August 10, 2022

What is a live production system?

Over the past few months, many organizations have turned to video. Some do it well, while others struggle. Audiences intuitively know the difference between TV-style video and amateur video when they see it. But not everyone knows what makes the difference between watchable and non-watchable video. So, what technology allows productions to take it to the professional level?

Part of the answer lies in the use of what is commonly referred to in the television trade as a production selector. The basic function of a switcher is to switch between two or more live cameras or video feeds and is, for the most part, manually operated. The other part of the answer depends on the storyteller, not the tools.

Production switchers were once the domain of well-funded TV stations and found only in broadcast studios. But over the past decade, the mixer has become democratized and multifunctional, hence the name live production system. When proprietary and very expensive hand-built mixers were replicated in software using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, the software-based video revolution was born. Add the Internet as a distribution method, and the democratization of video was launched. We see it used successfully in education, business, sports, esports, streaming, live music, individual brands and beyond. It is effective, affordable and accessible to everyone.

About the Author

Scott Carroll is Director of External Communications at The Vizrt Group

The pandemic is serving to rapidly accelerate the rate of adoption of live video production tools that were already becoming more commonplace. However, this requires more than initiating a smartphone or a Zoom call.

So what can a switcher do?

It’s best to start with the basics of TV-style production that have been proven to help distinguish professional video from smartphone video. These elements include:

  • Live switching between two or more cameras
  • Overlay graphics
  • Bring other pieces of video
  • Special effects

Switching between cameras breaks the monotony of looking at the same camera angle. You can use different angles or different visuals and storytelling options. More than any other technique, stream switching creates that TV-style feel.

The graphics add an understated and extraordinarily powerful dimension to the visual storytelling. When you watch television, you are looking at one of two things: content coming out of a camera – and/or – a graphic superimposed on what is coming out of a camera. Turn on any TV program and you’ll see it in action. The basic graphic element is known as the “lower third”, which is generally used to convey the name and title of the person speaking on a program.

We’re so used to watching graphics on TV that we rarely notice they’re there. Since we live in a software-driven world and graphics are software-driven, we are seeing an explosion in the use of graphics for storytelling. Very exciting times in that regard.

We’ve also all seen news anchors speaking to an audience with a piece of video playing in a box behind them. This common technique incorporates the last two elements of basic television-style production: bringing in other video elements and special effects.

For this second video to play, you must have this video pre-produced and ready to play when the time comes. Having it in a separate video box, perhaps with a frame or border around it, is an example of a special effect. In a typical newscast, the news anchor would present the piece with the video ready to play in the background. A change would be made to broadcast the pre-produced piece that a field reporter would have prepared earlier. There are other examples of intro video and other types of special effects, but this is one of the most commonly used techniques that demonstrates both.

Most modern production mixers worth their salt incorporate a feature called a “mix/effect” or “M/E” bus. They allow this kind of technique. Producers love M/Es and they usually love as many as they can get. More M/E equals more creative power.

Macros and Automation

The idea of ​​automating your production is becoming increasingly popular. A “macro” is used to create an automated sequence that varies in complexity. It takes a little learning to create a macro, but once you figure out how to write one, the sky really is the limit. Many people make a very good living because they have mastered the art of creating a macro to automate a sequence of a show. For example, you can reduce the number of button presses normally required for a show opener (play music, crossfade, pan camera left to right, zoom, mute to camera 2 , crossfade music, increase mic volume) with a single button push by automating this sequence by creating a macro.

Other ways to automate your video production include popular tools that let you create your show in a Microsoft Word document that includes switch commands linked to a pre-written script. Your on-camera talent reads the script while your mixer automatically executes the commands. Using this technique allows one person to direct an entire show on their own!

These techniques are only made possible through software, and there are plenty of other tricks of the trade that make creating and managing visual storytelling easier, even for novices.

SDI/HDMI versus NDI

Another recent development is a technology called NDI or Network Device Interface. NDI is a free technology used to move live video signals over a standard Ethernet network in real time.

If you think about it, the whole world has moved to Internet Protocol or IP to move data. Banks, airlines, stock exchanges, schools, retail – you name it – all depend on IP, 24/7. Even streaming your favorite shows is now heavily dependent on IP distribution. Curiously, creating live video may be the last frontier for IP as a traditional method of creating video – the first 100 feet of production still heavily uses proprietary cable technology, including SDI (used primarily in the professional video creation space) and HDMI, which has more limitations than SDI but has been generally accepted by most consumers.

Both are good, but neither works well with IP. Nor can they take advantage of the enormous possibilities of intellectual property. This is where NDI excels. While SDI and/or HDMI can transfer a signal down one channel down in a single direction using a single cable, NDI compatible devices on a network allow all signals to see and to be seen by all other signals at the same time. On your network.

This opens up huge creative possibilities, saves time and money, and increasingly allows switchers to find a place in modern businesses.

It’s a revolution

It’s fair to say that all kinds of non-traditional visual storytellers (i.e. organizations and people who aren’t viewers) are leading this sea change in how video is used and the pandemic is accelerating clearly the adoption rate far more than Ordinary.

Schools, places of worship, corporations, YouTubers, etc. use these production tools and techniques in the same way that early authors would use language to write books or articles that convey information, imagination, education, and inspiration.

The results of using this technology are measurable: in terms of audience and engagement. Thanks mainly to the rise of software and the democratization of visual storytelling – we can all own it, use it and create a professional video!