In this five-part series, we will look at a real world case study of a facility that took on the daunting task of upgrading to HD. These parts will cover:
- Part 1: Getting Started – assessing your goals, making overall decisions with regards to cabling and formats, designing your new system.
- Part 2: Setting Up The Studio – building the signal chain from cameras to switcher to monitor to recorder.
- Part 3: Recording the Audio and Video – setup, monitoring, recording, and transferring files, including particular attention to the audio.
- Part 4: Character Generation – including preparing your slides in PowerPoint and converting them into nice overlays.
- Part 5: Editing and Distributing – from acquisition through uploading files for the internet.
Part 1: Getting Started
Three years ago, Ottis Jones knew nothing about video production when he started producing for The Old Fashion Gospel Hour in Hendersonville, TN. It was a TV ministry set up by a local church, and as most ministries are, it was run by volunteers. Over the years however, the ministry has grown so much that it gets broadcast in several communities in 3 states. It was no easy feat for Ottis to put together a studio that could produce broadcast quality HD footage, especially with no experience, but through research and trial and error, he’s done it quite successfully. This 5 part series will cover how he did it, sharing valuable tips to how you can do the same on a tight budget, and also save yourself some time-consuming mistakes.
Tip 1: Assess your goals
When asking yourself what your goals are, you have to think about how and why your production is happening. This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but many times there are details that are missed because the goal wasn’t properly assessed. Are you taping a show and editing it later or producing it live? How is your final output going to be broadcast? Internet stream? Broadcast television? Straight to DVD? Is it in NTSC or PAL? Are you going to need to do titling for a more professional look? Do you have a set location, or are you a videographer who is going to take your production mainly on the road? Determining all the details within your goal early on will allow you to narrow what type of equipment you will need and create a budget. It will also help whoever is selling you the equipment know what you want to accomplish.
Ottis called us early in his planning process and we were able to help him understand what he needed for his set up with consideration to his budget and the final output. His main goal was to upgrade the studio to HD but he also wanted to get the best pricing available in order to do so. His planning always went back to addressing his main goal when building his studio. By the time he spoke with our reseller, he wasn’t hoping that he got what he needed, he was sure that he got what he needed.
After speaking with us several times, he suggested that it would be helpful to let people know how easy it was to make the switch to HD, because he was a bit intimidated at first. That suggestion was a main factor in why we decided to write this type of article. We were happy to help him fine tune his planning process until he had a resolution that he was completely satisfied with. That leads us to the next tip:
Tip 2: Do your homework
Here are some key things you should look for or know about when equipment hunting:
- Video signals and Cables – If you already have some video equipment in your arsenal like video cameras or DV recorders, find out what signals they require or accept. This will help especially if you can’t afford a full upgrade to HD. You can still produce HD quality stuff-it could be as simple as converting the signals that you already have to high definition.
In his upgrade, Ottis purchased three new Panasonic HDC TM700’s (HDMI out) but he decided that he wanted to just get a few HDMI converters (Datavideo’s DAC-9) rather than get HD equipment all at once. He also decided he wanted to purchase an S-Video converter to back up his SD footage to DVD and other digital formats. Knowing your video signals can widen your options, but it can also narrow down the decision for the best solution in your studio. Cables – BNC, XLR, FireWire, SDI, component, and composite-the list goes on… There’s a myriad of them out there, and if you’re just getting started, getting a basic idea about which cables carry what signal is prudent. It’s also good to know what each of them looks like. It’s another one of those details that can save you tons of time and money.
- Resolutions – 4:3, 16:9, 720p, 1080i, and 40 or 50 and even 60 Hertz- what’s it all mean? You’d be surprised how many people buy equipment without knowing what resolution they are working with or what they will be outputting.
Why is this so important? Example: You have a camera that has HD-SDI outs and you connect into a switcher that accepts HD-SDI, but you still don’t see an image on your monitor. Is the switcher broken? Is your camera fried? A frantic call to technical support ensues. The issue could be as simple as the resolution or hertz isn’t matching up. Your equipment is fine!
You don’t have to go out and be an expert on resolution and hertz, but at least know what your equipment is sending out. Knowing will also help you define what HD is truly and what is not. Just because the picture quality looks amazing, doesn’t mean it’s actually HD. High definition is defined by a specific number of lines of resolution that appear on a screen. When Ottis was writing the proposal to the board of directors, he was able to define the quality and technical differences between SD and HD where as it might not have been clear when just looking at high resolution footage. This simple knowledge can save you valuable production time, money, and a serious headache when putting together the components for your studio.
- Tip 3: Inventory what you already have, what you need, and determine a budget. If you have equipment that you can use, it’s the first step to saving you money. The first proposal Ottis wrote for funds to upgrade the studio drew up a 20,000 dollar price tag- not a crowd pleaser- but at least he had a figure that he could start working with. Ottis reworked the proposal several times, and was able to whittle the price tag down to $12,000 in the end. But while he was doing that, he just worked with what he had. He was able to assess what wasn’t absolutely needed, what he could get rid of, and what he needed to purchase. This assessment helped him break up the upgrade into phases, which significantly eased the cost of an upgrade.
On top of that, he was able to generate funds by selling the equipment that he didn’t need. He took an extra step and called us to price several of the products he was looking at, and because of his attention to detail, we were able to help him get the most productivity for the price without sacrificing quality.
- Tip 4: Take time to diagram your set up, your signal flow and organize your workspace. After getting a good idea of what his ideal studio could accomplish and what it would cost, Ottis spoke with us again about connections, and made a diagram of how everything would be interconnected. He also went through the studio and organized it to help his workflow.
Ottis : “I cleaned up the studio and got everything off the floor in regards to wires and all of that. It’s much easier to get around and work in the studio, when it’s not so cluttered.”
Here are two sample diagrams similar to what Ottis had emailed to us when he was making his proposal. (These are not the actual costs of the equipment that Ottis bought.)
Ex 1 – This is a visual representation of what Ottis needed, and list of what it could cost.
< Ex. 2 : This signal workflow diagram helped Ottis plan and know what signals were going where by color coding. This type of diagram is also great when you are troubleshooting, because you can easily isolate whether it's a wire, signal or equipment that's giving you issues.
These first steps will help you achieve your goals much faster and much more accurately. Properly planning in the early stages is essential to getting the best production out of your studio. In Part 2, we’ll talk about which equipment Ottis bought, and go step-by-step on how it is interconnected.