It’s always great when you get a chance to expand your knowledge base. Two weeks ago, I had one of these moments.
The event was an Adobe Premier Usergroup meetup, with an integral Adobe employee doing the presentation. It was hosted at the Seattle Film Institute, and we made use of a nice comfy theater setting for this event.
This night however was a fairly prime example of the knowledge accumulated over the last couple of years and the ability to still learn from each production, especially when I manage to still do something wrong or forget.
First off, what we did differently this time: It was our opportunity to finally try a few new pieces of gear, including the 4K production studio and the Hyperdeck Studio Pro 4K. We weren’t streaming or recording in 4K, but these devices offer some great benefits over their predecessors. We also introduced to our rig for the first time a Pocket Cinema Camera, connected wirelessly to the switcher via Teradek Bolt for latency free wireless video transmission. We ran an AJA ROI for pulling the presentation computer into the stream and allowing it to pass through to the live projector.
There was one presenter, but the event is basically “hosted” by another member, so we had to have the option for 2 audio sources. This is where the problems began.
Everyone, listen closely: BRING EXTRA CABLES OF EVERY TYPE YOU CAN OR COULD USE. If your audio board uses XLR, 1/4″, RCA, Speakon, any of the major cable types… bring those cables and extras, even without plans to use them. I can tell you my failure to do this caused serious issues in our workflow that would’ve been unacceptable in a paid scenario.
We planned for a standard smaller mixer (6-8 inputs, Behringer) and then decided that it was a bit of overkill for 2 wireless microphones. However, it was lost in the translation that I then needed some additional XLR cables to make longer runs to the 4K switcher itself (it has XLR inputs), and that would only yield a left or right channel signal for each, respectively. In this case, we got lucky and used the XLR inputs on the Panasonic HPX-500 that was also being used, and were able to mix the embedded audio. Again, this wouldn’t fly in a real production though.
The next challenge we faced came when realizing one crucial thing: ethernet connections to the 4K switcher, the broadcast panel and the computer are a tricky thing. I’ll elaborate:
Ahead of time, I got everything up-and-running assuming I’d be switching with the BMD Broadcast Panel. This does a nice job of giving you a physical video board to use while using the power of the ATEM switcher. The one flaw it has is that there’s no given control over audio. If you’re counting on the mixer’s audio signal at all, you NEED a computer in the mix as well. If you’re not using a dedicated router (or a router at all) this presents a problem, as the computer must be connected via ethernet to the broadcast panel or the ATEM, and without a wireless router for internet, this hoses your ability to use that same computer for your stream.
On the fly I was able to use a second laptop we brought to control audio, but as we set it up we realized it needed a software update from Blackmagic Design. Under normal circumstances, this would be a logistic nightmare. Luckily I have the experience needed to run this update while setting up other parts of the production, and we were able to continue. This isn’t optimal for a number of reasons, and I recommend keeping any devices you might use on the same page software-wise at all times.
Lastly, the final big thing to overcome is the camera¹s outputs. For BMD switchers, these outputs MUST match the other sources, as well as the switcher itself. You can¹t have a camera shooting 720p30 and one shooting 1080i 59.94 and have it work. This presented us with a problem between the HPX-500 and the Cinema Cameras. The HPX doesn¹t natively do 1080 23.98p, so we bumped it down to 1080i59.94 and were able to match it up. I won¹t go into the technical reasons why this worked, but the moral is that you need to know the cameras you¹re working with and have them lined up and tested before needing to go live. For a full list of supported HD & SD Formats see http://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/atemproductionstudio4k/techspecs
All of these issues and points might seem pretty intuitive, and you’re right. If I read this post, I’d be thinking these were rookie mistakes. But remember, we’re living in a time where your shooters won’t all have the same camera, the same connections, your gear won’t all be made by the same people, and your end deliverable can vary from HD streams to HD recording to merely switching for a projector with no delivered media. Your set-up will almost certainly change depending on the scope of the job, and your experience with the gear you need could range form years to a new piece of equipment you got especially for this gig. You don’t just need to know how to use it, you need to know that you can use it WITH the rest of your setup.
Hopefully some of this information is helpful, as I always try to let my pains benefit others in the industry.