Broadcast Switchers: The Old Switcheroo…

The center of a studio (especially for live productions) is the Production Switcher. Content drives into this equivalent of a video depot and, if judged worthy, makes it back out again, reborn as content for immediate dispersal or storage pending release. Material flows in on the bus route ‘visiting the depot’ and if it’s got the right stuff, the technical director allows it back out again as the finished product. The last step to making it out as streamed or broadcast content is making it past that last point to be scrubbed or censored – the preview/preset screen. So, what happens to those unused camera angles and what not? It’s archives or oblivion – depending upon the director. The technical director works closely with the director; in the UK, a technical director is called a Vision Mixer.

The Production Switcher isn’t just about determining which camera is the active one in any given shot; it also determines the style the switch will take on a variety of sweeps, transitions and a potential fade to black. Another of the many potential features is BPM (Beats per Minute); this is useful for VJs to match visual effects to music; it can also be helpful if attempting to coordinate other visual and audio elements. Sound isn’t always included in the Production Switcher, of course; sometimes, the sound is handled separately in an audio mixer; however, if BPM intrigues, you may want to go further down the audio path and add something like a MIDI-input, which allows the Production Switcher to remotely manipulate effects via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface).

Keying-in graphics is also a sought-after additional feature. Chroma-key is another fairly common effect that’s often in demand. The ability to layer images allows many options for the technical director – filming your actor(s) in front of a green screen allows a plethora of options for what the eventual finished background is going to look like. It’s a lot cheaper to slap a Paris background behind your talent than it is to send a whole crew to Paris, after all. Higher-end versions also include a variety of built in special effects; a more substantial collection of wipes and dissolves. Options abound, but not every option is a new feature per se, and sometimes what you get is something like enhanced durability, or speed.

Sony AnytouchNear the upper-end of the spectrum we have products like the Sony AWS750 Anytouch; it’s supremely portable and incorporates several machines into one. It includes a video switcher, streaming encoder, video recorder, audio mixer, clip player, remote camera controller and titler that supports ten languages. The right product for the right job always helps yield the best results, and the AWS750 is geared toward live production, truly excelling in that venue. Utilizing touch screens cuts down on the number of buttons levers and dials that might otherwise be present. It handles up to 6 inputs from a variety of connector types, an Audio Mixer with up to 5 inputs, true time Web Streaming Flash® H.264, Minimum high resolution recording time of 10 hours of content, and a text and title character generator that’s useable in 10 different languages! Sprechen sie deutsche? Parlez-vous français? TlhIngan Hol Dajatlh’a’? Well, admittedly, it doesn’t speak Klingon, but it does have PTZ remote-cam manipulation. Sturdy, versatile, and with a plethora of features that I didn’t even list.

The technical director’s production switcher needs requires some consideration. An AWS750 is overkill for a neophyte VJ that’s just gotten into the business – that’s like hunting mice with an elephant gun. The continual advance of technology helps make solutions more affordable as time goes on, so even the shallow end of the pool has neat stuff floating around. Let’s take a peek in the middle of the pool…

The Grass Valley Karrera K-Frame S-series Video Production Center is a mid range production switcher. It provides a smooth workflow for complex operations, and has with multiformat support including 1080p and 4K. These high quality switchers are future ready (and waiting)…

The Karrera K-Frame S-series Video Production Center has 32 standard inputs, up to 80 maximum, and up to 6 M/Es which helps provide a dynamicKarrera K Frame S Series Switchers environment for a creative technical director, along with up to 8 floating DPMs (iDPM or eDPM as per user). Some other features include: an onboard image store that can hold up to 3,000 stills or 50 seconds of 1080p video to 10 video along with the key pair outputs, optional RGB color correction on the M/E buses (plus aux bus outputs), and it has a VDCP Ethernet connect for stadium applications, plus over a dozen more features.

At the much more affordable side of the pool, we have Black Magic Design’s ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel. It’s a highly compact control panel for 1 M/E switchers. Conveniently, the ATEM switches between SD, HD or Ultra HD video. The system allows Chroma key, an audio mixer, a full motion DVE and stinger transitions, a SuperSource multi-layer engine allowing easy access to a sizeable media pool of motion clips and it has the availability of up to 6 aux outputs, and more.

ATEM 1 ME Broadcast PanelThe ATEM is a professional panel with the highest quality buttons, knobs and controls for the most demanding live 24/7 live production environment. Allowing full control of your switcher, including cameras, transitions, keyers, fader, DVE control and more, the ATEM connects via Ethernet (10/100/1000) BaseT with loop output for additional control panels or computers. In fact, Blackmagic Design has a full range of systems and options that can fit any studio need – broadcast or post! From typical switchers with all the buttons and switches to software models with all the controls on a screen!

Regardless of the company, once you have a professional video production switcher under your fingers, you can pump-up the output and really edit any lackluster video groups into a truly polished, exceptional and expert production. It’s all about having the right tools (ain’t that the truth?) So, for more of the right tools, keep reading and stay blogged-in!

Anthony Rogers is a freelance writer/author currently plying his trade within the broadcast, post-production and studio areas of the media world.He has contributed many articles to Broadcast Beat and appears in Broadcast Beat Magazine frequently.
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