Getting students ready to enter any technology-intensive career sector is always a challenge, and broadcasting is near the top of the list, thanks to relentless changes in the industry.
So when James Martin, senior lecturer and studio video coordinator of the Radio-TV-Film department at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas, had to plan his facility’s next AV systems upgrade, he faced a daunting array of choices and exigencies.
These included some that seem innately contradictory, such as choosing technology platforms and products that would keep the department near the leading edge of broadcast technology yet be robust enough to last five to seven years, the usual life-cycle of tech products in educational environments but, increasingly, not in the reality of the broadcast world.
In an industry where change is calculated in months rather than years and can be sweeping (for instance, the implementation of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation or CALM Act, which regulates broadcast loudness, has spawned an entirely new category of loudness measuring, monitoring and management products), deciding what to buy, who to buy it from and who to install it takes some effort.
The upgrade strategy for the department’s two-studio complex began two years out and was precipitated, says Martin, mainly by the need to bring the facility into line with the industry’s shift to high-definition video.
Martin joined his department engineer and studio engineer in making lists of broad categories that needed to be addressed, consulted with department instructors for their input, then combed through trade publications and attended trade shows such as the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas to vet products and systems.
“Choosing equipment is complicated because you have to look at it from several perspectives,” says Martin. “First, we want to get technology that’s as close to the edge as possible. At the same time, we have to balance that with costs and budgets, and state schools like ours have been challenged in that department lately. But we also have to consider how well whatever products we buy will work in the context of an educational environment. Will they stand up to the kind of use that 18- and 19-year-old will subject them to repeatedly and over the course of five or seven years? How well do they fit with our instructors’ capabilities? And will whatever we buy still be relevant several years from now?”
Martin says that as a result of these many contingencies, upgrade planning will take longer than it would in the real world, and the entire process is still subject to review by school administrators who may only have passing knowledge about some of these systems, and who as a result tend to focus on price over performance.
And price tags can be misleading. Citing the crowded HD field camera category, he says that competition has reduced the apparent cost of products, but that many also require additional appurtenances to make them fully viable for use in studios, such as specific viewfinders, lenses and control systems.
These can push the cost of the camera up to more than the cost of a dedicated studio camera. “And then, do you want a camera that an 18-year-old student has to take apart in the field?” he says.