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Q-Ball: produce enhanced content on a budget

Producing enhanced content in the age of budget constraints is a daily challenge for broadcasters around the globe. Producers and directors alike must grapple with the increasing demand for more complex and interesting content, while working with a fixed or reduced number of staff.

So, where can those in the broadcast community turn for ways to deal with this dilemma? What does a production team in a major stadium do to enhance production options without adding dedicated staff? How can an OB truck provide value-added services to live events without adding complexity and, therefore, increased charges to a setup? Is there a pathway for a central broadcast control room to increase creative opportunities for a live sporting event in another location run by existing production staff? How can one add inconspicuous video capabilities to a green room without an intrusive camera and operator?

To the rescue

These dilemmas have prompted the manufacturing community to devise equipment solutions that not only offers more production options, but also streamlines existing production workflows. One such category can be found in the robotic cameras and control systems provided by Camera Corps’ Q-Ball robotic camera and Vinten Radamec’s control systems. The advantages of a fixed, high-quality camera capable of being operated remotely are many. The Q-Ball, a remote HD mini-camera packaged in an unobtrusive spherical case, offers high-quality video from locations inconvenient or impossible for a standard camera/operator team to access. Although the camera comes equipped with a dedicated control system, its compatibility with Vinten Radamec’s control panels — including the new CP4 — greatly expands its user-base opportunities in remote and studio installations.

Under the hood

The camera is structured around the highly respected Sony chip, electronics and lens combination, based on a 1/3in, 2MP CMOS camera sensor developed for OEM applications. Camera Corps engineers have placed the system in one of the most compact packages available today, adding a pan-and-tilt head and comprehensive control protocols for remote access. The camera itself offers HD 720p and 1080i performance at 50/59.94Hz and SD performance covering 625/50Hz and 525/59.94Hz, with aspect ratios of 16:9 and 4:3. This enables coverage of a wide range of production applications, employing varying degrees of technical sophistication. Nightwatch infrared and an integrated 10X-zoom optical lens allows for enhanced production options.

Further, wide-angle lens adapters are available as performance options. All this is married to smooth accelerating pan/tilt motors housed in a sturdy, fully weatherproof aluminum sphere with a diameter of just 4.5in. Four channels of embedded audio are supported to enhance stereo or multichannel capture options. Master black level and color-saturation control allows for color matching between other HD/SD cameras, an important factor in situations where different camera types are used.

Users can mount the camera upright or in an inverted position from a ceiling, wall, cabinet, floor, backboard, tree or virtually anywhere, allowing the system to be present, but not intrusive. For reality TV or green-room applications, a small camera that blends into the background is ideal for capturing the natural response from the participants in an interview or similar situation. For sports applications, stadiums can install Q-Ball cameras in dugouts, for example, to get intimacy shots of baseball players, or high up on the stadium infrastructure for spectacular overview shots not practical with standard, large-form-factor cameras. Users can specify the camera housing in a wide variety of colors to better correlate with the production’s needs. Although the Q-Ball has its own hardware-based control system that can handle up to 96 remote cameras, compatibility with Vinten Radamec’s new control system brings it into the production studio.

Taking control

The CP4 design philosophy takes its cue from the iPad and similar tablet devices. It is a virtual, touch-screen-based controller, with an integrated three-axis joystick for moving a camera and focus wheel/rocker switch for zoom control built for operators without extensive knowledge of robotic camera systems. Specifically created for use with small robotic heads, the unit uses Ethernet network architecture for straightforward and
quick installation.

Operators can configure the Windows-based touch-screen interface to control up to four heads and store up to 40 pre-set shots out of the box. They can also upgrade the system to control up to eight heads and 200 pre-set shots. The unit supports the Intelligent Control Engineering (ICE) protocol, which the company incorporated into its recently released series of next-generation heads.

Figure 1. SFigure 1. Using the mini-cam with the Vinten Radamec CP4 controller allows broadcasters to connect the mini-cam to their existing production system with an Ethernet cable.

Using the combined system shown in Figure 1 allows professional facilities to use the remote mini-cam within an existing production system without the cost and difficulties associated with running multiple cables beyond an Ethernet connection. This relationship also allows the smaller facility or remote location to enjoy the production benefits of high-quality components coupled with remote capabilities, without the costs involved in deploying and training personnel on larger systems.

The remote camera is designed to go places where camera operators typically cannot, allowing them to capture B-roll beauty shots for a given segment with ease. Beyond the standard camera shots, it can provide much needed close-ups for out-of-the-box, unique broadcast shots, making viewers feel like they are a part of the action. As the camera blends into the background, it does not reflect on-camera behavior, giving broadcasters the added ability to capture more realistic interviews/reactions for those that tend to be camera shy on-air.

The benefit of the combined system is that the controller is easy-to-use and intuitive, offering the ability to control multiple camera heads using one touch-screen interface, without the need for extensive training. This combination is suitable for everyone from the high-end broadcaster to a local production house.

Jim Daniels is technical director for Camera Corps.