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December 2011 Generating High-Quality Television Production in Houses of Worship
By: Rush Beesley

The biggest challenge in creating consistent, high-quality production of services is not the amount of money available for production hardware. It's the reliance on minimal staff and volunteers especially camera operators to operate whatever equipment you have in your facility. The ideal situation is to eliminate the need for volunteers, and be able to rely on a single operator that functions as director, technical director, and virtual camera operator. We have created a software/hardware solution, VDESK II, which makes that situation a reality, eliminating the need for camera operators while at the same time enhancing the production value of your program.

Expensive Equipment Doesn't Ensure Good Production
It's all about content, and good multi-camera production content is generally created by one person that has a good sense of shot blocking and timing. The "quality" of the content is a combination of the camera image output and the way the 'story is told' by the director that is calling the camera shots and integrating transitions, graphics and text overlay into the program that your viewers experience via broadcast and/or streaming.

For example, a good photographer can take high-quality, award-winning photos with an iPhone or Droid. An expensive DSLR camera certainly isn't necessary. The same photographer will win awards based on content and composition, not high-end hardware investment. This simply means you can look like a million bucks without spending it. As long as the image quality doesn't diminish the impact of the message, just focus on the best and most efficient way to capture and present the content.

Using PTZ Cameras and 'Smart' Software
In order to enhance productivity and reliability, you should 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. In our VDESK II configuration we provide two methods for defining and naming your presets.

The first method provides nine presets per camera. These are software 'buttons' that you right click to name and save a description of the shot, e.g. "Pastor CU, "Pastor MS," "Sopranos WS," "Organist CU," where CU, MS, and WS represent Close Up, Medium Shot, and Wide Shot, respectively. Using the touch screen interface you just touch the desired preset. That camera is switched to the Preview output and goes to the shot in about one second. If you enable HOT SHOT mode the switcher will 'take' the shot as soon as the camera reaches the preset location. You can also attach a lower-third 'super' to any preset that will auto-take if you enable that function.

Using the FloorPlan and DoubleTake Interface
The second method is, without doubt, the simplest and most intuitive way to 'switch' a multicamera production. It utilizes our FloorPlan user interface in concert with our DoubleTake camera control software algorithm. We create a virtual floor plan of the room, where you can drag and drop preset icons for your shots. These include icons for shots like Piano, Organ, Drums, Guitar, Sopranos, Tenors, Harp, etc. You can even put a picture with name of the pastor, minister, rabbi, etc.

Typically, this is a three-camera configuration: two PTZ cams and a fixed camera for your wide shot. All three cameras are mounted on our custom DT Mount that provides 350 degrees of panoramic coverage from either camera. You can create as many presets as you wish using one of the PTZ cameras to set three variations for each shot: Wide, Medium and Close. We've calculated the offset between the lens positions of the two PTZ cameras, and store the presets with offsets to the second PTZ camera.

Production is as simple as touching the icon/picture of the desired location. Since both cameras have identical presets stored for the shot, the camera currently not on the Program output goes to the preset for TAKE or AUTO-TAKE. You can specify if you want to use any or all of the three variations in automatic shot framing, Wide, Medium and Close. This 'spatial' touch screen user interface assures seamless, high-quality production and requires absolutely no prior technical or video knowledge or experience.

Digital Encoding and Streaming
The system natively encodes MPEG-2, WMV or AVI files. There is an optional four-channel outboard encoder, DIJIT ISOCAM, for capturing the images from each of the cameras if you want to put all your streams on a timeline for post-production in a program such as Adobe Premiere. Streaming is as simple as clicking a button. Silverlight and Flash are both supported.

In summary, maximize your productivity and efficiency by adopting a system that a single operator can manage easily and well, and which generates extremely high production value for maximum impact of the content and message.

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

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