Multiple Portable Switcher Options Provide Users With Many Choices

MULTIPLE CITIES --  “What’s the point of installing a big studio in a truck?”

That is the question that Jeff Hansell, executive director of Belmont Media Center, asked after extensively researching whether to buy a portable switcher for his Belmont, Mass. public, education and government channel. Hansell and his staff talked to colleagues about potential switchers and their uses, and found opinions on portable switchers “going in the same direction.”

So, “Instead of getting a truck, we wanted to get something that would fit into a couple of rolling cases,” Hansell said. BMC’s staff then tried out several brands of equipment and eventually settled on the Broadcast Pix Mica 500, pictured right.

“Having this unit really allows us to do some high-quality production,” Hansell said. “We really got it for sports coverage, but discovered a lot of other uses for it.”

There are a lot of local meetings in the BMC broadcast area that need to be covered. Along with its capacity to connect with cameras and audio equipment, Hansell appreciates the Mica 500’s ability to create broadcast quality graphics with the Harris Inscriber GS Character Generator.

“It makes the meetings a little more interesting to watch because of higher video and graphics quality,” Hansell said. “Having the graphics up there in a professional way really allows people who are channel surfing to find what they’re looking for.”

Broadcast Pix’s Mica 500 The Mica 500 switcher allows the combination of up to eight HD/SD serial digital interface inputs with seven channels of clips and graphics. There are six SDI outputs plus two digital visual interface outputs. The integrated server holds up to 30 hours of H.264 clips, or ProRes clips with audio. The clips will auto-start on transition and can auto-advance to the next clip.

There are up to two channels of animation available for transitions, backgrounds and moving titles. In addition, the Chyron Lyric Pro CG is optional. Four channels of graphics stores can be filled or graphic files can be imported from anywhere.

An external device control drives robotic cameras. Virtual sets can be created on up to eight cameras. Sets are included, or the built-in image editor can make a virtual set out of any picture. Drive up to three screens at once with program and dual PowerAux outputs.

Hansell sees durability and size, as well as graphics production, as the chief reasons to get the Mica 500.

Cory Behnke, Livestream’s global head of production and services, agrees that having robust equipment is a top requirement for broadcasters. Livestream, which provides platforms for streaming, has its own production company and routinely oversees production of 75 to 100 events a month.

Behnke had used other manufacturers’ portable switchers for their productions until he and the Livestream teams decided it was time to develop their own. The Livestream HD500, at left, is the result. “We asked what features were really needed to go live,” Behnke said. “We’ve taken pretty much all of that capability and put it in a suitcase.” The suitcase unit qualifies as carry-on baggage and can be transported on an aircraft; its design can avoid adding to the tension when traveling to a production assignment. “Having to check some of your most critical equipment, like a switcher, can be a stressful nightmare,” he said.

The HD500 employs Blackmagic Design quad and studio cards and records, switches and streams at a four-bit rate. That enables users to make use of mobile devices and get mobile quality all the way up to HD 720p, according to Behnke. “The quad card allows four HD SDI inputs and with the studio card you can put in a lot of analog,” said Behnke who added that the HD500 is intuitive and easy to use.

“It lives in the paradigm of live broadcast, but when you turn it on, even if you’ve never done live broadcasting before, you can plug in your inputs and you’re good to go,” Behnke said. That ease of use saves money, he said, “I can literally train somebody in 10 or 15 minutes on pretty much all of the major features of the product.”

In addition, the HD500 generates a graphics template that allows names and other data to be entered from a separate file. “You can put PNG (portable network graphics) or JPGs in the graphics,” Behnke said. “We are taking lower thirds [lower screen TV graphics] to another level.”

The HD500 features five live inputs and five live outputs as well as an audio mixer, a video recorder and playback, a built-in streaming encoder and free software upgrades.

Ross Video’s CrossOver Solo Making the argument that more is better, Ross Video Production Technology offers the CrossOver Solo with 12 inputs.

“The problem is that if you have six or even eight inputs, it is so often that you just need one more,” said Nigel Spratling, marketing product manager for production switchers. “Even if you don’t need 12 inputs, there is going to be that day, especially in a mobile situation, where you run out.”

“It has a lot more horsepower because of the 12 inputs, but it also features internal format converters so you can plug anything into it,” Spratling said. In any production system, the producer has to choose from all of the camera inputs that “have to be hot,” he said. Those camera inputs might be timed by frame synchronizers, which add delay, and that approach is often undesirable because producers do not necessarily want extra frames just to synchronize the signal, he said. However, if the inputs have “gen-lock capability,” the cameras can be locked to a reference signal so that everything is in time.

The CrossOver Solo allows the choice of turning on the reference generator so everything is timed or turning on the frame synchronizers. “The objective is to keep delay as low as possible,” Spratling said. “If it’s used for an event, with something going up on a big screen, a delayed signal to the screen can be quite distracting.”


The Rushworks’ Remo 22 not only reduces worries about referencing, but also the need for a camera crew. In addition, the Remo 22 is half the size of the original Remo and, at 41 pounds, is much lighter. The case opens to a touch-screen and keypad. It supports up to eight inputs and automatically links lower-third graphics to user-designed presets, as well as playlist creation.

The touch-screen interface also controls multi-layer downstream keyer, chroma-key, multi-format encoding and live Flash streaming. The Remo 22 is offered with either four or eight HD/ SD-SDI inputs and built-in serial and IP control for up to eight pan, tilt and zoom cameras. Each camera’s iris, focus, zoom speed and white balance parameters can be manipulated by the operator. If the cameras are purchased with the Remo 22, a joystick that connects through a USB port is included. It has dual clip players and PIP, and clicking the record button captures MPEG-2, AVI or WMV files. The stream button outputs a live signal to a network connection through an input/output panel.


NewTek’s TriCaster 40 Streaming is still the important role for the NewTek TriCaster 40, even though it is a more basic version of previous TriCaster models. It is an all-in-one live HD production switcher, streaming system and recorder that has four camera inputs and 14 channels. The unit is priced lower because its connections are analog.

Up to five layers appear on-screen simultaneously and the TriCaster 40 can create 24 virtual sets with multiple camera angles, real-time reflections, highlights and animated zoom.


FOR-A’s HVS-300HS-B4DVI A generous choice of 2D and 3D digital video effects transitions is a feature of the FOR-A HVS-300HSB4DVI 1 M/E multi-format video switcher. The unit contains standard HD-SDI four inputs and outputs and a 10-bit processor for enhanced broadcast quality. A frame synchronizer and resizing engine for each input accepts non-synchronized as well as SD/ HD simultaneous inputs without external devices. A 16-split multi-viewer is built in. There are two dedicated still-stores for captured images or images uploaded via the USB port and two channels of picture-in-picture. It is designed for small production facilities, mobiles or fly packs.


Mobile Studios Inc.’s PortaCast Director’s Pak Mobile Studios Inc.’s PortaCast Director’s Pak combines switching and communications with audio mixing offered as an option. The Director’s Pak is contained in a shock-mounted flip-top case that is equipped with wheels and a retractable handle. The multi-format switcher is a Panasonic AV-HS400 that can handle eight HD or SD inputs in true 10-bit 525 SDI, 720p or 1080i HD-SDI.

The built-in multi-viewer displays all input sources, preview and program on a 17-inch Panasonic BT-LH1760 LCD monitor. The multi-functional liquid crystal display includes a built-in waveform monitor and vector scope. Crew and talent can use a dual-channel Clear-Com MS-702 intercom installed below the switcher. All connections are accessed through a hinged door on the back of the Pak. An eight input dual channel audio mixer with tone output is optional.

Now, with all the portable switcher options available, production units can acquire a truck because they want to, not because they need to.