RECORDING/CAPTURING LIVE EVENT VIDEO, PART 1

We are fortunate to work with clients with a broad range of experience when it comes to knowing what it means to “record live event video”. I say we’re fortunate, because we get to work with the highest level of professionals in this department, the guys that have 15 million dollar HD trucks, shoot the Superbowl, have been out there doing it for 30 years. I love those opportunities, because those guys and girls are almost always enthusiastic about teaching us everything they can about what we’re doing. They’re proud of their rigs, and even though they have 15 million dollar studios on wheels, it never surprises me when one of them shows us a “cheap trick”. These tricks could be anything from how to mount a $300 GoPro, get its signal to the truck, and then composite it into a shot, to how to patch an intercom through an iPhone or Walkie Talkie. At the other end of the spectrum is the client who hires a company like ours (once a year) to provide screens and cameras for the annual rodeo or community concert. The client wants us to “record” the entire show so he or she can “watch” the show later at home, or maybe use a clip to promote the event the following year.

Then there is everybody else. The top and the bottom are easy, it’s the middle that challenges us. The technical side is not so difficult, it’s really the communication between the client and service provider (us). I’ve come to realize when discussing recording quality with all of the middle clients, that the term “quality” is wholly subjective. What I may consider unacceptable might be considered cinematic to one client, and what I might consider acceptable, might be down right horrifying to another. So now that I have taken two paragraphs to lay out the problem, hopefully I can weasel my way out of this one with a solution.

Since there’s a lot to say on this topic, lets start Part 1 of this blog with some terms and definitions so we’re all on the same page. If you know all or most of these terms, you’re ahead of the game. If not, get yourself up to speed. This is just a basic list with basic definitions, but it should help facilitate a productive conversation. Part 2 will focus on how to choose the best solutions for your show.

1. Flypack:

a pre wired, pre configured set of road cases equipped with video components that are used to produce a show with live cameras, graphics, playback and audio.

2. Program Feed:

The program feed that comes out of the switcher after all of the cameras have been “mixed”. The director calls for camera one, camera three, then two, then one etc., and his vision becomes the program feed, or “The Show”.

3. Video Village:

I guess these definitions are not in any particular order… Video Village is the tiny production space in the corner of the Porta Jon (the client can rarely provide a full unit), under the stage, in the back of a box truck, behind the black curtain, in the hallway (hallways aren’t bad) or my favorite one, the 8′ x 8′ roped off square in the “middle of the field” (which means…the crowd) with no tent, no riser etc. you get the idea. We pile a lot of racks, boxes, etc into small spaces, put it all together, and work the show. Depending on how prepared or how “clean” a supplier’s Flypack is, this space can really look like a NASA control room. Of course our Flypacks are the sexiest you will find, but our clients often have us doing so much more than a typical show, that we’re sometimes forced to add extra boxes.

Video Village, this is an example of a job that did not utilize a Flypack or a production truck. Video Village was built on site.

Video Village, this is an example of a job that did not utilize a Flypack or a production truck. Video Village was built on site.

4. ISO: ISO is short for isolation record.

It means to take all of the camera feeds and record them individually, for the entire length of the show, regardless of whether the director is “calling” for that camera or not. The reason you ISO record cameras is so that you can re-mix the show in post. By doing this, you give an editor the ability to make all of the creative switching and compositing decisions later for re-distribution by means of DVD, web, broadcast or some other method we haven’t thought of yet. This is how most LIVE (but not really live) concerts on TV are done. It’s a way to remove the mistakes, edit out the fat, and build a nice little 1/2 hour or 1 hour show out of a 6 hour festival.

5. Hard Drive Recording, DVR (digital video recorder), DDR (direct-to-disc recording, or digital disc recording), Hard Disc Recording:

Essentially these are all the same things. At its simplest form, it’s a hard drive that has taken the place of the video tape deck. We “capture” the recording to a file based hard drive system. Usually this allows for a more efficient workflow from show to edit suite, but not always. The work flow should be figured out before the show so the most efficient equipment choices are made.

Racks of KiPros, a popular hard disc recording device, designed to function like a traditional tape deck. The main difference is that the media is delivered on a hard drive, not a tape.

Racks of KiPros, a popular hard disc recording device, designed to function like a traditional tape deck. The main difference is that the media is delivered on a hard drive, not a tape.

6. DVD Recorder:

This is a crude way of recording a live video signal. Because it is being recorded to a DVD, there is a certain amount of “compression” or “encoding” that has to happen in order to fit the content on the DVD. It’s not as bad as recording with a cell phone, but with some of the quality I have been seeing lately coming off of some cell phones, it’s pretty bad.

7. Capture:

I’ve used the term capture a few times so I might as well define it. To capture means to record, digitally I guess.  I haven’t heard it used to describe an analog recording, except for maybe by some old school recording engineer who worked at Electric Ladyland Studios to describe “capturing a moment” when the band just “hit it right,” but I digress.  When I use the term, I am referring to recording video.

8. Playback: 

Don’t over think this chief.  Playback is the word you would use to describe anything that is pre-recorded that will be cued to “play back” live during the show.  It can be audio clips, video clips, or just stills.

9. Workflow:

Very important to understand the workflow.  This is the combination of equipment and processes that will be used to move the show from the camera all the way down the line to the editor, and then ultimately back to the viewer’s eyeballs.  Some clients have trouble with this because they don’t know where the show is going, or who or how they will be working on it, so they end up making very generic decisions at the head of the project (at the capture phase).  This can be a bummer, but we understand it’s not something that can always be figured out in advance.

10. Encoding/Codec/Compression:

To work in a digital world, we create files.  Not all files are ideal for editing or distribution.  Certain manufacturers choose certain “codecs” (let’s just define that as file formats, or types of files) for a variety of reasons.  There may be a business motivation to choose one over another. They may choose to record in the QuickTime file format because they want their files to move easily from their camera over to Apple products (Apple created the QuickTime format).  Maybe they value record time over record quality.  The point is, with so many companies and so many hardware devices, it is often necessary to encode a piece of video, which means to change it from one codec to another codec.  Encode and compression are pretty interchangeable terms.  The easiest example of this is video on an iPhone (or any smartphone I guess).  You record a clip, you play it back, it looks great.  Now you want to send it to a friend via text message.  You’ll notice when you choose to send, a small progress bar comes up and a message that says something like “preparing video for sending”. It could just as easily say, “encoding video to a different codec, one that creates a smaller file size, easier for sending, and the video won’t look as good, but that’s just the way it is”.  Granted that would be long-winded, but it would be accurate. So all of our digital cameras and video cameras, and professional playback devices, and editing computers, and streaming appliances, they all have ideal codecs that work on them, but if you ever peak into “video village” or the production truck, you’ll notice racks and racks of gear from a slew of different manufacturers.  In order to get all of these boxes to do their jobs properly, one must know how to connect them all as efficiently as possible and do what ever they can to eliminate as much encoding as possible.  The best workflows are the ones that move from camera to editor with no encoding/compression. There are a few out there, but add one little trick to the production requirement, and this efficient workflow can immediately fall by the way side.

11. Broadcast Cameras & ProSumer Cameras:

Don’t take this one too lightly.  A lot of folks call the ProSumer Video cameras “broadcast quality”.  If they’re simply referring to the video image that the camera produces, it’s not really that much of a stretch.   There are actually cameras in the ProSumer category that have greater range in the types of images they can create than a traditional broadcast camera, but in all instances I am referring to on-camera recording, and not the live output.  I guess this could really be a blog posting itself, the difference between the two. The main differences between Prosumer and Broadcast is live control and signal distribution (what kind of cable does it use).  With broadcast cameras we typically use one cable, a triax cable. That cable connects the camera to the CCU (camera control unit).  With this single cable we can run upwards of 3000′ with no problems.  This single cable carries power to the camera, video from the camera to the CCU (the CCU is located in the production area) audio, and video return (so the camera operator can see the show or program feed). It also carries 2 way intercom, but the most important thing it carries is camera control.  This allows a “shader” to ride/adjust the iris in the control room, or production truck.  This is important when shooting live video because it lets the camera operator concentrate on framing his shot and capturing the action on stage, on the field, in the street etc.  Without this one feature alone, the cameras will seem unmatched, too dark, too light. With the shader doing his job, as the sunlight or stage lights shift (which can happen fast) the camera settings are changed almost invisibly.

Example of a popular ProSumer HD Video camera. All of the controls are "on camera" which equates to lots of cables, batteries and attention from the camera operator. These are normally used to capture video. They can be used for a live signal to screen or broadcast, but its a cumbersome solution.

Example of a popular ProSumer HD Video camera. All of the controls are “on camera” which equates to lots of cables, batteries and attention from the camera operator. These are normally used to capture video. They can be used for a live signal to screen or broadcast, but its a cumbersome solution.

These camera chains can accept long lenses easily. Notice all of the controls stay in the rack inside of the production truck or the flypack. One cable delivers video, power, intercom and camera settings control.

These camera chains can accept long lenses easily. Notice all of the controls stay in the rack inside of the production truck or the flypack. One cable delivers video, power, intercom and camera settings control.

We can also move all of these signals down a fiber cable, with even greater distances.  On the ProSumer cameras, all of this control is located on camera, and needs to be constantly tweaked by the camera operator himself.  The cameras need to be powered by battery or house power, which creates a possible failure point. In addition, to move all of these signals to and from control area requires one cable for each signal, which can get a bit messy, and has limited distances. There are many tricks and hardware solutions to aid us in moving these signals to and from ProSumer cameras, but they all come with some trade-offs if you are comparing them to a true broadcast camera solution.  Another significant shortcoming of the ProSumer solution is the inability to use true long lenses, which give the production team greater flexibility in choosing camera positions, and ultimately the ability to get the best shots.  I don’t want to disregard the ProSumer camera solutions outright.  For some live productions, with simple production requirements, these cameras can be used quite effectively.  As I mentioned earlier, the quality of image is not an issue, all of the ProSumer cameras we inventory produce gorgeous video signals. You normally choose ProSumer when you are on a budget, your requirements are a bit more guerrilla, and you have access to good camera positions without resulting in long cable runs.

Is your brain going into overload?  OK then, grab a few potato chips, do a few downward dogs and I’ll see you in a few…

 

About Doug Murray

Doug is the Founder and President of Upstage Video. Specializing in large screen video display technology for live events (LED Screen rentals,) with both mobile and modular inventory as well as a full complement of multi-camera production equipment. Our screens light up at the most important events on the globe. If you need some consultation with regards to live event video production...just give us a call.