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Training In The Digital Era

Training. No matter how advanced digital technologies become, in order to do a top-notch production, you've got to educate your staff on the latest gear and how to use it. Recently, THOMSON Multimedia launched a training program in conjunction with mobile production companies National Mobile Television (NMT) and SJC Video for its new DD35 production switchers. THOMSON's goal in developing the program was to get as many freelance technical directors (TDs) and other types of operators as familiar with the DD35 as possible. But it has some competition. Both the Grass Valley Group* and Sony have extensive training programs for their switchers as well. Here's a look at how the country's three top switcher manufacturers get the word out about their products and who benefits the most from these programs.

Of the three major switcher manufacturers, THOMSON Multimedia's training program is probably the most mobile. Last summer, it inked a deal with NMT to transform an old trailer from the mobile production company into a training facility on wheels. THOMSON has already taken the vehicle on the road, training freelancers on the DD35s in Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, and Washington, DC, among other locations. It also entered into an agreement with SJC Video to use one of the company's active trucks for training.

THOMSON's deals with NMT and SJC are the result of the companies' purchase of several DD35s. While NMT and SJC have been pleased with the switchers, they had trouble finding TDs and other freelancers on the road who were familiar with the new gear. "One of the biggest obstacles to any new product in the industry is training people to operate the equipment," said Mark Brooks, vice president of Engineering for NMT. "So when we chose [the] THOMSON [DD35 switcher] as a product we wanted to purchase, one of the biggest obstacles according to our clients and crewers was who was actually going to run it." Tom Johnson, co-president of SJC, stated similar concerns. "This [the DD35] is a new switcher, and not many of them are in use yet. And the idea was to get as many TDs and other people to not only be aware of it, but also know how to run it." The program itself teaches the basics of operating the DD35s, including key operation, mapping for correct sources, external machine control, and working snapshots to recall pre-set settings. In addition to these operations, the DD35 training program teaches users how to use a feature unique to the switcher called memo macros, which allows users to program certain complex sequences so that it only takes the touch of one button to launch them all.

Both Grass Valley and Sony also have the ability to take their training programs to clients, if necessary. Grass Valley offers both in-house and on-site training for its Kalypso and Zodiac switchers. Mark Narveson, product marketing manager for Digital Production Systems at Grass Valley said that although his company offers on-site training for clients, having the customer come to Grass Valley is of more benefit because the factory site is more of a "university environment," with classrooms and a broader range of equipment than can be offered on the road.

Grass Valley has training programs in place for both its Kalypso and Zodiac switchers. Kalypso, which has been on the market longer than Zodiac, has training classes ranging from basic operation to advanced technical training geared toward engineers. The basic course teaches participants external interfacing transition, keyer operations, how the E-MEM operations disk works, disk operations, stillstore operations, and secondary M/E fundamentals and operations. The technical course, which is aimed at broadcast engineers and systems technicians, teaches system installation and configuration, video and control signal flow, troubleshooting, digital video concepts, interfacing to external digital video effect devices, and control panel operations. The advanced course teaches advanced configurations, advanced user preference, multiple M/E outputs and programming, secondary M/E control and re-entry, dynamic keying, transform engine operations, advanced external interfaces, aux bus operations, keyframing, and still-store/animation operations.

The Zodiac switcher has a basic operations and a technical class. According to Narveson, the reason there is no advanced course for the switcher is because the Zodiac was deliberately designed to be a more simple-to-use product than the Kalypso. Narveson stressed the importance of the programs not only to the trainees, but also the organizations they work for. "From the customers' perspective, they get a lot more efficiency out the product, they can increase their understanding of it, and they can improve their on-air look by knowing how to utilize the full extent of the production power of the switcher."Sony, the third player in the switcher powerhouse triumvirate, also has some training tricks up its sleeve. It boasts operations courses on all of its switchers, from its older DFS-300 and DFS-500 series to its more recent DVS-7000 series. However, most of the training is currently done on the DVS-7000 series. At the time of this writing, Sony was still formulating the training programs for its soon-to-be-released MVS-8000 series of switchers. As for the 7000 series, there is one course, which teaches users the basic layout and operation of the switcher; the setup of basic effects such as wipe keys and pattern keys; how to navigate the wipe menu and control panel with the trackball; setting up a clean key and a process key; utilizing clip memory and key presets; utilizing mask generators, pattern keys, chroma keys, and border controls; how to program the Flexipad for stored switcher setups; and setting up global effects and switcher/effect snapshots. In addition, training also includes a segment on the interactive features of Sony's combined DME-7000/DVS-7000 system.Sony customers interested in becoming experts on its switchers can come to the company's U.S. headquarters in New Jersey or have a trainer travel to their neck of the woods.

Whether it's a broadcaster, cable operator, or truck company, the true beneficiaries of training programs like those of Grass Valley, Sony, and THOMSON are those who hire the trainees. While a TD can often learn a particular switcher on the job, undergoing formal training teaches him or her some of the "tricks of the trade" that can help speed up and streamline production. A well-trained TD is simply put, a good investment.

*At the time this article was written, THOMSON Multimedia announced its plans to acquire the Grass Valley Group. According to Grass Valley, this news does not change the information reported here.