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Boston University College of Communication Wired for Production

Jul 16, 2009 3:09 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes

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Boston University College of Communication

Boston University College of Communication chose to upgrade its Echolab Opera switcher, purchased last year, to an Overture 1 switcher using a software upgrade from the company. The switcher fit the budget and capability requirements. The new Overture 2 switcher is located in Studio West.

Higher-education facilities have the challenge of balancing the need for cutting-edge production technology and limited budgets. Even high-profile schools such as Boston University College of Communication (COM) must compare features versus benefits in all studio equipment—from studio and field cameras to digital editing workstations to digital switchers—and purchase the equipment that gives their students the best hands-on experience without busting the annual budget.

COM has produced many notable talents over the years, including cable-television host Bill O’Reilly, Comcast Entertainment CEO Ted Harbert, and SciFi channel President Bonnie Hammer. In the school’s film and television program, students get with all aspects of television production.

During the school year, the studios are in use from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with very little downtime. The bustle is due to regular class loads as well as the use of the studios by professor-supervised student groups such as Growling Dog Productions that produces student-run programs such as the soap opera Bay State and several news-magazine-format shows. The Boston campus has its own cable network (called TerrierVision) with a cable head located on the main campus grounds where these programs are shown. Students are free to produce the shows as they wish using the studios and editing suites. There are several dedicated student channels on the station.

A small video server in the COM building drives all the TerrierVision channels. Students shoot footage and compress it to MPEG-2 format, load the files onto the Firefly computer, which feeds the signal across the fiber channel to then cable head. “We are driving two channels [BUTV6 and BUTV10]: one channel with cable cards that change advertisements every few seconds and using student radio as the background, and a second channel showing student productions,” says Matthew Willson, COM’s senior media technician, who repairs and installs the equipment, provides general technical support for classes, and shows the students how to use the technology.

The COM building sits in the heart of Boston University’s campus in Boston, where students have access to two production studios (Studios West and East) and 18 non-linear editing stations featuring both Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid, and five cuts-only stations using Sony DSR1500 DV decks with a controller. Editing capabilities include digital stations using Apple G5 CPUs running a mix of Avid Xpress Pro and Final Cut Pro 4 and Adobe After Effects and Photoshop. According to the school, each digital suite has a DVCAM/DVSP FireWire deck for tape output as well as DVD recorders with Roxio Toast software for optical masters. The audio lab has four digidesign Pro Tools stations, each with the capability to output to either CD or MD.

“We try to pick technology that can advance the capability of the school, but we also keep in mind that some people want to be writers but are required to take technical course,” Willson says.

The building itself has gone through modifications such as power and network upgrades. Previous students who remember Studios A and B would now find those rooms combined into Studio West and editing suites. Studio East, used primarily for video production, was added as part of a previous upgrade. “East is used for any type of TV, like for filming TV commercials and talk shows. It is basically a large empty room with a prop room at one end,” Willson says. “West has a permanent anchor desk, teleprompters, and an interview set where journalism students can practice straight news and sports casts. They don’t get as much into the studio craft except to operate the cameras."

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