Production switchers offer vision for the future

The heart of any live 3-D broadcast is the video production switcher (or "vision mixers" for those in Europe and elsewhere), which is usually inside a mobile truck parked outside the venue. These live production switchers are getting so sophisticated that they can now handle just about any signal thrown at them, from SD to 3Gb/s HD and now even stereoscopic 3-D (basically dual 1080p60 signals). Satisfying today's multidistribution platform world, recent television broadcasts of sports and entertainment events have made extensive use of a mixture of all of these formats.

On the latest models, it is now possible for a technical director (TD) to run a 2-D and a 3-D show on a single M/E channel — something not practical three years ago. Current 3-D workflows have a stereographer serving as the de facto director of the 3-D production and a technical director producing the 2-D show.

John Carter, product manager for switchers at Snell, said that using one of his company's new Kahuna 360 switchers, the stereographer could use a remote switcher panel to produce the 3-D show while the TD produces the 2-D show with the full Kahuna control panel. In this situation the two operators share the same central resources while producing two shows that would normally require separate switchers.

Carter said the Kahuna 360 "breaks with the tradition of fixed M/Es, fixed resources and fixed formats," and supports simultaneous productions that would require multiple switchers. He added that the Kahuna 360 switcher could be used to handle a mixture of HD, SD and even single-link 1080p sources (up to 16 "independent sub-level switchers" in total).

Broadcast Pix's Slate 5000, Grass Valley's Kayenne, Ross Video's Octane and Sony's MVS-8000X production switchers are all equally adept at handling mix-format productions —and have to be as the advent of 3-D has ensured that this will be the norm for many years to come as production companies are challenged with producing a 2-D HD (720p, 1080i30 or 1080p59.94) production simultaneously with a 3-D stereoscopic production.

Earlier this year, during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a Broadcast Pix Slate 5000 switcher, which includes a number of integrated features used externally on other switchers, was used to separately switch stereoscopic images of the famous parade, employing a virtual 2 M/E control panel and the full Slate system. The side-by-side 3-D feed was distributed to celebrity boxes that overlooked the parade.

The Slate switcher allows a single operator to create a sophisticated broadcast look that previously required a team of people. Solo operators can create live video with graphics, animated text, picture-in-pictures, keyed clips, spinning logos and robotic control of cameras.

The new Sony MVS-8000X production switcher is available with up to 5 M/E channels and 200 I/O capacity, including dedicated interfaces that allow the creation and display of 3Gb/s digital multi effects (DME). The switcher's DME software can adjust depth for 2-D graphics using a newly supported Parallax menu, while the switcher's "3D-on-3G" mode provides access to all 5 M/Es and simplified operation for 3-D production. According to Sony, in 3-D 1080i/720p mode, complex link settings are not necessary because 2-D and 3-D signal sources can be assigned to crosspoint buttons.

The Grass Valley Kayenne Video Production Center is also quickly becoming a workhorse for 2-D and 3-D production. It can be offer from 1.5 M/Es to 4.5 M/Es and features up to 30 keyers and 20 DPM effects channels in a 4.5 M/E system. (The company said that its proprietary DoubleTake split M/E technology increases the available M/Es to 10). Each source select and aux bus module has two rows of OLED Source Name Displays that provide ultraclear text with extremely wide viewing angles.

Game Creek Video, based in Hudson, NH, is building two new 3-D capable trucks equipped with Grass Valley Kayenne switchers that will support sports productions for both ESPN and the YES Network, home to Major League Baseball's New York Yankees. The ESPN "Larkspur" truck went into live operation last month while the YES Network trailer will be completed and ready for action by the end of August (in time for the 2010 MLB playoffs the World Series for the FOX network). It could also be used for producing live games in 3-D for the NFL Network.

A Kalypso HD switcher, Grass Valley's previous-generation model, was used by Game Creek for the first 3-D broadcast of an NHL hocky game live from New York City in March of this year.

Ross Video's latest switcher, the Vision Octane, offers a 3Gb/s signal throughput architecture that is capable of 3-D left/right-eye production via up to 8 full MLEs. There are also 96 inputs and 48 outputs at the rear of the chassis. At the front is a 144 x 144 crosspoint that feeds four dual-MLE cards. Each MLE has up to four channels of 3-D DVE with WARP dedicated to it, plus four channels of clips storage. The company said that internally, the system looks like a double 4 MLE switcher.

At the upcoming IBC show in Amsterdam an optional internal "multihead" multiviewer will be introduced for the new switcher, which provides operators with access to all internal and external sources.

A previous generation Ross Video Vision 3 QMD-X production switcher is used by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RIT), in Troy, NY, for a variety of research projects, including stereoscopic 3-D production.