School started for us on July 31st.
The buzz of a new school year was still humming in my ear when I got the first phone call of the season. “Hey man. How are we looking this year?” It was one of our coaches calling to ask about what our plans are for the upcoming season. The first preseason scrimmage of the season was August 4th so when school starts, I have to hit the ground running to be ready for the season.
Our program has undergone some major changes since our last broadcast in April - new teacher, new studio space, and all that comes with a new batch of students - but the thing I am most excited about is the addition of fiber optics to our broadcast plan both in house as well as in the field.
As you know, money into our programs comes in like rain- a flood, a trickle, or never. Last year as I prepared for this year, I started buying things that we weren’t ready to use yet in order to turn the trickle into something usable later. I picked up a Blackmagic Design Studio Converter and one BMD Camera Converter. I also purchased some fiber optic cables so I can set up and test the gear.
At it’s base use, the BMD Studio Converter works to convert fiber optic signals into SDI and vice versa. At it’s more advanced uses, it does so much more. Our plan this year is to run fiber to the field
and do our pre/half/postgame shows live from the field. The studio converter helps make that happen not only because of the longer runs from fiber but because it allows you to send a feed back down the line. We will use that to show a program feed so as we show highlights our talent can see what is happening on the screen. We won’t use it because we have another option at this point but the studio converter also allows for talkback between the production area and the camera operators with just the attachment of a headset.
The other piece of hardware we have invested in is Three BlackMagic Design Camera Converters. I simply love this idea. BMD hit a homerun in my opinion on this one. A battery operated converter that is small enough to hang from a belt or mount on a camera that not only converts signal back and forth for fiber connections but also allows for tally and talkback. The BMD Camera Converter can run on power as well as battery and has SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs as well as mic inputs for audio. We currently have Three but will soon purchase our fourth in order to maximize the use of the BMD Studio Converter.
The next piece of the puzzle seems to be the simplest but should be the one you take the most time to think about. Buying the cables. Don’t cut corners. Take time and research the best cables for your needs. If you are working to take cables into the field, you need to talk with Tactical Fiber Systems. As discussed last month, fiber optic cables are composed of extremely thin glass fibers which if bent incorrectly will break and be useless to you. The gang at TFS have developed fiber that is built to withstand deployments in scenarios that other fiber options could not handle. TFS has taken the word “tactical” to the extreme by building cables armored with stainless steel which aren’t rigid as you would expect from armoring a cable. Their cables are also crush and high impact resistant which is great considering that most football stadiums don’t have cable troughs or ways to get the cables throughout the facility that won’t come in contact with at minimum foot traffic.
Now that we have the key equipment, I have to train my people on how to use it. Over the next couple of weeks, my interns will work to set up and strike the entire production several times each day. I will also give them troubleshooting training where I will change something or replace a cable that doesn’t work, etc. When we get to the game on the 18th, everyone on my crew will know how to set up and strike the production area. This helps me during the season so I won’t have to be the only one who can solve issues.
Speaking of issues. One of the biggest issues with using fiber in the field is dirt. Dirt on a fiber can also render it useless or ineffective. There are fiber cleaning kits and all fiber comes with end caps. The BMD fiber tools use LC connections which have very small end caps that I can pretty much assure you are going to get lost before the 3rd week of the season. Tactical Fiber System has several solutions for how to make dirt or damaged connections no concern for you. The TFS Bullseye and Magnum fiber connections to reduce the risk of cable end damage and dirt. The Magnum connector essentially eliminates the fiber from being open to dirt at all by putting the cable ends behind machined aluminium. These cables require additional adapters in order to use them but are extremely worth the price in preventing hassle and frustration. TFS also has a variety of adapters that were created to work with the BlackMagic Design Camera Converters.
Our initial plan for this year is to have 4 cameras deployed for the games. Two will be high mid field, two will be on the field. The field cameras will be used as sideline cameras as well as cameras for our studio shows. I will run fiber in both directions as our production area has outgrown most of our press boxes. We will run fiber up to the top of the pressbox and along the ground down to the field. Using TFS cables will make this a breeze because we won’t have to worry about foot traffic (we will certainly tape the cables down). The best thing about this set up is that with a monitor and an HDMI cable, we will have a full production monitor for our air talent which before was unimaginable for use because to be honest, I didn’t want to run another 250 foot of cable.
Next month, we will have a couple of games under our belt and will be able to share if the dream has become reality…
Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.