Video is now part of our everyday communication. We use it to collaborate, to learn, to entertain, and now more than ever, to produce. As each of us walk around with a video camera in our pocket, we can turn it on, capture anything that is happening around us, and deliver it literally to the entire world.
Although making very compelling, high-quality video still requires a bigger investment than our smartphone, it is still far more affordable and more accessible than ever. The trend toward integrated video production has clearly been accelerated by the pandemic and will continue into the foreseeable future.
Still, as the world quickly adapts to video storytelling, millions of video newcomers are often hit with sticker shock when investing in proper equipment.
Live video production has true costs. The price tag on integrated live video production devices may seem high compared to “free mobile phone video” but by explaining what and why those costs exist, it seems more like a bargain.
Video storytellers are very good at visualizing their story. Turning interesting stories into compelling video is an art form. Thinking about a regular conversation, a closer look reveals that we bring in a lot of information.
Non-verbal cues from the speaker, the ambiance of the surroundings, sensing how others respond to the words and movements of the speaker, all contribute to the experience and the meaning.
When we translate this to video, techniques like the use of multiple camera angles, interesting uses of graphics, and compelling audio are some of the basic elements that hold our attention and contribute to the experience.
Traditionally, translating the real world into video for an audience required a lot of dedicated tools:
- Cameras, routers
- multiple graphics systems
- video switchers
- audio mixers
- video playback
- recording and capture devices
- control systems, cabling, cabling, and more cabling
Each device can range in cost, from a little, to a lot, to a whole lot more.
Designing, configuring, and maintaining systems that interconnect all these devices require dedicated expertise by technical staff, adding to the overall cost.
Equipment components must be housed within a finite distance of each other to allow orchestration of a live event. Dedicated space for equipment and racks of gear require more investment.
The video world has been experimenting with breaking away from this paradigm for years now.
The increased use of networks and IP to enhance connections between components show that physical barriers of location will eventually be overcome.
The path is set to break away from the constraints of geography and move to software-driven live production devices.
These software-driven components are connected to every other device using IP and standard networking. Any device can be connected to any other device. Each signal can be recognized, offering enhanced and even limitless capabilities to real-time live production.
Progress has been accelerated further by the need to keep those working in production distanced from each other. Allowing contributors and experts access to production environments is a major need in a time where it is more difficult to travel and move about.
Even after the concerns of public health and safety abate, the benefits of distributed live-production workflows where remote guests, production talent, and technical staff are physically separated are realized by the reduced need for large dedicated physical spaces and travel.
In this environment the real value of software-driven integrated live production systems is realized.
Going quickly back to the traditional model, it is not uncommon for even a small live integrated video production system to require significant capital investment.
Graphics systems can range from a few hundred to greater than $10,000 per channel based on the feature set. If the desire is to expand the look to a virtual set or augmented reality, you can double or triple that amount. Then there is the video switcher itself.
The cost of dedicated video switchers has dropped tremendously in the last decade, but there is much more than taking a few video sources and seamlessly switching between them without glitches.
Keying layers, box effects, real-time warping and reflecting are all standard things we see in simple mobile applications today but are very difficult to find in dedicated professional video switchers without high price tags.
Even after cameras, graphics, and switching, we need recording and playback. Again, this is an area where devices have become cheaper over time. However, choices are required.
When you have a single recording or playback device, you must consider when and how to start and stop the capture or playback.
Then what to do with that media once it is captured. On the playback side, it needs to be timed to the live production so that the video starts playback at the appropriate point and matches the transition.
While a single channel can be found cheaply, orchestrating it into the production requires planning and triggering on the part of one or more operators to smoothly stream into the live event.
Looking outside of the control room, there is the matter of bringing in remote guests. In a world where social distancing is a reality, gaining access to contributors and experts at any location is paramount.
Fortunately, we have many tools that allow for video conferencing, but these systems are designed for conferencing and not for broadcasting.
Except for some purpose-built devices with a single service, most connections to these virtual meeting room applications are clunky, require multiple dedicated PCs with scan conversion, and a team of people to operate. All adding to the ongoing cost of production.
After diving into all the components found in live production, we can see major benefits in integrated production devices. Everything is built into or connected to one software-driven device.
Software connections from input to switcher to overlay to media playback with audio deliver a value unavailable in any traditional integrated video production model.
The connected nature of integrated live production systems deliver a value package unavailable in any other system design.
The software-driven aspect allows for continued evolution over time as new workflows and technologies develop.
As IP and networks are agnostic to what travels across them, future updates may be done without wholesale re-investment in the entire infrastructure.
This provides long-term benefits to the investment, reduces risks, and improves access to technology at a faster rate. There is a clear advantage with transitioning and investing in software-driven integrated live production systems.
The costs of traditional integrated video production are not always seen as it develops over time, but the technical debt incurred with the inflexibility of the equipment means that more money is spent over time.
The future will bring more and more live production needs to companies and storytellers as video continues to dominate our communication.
Those that want to look at the long-term options can make integrated production a priority without compromising on quality, expand on flexibility, and take advantage of remote connections.