals. In its studio, Daystar uses a 96-channel audio console to provide full monitor audio for the band and handle any backup audio. In the control room, one 48-channel console is dedicated to music and a second to interviews. All of the audio feeds from the studio are converted to digital and fed into the facility’s TDM 512×512 routing switcher (actually 256×256 with two-channel digital audio), which allows Daystar engineers to split digital audio signals and send them to different places.
“Getting things right from the outset is key in implementing a routing switcher because it’s the kind of system that remains in use over the long term,” concluded McNeal. “I advise churches to put their money into a proven and reputable routing switcher and skimp on something else if they must. It’s easy to change out a camera, tape machine, or other source, but the routing switcher is the one piece of equipment that is likely to remain in use at a church for as many as 15 or 20 years. The routing switcher is the central piece in any system design, handling all of a facility’s signals – sometimes up to five or six times – and failure is not a scenario worth risking.”