Live production: a video problem solver

Video production can be expensive, but also slow. Borrowing techniques from live TV can speed things up and create a better result.

TV started out as a live medium: programmes were made on stage, and the picture transmitted to viewers’ homes.

Although much TV is now pre-recorded, broadcasters go to considerable lengths to create that “live” feel, especially for factual programmes such as interviews and discussions. That live feel is also very valuable for pre-recorded and on-demand video.

But creating a live, or “as live”, programmes demands resources: a set, multiple cameras, and sound gear. A short documentary can be made with a single camera, with all the different pieces put together at the editing stage. To create a live programme look, all the different moving parts have to be recorded at the same time.

Dedicated TV studios tackle this by installing banks of cameras, sophisticated control rooms or galleries, graphics and sound recording equipment. But developments in technology have cut down the size, complexity and cost to the point where it is now possible to create a multi-camera set up in a small studio, or even at a temporary location.

The three main technologies at work here are the portable camcorder (for camera-recorder), the vision mixer, and the personal computer.

Rather than using dedicated studio cameras, and separate recorders – still the standard in most TV studios – producers can now turn to lower-cost, and far more portable, camcorders. The current generation of camcorders work perfectly well for small, multi-camera shoots, and they can be set up almost anywhere.

The vision mixer, for its part, is the heart of any TV studio, along with camera control units, and recorders. These too have become more portable, with units that can now fit into a small rack to use on location, but still with the power to combine pictures from eight or more cameras, graphics, and green-screen images.

The personal computer takes over the role of the transmitter, and possibly the video recorder too, and acts as a control unit for everything else. Combining a PC and a vision mixer makes production equipment cheaper and less bulky. And even devices such as iPads are helping: they can act as camera controllers, or even teleprompters.

But what are the practical benefits of these improvements?

Putting together an effective live production system takes time and no small amount of expertise. But once it is up and running, it changes both the quality, and the timeliness, of video production.

  • Videos can be made more quickly

Using a multi-camera studio and a vision mixer lets the director “cut” the video in real time, as it is being recorded. An “as live” video or programme is ready to go as soon as the last guest finishes speaking, and the end credits roll. Unless someone wants to re-do their lines, it is ready for review, and encoding for the internet.

  • There is less need for editing

Using multi-camera and vision mixing technology removes the often slow process of loading digital footage to computers, editing, and sharing edits with the client. Small edits can still be made, of course, but removing offline editing can cut days from the workflow.

  • Videos look more fluid

There is a place for both the carefully-planned, storyboarded video feature and for the more spontaneous programme. A discussion, interview or round table often benefits from an “as live” production, as everything is set up for the producer and director to capture the moment. Even using just two cameras will look much more natural than just one.

  • Live streaming

For media outlets and clients who want to add video streaming to an event, live production is the way to go. With the current technology, it is not necessary to run live feeds for a whole event, with all the cost that involves. A live streaming discussion can be set up in a separate room, or live streaming brought online for a keynote or important panel. Or live streaming can be set up for smaller events, that wouldn’t otherwise have cameras in place.

  • Go anywhere

A full live production and streaming kit can be broken down to fit in a family car. It can then be set up at a smaller event or venue, an office or factory, or even outdoors if there is access to power and bandwidth. And it can be set up in smaller project studios too.

  • Training: rehearse and play back

For speaker training for events, or media training, a live production kit is a very useful tool. Set up a vision mixer and cameras at the training venue, and the camera operator can cut a live programme so the presenters or trainees can see how they would look at a live event, or on TV. But they will also have access to the separate recordings from each camera, for detailed analysis. Today’s solid-state technology also allows instant playback: no waiting around for tapes to load!

Through our production business, ENS Media, we have access to a multi-camera set up, including remote cameras, a vision mixer and live streaming hardware. This can be set up at your location, your event, or in our own studio in SW London. For more technical information on the set up, see my post on the ENS Media blog: Our live vision mixer goes on stream.

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About stephenpritchard
Freelance journalist specialising in business and technology, based in London (UK).

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