I am the director of multimedia and production at Harvard University Athletics. Last year, I wrote a couple of posts on this blog regarding two types of video streams that we broadcast during my time at Northeastern University: A large $150K control room production and a medium $10K fly-pack production based on the Tricaster 40.
As I started my new position as Harvard, which features 42 division I varsity teams, it became clear to me that I needed to come up with a third type of production, one much smaller than I had used before. We still plan on putting together large and medium-size productions for football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, basketball and softball games. However, with so many sports, and a wide range of facilities, a smaller production type was needed.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share my plan with all of you, in case you were also looking for a way to produce games without a hardware switcher, and have tight limits on equipment cost and quantity.
This smaller production type is based around a Macbook Pro laptop, with Telestream’s Wirecast software, which luckily Stretch Internet provides to all its clients.
In general, Wirecast can support as many camera inputs as you can plug into your computer. However, up until now, Wirecast laptop users often used only one live camera, due to bandwidth limitations. Additionally, if a camera was plugged in directly to a laptop using a firewire cable, it was limited to a distance of no more than 15 ft. from point to point.
The only way to get uncompressed digital HD non-firewire video into Wirecast was by using a tower computer (such as a Mac Pro) with PCI inputs cards. That process is both expensive and cumbersome.
Luckily, Apple’s new Macbook Pro with Retina Display, with its fast processor, large memory, and advanced input ports, can support 3-4 independent HD camera sources. This new Macbook Pro has two new Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3.0 ports, both of which are fast enough to support live digital HD video input (as opposed to the older USB 2.0 ports).
The question then remains – how do you get three cameras into the Macbook Pro?
Some of you may be familiar with Blackmagic Design, a company known for its many converters and other video and audio gear. Earlier this year, Blackmagic came out with two new products:
1. The UltraStudio Mini Recorder – This device allows you to take a HD-SDI or HDMI source, and connect it to the Macbook Pro using the new Thunderbolt connector. When I saw the press release about this device a little while ago, I was blown away. Other HD-SDI converters can cost up to $10,000. I couldn’t imagine ever getting something like this for less than $150. I’m seriously considering getting another one of these recorders and just keeping it with me at all times. Who knows when I’ll need to import HD-SDI/HDMI footage…
Anyway, since the new Macbook Pro has two Thunderbolt ports, you can purchase two of these mini recorders, for two camera inputs. Both sources would be displayed in high definition, and would include embedded audio with them.
2. The Intensity Shuttle USB 3.0 – This device is similar to the Mini Recorder, but uses the computer’s USB 3.0 port instead of Thunderbolt. Additionally, this device can accept component video feeds, as well as HDMI (but not HD-SDI). Therefore, you can use this device for the third and fourth camera inputs into the Mac, for $200 each. Alternatively, if your cameras only support component output (and not HDMI or HD-SDI), you can get four Intensity Shuttle devices (two for Thunderbolt and two for USB 3.0, as the device is offered with either connectivity). (Editor’s note: The Intensity Shuttle’s support on Mac OS is currently in beta phase, but all reports are that testing has gone very well. The beta version of Blackmagic’s Desktop Video is currently available to the general public here – http://www.blackmagicdesign.com/us/support/detail?sid=3947&pid=4042&os=mac.)
To help explain this setup a bit, here is a photo of three cameras connected to the Macbook Pro using the equipment I described above:
The total cost for all equipment in this photo (excluding cameras) is:
1. Macbook Pro 15″ with Retina Display – $2,800
2. Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder – $145 (x2)
3. Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle USB 3.0 – $200
4. Thunderbolt and HDMI cables – about $200
5. USB to Ethernet Adapter (since the Macbook Pro does not come with an Ethernet port) – $25
Total – $3,515
Therefore, with about $3,500, you can easily set up a three-camera production. Wirecast allows you to switch between the cameras, as well as add lower third graphics and a score bug. With Wirecast’s newest version, you even get a live preview of all your video sources in the bottom part of the window, which makes lives switching much easier.
You don’t need a switcher, preview monitors, program monitor, video router, or a large staff. All you need is someone to operate your Wirecast software, and as many camera operators as you’d like.
As for the graphics, you can either use Wirecast’s built-in graphics, or create your own custom ones (like we did at Harvard).
I think this 2-3 camera setup is a great solution for a small school or organization looking to put together a multi-camera shoot, but at a limited cost and with limited equipment.
The last remaining point relates to cameras. The cameras that I showed in the photo above are made by JVC. For these smaller setups, we use one JVC GY-HM600 camera, one JVC GY-HM100 camera, and one JVC GY-HM150 camera. We like their flexibility and functionality. All together, these three cameras cost $8,500. However, you can easily use less expensive cameras for this setup.
I would recommend looking for cameras with HD-SDI outputs, as those allow you to carry a digital HD signal over the longest distance (without using fiber optic cables). However, if you decide to purchase cameras that do not have HD-SDI outputs, I would just recommend two things:
1. If the cable run from the Macbook Pro to your camera is relatively short (less than 50 ft.), I would use a HDMI output and cable, as it best maintains the digital video quality.
2. If the cable run from the Macbook Pro to your camera is longer (more than 50 ft.), I would use the component output and cable. It is an analog signal, so the quality is not as good, but it is HD, and does support almost 1000 ft. of cable length.
I hope this sample setup is helpful. There are many variations you could do, including using different cameras, a slightly different laptop or a different mix of converters. However, I think this setup provides the lowest cost for the best quality.
Please feel free to reach out with any follow-up questions.