Upgrading the TV studio

July 27, 2015

I wrote this original series of articles back in 2010, based on the TV studio I set up in 2008.   Well, the march of progress or time or whatever has begun to catch up with the equipment.

warning-obsolete-meme

The trouble with a TV studio is that everything works with everything else.  I couldn’t just replace the SD cameras (and not just because they still work), but the Vision Mixer only works with the SD footage.

HD or not HD

I’m not a huge fan of HD for school studios, the quality and file size have always meant SD is perfectly fine, but time does move on.  One of the Vision Mixers was starting to fail and I realised that if the camcorders did stop working, they couldn’t be replaced with a similar model.  All camcorders available now are HD only.

The conclusion was unavoidable: It was time to move to HD

vMix

Deciding to switch to HD forced the decision to replace the video mixer.  I knew about one option, the professional NewTek Tricaster – a product I have coveted from afar for a long time.  The trouble is, last I looked, the Tricaster retails at around £6000.   I put in the entire original TV studio for that amount!

acb

That’s when I called Planet eStream, they supply Cramlington with their video streaming system and are really nice guys.  I explained:

  • I have a small amount of money in the budget
  • I need to be able to record, stream and edit the videos before uploading
  • Premiere Pro will not capture USB, so I can’t buy an SD adaptor
  • I have a spare HD 3MOS camcorder

Their solution – vMix

vMix's interface.   Note: that's not me

vMix’s interface. Note: that’s not me

vMix is a free and/or cheap “studio in a download”.  It can take almost any type of image source from cameras and files to PowerPoints and screen captures and allow you to mix, merge, chromakey them in a bunch of different combinations.

Before we upgraded we had 4 PCs in the TV studio, now it’s a little different:

Before upgrading After upgrading
  • Capture and streaming PC
  • Background PC
  • Captions PC
  • Teleprompter PC
  • vMix PC
  • Teleprompter PC

Four PCs also meant 4 heat sources in a small room.  It’s really surprising how much difference only have 2 has made.

In the end, we did spend a bit of money.  I bought an i7 PC with a Magewell capture card.  This capture card takes 2 HD inputs and passes them over to vMix.   We’ve also spent $60 on vMix HD so that we have more flexibility with output images.

Virtual Sets

We’ve also been playing around with the virtual sets in vMix which adds an extra dimension and bizarrely, we’ve found we only need one physical camera to act as a two camera studio.

bear-with-me-en-ffffff

We have an HD camera, outputting at 1920 x 1080 pixels.  We stream to whiteboard PCs around the school site, so we stream in SD to avoid bandwidth issues (actually output size is 800 x 480).  This means that an HD virtual set can have multiple views which don’t have to even overlap!

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light's Green Man.

Still from the fascinating exposé we did into the private life of the traffic light’s Green Man.

So, from this single camera, I get:

  • A wide, establishing shot
  • A close up on the first presenter
  • A close up on the second presenter

Being able to cut or zoom-in/out so we’re not always on the same shot makes the video assemblies more interesting and having a locked off camera has reduce pressures on the team.  It no longer takes three of us to run an assembly.  One member of staff can do the whole thing.

I’m a huge fan of vMix.  It’s made filming so much easier.  The chromakey is very easy to set up and you can even save your set up so you don’t have to do much more than load it in each time.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s running on a top-spec PC either.  At one point last term we streamed an assembly from the computer running the Planet eStream encoder, vMix and vMix’s desktop capture.  I don’t think the fan even kicked in.

vMix seems to have a strong online community to who are frequently requesting changes and importantly, it seems those requests are being listened to and acted on.


Edirol LVS-400 Video Switcher

August 6, 2010

The hardest part about designing a TV studio was finding the right mix of technology to ease-of-use.   Before I ordered anything, I spent a lot of time visiting other schools and looking at their solutions.   The problem I frequently saw was that a school would go to a professional company who would provide the exact right kit any small, professional TV studio would need.

The trouble with this is that schools don’t need the same kit as a professional TV studio.  We don’t need £4500 cameras, or high-end editing systems.  We don’t need High Defintion video.  Not when we’re going to compress it to 640 pixels wide in order to share it on a VLE or stream it into every classroom.  

Professional studio companies will happily supply this level of equipment because it gives the students access to the same kit they would use if they get jobs in the media.  That’s the excuse…sorry reason.  But this stuff is sooooo complex you have to train the students how to use it, and let’s face it, it’s also really, really expensive.

The Newtek Tricaster is a fabulous video switcher and can produce incredibly clever greenscreens, but it’s cheapest educational price is nearly £8,000!   That’s £1,000 more than the entire studio I fitted!

Fortunately, during my research…umm…”quest”*…I visited Sunderland’s City Learning Centre and was introduced to the Edirol LVS-400

Edirol LVS-400

This Video Switcher is a hardware “box” that allows you to change between 4 different video inputs and greenscreen/bluescreen one video source (such as your camera) over the top of another (such as a computer running powerpoint) .  And it does it for the amazingly cheap price of £786.  Yeah, I know it doesn’t sound that cheap but it is one tenth the cost of the Tricaster!

The real benefit of the Edirol though is training time is two minutes – 60 seconds of which involve telling the children not to idly flick the lever up and down.  I’ve given up on trying to stop the teaching staff.

Rather than spending your time training students in equipment you yourself will barely know how to use, the Edirol provides an easy greenscreen solution allowing you to spend your time encouraging the shy kids, getting others to spend more time on the presentations and generally just enjoying the experience.

* Which wasn’t just an excuse to spend sometime out of school – just like you reading this blog isn’t just a bit of distraction during work 🙂 )


LiveWeb – Web pages in PowerPoint

August 2, 2010

MS PowerPoint is a great presentation tool but I often advise against teachers using it.  It’s nothing to do with Microsoft or compatibility.  Even the iPad can show PowerPoints so if Steve Jobs says they’re ok…

The reason (mega-corp rantings aside) I advise not to use it is often educators will want to link to a web page or resource and PowerPoint tends to be unpredictable about how it handles that link.   Because you present from PowerPoint fullscreen sometimes when you click a link to open a web page it pops up behind the presenation. 

If only there was a way, some sort of plugin for PowerPoint that allowed you to view web pages in a slide, just like a movie.  Oh wait…

LiveWeb's user interface

LiveWeb is a free Add-In for our favourite presentation tool (yes I got fed up typing PowerPoint) that once installed allows you to view web pages just like videos.   You can even link to documents on your computer (although it is a little awkward). 

Personally I’d love it if the designer would add an internet toolbar so you could go backwards and forwards move easily, but other than that, this is a great tool and very handy in presentations.


PrimoPDF

July 21, 2010

Here’s a couple of quick tips in one post.   If you want to drive up viewing figures for your blog, just pop the word “iPad” into your post somewhere.   Actually given the amount of spam that post attracted maybe that’s not such a good tip 🙂

Ok, onto the actual tip.

PrimoPDF

This really handy bit of software sits on your computer like a printer.   You “print” to it and it outputs a PDF file of whatever you have sent.

It’s very handy for converting any Office document into something anyone on any computer or mobile phone can read.   Adobe Acrobat (the software that reads PDFs) is free and already on 99% of the world’s computers so that makes it VERY compatible.

 Printing isn’t limited to Office documents of course, photos, posters, web pages can all be converted for ease of distribution.  

I wonder if the iPad reads PDF?  🙂


Windows Snipping Tool

June 16, 2010

 

A great free program for screen grabs

Some software isn’t glamorous or particularly mind-blowing; some just make your life that little bit easier.  Windows Snipping tool is this type of software and what it does, it does really, really well.

Preinstalled on Windows 7 and free to download for Windows Vista, the snipping tool allows you to very quickly grab a still image from your screen.   Excellent for highlighting eror messages for IT Support, for pasting images into PowerPoint or even WordPress blogs :),

The images can be sent directly to email, or saved, or annotated.


iSpring Free!

May 23, 2010

iSpring is a great piece of software, it allows you to easily embed flash files into MS PowerPoint.   Now before anyone starts commenting that you can do this for yourself using the toolkit options of PowerPoint – it isn’t easy and it’s not always activated.   

iSpring Free's toolbar in PowerPoint

iSpring Free's toolbar

iSpring Free takes care of the hard work for you and comes with a bonus feature (and it’s main purpose) of allowing you to convert your PowerPoint files directly to flash webpages.   iSpring Free will even maintain links when it does so.

Why do you need to convert PowerPoint? 

  • Not everyone uses Microsoft Office so they need to be able to view your presentation in something more accesibly.   Adobe Flash is on something like 99.95% of the world’s computers (but not the iPhone – c’mon Mr Jobs, give up your anti-Flash campaign).
  • When sending your presentation to people via email or posting it somewhere online, PowerPoints can very quickly get very big.  If you incldue photos in your powerpoint, don’t be surprised when they top 50 Mb.   No one is going to thank you for trying to download that.   iSpring converts and reduces (I sound like an advert don’t I!? – I’m not being paid for this)

Ultimately, if you use PowerPoints (whether you’re in education or not) and you need to link to them via an intranet or VLE, give iSpring a try.   It’s free, easy to use, free and produces a good quality resource.   And did I mention it’s free?

Oh, and allows you to link directly to youtube videos inside your presentation, no internet windows that open behind your slides.