What you see is what you get

Television studio sets have come along way since the days of Soupy Sales when scenes were painted on canvases and props hung from the wooden frames. Today sets are more like Broadway shows or rock concert multimedia productions.

Still, no matter how perfect a digital production and transmission infrastructure might be or how perfect a consumer device reproduces the data it receives, the quality of the presentation will only be as good as the source. What you see is what you get!

Broadcast engineers need to be aware of the technical needs of the modern studio environment. Set technology is now just as complex as any other system of the four-layer BOC infrastructure. Systems are made up of physical components (lighting, displays, etc.), media networks (control communications, content movement), applications (computer platforms that run show control programs) and security (locked studio and control room doors and system logons with passwords).


HD requires meticulous planning when building sets, installing video displays and lighting a studio. Since the viewer will see every detail, careful attention must be paid to every item on the set.

Today sets are dynamic, made of plexiglass and metal, designed in a way that the use of lighting can produce any color and effect desired. These futuristic designs and radiant colors exploit the new capabilities of DTV. Live Design is a technical journal for live entertainment professionals in the lighting, staging and projection fields.

With the increased sophistication of set technology, precise control of all show elements is required. Makeup, lighting, set design, show control and set construction (either real or virtual) are all integral parts of 21st century TV production.


Psycho visual tests have shown that the eye is extremely critical of fidelity in skin tones. To produce pleasant skin tones, modern HDTV cameras have built in skin tone correction circuits.

There is a story that has circulated since 1998 when the first HD broadcasts were going on the air. An anchorwoman was overheard being against HDTV because she thought it would bring out every blemish on her face. To the contrary, new air brush HDTV makeup techniques actually make talent look better than they ever did before! An informative article about the technique can be found at www.themakeuproom.com/cprgpics/hdtvcprg.html.

So important is makeup to HDTV production that last November, the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences sponsored a full-day symposium titled “Next TV: Managing your future in the changing landscape of television” where veteran makeup artist Michael Westmore discussed HD make-up techniques.


Lighting effects that accentuate the dramatic action have been an integral part of production since day one. Color media technology has progressed from colored gels to color temperature balanced and corrected filters, from manual operation to sophisticated computer automation. ROSCO has been at the forefront of this effort for decades and received Emmys and an Oscar for their contributions.

Show Control

A distinction must be made between overall show control and the control of individual resources. Entertainment control operates a particular type of resource such as lighting, sound, video displays, rigging or even pyrotechnics. Show control links together various entertainment control systems.

Two serial communication protocols are predominately used for lighting and show control: the DMX512 and MIDI Show Control. Connections are made over USB, MIDI or LAN interfaces. Explore the LanBox- LCX data sheet for more information about controllers and interfaces.

A worldwide standard, DMX512 is used by lighting consoles to send information to dimmers. Intensity levels, color changers, automated light sources and smoke machines use the DMX512 protocol. Information is sent using 8-bit digital codes. Up to 512 devices at unique addresses can be controlled over one cable. Motorized lights require fine adjustment than 256 levels so more than one DMX address is used to extend the range to 65536 levels.

MIDI Show Control (MSC) is an extension to MIDI and uses system exclusive commands. MSC can synchronize lighting cues, music playback, set element motion control and other show control devices. Commands are accurate to within 1/30th of a second. Systems can be used to control lighting and sound cues to create a sequence that will be identical every time.

Virtual sets

Show Control systems The technical director in the studio control room cannot possible handle every aspect of a live studio event. Computers to the rescue! Check out these Websites for additional information:
Barco’s Encore Presentation System
Download the brochure at www.barco.com/events/en/downloads/brochures.asp.

Show control tutorials:
Flying Pig Systems

High Systems

Why stop at a multimedia extravaganza? Let’s go all the way to virtual sets. Computer systems are so powerful and applications so speedy that creating a virtual set while live on the air is doable.

Implementing a virtual set is a technically challenging undertaking. Cameras and sets must be fitted with infrared sensors. Pattern recognition algorithms recognize patterns on studio walls and insert virtual video displays. Animation techniques such as Inverse Kinetics and Dynamic Key Frames are used to create the virtual images.

Virtual set providers take different approaches. Some use proprietary hardware running UNIX-based applications, others can be run only on PC hardware. Virtual sets are Brainstorm's core business and are built on open hardware, any operating system and any GFX card.

Sets are created using animation software such as Maya and Serious Magic. The site features an interesting tutorial, Creating a Virtual set Using a 3D Application online. Be forewarned that the jargon used by animators is an alien language.

To get an idea of just how realistic a virtual set could be, check out examples created by E-Space D Animation Studio.

Stage craft organizations

There are several professional organizations dedicated to the advancement and technology of stagecraft.

United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) is the association of design, production, and technology professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industry. The USITT actively promotes the advancement of the knowledge and skills of its members by promoting research, innovation and creativity by sponsoring projects, programs and symposiums.

The Entertainment Services & Technology Association is a non-profit trade association representing the entertainment technology industry. The organization is dedicated to “Building the Business of Show Business.”

The work of creating standards, recommended practices and informational pieces is carried out in the working groups. Current working groups include, Camera Cranes, Control Protocols, Electrical Power, Floors, Fog and Smoke, Followspot Position, Photometricsm and Rigging.

The World Entertainment Technology Federation is a federation of non-profit, entertainment technology associations that provides a forum for the discussion of common issues within the industry. These issues include technical standards, trading methods, training and education, and enhancing the prospects for industry growth internationally.

Towards an immersive experience

Regardless of how detailed a studio set is, or how convincing a virtual set may be, it will always be displayed in two dimensions. Optical DTV 3-D effects are still in R & D, although there have been a few commercial cinematic 3-D presentations.

Aural perception is a different story. An orphaned child no longer, audio has found a home in the DTV era. Arguably more influential in creating an immersive experience than video, surround sound will be discussed in the next T2D.

To read the first part of this series of tutorials, "Storytelling, technology and workflow" visit http://broadcastengineering.com/newsletters/t2d/20060122/Storytelling-technology-workflow-20060122/.