This month it’s time to take a look at some hardware and software that can get the job done. In the past few months I had a chance to dive into the stream of Internet services highlighting some that are available to a budget-conscience High School Broadcaster.
There are many options available, but for this article the four units I will explore are: the Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio, the Roland VR-5 AV Mixer & Recorder, the Stream Breeze Mini and the NewTek TriCaster Studio. The prices on these units range from $995 - $4,995.
For this review, I was able to use three of the systems in the field with an all-student production crew to get some real-world experience. I tested the units at two football games and one volleyball game using three cameras, commentators and a typical setup for a High School Sports Broadcast.
For the fourth unit, the ATEM TV Studio, I was able to speak with the developer to get some perspective on that unit. I also was able to see the ATEM in person at last year’s NAB Show and was very intrigued.
BlackMagic Design ATEM TV Studio
This was the only unit I wasn’t able to give a hands on test, but I thought being the least expensive of the group, it was important to include in this article. Also, this unit does not do live streaming, but it creates an H.264 Stream that you can immediately turn around for a “tape-delay” broadcast. The ATEM Television Studio would be a great solution for those with a tight budget. You can connect four cameras via HDMI or SDI and switch using a software control panel on a Mac or PC computer or laptop.
The ATEM TV Studio also includes a true multi-viewer to see all of your inputs plus preview and program outputs on one screen. That’s a very cool feature for a software switcher that costs right at $1,000. You would typically see this feature only in high-end switchers costing over $10,000.
For graphics, the ATEM supports Adobe Photoshop. You create your graphics in Photoshop and send it over to the ATEM via a software plug-in. Within seconds you can send over an updated score or create a graphic on the fly.
The only downside I can see to the ATEM TV Studio is that it only accepts AES/EBU Audio via a BNC Connector. To get an analog XLR Audio input you have to step up to the ATEM 1 M/E Production Switcher. This unit goes for $2,495 but has all the features of the ATEM TV Studio plus “Stinger” and DVE transitions, six keyers, media players and the analog audio input.
The Roland VR-5 is a very intriguing Video Switcher. It would seem to be just at home at a multi-cam sports broadcast or conference presentation. The Roland VR-5 has three camera inputs, two XLR mic/line audio inputs and three stereo RCA audio inputs. My student director thought the coolest feature was the two touchscreens where you could switch the video by touching the picture of the live camera input. If that’s not your style, there are still physical buttons like a traditional video switcher.
The other feature of interest to the High School Broadcaster is the way the graphics are done. You have two ways to insert live graphics, either by luma key or chroma key. The luma key takes out either the white or the black signal and keys what’s left over your live video signal. The chroma key uses either blue or green which is selectable in the VR-5 menu.
For our broadcast we chose to create a PowerPoint slide with our scoreboard to key live over the game. It was a very simple and straightforward connection from my laptop to the VR-5 similar to hooking into a projector. The VR-5 recognized it right away with no problems.
The Roland VR-5 is not a stand-alone streaming device. You will need a separate laptop or computer to send out the stream that is created by the VR-5. I used Adobe Live Encoder running on the same laptop on which I was creating the PowerPoint graphics. Live Encoder recognized the stream right away. It was true plug and play.
You can record your output directly to SD Card right in the VR-5. I had meant to buy a 16GB card to record the football game, but of course forgot to, so I had to use what was going to be my backup recording as a primary recording. In the pictures, you may be able to see the Ki-Pro Mini and Ki-Pro we used. I did have one problem, when trying to hook the VR-5 to the Ki-Pro’s via HDMI, I got an “A/V Mismatch” error in the Ki-Pro. I’m sure it was a setting I could not locate with the game looming so I used a composite to SDI converter and XLR audio, which looked great.
The Roland website is very extensive. You can download the manual and there are videos describing the features of the unit. I highly suggest you take a look to truly see what this little unit is capable of. For my one game test I was not able to run through all the features of the VR-5, but I do consider it absolutely worthy of consideration if you are in the market for a A/V Switcher.
Stream Breeze Mini
The next unit I got to try with my student production crew was the Stream Breeze Mini Unit. This was the most interesting of the three switchers I got to try, mainly because I had never seen anything like it! The Stream Breeze Mini has a very unique interface that is infinitely customizable.
The interface is “module based,” meaning you only turn on the module that you need for the broadcast you are currently working on. You can also save different configurations and then call them up instantly. Let’s say you have multiple directors that like things their way. Call up their settings, and bingo, it’s their switcher. Do a football game a certain way? Save that configuration and want a different configuration for a School Board Meeting? No problem, it’s as easy as “file-open.”
The Stream Breeze Mini has four composite camera inputs with BNC connectors. There are also BNC-RCA adaptors if your camera has those outputs. The audio inputs are on an audio “pig-tail” that takes RCA line inputs from an outboard mixer. For our volleyball live broadcast, we used an inexpensive Mackie mixer for our commentators and a live nat-sound mic and it worked great.
The system is very robust with three hard drives inside the machine. It has a solid-state system or “C:” drive which makes the boot-up FAST! I think it would be hard to bog-down this unit. The other two drives are reserved for a “player” drive and a “recorder” drive.
About the module system the Stream Breeze Mini utilizes. If you only want two cameras for a broadcast, you only turn on two camera modules. Need four cameras, turn on four modules. Do you need to stream this broadcast? Turn on the streaming module. Need two graphics modules that can be overlaid over one another and the live video? Turn on two of them. It’s that easy.
You can also have multiple “player modules” open on the Stream Breeze Mini to play stingers, show opens, commercials, etc. You can load separate playlists in each one and have them ready for your broadcast.
There are also multiple ways to stream out a signal using some of the presets. Since I was familiar with Adobe Live Encoder we decided to go with that. It runs in the background on the Stream Breeze Mini and never had a problem. It was a very easy setup, all I did was start the Live Encoder, put in our settings for the SchoolTube Live Stream and click the “Stream” button on the module. Each module should have an “Easy” button on them, because that’s what it was, easy.
We changed student directors three times and none of them had a problem jumping right in. You can either direct by clicking on the live picture on the camera modules or clicking on the “cut” or “transition” button switch. The transition button does a fade between sources with the speed of the fade being customizable in a menu setting.
Speaking of module menu’s, each module has it’s own menu you can access by right-clicking on the module. There you can find module-specific options to customize.
If I had one complaint it was just the setup of the scoreboard module. The setup was a little clunky, but according to the folks that make the Stream Breeze this will be upgraded in future releases. However, once it was setup, it was easy and straightforward to use during the live volleyball broadcast where the score changes very fast. On the scoreboard module all you have to do is click the “+1” button for either team and the score changes live. Another “easy” button! The student directors had no problem directing and updating the scores by themselves.
The Stream Breeze Mini is a new player in the field of live software based video switchers, but it is absolutely worthy of consideration. It was fun and easy to operate, I think even a caveman could direct with this machine! Hi-Tech Enterprises, the maker of the Stream Breeze also makes two other higher-end models including an HD version. More information is available on their website.
Finally, we take a look at the grand-daddy of software based video/audio switchers. What can I say, if you haven’t heard of the TriCaster you’ve been living in a cave or teaching some other subject … like … never mind.
NewTek is starting to phase out their lower end models and seems to be focusing on their HD units which are pretty amazing, but let’s just say, not on a high school broadcast budget. The TriCaster Studio is now their least expensive model with an education price of around $5,000. A bargain considering what it does. It streams, records, creates and plays graphics, has two digital players, an audio mixer, can send to a projector and has editor built in. I think it can also dry clean your clothes and do lesson plans. Well, maybe not.
For those of you not familiar with the TriCaster Studio it has six camera inputs, four mic inputs and a VGA input for playing a PowerPoint or anything off of a Mac or PC Screen. It also has a virtual sets feature that is nothing short of amazing.
We have three TriCaster Studio’s and three TriCaster Pro’s in our School District and have used them for years with very few problems. We’ve done morning announcements, football games, soccer games, volleyball games, graduations, etc. It seems to adapt to anything you can throw at it.
If I had any complaints, I find the graphics system a little tricky to use and the editor, well let’s just say, not to my liking. But those are minor things compared to what it does well, and it does a lot of things well.
The TriCaster Studio is a software-based switcher, but you can purchase a physical control surface that plugs in by USB. The ATEM TV Studio also has an add-on physical switcher and the people at Stream Breeze are reportedly in development of a physical control surface for their unit also.
I would not hesitate to purchase any of the systems highlighted in this article. They all do the job of video switching well, and all but the ATEM can stream live. You have to decide what features you want, in what environment are you are going to use the system and most importantly, what is your budget.
The websites for all of these companies offer a wealth of information to help you make your decision and if at all possible try to see one in action. They can do things that took a half-million dollar production truck to accomplish ten years ago. Looking at it that way, any of these units are an incredible bargain.
Links to productes mentioned In Article
ATEM TV Studio
Stream Breeze Mini
Web Album Pictures Using Stream Breeze Mini
Web Album Pictures Using Roland VR-5 at Football Game
Albert Dupont has been the Advanced TV Broadcasting Facilitator (Teacher) at the Satellite Center in Luling, Louisiana since its opening in 2005. The Satellite Center is a “satellite” facility of Hahnville and Destrehan High Schools. The schools are a part of the St. Charles Parish Public School System located near New Orleans.
Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Dupont was a news and sports videographer for WVUE-TV in New Orleans for twelve years and news producer at WAFB in Baton Rouge and KATC in Lafayette for five years. As a sports photographer, Mr. Dupont was a field videographer at the New Orleans Saints games from 1994 to 2009. He also was a videographer at two Superbowls and numerous college national championship games in a variety of sports. He is an Avid Certified Instructor in Media Composer 5.