At the end of my senior year in high school, my school's broadcast program underwent a federal review that occurs once every four years. These reviews are meant to ensure that federal funding for career training programs is allocated properly. In our case, this review consisted of a combination of federal and district staff observing a typical day for students in the program.
Everything went quite well! In fact, it was notable that we did a lot while lacking fairly standard equipment like intercom, teleprompters, and tally lights. This opened the door to reserving some funds so we could purchase equipment and flesh out the studio a little more.
I was asked to draft up a proposal. Now: the budget was around 80,000 USD—in the broadcast world, that isn't much. This is what drove the decision to use a lot of Blackmagic equipment. Definitely not on the level of Ross, Sony, or Grass Valley, but it certainly improves upon the existing TriCaster system that we were using. For reference—a "lower-spec" system from Ross (specifically a Graphite) would set us back about 74,000 USD—which is basically the entire budget.
Let's establish exactly what capabilities we need to maintain with the new equipment. If you're interested in a more in-depth list of our existing needs, you can read those here
- Multiple cameras
- Segment package playout
- Green screen
A lot of these are with the TriCaster, since it's essentially an all-in-one broadcast box that handles EVERYTHING. When running the TriCaster, a show of this type pushes the system to the limit in terms of operational complexity. And it definitely doesn't do most of this well either.
I'm not going to get into detail about this either—you can read the full thing here
- Paper scripts worsen talent quality
- Lack of real intercom cripples communication between studio and control during on-air moments
- Video playback occasionally refuses to read certain segment files (likely encoding-specific)
- Video playback occasionally freezes and ends early
- Coordinating multiple cameras difficult due to no tally
- Stream compression artifacts EXTREMELY obvious
- Stream will occasionally silently fail to start
In my time as the show's producer AND technical director—I was suffering. And with all that pain, the end result wasn't even that good! I'm still a tad upset that we get new toys right as I'm leaving, but such is life.
How to improve?
With a new buildout, now I have room to improve things for those who come after me (If you're one of these people, I accept wire transfers as part of your gratitude). First, the obvious things:
- Incorporate tally to simplify multi-cam for on-screen talent
- Install intercom to talk to floor crew even when studio is on-air
- Replace paper scripts entirely with a system of teleprompters
- Split up the unified TriCaster architecture into a servicable modular one—independent units patched together.
- This solves the video playback and the stream issues since those will be split up into their own REPLACABLE systems.
- Improve stream quality to something that people can't complain about
Besides the issues, there's also room to grow and increase production quality. Specifically, I'm looking towards adding more spice to our on-screen graphics. We're basically stuck using still images which aren't that interesting and are quite a pain to keep editing during pre-production. Ideally we do something that can be edited live, in-place.
Besides our graphics, I also want to add some future-proofing—so a resolution bump seems like it's in-order.