Live Switchers Slim Down for Portability
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Live Switchers Slim Down for Portability

By Ron Seifried

Lost in the maze of products at NAB was a category dating back to the dawn of television -- the live production switcher. This workhorse has always had to adapt to the fast changing technology of producing a live show, and today that even includes supporting live Webcasts broadcast over the Internet to viewers with broadband access.

NewTek TriCaster Studio

So, what better way to begin than with Newtek, the company that started the desktop revolution of live and post production nearly two decades ago? But this isn't your father's Video Toaster. The TriCaster Studio ($9,995.95) is the latest in Newtek's family of portable live production switchers designed to easily mix video and audio on the fly using a Windows turnkey system. (The Amiga wasn't available.) Earlier incarnations included the basics: 3 composite and 3 S-Video inputs (as well as 3 component inputs on the TriCaster Pro), Internet streaming, and a non-linear editor (NLE) with a minimum of 6 hours of media. The Tri in TriCaster stands for three outputs: standard video, XGA for projectors, and an Ethernet network port for Web connectivity.

The new TriCaster Studio contains 6 each of component, S-Video, and composite video inputs; 4 XLR audio inputs; up to 20 hours of AVI storage; wide-screen output; and new support for the DV, MPEG-2, DVD, QuickTime, and MP4 file formats. But the name addition of “Studio” wouldn't be complete without an actual set. I'm not saying you have to break out the power tools and get sweaty building an anchor desk. No, this set is virtual and completely customizable.

The TriCaster Studio sets are all designed to operate from the same camera and lighting angles, so setup is easy. But within the sets the real power comes out with real-time reflection and shadows, so the “Studio” environment will look as realistic as possible and not like the flat projections you may see on a local cable or public access newscast. Switch between up to 6 live inputs with any of the available 500 transitions, and you have the equivalent of a production truck weighing merely 16 pounds! Add to that the dual DDR playback, live keying, audio mixing, titles and graphics import, and this handy device is nearly perfect. I only ask for one small add-on; how about a reduced feature version of Lightwave for easy creation and import of virtual sets?

Newtek SX-SDI

For NewTek VT[4] users, the SX-SDI ($2995.00) extends live production with 8 serial digital inputs in rack-mountable hardware that connects serially to the existing SX-84 switcher. The SX-SDI also includes 5 routable serial digital outputs and support for embedded and AES-EBU digital audio.

Sony AWS-G500HD

Sony's answer to portable switching is the Sony AWS-G500HD, the HDTV-only version of the older AWS-G500. Preconfigured with analog component and HDSDI interface modules, the HDTV-only switcher also includes an empty slot for future expandability, including RGB, HDTV-analog component, SDI, or additional HDSDI input. This unit is the result of Sony's decades of professional quality and well designed production gear rolled into one portable unit.

Branded the Anycast Station, the AWS-G500HD ($18,525) can switch seamlessly between several high-definition sources. This portable switcher also has the ability to connect to the Internet for live productions over the Web. Weighing in at a mere 15.5 lbs, the portable computer look-alike lets you easily control multi-resolution switching, keying, audio mixing and camera control all by monitoring a production on your lap. It's designed for the technical director who is expected to squeeze into a high school game's media booth or to maintain a low profile at a church event or seminar. With its diminutive size, the Anycast Station sets a new benchmark for producing HDTV programs on the go.

Panasonic AV-HS300G

Although announced in December, the Panasonic AV-HS300G was available for a hands-on look at NAB. The affordable mixer ($6,999.95) switches between several formats including 1080/60 progressive and interlaced frames, 720/60p and standard def video. The straightforward design simplifies the challenge of including 5 high-def/standard-def SDI inputs and an HD DSI output, so now all of the available HD cameras out there can be tied in together in any corporate level productions including cable, ministries, sports and other live events. The switcher also includes a tally output, RS-422 control, a 10-bit 6 channel frame sync, and nine wipe patterns.

So, as production switchers get more compact, turn high-definition friendly, and connect to the Web, TV and the Internet are becoming more tightly integrated than ever.

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