Archive for the ‘Broadcasting’Category

Podcast Episode 2

We’ve cut another track (read: recorded a podcast)… have a listen below and let us know what you think. In episode 2, Tony, Jordan and Kyle discuss their own unique broadcasting backgrounds and the challenges faced in various sports. We also discuss some personal pet peeves and even delve into a discussion of national broadcasters that we find hard to stomach!

15

05 2014

Listen closely to the sound of our voices

Below you will find our first foray into the realm of podcasting, as we give you episode 1 of the Stretch Internet podcast (don’t worry, we’ll come up with a better title).

Starting up a podcast is something we’ve planned on doing for a while and our hope is that it evolves into something that’s informative, educational and at least flirts with entertaining. We have some pretty solid ideas for content down the line, so stay tuned to see what we have in store.

With that said, please enjoy and post your comments below (and remember, if you don’t have anything nice to say… lie).

 

01

04 2014

Mic check mic check. 1,2… 1,2. Is this thing on?

Can you hear me now? Good...

 

Pre-event testing – it is one of most essential/tedious/borderline annoying things that should be at the top of every SID’s list of things to do before their live event begins (albeit a very long list).

We recommend giving us a quick shout about 30 minutes before any event just to make sure we are receiving a clear, sharp and steady video stream. It helps ease the mind of both parties and solidifies that everyone is on the same page. Here at Stretch Internet, our support staff loves answering calls for some pre-event testing (OK, so our lives are a little dull) because there is no better way to make sure everything is running smoothly. Of course, testing the day before or a week before is great, but there are certain variables that may change once everything is set up at the actual venue on any given day. Anything from the internet connection on site, to overlooking a setting selection in Wirecast, to making sure the audio is coming through clearly can go wrong. Whatever the case may be, it is always nice to know everything is working as it should before the event begins.

As all of our clients know, we place a heavy emphasis on the support we provide, and our job is to make the streaming process as pain free as possible.

Looking forward to doing some testing this year!

22

07 2013

Difference in Radio and TV Play-by-Play (Visual vs Non-Visual Broadcasts)

No matter the broadcast medium, a play-by-play person’s job description is always the same: tell the story of the game.  However, the manner in which that task is carried out differs greatly when comparing broadcasts with and without visual aids.

For broadcasters, many of their first events are radio or Internet broadcasts that do not have visual aids.  As a result, the primary skills honed early in many broadcaster’s careers are related to play and scene description.  There is a large emphasis on painting a clear and vivid picture with words when there is no visual aid.  It is critical to present the listener with as much information about the given event, location and play sequence, so that when it is all said and done, the audience has an image ingrained in their mind of what has transpired in an event that they cannot view themselves.  The broadcaster acts as the eyes and ears of the audience, and the primary focus is to relay critical information and description to the audience.  While these skills are critical to develop for a broadcaster, they can be detrimental when transitioning to television or internet broadcasts that do contain a visual aid.

Kevin Harlan, of NBA on TNT and “No Regard for Human Life” fame, once said he prepares 10 times as much material for a television broadcast as he does for a radio broadcast.  Harlan says when he has the visual aid of television, there is less description required of him and more opportunity to provide back story.  The audience can see the play-by-play with their own eyes.  They can also hear the accompanying ambient noise from the players and crowd and, frankly, could watch the game without any commentary (although it is not suggested) and still have a pretty good idea as to what is going on.  Especially with the aid of score and time graphics, the play-by-play broadcaster’s approach to the game must be different from when he or she is broadcasting on the radio.

One of the hardest transitions to visual broadcasting is learning to let the video speak for itself.  A broadcaster does not have to describe every action and detail of the play on the floor or field.  In fact, while going the extra mile on a radio broadcast to describe a scene or play is an effective tool for a broadcaster, it can be distracting and even annoying on a television broadcast.  It is hard to discipline one’s self, and resist the urge to say everything that comes to mind, but when a broadcaster has the aid of video and graphic production, less can sometimes be more.  Adding commentary on SIGNIFICANT plays allows the commentary to almost feel more important.  By speaking less about the action transpiring on the floor, it also allows for that extra preparation to shine through.  There is more opportunity to drop in interesting stats or facts, even DURING the play, that otherwise cannot be delivered on the radio because there is such a focus on describing the action.  While initially it may be difficult disciplining yourself and resisting the urge to talk about every single detail of every single play, I think you will find that the quality of your commentary will be enhanced by picking the spots in which you comment on the action and find yourself with more opportunity to enhance the back story to the game.

Finally, I want to finish with a video.  In my opinion, there are few broadcasters on the national level right now better than Ian Eagle.  Agree or disagree, I think you will find the video below to be incredibly entertaining.  More importantly, however, it is an example of how a broadcaster can practice his or her craft.  The most important thing for young broadcasters is to get live-game repetitions.  It is the most effective way to improve.  However, live-game repetitions are hard to come by for a variety of reasons.   That does not mean that your broadcast skills are destined to deteriorate through atrophy.  When I was younger, I would often mute the television and broadcast the game to myself.  If I were playing a video game, I’d do the same.  I think the video below shows a method that is even more effective.  In the video, you’ll see Ian broadcast a fake game.  He simply sits in front of a group of aspiring broadcasters, creates a scene and then goes off on his own and pretends to broadcast the game.  It forces him to use creative and descriptive language.  It is also an excellent tool to allow broadcasters to become comfortable with their voice.  If you can sit in a room and broadcast a game that does not exist, then it should only get easier from there.

27

11 2012

HD for the rest of us

Hi all.

For those of you who haven’t read Stretch Internet’s previous blog, my name is Imry Halevi, and I am the associate director of video production at Northeastern University.

A few weeks ago, I contributed a post to this blog regarding the hockey and basketball broadcasts we produce at Northeastern, which we stream using our Stretch Internet Portal.

Some people who read the post commented that while they appreciate everything that we do to make our productions looks good, they could never afford all the equipment we use to pull together a multi-camera HD production. I completely understand that. Video productions can range anywhere from full-scale TV truck productions with equipment costs in the millions of dollars, to a camera and a laptop that cost no more than a couple of thousand dollars. Both are perfectly fine streaming options, and both can result in great productions.

Admittedly, our hockey and basketball streams fall a little closer to TV truck productions than most schools can afford. However, those are not the only games we produce. These days, we’re busy producing soccer, volleyball and field hockey games. For these non-arena productions, we’ve been using an old NewTek Tricaster Broadcast and some other supporting equipment to stream a fine SD broadcast.

However, we’ve always had an eye out for a way to upgrade these streams on a budget, as the difference in quality between our all-digital HD productions and all-analog SD production has been quite noticeable.

A side-by-side shot of our (HD) men's basketball games and (SD) women's basketball games from last year

 

Therefore, we were very excited to see Newtek’s announcement a couple of weeks ago, launching a new switcher – the Tricaster 40. With a list price of $5,000, this is NewTek’s low-end switcher. It is capable of HD production and streaming, and provides a lot of options that have historically been found only in professional (read “expensive”) switchers. After reviewing the above side-by-side shot, our athletics administration gave us the go-ahead to purchase the new Tricaster.

Working around this new switcher, we’ve been able to put together multi-camera HD productions for all our sports with less than $10,000 (switcher included).

Obviously $5,000 (or $10,000) is not for everyone. However, for schools that have some kind of video production budget, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Newtek Tricaster 40

 

We’ve worked with this switcher for a couple of weeks now, and I can safely say that it has blown me away. It’s fast, easy to use and contains a tremendous amount of features.

I’ll spend the rest of this post briefly outlining how we spent the $10,000, and how we make our low-end productions look the best it possibly can.

Our production has 6 important parts:

1. Video Switcher (Tricaster 40) – $5,000
2. Three Cameras (We use Sony HDR-FX7)
3. A Macbook Pro with Telestream Wirecast
4. A PC laptop for creating our score bug
5. A Daktronics All-Sport CG for getting the score bug data – $1,300
6. Some cables, converters, adapters and distribution amplifiers

(7. For some of our productions we use a NewTek 3Play for instant replay. But that is not at all required)
(8. We also use Sennheiser announcer headsets and a Behringer mixer, but these are not required)

Our Tricaster 40 during a soccer game

Below are the details of how we use each of the above pieces of equipment:

1. The new Tricaster 40 is at the center of our productions. We use it to switch cameras, play back pre-recorded videos and animations, display overlays and stream our production in HD (more on that later). Each camera is connected to the Tricaster using component cables. Component cables (which are red, green and blue) are analog (as opposed to the digital SDI), but allow high-quality HD video transmission.

Many professional video cameras use SDI connections to get a video signal to the switcher or other video display. While SDI is admittedly better quality than component, it is much more expensive, and less common in “prosumer” cameras. That is why NewTek opted for component connections with the Tricaster 40. The Tricaster allows you to mix-and-match different types of cameras with different types of resolutions and connections without the need for converters or adapters.

Like most switchers, the Tricaster works with several different layers of content. A background layer, which usually displays a videos source, and DSK layers (downstream keyer) which contain overlay graphics. The Tricaster 40 has two DSKs. We use one of these DSKs to overlay our automated score bug on top of our video streams and the other for other in-game graphics (such as lower thirds).

Most times, we use the Tricaster itself to generate all our non-score-bug graphics. We use NewTek’s LiveText software to create all the titles, and then upload them to the Tricaster for fast and easy update and live display. If your production staff is limited, the Tricaster 40 really does make it very easy for one person to both switch and update graphics on the go.

We put some labels on our Tricaster keyboard to help with live switching. NewTek says a dedicated control surface is on its way.

 

The Tricaster also features four “Virtual Input” channels, which allow you to create composite shots ahead of time and then display them on your screen. We’ve used these virtual inputs to display side-by-side shots of coaches, or picture-in-picture shots of two important things going on at the same time.

Finally, we use our Tricaster to stream our games in HD. Personally, I don’t like the Tricaster’s streaming function. It’s rather limited in its options, and provides no feedback or indication as to the quality of the stream (real time data rate, frames per second, etc.). I really like to use Wirecast for streaming, as it allows for customization of all streaming options and provides great live metrics.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. We stream our HD productions at a rate of 2Mbps. That’s great for many viewers, but not for those who have slower internet connections. Therefore, we’ve worked out a system with Ryan and his crew to stream each game twice, once in SD and once in HD, and list them twice on the portal (see screenshot above). Our viewers get to choose which stream they want to watch.

Unfortunately, our Macbook Pro with Wirecast cannot support streaming in both HD and SD. The CPU usage just goes through the roof. In addition, Tricaster, by design, can only support one stream at a time. Therefore, we are forced to use both Wirecast and Tricaster for streaming. We stream our HD feed from Tricaster and our SD feed from Wirecast. We also use Wirecast to record our production, as it offers many more recording options than the Tricaster.

Luckily, the Tricaster provides several video and audio output options that allow us to connect our feed to the Macbook Pro using a Canopus box or an Aja IO HD capture device.

Overall, it has worked out fine. The only difficultly with this setup is matching the audio levels between the two streams. I’ll let you know once I figure it out!

Our Tricaster 40 in action

 

In addition to the live video sources, we also connect an audio output from our mixer into the Tricaster. We usually have five external audio sources for every production (PxP, Color, Sideline, FX, PA), so a mixer is necessary. However, if all you have for audio sources is an announcer microphone and an ambient mic, you can connect them directly into the Tricaster. No external mixer needed.

Finally, we use Tricaster’s network inputs to bring in the score bug (more on that later).

2. We use Sony HDR-FX7 cameras for our soccer, volleyball and field hockey broadcasts. They are not nearly as good as our JVC GY-HM700 cameras, which are used for hockey and basketball, but they are HD, easy to use, and cost a fraction of the price of the JVCs.

Our camera 1 and camera 2 locations for soccer broadcasts

 

3. As I mentioned earlier, we use a Macbook Pro to stream our games in SD using Wirecast.

4. and 5. One of our goals for this year was to make sure that all our games had professional-looking score bugs. That meant that we were not going to use a small camera pointed at the score board to crop out the clock. While an easy method, a cropped camera doesn’t look great, and definitely doesn’t look very professional. To that end, we’ve invested in two different devices. The first is a PC laptop. Any PC laptop would do, as long as it has a USB port. We then installed NewTek’s LiveText software on that laptop (the software comes free with the Tricaster 40, if you buy the “educational” package).

Daktronics All-Sport CG

 

The second device is a Daktronics All-Sport CG. This device wirelessly receives score and clock information from most Daktronics All-Sport score boxes, and can do two things with that information. It can provide a live data feed into the LiveText laptop, or it can be used to burn a generic score bug on your video automatically. This generic score bug is, well, generic, and therefore not really ideal (though very easy to use).

We connect the All-Sport CG to our PC laptop using a DB9-to-USB cable. With just a little bit of setup, the LiveText recognizes the data feed and automatically populates any score bug graphic you may have with clock and score information.

As long as the PC laptop and the Tricaster are both connected to the same network, they will recognize each other without any issues. We use Tricaster’s Network 1 input to get the score bug into the switcher.

LiveText with our soccer score bug

 

That’s basically it. You can add as much equipment as you want to this setup. We often add a replay system, an audio mixer, announcer headsets and a DVD recorder. However, none of these is required.

So far, the Tricaster 40 has been incredible. It fit perfectly within our productions and allowed us to do HD on a budget, without getting new cameras or any new equipment at all. It does have its limitations, such as less-than-ideal streaming and recording options, few transitions, no digital inputs and no control surface (yet). However, these issues are easily outweighed by the relatively low price point. I think this could be a great option for any school or organization looking to upgrade their productions to HD, without breaking the bank.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions. I’m happy to tell you more about our productions or send you any videos, photos or examples of what we do.

Imry

i.halevi@neu.edu
617-373-4469

18

10 2012

Make it a Double

The smell of fresh-cut grass, hot dogs on the grill, the warmth of the sun as it’s just beginning to cut through the chilly air… it can mean only one thing… Spring is just around the corner and with it comes a timeless seasonal tradition – baseball and softball double headers!  We have received a fair number of e-mails lately regarding the semantics of broadcasting double-headers, so we figured a blog on the topic would be pretty useful.  That’s the beauty of getting feedback from our wonderful clients… if we see a common thread we know there’s an opportunity for a FAQ.  Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions:

Should I schedule the games on the same dial-in code or audio profile?

We do encourage this, and the main reason is that it will allow your fans to hear what’s going on if they click the ‘Listen’ link on game two, but game one is still going on.  Let’s use this fairly common real world example:

Game one is scheduled to start at 1:00 and game two at 3:30.  Game one goes into the 13th inning and the clock reads 3:45, so naturally the start of game two will be a bit delayed.  Meanwhile, Joe Someguy’s grandmother in Cedar Falls, IA wants to hear sonny boy hit home-runs all day, but she knows he is only playing in game two.  Round about 3:30 she logs into her AOL account (where she is warmly informed that she has mail), enjoys the first bite of her mashed potatoes and steamed veggie dinner, and inadvertently starts her web cam before cruising over to the portal and clicking the ‘Listen’ link for game two.  If you are using the same dial-in code/audio profile, grandma will start to hear the exciting play-by-play audio from the end of game one, and can rest easy knowing that she is not missing any of Josey-posey’s game.  If you are using a different dial-in code for each game, she will only see a loading symbol which in the best case will only prompt confusion, and worst case will send Grandma looking for the VCR remote.  For all of our sakes, let’s do what’s best for Grandma Somegal.

Do I need to schedule double headers as two separate events?

Yes please!  The primary reason for this is we want to separate the events in the portal for fans who are listening on-demand.  When we archive the events, we will separate the audio and archive them accordingly so the end user won’t have to sift through the audio from game one to find the start of game two.

Should I hang up my call/stop the audio broadcast between games

Again with the yes.  We encourage you to hang up your call (if using dial-in) or end your broadcast (if you’re using Flash Media Live Encoder or Wirecast) between each game.  This helps for a couple of reasons – it gives us a pretty clear indication that the first game is over and it helps create separation when we go back to archive your games. Generally a 5-15 minute break is good, but it’s up to you broadcasters whether you want to re-connect the broadcast and just pot your mics down (an important step with grandmothers tuning in worldwide), or wait until you’re ready to start your pre-game show and re-connect then.

How should I schedule the games when the start times may change?

Our suggestion is to schedule your events with approximate start times for game 2… a good rule of thumb is two hours between softball games and two and a half between baseball (seven inning games, three hours for nine inning games).  This will change from school to school obviously, and you are going to have the best feel for how long games generally take – so when you initially input game two just use your best estimate for a start time.  While you can log in and change the start time if you see that there is going to be a major change (massive weather delay for instance), you can also simply post a portal message for game two that says something to this effect:

“This is game two of a doubleheader, the start time is approximate.  It will start 20-30 minutes after game one.”

This will let Grandma know right away not to panic if the game hasn’t started and it’s five minutes past the scheduled start.  But remember, as referenced above, if you are using the same dial-in code/audio profile for both games, the fans will start hearing audio from game one which should also tip them off that game two won’t be starting on time.

We hope this helps clear up a few questions, but leave us a comment if you have any others that weren’t covered.

 


15

02 2012

All I want for Christmas…

With the Christmas spirit in mind, the Stretch team has assembled a quick wish list of some items that might be useful, depending on your broadcast setup. This list is admittedly rangy (we’re talking Tulowitzki-esque range… shameless I know, but I have to dish out my Colorado love where I can) in terms of budget hit and practicality, but we hope you find an item or two on here that piques your interest.

Fear not those of you who might be averse to pepper spray in the face, you won’t have to run out to Wal-Mart and fight the holiday madness… e-Santa can bring you most of these items from the comfort of your sofa.


Alesis Pro Audio dock for iPad/iPad2 ($199.00):

This is a nifty little tool that actually docks your iPad and turns it into a professional mixer. Surely in the creative and tinkering hands of our clients there are some brilliant applications for this device, but right off-hand we could envision this little gem as a useful way to record and store interviews/voiceovers etc… In conjunction with the Skype app, it might even be possible to dial in to our system and use this as an entirely self-contained broadcast setup (we haven’t tested this fully, but plan to do so in the near future).

 


Alesis 4 channel USB mixer ($79.99):

This is a great item that we often suggest to clients looking for an affordable, easy way to broadcast audio using their computer and Flash Media Live Encoder (or in some cases Wirecast). For about $80.00 you can get this 4-channel mixer that interfaces with the USB port of your computer. There are two XLR inputs with individual gain controls, four 1/4″ outputs, and main/headphone outputs with individual level controls. This is a great, inexpensive way to get a broadcast up and running. All you need is this mixer (other models available with more channels), a laptop running FMLE, a headset or two and you are ready to go!

 

TriCaster 300 ($9,995 – Education rate):

While many of our schools already use a TriCaster, most of the older models don’t support HD streaming. As we venture into the world of HD, the TriCaster 300 (NewTek’s most affordable model with HD for $10 K) sets the stage for schools who want to stream their broadcasts in stunning 720p.


JK Audio RemoteMix 4 ($1,395 – Retail rate):

The thing we love most about the RemoteMix 4 is the bluetooth compatibility. If you do a fair number of cell phone broadcasts, this mixer is for you – no more need to run a cable between the cell phone and the mixer! So, yeah, you can broadcast from your pocket. Pretty cool.

I.AM Transmitter ($99.95-$295.00):

Perhaps you’re not on local radio, but would love to be able to have your fans listen to your call while they’re AT the game. Even though we offer mobile streaming, there can be up to a 30-second delay, which isn’t real practical for fans at the venue. But with a low-wattage transmitter and antenna, you can broadcast over a radio frequency in real-time for up a 3,000-foot radius (that’s more than half a mile!). Radio Systems is currently offering their transmitter and power supply for just $99.95 (http://sales.talkinghouse.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=71) and their outdoor antenna package for $295.


Tascam Portable Digital Recorder ($199.00):

 

This is just an excellent all-purpose recorder with too many features to list, but some of the highlights include:

- 2 balanced XLR inputs

- Multiple recording modes so you can record with built-in mics, balanced line input or a combination of both

- Built in limiter and low cut filter for better sounding takes

- Tripod mount, mini-usb 2.0 cable (high speed file transfer), and 2 GB SD card inluded

This is an extremely versatile recorder unit that can deliver top-quality sound bites for whatever your needs.  Coaches shows, interviews, press conferences etc… Great value for the price tag!

 

We hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season!  Enjoy some down-time, crank the new Bieber Christmas album, grab a glass of egg-nog (or three) and if you’re an NBA fan like me, enjoy the magic of Lebron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin and Pau Gasol’s beard.

Merry Christmas everyone!

19

12 2011

Juuussttt a bit outside

JUUUUSSTT A BIT OUTSIDE

Catch phrases are nothing new to sports, but they have certainly evolved from novelty to staple in the world of sports broadcasting, particularly from an entertainment perspective. I chose to write about the history of catch phrases and how they have progressed from some of the early gems (when I say early I mean over the past few decades, I’m only 23) to the witty pop culture references of today. Everything from a classic “Boo-yah” to a more recent, “it’s levitation holmes.”

The interesting part of researching catch phrases was finding that they were used in many different styles of broadcasting. There were in-game catch phrases and ones used for highlight voice-overs. No matter how you use them, they are certainly ingrained into sports broadcasting as we know it.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s the 11 p.m. Sportscenter, hosted by Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, became a staple in sports entertainment. Catch phrases were a focal point of the show and have remained a vital part of the shows success in the modern form. The early gems were abundant – everything from Patrick’s “dare I say, en fuego” to Olbermann’s “from way downtown…BANG!” The phrases took the show to all new heights and the popularity of the program really began to grow, especially among teens and young adults.

SportsCenter produced so many great sportscasters with many memorable catch phrases during that time period. From Stuart Scott to Kenny Mayne to Craig Kilborn, the early 90’s were filled with absolute classics:
“I am the king of all the land…bring me the finest meats and cheeses.” Kenny Mayne
“As cool as the other side of the pillow.” Stuart Scott
“Jeff Gordon would take the checkered flag, but he would have to give it back for the next race.” Kenny Mayne
“That’s his 37th home run, not in one game of course that would be some sort of record.” Kenny Mayne

Play-by-play announcers, like Chicago White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson, had catch phrases that were present in every broadcast for certain situations. Harrelson’s home run call was simple and effective – “You can put it on the booaarrdd, yes.” The legendary Ernie Harwell, who called Detroit Tigers games for 42 seasons, used to use foul ball situations to report that “a man from Walla Walla”or “a lady from Muskegon” had caught the foul ball. He of course was just choosing a local city at random, but things like this endeared Harwell to his listeners and created a sense of connection with the Tigers fan base. He also coined the phrase “he stood there like a house on the side of the road” after a batter would strike out looking.

Notable national broadcasters have a lot more household catch phrases like Marv Albert’s “AND the foul,” or Gus Johnson in his permanently escalated tone saying “rise and fire!” Who doesn’t love a great “Adios, pelota!” from Jon Miller or a good “Are you serious baby?” from the charismatic Dick Vitale.

Of course being a huge college football fan, and a Nebraska die hard, the phrase of “Man, woman, and child, did that put’em in the aisles!” by Lyell Bremser will forever be my favorite.

There are those who make a living from their catch phrases, like Michael Buffer’s “Let’s get readdyy too rummmbllleeeee!” Then there are those who become infamous for theirs:

This notable catch phrase, created and broadcasted (term used loosely) by Brian Collins on a Ball State student news program, has since been referenced in main stream media like SportsCenter, Family Guy, Tosh.0 and he has even appeared on David Letterman and the Early Show.

Essentially anything can be made into a catch phrase, viral Youtube videos, movie quotes, song references, pop culture icons or events… the list goes on and on. The catch phrase has not only evolved, but it has changed the way we view sports broadcasting.

Finally, I wanted to conclude with a little humor. I did a SportsCenter type show at the University of Arizona and loved coming up with catch phrases every week. Blast from the past, hopefully I’m not the next Brian Collins. Fast forward to the 2:25 mark:

I bet some of you have some great catch phrases you use during games, let’s hear some of yours. Post your own witty catch phrases or some of your all time favorites.

19

10 2011