Year One – The last 12 months in tech

Today, I renewed my domain and hosting for Jesse’s Gear, meaning I’ve been at this for 12 months now. It seems very appropriate to look back on the last year both in my personal growth in the industry, and the tech itself.

My concept for this website when I started out was to create a repository for some very specific yet understandable information in the video production and photography industry. My first write-ups included a review of the Livestream Broadcaster and the Diva Ring Light. Looking back on these two products to start, it’s interesting to see the paths they’ve taken, respectively.

The Livestream Broadcaster is still a serviceable piece of gear if you know for certain you’ll be streaming to Livestream, and have no need of other services. In practice though, the offerings and improvements made by Teradek basically render this obsolete, giving you the option to stream to multiple services, do multiple encodes, and point-to-point wireless video transmissions.

Conversely, the Diva Ring Light (or ring lights in general) have only grown in popularity and versatility. New brands have sprung up adding features to this design that have helped it become something of a phenomenon, with immense popularity among Beauty Bloggers, YouTube video producers and more.

I’ve spent the last year learning hands-on various live switching rigs, and posted many of my findings here and in the various forums specific to them, in order to try and help people find one that fits their needs correctly. The tech has changed from the Blackmagic Design Television Studio and Edirol V-8 to the Blackmagic Design ATEM 4K 1 M/E and Roland V-40HD. All for different needs, but we’re entering the age of higher resolutions and quality at lower prices and greater availability. Truly an exciting time for live production!

But it hasn’t all been about tech, either. I enjoyed going back and reading some other posts, such as the one about randomly grabbing our Nikon D800 to walk around at night and take pictures. Again, I’m not the world’s most accomplished photographer in practice, but sometimes we have to remember that we got into this business in the first place due to the love of capturing moments and images, and whether that moment is worthy of Time Magazine or not, the practice and joy of going out to simply try new things or taken photos/video can help keep us grounded in the real reason we are creative professionals.

I was also fortunate enough to attend and work at two high-profile trade shows this year, including NAB 2013 in Las Vegas and Photoplus in New York. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment at such an event, stoked to see all the new shiny gadgets or bright lights around you at night, but often times the experience as a whole can be lost until you look back: Wow, I’d never been to Manhattan, and yet my fortunate position in the industry took me there this year. I’d been to Vegas before for NAB in 2010, but last year I was there for 8 days to set up a booth, enjoy the city, and work NAB 2013. This year I’ll be there for 9 days to do the same, and I speak with many people who get to go for a day or two and are so grateful, yet I normally smile knowingly and possibly even condescendingly at times.

My point is this: Whether you’re a beauty blogger who makes a couple of bucks on ads for your videos, a wedding photographer who gets paid to capture the happiest day in people’s lives, or a video production engineer switching for a web series or the NFL, we all have a pretty awesome gig and community behind us. It’s easy to succumb to the natural tendency to allow such things to become monotonous, but it’s very important to keep your technical and creative edge that you sometimes step back, appreciate what you’ve done, and realizing your future is as bright as you’d like it to be.

Happy 1 year to all of my readers, and thanks very much for your support, questions and views!

The Roland VR-50HD shown and demonstrated

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In my last post, I discussed how an all-in-one switcher like the Roland VR-50HD might’ve been a better fit for a production like the one we just did at Adobe. Well, I didn’t want to leave that subject without showing you a few of the cool features of this thing in the flesh, so please enjoy the video below as I introduce you to this sweet new mixer.

I apologize for the brief lapse in audio early in the video, this was shot purely as a passion piece as we’d gotten this up and running, so I was kind all-over-the-place.

There’s a switcher for everyone

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As my return readers will notice, I tend to post my lengthiest and most frequent articles based on real-life experience using much of the gear I discuss on this website. Often times the best lessons are learned the hard way, but that doesn’t mean you have to touch the burner to know the stove is hot. You can learn from me, and hopefully head-off a few potential disasters at the pass.

This post is no different. The focus, however, is a bit more specific than some of my other posts. It deals with live event switching for HD video streaming, specifically targeted to needing your switcher to accept signal from a presentation computer (as well as cameras), and still allow that computer to feed a projector. Confused yet? Well, the idea is one that you’ll use often when doing corporate gigs, as well as church services or meet-ups like the ones we’ve done for FCP or Adobe.

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The above is the rig we brought down. I made what I thought to be an extensive gear checklist prior to the show, and for once didn’t forget anything small that ruined the show. However, I did forget the one piece that would’ve made it a 100% sure success, in relation to the above issue with using a computer signal. You can click the link below to view my checklist, which includes all the above and below pictured gear that we brought. (Projectors and presentation computers supplied by the venue)

Checklist for Adobe Stream

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So, the one piece I needed? The Atlona scan converter. Even with the Edirol VC-300HD (a $12,000 piece of gear a year ago) we couldn’t do the correct conversion. You see, there’s a difference within DVI signals: DVI-A and DVI-D. The difference is Analog vs. Digital. Technically, we were able to get the computer into the ATEM switcher via VC-300HD or AJA ROI, but the problem with converting the signal to digital for this is that when it goes into the DVI-A projector, it’s not able to calibrate the green channel correctly.

What does that mean in easy terms? If you do what we did, you get the picture in the ATEM, but it’s totally green on the projector. This doesn’t work for a live demo. So, we once again had to cut bait on this and basically film the projector screen with a camera. Ugh.

So, back to the title of the article: There’s a switcher for everyone. This event taught me one key lesson: there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer, especially if you have a limited budget. It pays to really do the research on what’s available, what functions different switchers and rigs offer, and what kind of work you’ll be doing the most frequently. In our case, we love the sheer power and sleek results of the Blackmagic Studio 4K, Hyperdeck 4K Pro SSD, and even busted out our camera converters and ran fiber up to one of the Cinema Cameras so I could use the com function for this shoot and give direction. However, in all honesty, it probably wasn’t the best bet for the particular needs here.

Roland just released the VR-50HD. This sleek little mixer is going to run you about $7,500, but removes the need for other pieces of gear, and provides more power than others. The #1 benefit for this production would’ve been it’s built-in scalers channels 1&2, as well as having RGB/component and composite on those channels. It offers SDI, HDMI and VGA inputs for video, as well as XLR, 1/4″ and RCA for audio. It also combines basic controls for audio brought straight in (or embedded), and supplies a touch-screen multiview monitor. It’s small, but it’s there. Consider that I brought an additional 4RU rack specifically for audio, and used 6RU in my video rack for the Blackmagic Design Smartview HD (acting as the 4K Production Studio multiview)

But best of all, it would’ve handled the conversion we needed all by itself. With SDI inputs, our Cinema Cameras would’ve had no problems, and it does export SDI, which is the output we use to go into our NextComputing streaming computer. So, basically, we could’ve saved ourselves the trouble of bringing 2 different racks, and a bunch of extra pieces, by knowing all of this ahead of time.

(Click here to check out the .pdf owner’s manual for the VR-50HD and see full connection specs)

It’s important to note, however, that we had no idea what type of projector or computer would be used during the presentation. This is something you might deal with at a paid gig, so it’s important to have a small army of converters at your disposal if possible. But it also helps to know the difference in switcher hardware that’s out there, just in case the one you’re drooling over isn’t actually the best fit for your actual needs.

So, if you can get more info pre-production than we had, such as presentation computer model, projector model, connections used, etc, obviously that’s crucial. If you have switcher hardware already, there’s some solid converters you can add to your arsenal to get through things like this, (such as the Atlona), but in the end, just remember that there could be a much more simple solution out there from start to finish. It pays to spend some extra time doing the research to save yourself the multiple heartaches I’ve experienced already.

Report from the Trenches: Using 4K Gear to Stream Adobe User Group Meeting

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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.

Using the Blackmagic Design 4K Switcher to live stream an Adobe User Group Meeting at the Seattle Film Institute

Using the Blackmagic Design 4K Switcher to live stream an Adobe User Group Meeting at the Seattle Film Institute

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.

Reflecmedia at Photoplus Expo 2013

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I just returned from a week in New York City, helping the good guys at Reflecmedia run their booth at Photoplus Expo 2013. In this video, I show you the meat and potatoes of the demo we ran, and how it can help your workflow for green screen for video or photography.

If you haven’t been introduced to this stuff yet, please make sure you watch the video and listen as Calvin and I explain how it works and the benefits over traditional green screen work:

 

Vidpro Video Stabilizer Giveaway!

As a way to say thank-you to everyone that has been reading my tech blog, watching my videos or just following me on Twitter, I’m going to do a giveaway! It’s been a little over 6 months since I began this project, attempting to get good information out there about new products, tips and techniques for video production and photography gear, or answering questions I am asked regarding solutions to problems.

One of the products I reviewed in a YouTube video, the Vidpro Video Stabilizer, got a pretty good response from followers, and will be the giveaway prize. Here are the official rules:

Must be a follower on Twitter: @jessepepin

Tweet or retweet this post on Twitter: I want to win the free Vidpro Camera Stabilizer from @jessepepin #jessesgeargiveaway http://jessesgear.com/2013/09/06/vidpro-video-stabilizer-giveaway/

Winner will be announced Friday, Sept. 30th via Twitter and email

That’s it! Simple, just the way I like it. Below is my video on the Vidpro. Good luck, and thanks again!

The Truth: Nikon D800 v1.01 Firmware Update and Atomos Ninja

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Today, the question came across my desk: with Nikon’s D800 Firmware Update (v1.01A, 1.02B), how does this work with the Atomos Ninja? More specifically; with the updates, is the Ninja able to record the D800’s signal at 1080p23.98 with/without a CF card installed?

Well, after running the update on our D800 and testing it in our Ninja 2, I can tell you this first-hand: it won’t…… if you try to do it manually. With the D800 connected to the Ninja 2 via HDMI (with all recent firmware updates installed), the Ninja is able to recognize 1080i59.94, or 1080p29.97, but not 1080p23.98.

Below I’m attaching a couple of quick snaps from my iPhone, showing the difference: with the D800 connected, the Ninja has the option to run as a monitor (and record, when a drive is installed) when the setting is 1080i59.95. It also works at 1080p29.97. As soon as it’s changed to 1080p23.98, those fields are no longer lit on the Ninja.

The Ninja 2's screen when set to 1080i for the Nikon D800

The Ninja 2’s screen when set to 1080i for the Nikon D800

The Ninja 2's options menu when set to 1080p23.98 and the D800 as an input.

The Ninja 2’s options menu when set to 1080p23.98 and the D800 as an input.

After this, I reviewed the D800’s HDMI out settings, and it only lists 1080i as it’s top output resolution.

The D800's HDMI output menu after the 1.01A Firmware update

The D800’s HDMI output menu after the 1.01A Firmware update

So, how do you get 1080p23.98? First off, this trick works with or without a CF card in the D800. All you need to do is visit the HDMI Output menu above, and set the D800 to “Auto”. This enables a handshake between it and the Ninja. Then, on the Ninja’s main menu, tap the resolution until it gets to 1080p23.98. Congratulations, your D800 is now passing 1080p video to the Ninja!

The Ninja 2 menu ready to record the D800 in 1080p

The Ninja 2 menu ready to record the D800 in 1080p

Additionally, the D800 WILL send embedded audio over HDMI to the Ninja, unlike the Canon 5D MarkIII (as of this writing), making this a great solution!

Questions? Please feel free to leave them in the section below!

Live Streaming: 8 Camera HD Shoot Streaming Live From Seattle Hempfest 2013

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This last weekend, Aug 16-18, I was hired by a production company to help them live stream Seattle Hempfest. My goal was to bring the equipment needed to produce a high quality live video stream of the main stage, and be on site to ensure everything worked. Well, as you can imagine, it wasn’t all roses. But we DID stream a high quality video feed.

Using the Blackmagic Design 4K streaming rig at Seattle Hempfest 2013

Using the Blackmagic Design 4K streaming rig at Seattle Hempfest 2013

The first challenge presented right when I showed up. I had no prior knowledge of what cameras and sources would be used. I didn’t have a site survey. I didn’t even have the link we were streaming to. It was something of a nightmare, trying to plan a production in less than 12 hours.

The Software Control for the BMD Production Studio 4k switcher at Seattle Hempfest

The Software Control for the BMD Production Studio 4k switcher at Seattle Hempfest

Day 1, and there are far too many cooks in the kitchen. As anyone who does troubleshooting knows, you generally have a checklist of things to go through and test/verify, and done in a certain order. The LAST thing you need is a group of well-intentioned yet uninformed people consistently offering advice and suggestions. Still, in spite of coms issues and some other things, we got up and running.

The main challenge I faced was with the cameras themselves. With a mix-and-match selection of cameras,I had the task of taking component, HDMI and SDI cameras, and get them into the switcher. This isn’t too difficult if you have a couple analog to SDI converters, but they didn’t have the budget for those. So, I brought my Roland V-440HD with my streaming kit, and brought in component to the V-440, and then converted the VGA out to HDMI with a nifty little Atlona box that now (after BMD’s latest firmware) DOES work with the ATEM again. We had to switch the four component cams (jib, pit, backline, wide) on the V-440, then use the ATEM to call it’s source when we wanted that camera. Complicated? Yes, but it worked out well.

Then, we had the challenge of trying to stream the ATEM’s mix live. The original plan was to use Wirecast Pro so they could have lower third ads, etc. Unfortunately, the PC they brought didn’t allow for HDMI or SDI capture. I attempted to use a T-Mobile hotspot as a router to allow a Teradek Cube to connect as a Wirecast source via Wifi, but it was too late, and they wanted to stream NOW. So, we went straight from the Cube to the stream’s RTMP site, and BOOM: a LIVE HD stream.

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The audio mix was no big deal. The Blackmagic Design Studio 4K has XLR in, and a quick 2-line input from this HUGE audio board, and we were all set.

Seattle Hempfest 2013 featured live HD stream performance by Everlast, HED PE and more

Seattle Hempfest 2013 featured live HD stream performance by Everlast, HED PE and more

By day two, when the bigger acts were coming through, everything was running mostly smooth. I was recording the full mix via Atomos Ninja 2 just in case, but the performances went pretty well, and by this point I got to enjoy the gig a little more than constantly putting out fires normally allows for.

Jesse Pepin with the lead singer of Everlast at Seattle Hempfest 2013

Jesse Pepin with the lead singer of Everlast at Seattle Hempfest 2013

And of course, you have to take your chance to meet the bigger bands when you can.

All in all, this was an incredibly illuminating experience. I have never set up so much gear for such a large project in such a short time. Doing it again, I would insist upon being brought into the production sooner, and if I ran into the need for component cameras, would insist on the budget for the Analog to SDI converters.

The com system used on site was a bit of a dinosaur as well. Next time, I hope to bring my Studio converter, stretch out a bit of fiber and test the com/tally interface. But this was a good start. Questions? Just comment below!

 

First thoughts: Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor

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If you’re like me, having your head in headphones for hours at a time can become pretty annoying. It’s ideal for initially setting levels, adjusting EQ and so on, but when it comes to just ensuring things haven’t changed (or I’m still getting a signal), the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor is a fantastic introduction to our kit.

This piece of equipment won’t replace your mixer or anything, but it gives you the ability to monitor your audio without headphones, leaving you free to talk to crew, monitor audio from multiple sources with the push of a button, and have a slick, bright pair of VUs to visibly see what’s what.

I haven’t tried every single function yet, but in this video, I go through and show you the basics. It sounds pretty darn good, and with connectors in the back for XLR, RCA and SDI, it’s going to be relevant for quite some time.

Check it out!

(Music selection during video: “Go Your Own Way” written by Fleetwood Mack, performed by Silverstein)

Review and Video: VidPro SB-10 Camera Stabilizer

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Today, I had the good fortune to check out a new item (to me anyway) called the SB-10 Camera Stabilizer by VidPro. I’ll say this right now: If you have a heavy camera, or need to do high-end steady-cam work, move on, this isn’t geared towards you. If you have a smaller camera, or even just want to do some iPhone video, etc, this is quite a good value at the $50 mark. (As of this writing)

After testing it with the Nikon D800 (which was a bit much for this), I strapped on my Nikon Coolpix and took it for a test-drive, so check out the video!