Anatomy of a Teleprompter


The teleprompter setup consists mainly of a camera, mirror, and monitor. The mirror is a reflective glass that’s positioned directly in front of the camera lens. The monitor sits under the mirror and displays a scrolling script. The script is reflected on the mirror, and a presenter—a newscaster, for example—can read the script from the mirror while looking directly into the camera, since the camera is right behind the mirror. This allows the presenter to achieve natural eye contact with the audience without having to memorize the script or look away at cue cards. (The mirror is also called a beam splitter mirror, beam splitter, or just “glass.”)

How does the camera capture the presenter if there’s a mirror in front of it? The mirror is partially transparent, like a two-way mirror used for security purposes (but much, much better, or should be, at least). It’s designed to reflect the script on one side, while allowing the camera to see through it from the other without capturing the reflected text.

The Mirror

The best mirrors have an optical-grade beam splitter coating that allows the camera to see through them so flawlessly that even 4K or higher resolution is recorded in all of its glory. These mirrors are made of the kind of pure glass used in telescopes and microscopes. In contrast, low-quality mirrors are made of impure glass and don’t have the advanced coating. They’re not the kind you want if you’re looking for quality footage.

You would think that the more you pay for your prompter, the better the mirror that comes with it will be, and while this is generally true there are, nevertheless, brands that put a focus on quality at almost all prices and offer the better mirrors, even on their mid-level prompters.

The Monitor and Software

The script is transferred to the monitor from a teleprompting software. The script is usually composed in an application like MS Word, imported into the software, and then transferred via a cable connection—such as over a VGA cable—from the computer to the monitor. Monitors commonly offer two or more inputs, including VGA.

The script needs to be displayed reversed on the monitor, so that it’s reflected in the correct orientation on the mirror. The reversal is usually done in the software. Some monitors can perform the reversal without the software, but not most.

The monitor has a dark background and displays a script in a bright color, typically white.

Autocue/QTV Studio Teleprompter System

Who Uses Teleprompters

Anyone who can take advantage of a teleprompter generally does. Newscasters, award show presenters, and Presidents, for example, use teleprompters. If you’ve ever seen a President deliver a long speech from the Oval Office while gazing into the camera the entire time, you can be sure that a teleprompter was used. And, more recently, many people who have YouTube channels have turned to using teleprompters.

Speaker and Operator Workflow

As the presenter reads from the teleprompter, an operator sits at the computer (usually a laptop) and controls the scrolling speed of the script in the teleprompting software. The operator adjusts the speed to match the speaking patterns of the presenter throughout the presentation. If there’s an applause from the audience that causes the presenter to pause, the operator will pause the script and will resume rolling it when the applause ends. The operator may also change a word or sentence or more in the script throughout the presentation and perform other related tasks. There are entire companies dedicated to providing operator services for CEOs, politicians, and anyone else interested. Their services range from simply controlling the script to more elaborate operations, such as professionally moving the prompter through a set throughout a presentation so the presenter can “walk-and-talk.”

However, there are also single-user workflows, wherein the presenter delivers the presentation without assistance. If the presentation is being recorded in privacy, without an audience, the presenter might just select a preset scrolling speed or may use a remote control to manage the script. These options are never used for live events.

Other Types of Teleprompters

Everything described so far refers to standard, through-the-lens teleprompters. There are, however, two other main types that are just as widely used: mobile teleprompters and presidential teleprompters. These are based on the same concept as the standard ones but have some design differences.

MagiCue Studio 17" Prompter

Mobile teleprompters are the same, except they don't use a monitor. Instead, they use a tablet or smartphone. The tablet or phone is placed under the mirror. This provides a few advantages. First, these prompters can be very compact—the majority fold up and fit in most bags. Second, they don’t require a computer to transfer the script. Just download a prompting app from the App Store or Google Play right onto your mobile device, compose your script in the app and display it on the device from the app. Third, they don’t require external batteries or power cables. Whereas standard prompters require one or the other to power the monitor, in mobile prompting solutions the mobile device is simply powered by its own internal battery. Many mobile prompting apps also support a remote control, usually wireless over Bluetooth, that allows for a single-user workflow. teleprompters, which are very affordable, have found a big demand among small, beginner YouTube channels.

Onetakeonly Pad Prompter

A presidential teleprompter is different in that it has everything in different places. In a standard prompter, the monitor is right under the mirror. In a presidential prompter, the mirror is mounted at the top of a special stand, and the monitor is close to the bottom of the stand. Even though there’s this distance between the two, the mirror still reflects the displayed text perfectly. But where is the camera? Well, presidential prompters are for delivering speeches to large, live audiences, and the goal is to appear to be keeping eye contact with the audience rather than speaking into the camera. As the speech is given, cameras all around record the speaker from different angles. Usually, the setup includes two stands, each with its own mirror and monitor. One stand is positioned in front of the speaker on the right, and one on the left. The speaker turns from one to the other throughout the speech, thus addressing both sides of the audience.

Telmax Dual 17" Presidential Teleprompter Bundle

Mounting the Teleprompter

Teleprompters are generally used mounted on a tripod. In most cases, the prompter attaches to a tripod and offers the platforms to hold the camera, mirror, and monitor. They can likewise be mounted on most other supports, such as jibs and Steadicams.

Large prompter solutions used in news studios are mounted on pedestals, which are like tripods but support heavy setups and allow for live up/down movement.

Most mobile prompters also mount on a tripod, but some of the ultra-compact ones are conveniently designed to attach directly to the filter thread of a camera lens, and the camera is, in turn, mounted on a tripod or other support.

Presidential prompters are in a field of their own, using special stands to hold the monitor and mirror.

Little Things to Know

• Teleprompters come in different sizes, such as 17 or 19". What this size represents is the size of the monitor. A 19" teleprompter has a monitor with a display screen measuring 19" diagonally. However, this size also indicates how large the mirror is, since the mirror must be big enough to fully capture the monitor screen. Most common teleprompters are between 15 and 24".

• A teleprompter’s reading range is the farthest distance from which the presenter can read the scrolling text. It assumes the presenter has normal or corrected vision and the font is around size 50-80.

• The only power a teleprompter requires is for the monitor.

• Most prompters also have a front hood around the mirror to make reading from the mirror easier, and many have a shroud (sometimes also referred to as a “hood”) that secures to the back of the mirror frame on one end and covers the camera lens on the other to block stray light.

• Prompters in news studios may also have a cue light that lets the talent know when to begin.

• The words “teleprompter” and “prompter” have the same meaning and are used interchangeably.

A Little History

The invention of the teleprompter is credited to Hubert Schlafly, Irving Kahn, and Fred Barton Jr., in the late 1940s. The original was nothing like what we have today—it wasn’t digital but, rather, featured paper secured to a motorized scroll. But it had the same goal of presenting text to allow for more natural presentations. Soon enough, this prompter attracted the entertainment industry, politicians, and others. With time others improved on the idea, adding the concept of a mirror, and so on.

1 Comment

Excellent information for a new to the business AV Production teacher.  Thank you.