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The Versatile Production Switcher

PADUCAH, KY.—It’s a great time to be in this business, and the latest technology has certainly made managing production facilities much easier. One thing that still complicates the process of allocating capX dollars though: What type of production switcher do we buy, or how many? Just a decade ago, the question was limited to: Which company do we go with and how many ME’s? While those two questions are still valid, there are more variables in the equation in today’s market.

For chassis scalability, Andy Newham, business development manager for switchers at Ross Video in Iroquois, Ontario, tells us that with the processing engines built using the latest FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays) for Carbonite and Acuity both offer significant room for growth and enable additional innovation to be integrated as 4K and production development evolves for the future.

Blackmagic Design ATEM

Snell Senior Product Manager John Carter says the company’s Maverick configurable surface for Kahuna 360 can accommodate both large production rooms and tight spaces.

“The trend towards bigger panels, particularly in a live environment, is a result of wanting to be able to cover every eventuality that may arise,” Carter said. “But bigger panels eat up more precious real estate and can become unwieldy in some instances. Maverick’s modular architecture allows complete flexibility in design and enables the panel to be reconfigured on a production by production basis.”

Grass Valley currently offers two control surfaces with three switcher options: Kayenne and Karrera (both up to 9 MEs), along with a Compact K-Frame version (6 MEs), according to Greg Huttie, director of product marketing for switchers. “The K series offers a built-in multiviewer, and the Compact is targeted toward the mid-size market,” he said, adding that the Montreal-based company’s goal is to have continuity for the operators (TDs) who have to build, run, save, and move the show.

Blackmagic Design offers several different options for expansion, according to Bob Caniglia, senior regional manager, eastern North America. The Australian-based company’s three ATEM switchers chassis can be controlled either by software (local or around the globe), by either of the two available control surfaces, or a combination. “Major sports networks are operating our switchers in New York from across the country,” Caniglia said, adding that Blackmagic Design also offers a developer kit for custom applications, and the ability to control compatible Mackie audio surfaces and camera shading.

For Newtek, their flagship Tricaster 8000 switcher, with virtual set capability, is “changing the face of local and national production,” said Dr. Andrew Cross, CTO for the San Antonio-based company. Newtek has models suitable for just about any size production, according to Cross, and depending on the model, has always maintained an aggressive trade-up program. Addressing the social media aspect of production switcher integration, Newtek offers their new “TalkShow Skype” interaction product, which Cross says simplifies Skyping by adding tally for the subject, along with video and audio processing for quality enhancement.

4K is on everyone’s radar these days, including at Ross Video.

Grass Valley Karrera K-Frame

“Most recently 4K technology has been a key deliverable for Carbonite and Acuity, and both products are now proven in live 4K productions internationally,” said Newham. But along with this ongoing development, Ross must ensure that 4K is produced in a way that is efficient both technologically and economically, Newham added. “There are many challenges to be faced with 4K in terms of its application and the up/down conversion with regular HD,” he said.

Since 2011, Snell’s Kahuna 360 switchers have included the backbone to support 4K, so effectively Kahuna 360 customers (and the newer 9600, 6400, 4800) get 4K for free, according to Carter. “We see more demand for 4K, the inexorable advance of IP, and for publishing to multiple screens,” he said.

Grass Valley’s Karrera and Kayenne K-Frames are 4K-compatible as well, and Blackmagic Design’s ATEM product line is 4K-compliant, including the ATEM Production 4K (with no DVE), up to the ATEM 1 and 2 ME Production 4K (with DVE).

For automated production, there is no shortage of switcher-based products.

“Automation seems to be something everyone wants, and our Ignite [the company’s automation product] is compatible with the latest release of K-Frame switchers,” Huttie said. Ignite is gaining popularity, as more facilities adopt that technology, even in the remote market, with the Grass Valley touchscreen- based Director switcher, he added.

Another automated production leader, Ross Video’s Overdrive, stresses a simplified workflow, according to Newham. “If you are looking to automate your production process without limiting your creativity, then the OverDrive production control system with Dashboard, allows facilities to simplify production and execute more cleanly, while delivering substantial savings,” he said.

Portable switchers, also known as “flypacks,” have evolved greatly over the past decade, and perhaps the very term has evolved to include “desktop.” Whatever they’re called, the small, lightweight, affordable switchers have become big business.

Newtek’s new “talkShow Skype” simplifies Skyping by adding tally for the subject, along with video and audio processing for quality enhancement.

One of the latest (and smallest) offerings is from Newtek. According to Cross, Newtek’s philosophy of “production facility in a box” describes perfectly their new Tricaster Mini. “The Mini is small enough to fit in a backpack, but it has 8 HDMI inputs,” he said. To deal with HDMI-only I/Os, Cross said that Newtek offers their own 100-foot long HDMI cables to overcome cable length issues. “And to help make the connections more robust,” he added, “we have added a built-in HDMI cable retention system.”

Blackmagic Design still has its eyes on the portable market, according to Caniglia. “All of our latest ATEM products have built-in monitors and rudimentary control buttons, built right onto the chassis,” he said. “With our complete production line though, including cameras with studio build-out kits, intercom, monitors, control, and recording/ playback, we offer complete remote production facilities.”

For the portable market, Huttie describes the Grass Valley Director as a “paradigm shift” for operators. “It���s not a traditional control surface for the operator,” he said. “The PC-based engine is an all-in-one system, and instead of ME layers, it produces kind of a combined image that is pre-assembled… designed for the under $40K market.”