Blackmagic Design Studio Equipment II

Synergy. 2 of 2. Because second parts can be good.

Yes. Today we use a title such an abstract concept that describes those situations in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Let’s see how many benefits we can derive as we combine the right pieces of this puzzle, and how interesting it can be from a profitability point of view.

 

By Luis Pavía

 

After the first part, in which just the functions and qualities of the mixer resulted in a great deal of content, we will address in this second part the functions of the camera and the remote panel and skip the basic features already covered in part one.

We will also delve into all those aspects that are optimized, simplified and made more profitable by combining the right elements, much in the style of the ancient alchemists. We will end with some ideas for possible scenarios in which these items of equipment make up a winning team.

In reviewing the camera, for instance, we have some aspects that deserve attention. The sensor is the first of them, because in addition to conditioning the bayonet change, the ND filters are already built in for an increased capacity.

 

The sensor’s resolution increases to up to 6k, but also in size, which is now Super35. To allow that resolution gains are not achieved at the expense of sacrificing sensitivity. It has a native dual ISO at 400 and 3200, which allows increasing up to a maximum ISO of 25600. With this combination we have a much more versatile equipment that will give us better results as the lighting becomes more compromises, always offering 13.7 f-stops (data according to BMD specifications).

 

We also highlight the change in visual narrative that is achieved with a sensor of greater size and resolution, making it a candidate for productions with a neater and cinematic style.

But since it also shares color science with the rest of the Studio cameras, expanding the existing facilities with this new model will not be an issue at all. What’s more, having now access to a much wider range of optics, since all those supporting the Canon EF-type bayonet can be used, allows us even greater flexibility for placement than we had until now. Even by remotely controlling iris, focus and zoom, if lens compatibility allows.

And, speaking of possible locations that based on its features, can be the most peculiar ones, it is here where we find some room for improvement. And not only in this model, but in common with the entire Studio range: the fixed screen.

Important: There are no objections as to the quality of the screen or its multiple functions. And certainly the fact that it is fixed allows a very compact and manageable size and weight for the entire the set. But exactly for this reason, in our opinion, it entails certain limitations because, not having any type of mobility, the operators can find themselves at shooting angles where their view of the screen is limited. And that is the small contradiction that, although in view of its studio concept, it is something unlikely to happen, it must be taken into into account when making certain creative decisions.

Because this possible limitation is offset by multiple features that are precisely aimed at facilitating operation. The entire menu is managed with clear and easy-to-select options on the touch screen, through a system based on pages and with icons and texts that are large enough to ensure visibility. The main options on the menu are recording, monitor, audio, preferences, settings and LUT. Because, it is true, it is possible to work directly with LUTs on camera.

The system supports connections via SDI and Ethernet. In the case of a conventional studio configuration, we have already commented that a single SDI return cable integrates the remote control, the tally and the intercom, in addition to the program return so that operators can see what is being broadcast.

Let’s think about the different types of studios: when our conventional cameras are connected to the central control through a fiber link to their CCU, or a triaxial in slightly older cases but still in use, we probably have a hose that can carry all those return signals, tally and intercom. But additional dedicated equipment will always be needed for these functions.

And if our cameras are not connected via fiber or triax, we may need to implement these functions by means of additional cabling or radio frequency systems. In this case, both the laying of additional cables in a sophisticated installation and the coexistence of multiple wireless microphones on stage in combination with the operators’ intercoms, can certainly compromise the available radio frequency spectrum, which is always limited, even when working with digital channels.

So having all that functionality in only three cables plugged into the camera (SDI Out, SDI In and power) is a considerable advantage. And it will be one of the factors that will enable use in places and in situations in which the technical infrastructure associated with the installation, both due to complexity and economy, could make certain projects unfeasible.

But it is possible to go even further, and in an even simpler way. Literally. It is possible to locate the camera on the other side of the planet by means of a single Ethernet cable. As simple as that. The camera has the ability to generate its own stream without the need for additional devices. And, since it also supports power via PoE (Power over Ethernet), a single cable provides all the functionalities. And if our switch does not provide PoE, we also have 12v power via 4-pin XLR.

Although this latter option has some limitations that we must take into account. While the camera is connected to the mixer via SDI, the delay can be typically one frame. This will be the ideal configuration to use in auditoriums, stages, social or sporting events and all those live situations in which viewers are watching or hearing the action as it happens.

On the other hand, the Ethernet connection will always shave a longer delay. Depending on how critical the situation is, even with all devices connected to the same switch, it would be necessary to assess whether the actual delay in our network is acceptable or not. Because not all needs, not all situations, not all audiences move within the same parameters, we will have to evaluate and decide in each case.

On the other hand, if it is a situation in which we are broadcasting content to viewers who are not watching it “on-site”, a delay of a few seconds will be perfectly feasible.

Now dealing with combined aspects regarding the equipment, we are talking about an Ethernet connection in which we do not need more than the camera and the mixer. Not even a switch. Because let’s remind that the mixer integrates its own 4-port switch. Although the switch will be necessary if we intend to connect a certain number of cameras simultaneously or make a long-distance connection through the internet as channel.

Indeed, once the secure protocol connection between camera and mixer is established this way, any camera (or other equipment we will cover later) becomes one more input of our TV Studio HD8 ISO mixer. It also maintains all the return, tally, remote control and intercom functions.

Although it falls out of the scope of this laboratory, simply by indicating the range of possibilities for the camera, it is possible to get our camera signal to a distant destination via the internet and deliver the signal in SDI format through a specific converter: the Blackmagic Studio Converter.

And precisely the intercom offers yet another funny feature: in addition to the standard 5-pin XLR connector, the classic mobile headphones with integrated microphone can be used in the headphone minijack jack for this function. This will allow us to connect with the production control through the mixer console itself which, as we said, also features all the call and intercom control functions with the cameras and the studio or engineering areas.

All other connections, controls and basic functions of the camera are those found in the immediately lower model, Studio Camera 4K Pro, such as the additional integrated microphones to the XLR balanced audio inputs and the micro input minijack for maximum versatility, so we will not be covering them here.

It should be noted that the two USB-C ports can be used both for the focus and remote zoom controls of the Blackmagic itself, and to record content in 6k 12-bit RAW format. The really interesting thing in this case is that these contents share a time code with the files that are recorded internally by the mixer.

This is the feature that allows us, thanks to the .drp file that the mixer also records together with our production, to make a remastering of any production with maximum quality, with an extended colorimetry and a more elaborate color grading, and even adding the necessary editing adjustments in a tremendously efficient way.

Finishing now with reviewing the camera, and before going with the third item of equipment to consider, we briefly get back to that remark from a few paragraphs back, when we commented on the connection options of other teams to the mixer.

Indeed, just as it is possible to send the camera signal via Ethernet, the same treatment can be applied by sending the output of other compatible equipment, such as other mixers, to our main mixer via the internet. And what is the sense in this? Very simple: something that is very powerful and versatile: to greatly expand our possibilities for creation. And once the point has been made, we put this idea on hold again until we go over the practical applications of the set.

The third piece of equipment we have had is the ATEM Camera Control Panel, which is perhaps the best known because it has been available on the market for a little longer.

The starting concept is very simple: bring together 4 camera RCP controls in a single console, thus offering all their functionality while sharing power and connectivity. In fact, the rear panel is very simple: power supply via 220v and 12v, a mini switch with two Ethernet ports, and a USB-C port.

The suggested configuration invites to use one of the Ethernet ports for the mixer and the other for the computer that controls the entire system. Although it is not mandatory to do so, it will be the way to leave the greater number of free ports in the mixer. And, in order for them to communicate, the only thing our panel needs to know is the mixer’s IP address.

 

 

In addition to simplifying and optimizing connectivity, one of the features we liked the most is the way of managing up to 8 cameras. By simply turning one of the knobs in each section, the camera on which each RCP works is selected, easily and quickly. But, as there are two memory banks, A and B, simply by pressing the corresponding button, the four RCPs are switched at once.

 

What if I want to always keep one or two cameras accessible between banks? It is very simple. For example: by activating bank A we select cameras 1, 2, 3, and 4; and if bank B is activated, we select cameras 1, 2, 5, and 6. Thus, when switching between banks, cameras 1 and 2 will always remain accessible. Or we can make any other combination in any order at any of the banks.

While the camera assignment can be changed in conventional RCPs, this is not usually as straightforward or simple. This is one more feature in the line of optimizing efficiency and performance of the equipment.

But, if the Camera Control Panel is only connected to the mixer, how are the different cameras linked and distinguished? The answer to this can be giving by skipping to one of the features justifying our “Synergy” title: the configuration of the entire set is achieved simply by making sure that each Studio Camera has assigned in its menu the same identifier as the mixer input. That is, to the camera that is in the SDI 1 input we assign the number 1, and so on with the others. This is the only key.

Only with this, and without having to do anything else we have configured, in addition to the obvious functions of optics control and colorimetry, a few additional functions. As, for example, that the three tally settings (off, pre and on the air) are already operational. Or that simply by clicking on the iris joystick we set that camera at the Aux 1 output in the mixer.

Simple! That is why we have been proactive and have placed the monitor for the Aux1 output of the mixer with the person who controls this panel. Therefore, operators do not even have to go to the mixer to select their own cameras regardless of the program and make all the adjustments as required without interfering with the production.

But let’s finish with the description of the RPC, which will not take much longer, before we let our enthusiasm run free and fully immerse ourselves in the synergies and opportunities.

The four panels are identical, and no big surprises await there, since they have the usual functions and methods so typical in these devices, thus making life easier for professionals who often have to use equipment from different brands. The only difference would be the screens at the top with their respective keypads, where the first of them is the one that also gathers the panel’s configuration parameters.

Going over them quickly from top to bottom, we have 5 scene memories or presets to store frequent settings; we continue with the ND and DC filter selectors (neutral density and color correction), which will naturally only work if the camera has these options available. Also individual controls for gain, color bars, white balance, and shutter speed.

In the following section, we find the direct colorimetry settings for highlights and shadows, with which we can also adjust the colorimetry by half tones by holding down the corresponding button while operating the relevant controls.

And in the last block we find the display with the indication of the camera assigned to each RCP, which changes to red while on the air, the joystick to control iris and pedestal with its corresponding settings for limits, sensitivity and preview, as well as a useful button that allows each of the RCPs to be disabled individually, and another for call by individual camera in the intercom.

 

Simply put, this panel offers, in a compact and easily portable console, the full functionalities of 4 simultaneous RCPs, and we do not miss any feature, plus the fact that they are sufficiently agile so as to handle up to 8 cameras with ease.

 

Those who have been interested in this kind of equipment, surely have already delved into the relevant features and read or seen many of the presentations that have already been made. Therefore, we are now fully aware of all the benefits that we find when combining these devices, beyond their use as standalone elements.

We must not lose sight of the fact that there are many other devices from different manufacturers that perform functions that are similar. But the aspect that makes them somewhat differential is that those items of equipment that have a similar cost are far behind in functions and features, while those that offer similar functionality are well above in price. And what seems even more important to us, with significantly greater technical complexity.

Let’s bear in mind that, to set up a studio with all the features listed, including remote camera controls, tallies and intercom, we just need this HD8 ISO mixer, this Camera Control Panel and a computer for the production table. The only decision left to make, depending on the type of production, the number of cameras such as the Studio camera, optics, and the appropriate microphone. Microphony through which, as we saw, we could encapsulate up to 16 stereo channels on a MADI line through a single SDI cable.

And all the infrastructure to run the system at full capacity only requires adding two SDI cables per camera, an HDMI monitor for the multiviewer, optionally one or two SDI monitors for auxiliary outputs, and an intercom headset, in addition to power supplies. In other words, a very moderate investment in equipment and a very simple investment in infrastructure make it possible to set up a studio ready to go.

A studio from which we could stream live. And, if we want to expand options, to record the productions for further remastering, we would only have to add USB-C discs to the cameras. From here we can continue to grow as much as we want by adding all kinds of equipment but, starting from these minimum elements, let’s see what we can think of.

The first thing we could come up with is that a single person could run the whole set, as long as the following the action with the cameras is not a requirement. Or assigning one operator per camera if necessary.

If we think of fixed installations, large facilities usually have technical equipment, human resources and budgets that are commensurate to their large scale but, below certain levels, this type of configuration is no longer feasible due to  all the necessary resources and associated costs involved. This is the first environment in which now, thanks to a reduced investment in equipment, simplicity of installation, and ease of operation, we find many more customers and potential users who can have these functionalities in their facilities.

And, if we need to carry out more complex implementations, by simply adding a few more computers to the network, several functions can be handled simultaneously by several people. That is, great scalability is achieved without hardly increasing costs. Because, if we remember that computers are mere controllers and that they do not do any kind of audio or video processing, very simple machines are enough for the task.

In this way, the possibility is now available to auditoriums, assembly halls in universities or schools, small music or event halls, theaters, business conference rooms, hotels or celebration halls, places of worship, etc. that could not consider this possibility before.

One of the activities that is currently booming, and which can benefit from this type of equipment is e-sports at any scale. Games and tournaments can be broadcast from anywhere with very affordable budgets, something that was unthinkable until recently. And besides, they don’t even need to be all in the same place.

Logically, this set is especially interesting for audiovisual media teaching centers, due to the added incentive of having advanced equipment available. It has all the features of more complex configurations, without the cost of infrastructure, and can also be renewed more frequently because its amortization period is significantly shorter.

Small local television stations, entities and organizations that intend to have a regular broadcast of their activities can also benefit from its advantages. And in the same way, there is room for all content creators who need live productions by their own means, such as theater groups, music groups, dance groups, etc.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to limit oneself to thinking just of an installation that is going to be fixed in a specific place. Thanks to its portability and ease of assembly, a highly specialized technical team is not required to carry out the installation and set it ready to go. This further opens the field of potential customers to small producing companies, which can now hold events for those customers who need so only in a timely manner.

Taking simplification to the limit, conceptually it is possible for a single person to move the equipment, install it and operate it to make a live broadcast from anywhere.

That is, the range of potential customers is greatly expanded. If we think that now we can also design work environments with remote cameras that connect through the internet, we see that we are going further and further without increasing the investment.

Now let’s return to that idea that we had pending development, connecting through the internet devices other than cameras, such as other ATEM mixers: let’s appreciate the fact that it is now possible, in theory to replicate -at a scale of course-, a production such as the Olympics at the level of, for example, a championship between several sports centers, where the small productions that take place in different venues converge in a central production control that makes the live broadcast possible. It is both technically possible and financially feasible.

Obviously, the insurmountable difference will be in the skill, professionalism and experience of those responsible for carrying out each “mini-production” and the final production. Because let us never forget, please, that proper, well-operated equipment can exceed the results of the best equipment if it is left in unprofessional hands.

In this regard, professionalism will be something we will always insist on: knowing how to choose the most appropriate equipment for each circumstance and offer our customers the best results in the best conditions.

For this reason, our goal and key point that we want to convey beyond the many benefits of the equipment, is the large number of advantages that we can achieve by interconnecting them to each other. That is the synergy giving us the title. Which, in turn, opens up a wealth of new creative options and business opportunities, simply because budget is no longer a limitation.

We close this text with the desire that these ideas will serve as a mere seed for us to go even further in our projects, and also succeed!

Liberty Media announ
Ateliere Creative Te