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December 2010 File-Based Workflow: The Key to Efficiency and Productivity in Church Production and A
By: Rush Beesley

It's widely accepted that digital technology is rapidly eclipsing analog functionality at all levels of television production and playback. A "tapeless" operations infrastructure not only eliminates maintenance and associated media costs of VCRs, it also allows you to streamline your operations workflow by using digital file creation, transfer, storage and retrieval in television production and scheduled file playback (automation).

End-to-End Production and Playback
Eliminating tape machines, as well as reliance on extra personnel, should be your goal.  This starts at the production level, where a typical model includes two or more cameras, a video switcher and an audio mixer in your house of worship. 

Using PTZ Cameras
The first consideration of enhancing productivity and reliability is to migrate to a model that incorporates the use of Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) cameras that support user-defined presets to quickly go to the desired shot. This technique, generally referred to as shot blocking, lets you identify recurring shots such as "Pastor CU, "Pastor MS," "Sopranos WS," "Organist CU," where CU, MS, and WS represent Close Up, Medium Shot, and Wide Shot, respectively.

Using this approach, a single operator, using two or three PTZ cameras, can capture a service without the need for camera operators, with the added benefit of generating production quality that matches or exceeds that of a multi-camera production truck. The system should also be able to follow the service program by building a playlist that contains scripture overlays, lyrics, song titles, full-screen graphics, and even video clips that support the presentation of content throughout the service.

Digital Encoding
The output of the switcher should be digitally captured to a format appropriate for the content delivery/display. Generally speaking, there are two digital file formats that should be considered for high-resolution application and two formats with lower resolution that are most often used for live video streaming and/or Video On Demand (VOD). 

MPEG-2 has been the compressed digital video format of choice for years. Other emerging formats are gaining popularity, such as MPEG-4 and H.264, as well as MOV (QuickTime).

But it's MPEG-2 that persists as the high-quality format and is still used for all DVD recording. This process creates VOB (Video Object) files, which are actually MPEG-2 files. In fact, you can copy VOB files from DVDs and rename them with a descriptive title and change the extension from .VOB to .MPG and play them on most of the market-standard video servers.

MPEG-2 is the ideal format if you're going to burn the files to a DVD or play the unedited files on a server. If you know you're going to edit them before finally outputting them to a DVD or digital file server, consider encoding an AVI file if editing on Windows, and a MOV file if editing on Mac. This will assure compatibility with non-linear editing systems from Apple, AVID, Adobe, Sony, etc. This file format generally assures the fastest, most efficient editing experience. Once the project is completed, you'll then convert the final output to the format of choice for your intended distribution.

The two most popular formats for lower-resolution digital files are Windows Media Video (WMV) and Flash (FLV).  The Flash format has become popular due to the smaller file size and much shorter latency between the real-time event and the file display when streaming.

Content Distribution Determines the File Format(s)
If you want to stream your service live, encode as WMV or FLV using a stream hosting provider and/or upload the files using any number of sharing services, such as YouTube, VIMEO, and dozens more.

If you plan to utilize a video server to broadcast your files, it's most efficient to encode the switcher output to MPEG-2. This can be done with simple real-time capture cards and USB devices from Hauppauge (WinTV), SIIG, etc.  You can then use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to send the recording of the service over the Internet to the server location.

You should also consider production systems with integrated switchers, character generators, encoders and streaming capability that are good candidates for houses of worship.

The next generation of broadcast servers and software support a broader range of file formats and wrappers, including MPEG-2, H.264, MOV and more. With H.264, the file size is considerably smaller, meaning less space required for storage and less time required for file transfers.

In summary, maximize your productivity and efficiency by adopting an end-to-end, file-based workflow that reduces dependence on mechanical hardware and support personnel from the service to the server.

Rush Beesley is president of RUSHWORKS, www.rushworks.tv.

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