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.