NewscastingDo Or Die: Live News Production Switchers

Especially when it comes to live news production, a control room without a production switcher is like a fish without water. In a large market, a good production switcher can help move your news show to the top of ratings. In a mid-size or small market, it can mean the difference between having the number-one news showÑor not having a news department at all. More than ever, stations need good production switchers for their newscasts. Here's a rundown of some of the best offerings of the top companies in switching.


FOR-A offers the Hanabi family of production switchers, which comprise the HVS-3000S and the HVS3000H. There are three versions of each switcher. For the HVS-3000S, FOR-A's SD switcher, there are the HVS-3000S16, the HVS-300024, and the HVS-3000S28. The numbers at the end of each model delineate the number of inputs. For the HVS-3000HD, the company's HD switcher, there are the HVS-3000HD16, the HVS-3000HD24, and the HVS-3000HD28. All models of both the HVS-3000S and the HVS-3000H have 16 outputs.

According to Hiro Tanoue, sales manager, FOR-A, any model of the HVS-3000S can be upgraded to support HD formats by swapping out some internal boards. "All the models are basically the same - except for a couple of internal boards," he said. "So if you have a standard def system, and your facility goes high def in the future, everything stays the same. You can use the same switcher - you just have to replace a couple of the internal boards. Then your system is upgraded to high definition."


Panasonic recently unveiled the AV-HS5300 at NAB2003, a 68-input, 30-output HD/SD system. It can be configured with as many as 4 M/Es with 2 keyers per M/E. It supports 1080i and 480i in either a 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio. 720p/60 and 1080i/24p are options. Basic effects functions are standard in self-contained, 2-channel digital video processors in each M/E.

Like FOR-A, Panasonic is pushing the "future-proofness" of the AV-HS5300. "With this product, you don't have to make the choice of whether to go standard or high definition all in one go," said Stuart English, Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems vice president of marketing. "It is a unique switcher in that it is both standard definition and high definition in the same product. It allows the broadcaster to approach the transition from [SD] digital television to high definition television at his own pace."

Pinnacle Systems

Pinnacle Systems offers two production switchers applicable to live news, the PDS 9000i and the PDS 6000i. The PDS 9000i is a 36-input, 24-output, 2.5 M/E production switcher. It features 19 multipage framestores, which can be loaded from Pinnacle's Lightning, Deko, Thunder, DVEXtreme, and DVEXCEL products over a standard 100Base-T network. The PDS 6000i is a lower-end version of the PDS 9000i. It features up to 36 inputs and up to 22 outputs.

According to Dave Hopkins, general manager, Live-To-Air Group for Pinnacle Systems, the real market value of the PDS 6000i and the PDS 9000i lies in their ability to handle high-end graphics. "News broadcasts tend to be very graphics-intensive," he said. "Both switchers basically have built-in stillstores, so that they can recall graphics as part of configurations, and they also have built in DVEs, so they can take external sources to do the over-the-shoulder shots."

Ross Video Broadcasters looking to do high-end news will likely be especially interested in the Synergy 2, 3, and 4 systems from Ross. The Synergy 2 has up to 64 serial digital inputs and 18 serial digital outputs, the Synergy 3 has up to 64 serial digital inputs and 20 serial digital outputs, and the Synergy 4 up to 64 inputs and 22 serial digital outputs. All switchers offer a choice of standard and Ultimatte chromakeying in every keyer.

A significant new feature of the Synergy line is Squeeze & Tease WARP, an internal DVE that Ross introduced at NAB2003. It includes a full range of WARP effects, preprocessor effects, "picture-frame" borders, and an on-board stillstore. Synergy 2, 3, and 4 switchers also now feature full 8-character mnemonic displays on their panels for source identification above the crosspoint buttons and clear names above the custom-control macro buttons.

Of special note, the Synergy series provides a very high level of integration and control over most of the equipment in the newsroom. This includes video servers, VTRs, routers, and DVEs, as well as less commonly supported devices such as robotic cameras, audio mixers, audio servers, character generators, and stillstores. According to Ross executive vice president David Ross, a new interface to newsroom systems like AP's ENPS, also announced at NAB2003, has generated considerable interest. Ross says this last feature is especially important. "News production is a business, and anything we can do to make it more efficient is very well received by our customers," he said.

Snell & Wilcox

Snell & Wilcox offers more than six high definition switchers and more than seven standard definition switchers. At NAB2003, the company introduced the HD3060, which, according to John Carter, product manager, switchers, for Snell & Wilcox, is an extension of the HD switcher product line. It has 64 inputs (expandable to 128), and 12 keyers (including 4 DSKs). It works with all HD formats.

Snell & Wilcox also introduced the SwitchPack, a series of SD switchers, at NAB2003. The series includes the SwitchPak 4, which features 4 inputs and 1 keyer; the SwitchPak 8, which includes 8 inputs and 3 keyers; and the SwitchPack 16, which offers 16 inputs and 5 keyers. It has a "brother" HD line, which includes the HD108 and HD104 switchers.

Snell & Wilcox, like FOR-A and Panasonic, looks to provide broadcasters a way to affordably ramp from SD to HD production when the time is right. "One of our biggest strengths [with the switchers] is that they all have one control panel that will control either an SD or HD solution, so customers can today buy one of our standard def production switchers and upgrade to an HD production switcher when the time's right for them," said Carter.

Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions

Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions offers the Grass Valley Kalypso SD and HD, XtenDD and XtenDD HD, Zodiak, and KayakDD switchers for live news production. The Kalypso SD can expand to up to 80 inputs and 48 outputs. It features 4 keyers per M/E, an 8-output animation stillstore system, and a built-in DVE with 6 channels of effects plus external DVE support. Earlier this year, Thomson introduced an HD version of the system, Kalypso HD, to the market. It includes up to 90 inputs, native support for 1080i and 720p production, and allows for native switching between SD and HD formats from the same frame.

The Grass Valley XtenDD offers 90 inputs and 54 outputs, up to 4 M/Es, and 4 full-featured keyers per M/E bank. Additionally, it features 4 channels of digital effects and 4 channels of RAM recording for internal clip storage. An HD version of XtenDD, the XtenDD HD, is also available. It offers 90 inputs and 36 outputs.

The Grass Valley Zodiak switcher is available in two models, the 2.5 M/E and 3 M/E serial digital. The 2.5 M/E model comes with 64 inputs, 18 outputs, 2 M/Es, and simple mix/cut program/preset row with 3 linear downstream keyers. The 3 M/E model comes with 64 inputs, 24 outputs, and an additional full-featured M/E that augments the 3 linear keyers on the program/preset row. The system also features a 100-frame stillstore with animation.

Thomson showed the Grass Valley KayakDD switcher for the first time at NAB2003. It comes with 16 inputs and 14 outputs, 1 M/E, 4 keyers per M/E, up to 4 channels of internal DVE, and an internal RAM recorder.

Rick Paulson, product manager, production switchers and effects for Thomson, said there is a definite trend toward internalizing many features that have typically been connected to the switcher through an external device. "More and moreÑstarting with the Kalypso, the XtenDD, then the ZodiacÑwe have integrated DVEs, stillstores, and RAM recorders," he said.