Testing and monitoring multiple video standards is an hourly occurrence on any of my television production projects. This is true for both the load-in and day-to-day changes that arise, as I find myself constantly needing to identify and critique signals of all types.
As a truck engineer-in-charge, I need to see and hear multiple standards with a minimal hardware footprint.
The Plura Broadcast FTM-043 field test monitor, which we recently installed on Aspiration, our new 40ft expanding side mobile production truck, provides an all-in-one solution for quickly identifying signals, associated standards and other data embedded on the digital signal — and otherwise.
I live in an HD/SDI world but am still surrounded by legacy composite signals, which can be some of the most difficult to process. From teleprompter feeds to downconversions for a venue television or streaming server, composite video is one of the hardest standards to deal with today.
Simply put, the industry is far less equipped for analog video in the modern broadcast and production environment. Humbuckers and terminators are harder to find, for example. The FTM-043, with its on-board LCD screen for testing and monitoring incoming signals, allows me to visually confirm a possible problem before going through repair steps.
Test signal generation
The field test monitor is also an excellent test signal generator. We feed projectors, web servers, LED screens and many other devices from the TV trucks and fly packs. The device allows me to confirm signal presence quickly and accurately, while simultaneously allowing generation of test signals for comparison, alignment and troubleshooting. And, this is not a standard color bar genny. All patterns have an option for motion, and the list of patterns is ideal for any engineer.
The on-board audio capabilities also eliminate Q-box requirements for quick audio testing applications. With both audio-in and audio-out via the embedder/de-embedder or the on-board XLR connections, the tester supports almost any field audio testing application. I can quickly check mic level, line level or embedded audio coming from the venue or from the truck. Being able to generate tone to quickly fix speakers and tape machine inputs also saves a large amount of time.
There are a number of user features and benefits that stand out. The compact size of the package is the leading benefit, as it easily fits into an equipment rack or my tool bag.
The front-facing connectors are also an improvement over test devices that assume gear will always be racked. The on-screen overlay of embedded information saves a lot of time, and the combination of both multi-standard digital and analog input options is an excellent feature.
Andrew Humphries, TNDV senior engineer, recently noted that it would be next to impossible for him to be an effective engineer in the truck, at the I/O panel and at multiple locations inside a venue without access to an FTM. This is because he and other TNDV engineers are now accustomed to reaching for the device when there is a problem to address. It's hard to imagine being able to troubleshoot and solve a problem as quickly without it.
The FTM has centralized into a single device what previously took three devices to achieve. Previously, I had to carry both separate handheld SD and HD testing products along with the Q-box for audio applications. I frequently carried a full-sized monitor to jobs as well. This is no longer the case.
Instead, the test monitor offers a clean and efficient means of going from the patchbay to the I/O panel to the venue with a single device for testing both incoming and outgoing signals. The ability to see and confirm the signal and the format, and then transmit a test pattern in multiple standards and multiple formats, is a huge benefit to performing my engineering duties in mobile production environments. I plan to have an FTM-043 in my patch bay, my I/O panel and my tool bag for every show moving forward.
In addition to the field and test applications that Plura has added to the TNDV tool box, I have additionally been impressed with the medium format high-resolution monitors. We use both the 17in PBM-217S as well as the PBM-217-3G on all three of our multiformat trucks.
The multiple inputs on the 17in monitors have been ideal, with the trend of workstations within production trucks requiring both HD/SDI monitoring, as well as DVI or VGA monitoring. These monitors offer fast switching of inputs, which is important for a ProTools operator or a graphics operator needing to see both configuration PCs and video signals. They also offer a clear picture-in-picture option that allows me to monitor one signal while working on the other.
Some of the field applications that stand out include the strong tabletop stand and the integrated carry handle. The rugged design also enables stronger confidence in sending these monitors into a venue or off to a booth.
The prosumer feature that stands out most is the addition of an HDMI input. This has proven to be convenient as a large number of packages and b-roll today are shot today on DSLR. Rack-mounting is also a snap, with the internal power adapter quickening the setup process. Beyond all this, the monitors are visually attractive.
Based on the flexibility of these varied products, Plura continues to impress with a flexible set of tools and monitoring systems that are ideal for engineering in mobile production.
Nic Dugger is owner and president of TNDV: Television.