Prompting with Tablets: A Perfect Match?

Mirror Image’s IP10 iPad Teleprompter kit

SEATTLE—Teleprompters have always existed as a series of components: You had a source of text from paper scripts being fed under a camera or from a computer; a display for that text, originally a CRT but now a flat screen; prompter assembly to display the copy over the lens; and a scrolling controller.

Now that seemingly everyone is carrying a tablet computer of some type, the list of components has shrunken considerably.

“With everyone having an iPad or Android tablet for work or entertainment, the idea of building a teleprompter frame for them was kind of a no-brainer,” said Mike Burdick,

sales manager for Mirror Image Teleprompters, in Oshkosh, Wis.

Autocue first built a prompter assembly to mount an iPhone. “It was pretty clear that the iPhone iOS was going to be an important direction for us to go,” said Aaron Brady, Americas managing director for Autocue in New York. “As soon as the iPad came out we had an iPad prompter ready to go.”

Listec, a Tiffen brand, was also quick to market with a prompter assembly to mount a tablet computer. “The nice thing about the tablet is they tend to be very bright, have very good backlighting, so they’re visible outside,” said Michael Rubin, senior product manager at Tiffen in Hauppauge, N.Y.

What companies such as Autocue, Listec and Mirror Image bring to the table when they incorporate a tablet into their prompting systems is expertise in providing lightweight but rugged prompting assemblies, high-quality beamsplitter glass, software and controllers. Tablet prompting assemblies are generally built for the 10-inch tablets, and some companies now offer a smaller assembly for the iPad Mini.

“Some of the companies are making prompters to work with the iPhone,” said Burdict, “but frankly it’s too small to allow the cameraman to get very far back and still be able to view the script on a phone.”

“With a tablet, there’s some intelligence built in,” said Rubin, “so you’re able to do a bit more and not be tethered to a computer for your source of information.” This can allow a crew in the field to use the tablet to research a subject on the tablet, and receive script material for prompting from the studio via email or text message.

Burdick said that Mirror Image has chosen not to write software for the tablets. “The iPad and the Android tablet have a large number of apps to be used for prompting, [so for us] there’s just really not that much money in doing that. But it’ll work with any of them.”

Listec has its PromptwarePlus software available for the iOS and Android operating systems, along with a Promptware Remote Controller.

“Tablet-based teleprompters are the most portable way of doing prompting,” said Brady. “There’s no power cable in, there’s no video cable in, and if you set up the wireless controller, there’s no wires at all.” Wireless control of the tablet is often via Bluetooth or WiFi while some users also employ a smartphone as the controller.

Rubin pointed out there’s a cost advantage to tablet-based prompters because the computer and the display are combined. And if the camera owner already has a tablet, there’s little marginal cost to buying a teleprompting assembly to mount it in front of the lens.

“There’s also a weight advantage, and today, with the DSLRs and the smaller DV cameras, it allows you to put a lot less weight on the front of the camera,” Rubin said. “So certainly if the cameraman is shoulder carrying he’s very happy, or if he’s using the Steadicam, it just makes it a lot lighter, a lot more compact.”

And while the small tablet-based teleprompters adapt well with the smallest video cameras, Brady added, “we saw that the different cameras that people were using with it weren’t restricted to the smallest types of cameras. We saw people with large, professional cameras using tablet-based teleprompters.”

The tablet computers and teleprompters seem to be a perfect match.