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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 studios

Both studios’ cameras at Boston University College of Communication are Sony DXC35 standard-definition cameras with analog signal to a bank of monitors. Future plans do include a move to high-def and to multiplexed LCD or plasma displays for monitoring. The school does have several Panasonic AG-HVX200 handheld HD camcorders for field use and some HD editing monitors.

Equipment upgrades are planned based on annual budgets. New switchers and a network upgrade for the department were the big ticket items for this year. “In our general budget range, there are not a lot of options in multidef switchers that bridge SDI and analog, as well as HD and standard,” says Willson, who works with COM’s head engineer Carlo Durante to find the appropriate equipment.

The school 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. Students using the newly upgraded switcher were pleased by the number of layers that were possible.

The new Overture 2 switcher is located in Studio West. It was chosen as a precursor to a transition to hi-def cameras “because the switchers can be upgraded with a change of a couple of boards, and it is cheaper than buying a whole new switcher,” says Willson, who notes that the Overture 2 replaced a much older Echolab eStudio 2700.

The Echolab switchers bring several new capabilities to student productions. In addition to four M/E keys and two downstream keyers—which enable title keying for graphics, logos, and bugs—the Overture’s Stinger and SuperSource keys that make it easy for the students to achieve expert transitions with minimal effort. The Stinger transition is a “take block” keyer with combined mix/wipe and graphic control that reduces complex animated transitions to a single button. The Overture switchers’ SuperSource allows the user to build a custom layout using DVEs and graphics and then assigns the composition to a crosspoint button. A DVE key in each take block enables instant transition effects.

“The Echolab switchers looked and behaved like a broadcast switcher, something students will likely run into in another studio,” Willson says. “The whole point of our school is to have the students work like they are in a broadcast environment with an entire crew working as a single unit. Therefore, it is important that students get exposure to each kind if equipment.”

An upgrade to the Ethernet network from 100Mbps to 1Gbps means a reduction in the amount of “sneakernet”, also known as students running back and forth with tapes in hand. Willson says they would like to reduce the number of miniDVs in use due to the constant wear and tear on the tapes. “Even professionals beat on their equipment, but we are teaching the students how to be a little less ham-fisted,” Willson says.

While the new network is not fast enough to have a video server hold every student’s material, they can edit on the computer and can swap common files to whatever editing station they are using. “When students are editing a package for class, instead of people running down the hall with tapes and handing to the tape operators, they can dump files across the network to a server, and somebody in the tape room can stack them in a playlist and run them from there,” Willson says. “The software works like iTunes in that you can drag and drop the content into a playlist and reorder it as necessary.”

The school’s first playlist software playback unit is still in use. Willson says that a couple of retired Mac computers were loaded with BitPlayer , a freeware application from Tanjero that can handle any format compatible with Apple QuickTime. They chose BitPlayer because it was free and easy to use and students can mark in and out points to trim the fat on their files.

With the impending server upgrade and current network upgrade, the studio is investing in professional software called “On the Air” that has similar functions, but it will interface with professional cards and can play fully interlaced high-def video. The school looked at Grass Valley’s Turbo iDDR digital disk recorder as a replacement option, but the On the Air solution was more budget-friendly. “With a software solution, you can run it on any old computer and, in the event of a system failure, you can be back up and running in an hour,” Willson says. “Working with novices means keeping it as simple as possible because the orientation of the school is the humanities angle and not necessarily the technical stuff.”

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