Monday, September 21, 2009

Initial Equipment Review: Part 1

I wanted to give an initial impression opinion of the equipment that we have in the new digs.  Some is more glamorous than others, and not all of it is glowing.  Please note, these are my personal opinions from my point of view.  I may not have the best grasp of everything I'm reviewing, but I'll tell you what I think about what I know ;)  This is more intended for those within my readership that are looking at making purchases like this in the future, who want to know more about something from an end-user's perspective, or even for those who spec'd and installed the stuff in our room :)

For the Caniacs reading along, I'm sorry :)  It's going to be really boring!

This will most likely take a few posts, simply because I don't have time to write out an ultra long-form post.  If you're interested, please stick with me.  I hope it's helpful in some regard!

Again, the following opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the staff and/or management of the Carolina Hurricanes, NC State Wolfpack or the RBC Center.

Video Switcher
First, it's easy for me to start with the Ross switcher because that's what I use on game nights as the technical director.  So far, I'm loving it!  We previously had a Grass Valley 2200 with an external [Pinnacle] DVExtreme for the special effects (replays, Bubblevision, Bobblehead cam, etc.).  Now, all effects that I'm using are built into the switcher itself.

Side note: I am using one of our existing and upgraded graphics machines to run our replays for football, but that was more function over form: I needed to have those done before I even trained on the switcher, so it made sense to work them the way I already knew how :)

Some effects are contained within the switcher, including an NC State logo wipe transition and an Under Review graphic for football.  For hockey, I have been able to [somewhat] recreate the BubbleVision, Bobblehead cam and MirrorVision effects from the old Pinnacle DVExtreme, with hopes to do more coming up in the regular season.  I can see the potential of the machine, but just have to learn more about how to make it work :)

Our setup is kind of unique on the switcher.  As installed, the switcher had MLEs 1, 2 & 3 (moving farthest to nearest), with four keyers per MLE.  MLEs 1 & 2 had the effects board set up on them and MLE 3 (the closest one) was a simple preview/program bus (though it still had the four keyers).  With the old 2-ME GVG (which  had ME 1 closest and ME 2 farthest) was set up so that the DVE was actually used as one of the two keys on ME 1 and used aux outputs from the switcher to feed ME 2 out to it for replays, etc.  (One of several issues with this setup was that our cameras would not tally if they were run through the DVE, so if there was ever a side-by-side graphic, the director had to be very dilberate on letting the cameras know they were online.)

All that to say, we were used to having our effects on the bus closest to us, and asked if the configuration could be changed accordingly.  One of the cool features of the Ross is that you can actually reassign MLEs and even the aux busses) across the MLEs (meaning, instead of having MLE 1, 2, 3 you could have MLE 2, 3, 1 if you wish).  However, the "squeeze and tease" [S&T] card (as the effects card is called) is hardware and installed for whichever MLE is on a particular row: i.e.--if it is on "row 2", it will always be on row 2 even if you remap the MLEs.

Coming full circle, what's unique about our setup is that, as originally configured, no S&T was installed on the closest MLE.  To get the effects down on the closer MLE, they actually abolished MLE 1, so we have MLEs 2, 3 & 4 (farthest to nearest), with S&T installed on 3 & 4 (two closest MLEs).  MLE 2 is now a straight preview/program bus.  Crazy, huh?

I will say that the Custom Controls are amazing.  I'm sure that many switchers out there do this these days, but I'm coming from one that did not.  The most automation the GVG 2200 had was an "auto trans" button ;)  Being able to completely reset my key setup, recall memories [e-mems] and even preform transitions all within a single button is amazing.  For instance, my "Under Review" graphic for football is a single button that loads a still in the background, sets and positions three fly keys (MLE 2 & 3 so the boxes can be switched to the best look at the home/away coaches and our Camera 1 that will always get the "white hat") and even a chroma keyed overlay.  All this is set up and even put into MLE 4 preview, ready to take.  All that, and it's just one button ;)  I know, it's probably child's play to a veteran TD, but it's cool for me to make it work and I'm proud of it, dangit!

On a side note, running our football replays through another machine (like we did before) was actually addressed by Image Video who installed our tally display system.  We actually have an MLE that was to be sent to the machine tallied any time the graphics machine is keyed.  Meaning, if we run replays through the box, the replay machines can tally even though they are not technically "on air" (because the graphics machine is what is actually online).  We have some adjustments to make to have this work appropriately (due to the MLE-shuffle described above), but the basic workflow is in place.  Hopefully it's just a few tweaks along the way.

I'll try to give an objective "grade" for everything.  Again, my own opinion, and you would probably get various ratings even from my colleagues who use the same equipment every day.

For the switcher, I would give it a solid A for an initial opinion rating.

We have a Harris Centrio for our primary multiviewer, and an Predator II for our backup in case the Centrio really takes a dive.  Our producer actually views the Predator in-game, as it shows the ten most essential sources (cameras, graphics, etc.) plus preview and program.  Plus, it helps us know that the Predator is there in case the director and TD need it.

The ease of designing in the Centrio Layout Designer is a plus.  You can make source windows, UMDs, audio meters and more and link them all into a window.  Once in a window, you can change the input and the UMD follows (passes through router naming) as well as the tally (being driven by Image Video).  The one thing I haven't gotten to follow is the audio meters.  I'm not sure if it's a software limitation or something that I'm doing wrong, but I always seem to have to change the source on the meters independently.

We have several different states for our elements, as well.  The PIP borders will tally green for preview (interchangeable for preset, by the way), red for on-air.  We also have a secondary tally "dot" that we can place that will illuminate for sources that are being recorded in our EVS (helpful since we do not have an AP that calls for replays and such).  In addition, the window (collective name for PIP, UMD, etc.) will alarm by flashing red/yellow if video signal is lost.

Helpful tip:  When several items are in a window, you can only edit the window's properties (border, tally, alarm state, source, etc.).  We were told that if we wanted to change a property such as the PIP border color or something, that we had to "break" the window (meaning you lose all of your window formatting).  Something I learned is that you can simply "unlock" the window and then edit individual parts contained in the window (PIP, UMD, tally, etc.).

We actually did have one of the Centrio cards completely lock up on us and I had one of our engineers re-seat the card to get it to reset.  The system is a little clunky in that if something goes awry, you have to plug a USB mouse directly into the Centrio card in the frame to do some diagnostic work (such as restarting the multiviewer or even the whole card).  In this case, that didn't even work and it needed a full reboot.

One Centrio card feeds two monitors, fed via DVI running 1920x1080 resolution each.  In practice they are essentially a really large dual-screen side-by-side computer display.  There is a limitation of 32 inputs per card.  Those inputs can be replicated as many times as you wish on those cards, but the two displays have to share the 32 sources.  We actually ran into an issue with this already, as the technical director and video shader share a card.  Perhaps this wasn't the best idea, as the video shader and TD both like to see lots of sources.  Maybe it would have been a better mix these two up and place them with a lower-stressed display.  Since none of us had really been exposed to this type of virtual environment, we didn't have a clue what the layout would be.  We'll figure it out soon enough.

I haven't worked much with the Predator system, but it was set up to give us the essentials in case of a catastrophic Centrio failure.  The Navigator software for the Predator is a bit less intuitive than the Centrio's Layout Designer.  However, we do have several quad-split displays that are also able to be driven by the Navigator, so that's an added bonus.

Initial opinion rating: A- (only minus for the stability issue, which hopefully will not be a recurring problem.)

I trust that all of these will not be this drawn out ;)  In the future, I want to hit EVS replay, cameras, com system, Daktronics and more.  I also hope that I haven't just alienated my readership ;)


  1. You have not alienated me. This is fascinating stuff and I look forward to reading more about it!

  2. The CENTRIO audio meters can definitely follow video source changes. This is likely a configuration problem on the "Windows". Send the layout to Harris Tech Support and I am sure they can sort it out.