Jackinabox Explains Touchscreen Vision Mixer

Jackinabox is a unique Flyaway Gallery/ PPU designed by John Surdevan and Sam Gardner, a multicamera director and a computer vision software engineer. After working together for years and looking at how things could be improved, they began to customise their own suite of live production kit that harmonises industry standard systems with their own hardware and software. John Surdevan explains to The Broadcast Bridge how they have blended Blackmagic Design gear with the Raspberry Pi Compute Module to create a multi-touch vision mixer to help them and other production teams work more creatively, faster, smarter and more economically.

Jackinabox is one part production company, one part R&D Lab and another part hire shop where all its kit is available to hire as standalone units; vision mixer; ISO recorder; live streamer or as a fully configured PPU.

Over the course of working together the pair began to tweak vendor product with additional hardware and software, turning a standard VM set-up into a multi-touch tool.

“This is more like conducting than using a traditional console,” says Surdevan. “For me, as a director, it’s beneficial in terms of what I can do in a live cut. Without it I would feel compromised. It’s basically brought lots of extra features that don’t exist anywhere else.”

Touch Screen Revelation

Lift the lid on the integrated 5U flight case design and up pops a 24" HD touch screen. Simply plug in the power, cameras, outputs - and it's ready to go but the touch screen control interface is the revelation.

“It’s a totally intuitive and liberating experience,” Surdevan says. “By directly touching the multiview it influences quicker decision making and promotes creativity. This is especially effective with live music and unpredictable action. The mixer has only 1 line of delay (less than a frame), which is great for events with IMAG (big screens) with lip-sync requirements.”

The main hardware is a Blackmagic Design ATEM 4K vision mixer.  This does all the heavy lifting in terms of vision mixing and the team use its multi view with a graphical user interface from a Raspberry Pi keyed this over the top using another BMD ATEM (the original TVS). The touch screen commands are sent to the Pi which then relays the instructions to the ATEM 4K to select and cut and perform a whole range of other functions.

Raspberry Pi Control

Jackinabox haven’t customised the ATEMs exactly. The ATEMs are already designed to receive signals from other devices on a network but rather than those signals coming from Blackmagic hardware/consoles or its desktop software, Jackinabox have written their own software that lives on the Raspberry Pi.

“This was written in C++ to make it really robust and it boots up quicker than the ATEM,” Surdevan says. “The Pi has a number of little services running on it. One is a relay to control the ATEM and listen out for its status. Another service/server to relay tally status. We also have our own little boxes that mount on camera hot shoes. They are running on ’Spark Core’ which are like mini versions of Raspberry Pi’s and they connect over WiFi.”

The Jackinabox Ingest system offers more than multicamera ISO record decks and the team have customized it so it’s now possible to record 15 HD feeds, timeline synced and ready to go.

“When combined with our ingest system it allows anyone on the team with a smart phone, tablet or laptop to see any of those return feeds,” Surdevan explains. “As a camera operator, you might want to see what another particular camera operator is doing so you’re not chasing the same shot – or a sound engineer can see during a sound check what guitar is being plugged ready for the next band. Everyone on your team has a matrix to see what camera feed they want - or all of them if they want to. There are lots of little advantages along these lines.”

Rapid Turnaround Editing

Designed to be paired with Jackinabox Ingest systems, the package makes it possible for an editor to be working with footage as it’s still being recorded.

“Seconds away from realtime, an editor can immediately get to work re-editing the vision mix (in Adobe Premier with Resolve to come), adding graphics, VTs, lower thirds and logo bugs,” he says. “It’s brilliant for concerts, conferences, or anything requiring a rapid turnaround. You can potentially complete the edit, get client approvals and loading out before the cameras have even been derigged.”

Rather than waiting around for backups at the end, the ingest servers also creates a realtime backup to a 30TB NAS so you can leave a site quickly without waiting to back-up at the end or bring any additional hard drives.

There’s now a local web server running on it which allows the other devices on the local network to see the live multiview and cut the program/aux1/2/3 buses in the same way as our built-in touch screen does. This requires one of the ingest systems to be operational at the same time since it pulls the multiview videos from there.

Enabling Production

It’s difficult to know where to start with the benefits of the Pi during production because technically every command ripples up to the Pi and then down to the corresponding device. At the same time, if it wasn’t for the ATEM’s, tally boxes, or the ingest systems, it would be useless, Surdevan says.

“Some features enable jobs to be done with a specification that otherwise would be impossible,” Surdevan says. “Others are just so useful, fast... and it’s actually fun to use which encourages better decision making and less resistance.

“Cost savings can potentially be off the scale for the right project. As some of these features don’t exist anywhere, the only other way to do them would involve lots more crew, lots more editing time, big/heavy and extremely expensive equipment.”

One benefit is being able to use the multiviewer in a browser – so someone could control the touchscreen and use it in exactly the same way as the touchscreen but via a mouse or by touch on an iPad or even a phone.

Quicker and Better Production

Other benefits mean fewer crew required, making productions more manageable. “So many things are just quicker and with a better result. Some things are just so much quicker it can be done in seconds which could take someone days.”

Speed isn’t even just important because you can make do with less crew, though. A production will always be better and fulfil its potential if things are setup properly with time to adjust and perfect.

“In my experience of live OB’s, no matter how much budget/time there is, there’s always something to tweak 5 mins before TX,” Surdevan says.

Jackinabox are about to implement a new feature which is a cut logger that creates a project file for XML/EDL/premiere/Final cut/AVID. According to Surdevan, this will let an editor open a project at a later date and see cut incisions at the relevant times (by using timecode) once married up with the TX recording. This gets even cleverer when connecting all the other camera ISOs “meaning tweaking an edit is completely painless whilst having full control.”

Intuitive Touch Screen Control

The system has already helped deliver results for a broad range of OBs ranging from BBC hidden camera shows to music festivals and award ceremonies.

These include John Grant and the BBC Philharmonic (BBC 6 Music & Radio 3 / line cut); Festivals: Kendal Calling, Bluedot (streaming/IMAG); Paul Heaton and Jaqui Abbout at Castlefield Arena Manchester (Channel 4); An audience with Robert DeNiro (IMAG and records); UB40 - Birmingham Arena / DVD; Roy Chubby Brown / DVD and Man City Women’s Awards / record. They also streamed the Charlatans live to cinemas around the world.

“On a personal note, even though time and money are probably the most important features to producers looking at bottom-lines, my favourite feature is still the ability to just touch and cut to what I want.”

“As a director, feeling good and free by way of having something enjoyable to use, makes me think clearer which lets me react quicker. All of this results in a tighter cut and I think all the crew feed off this, especially camera operators - which again maximises results as everyone wants to maintain delivering the absolute best production values.”

There is also a range of even more radical features that the team are finishing now and hoping to sell as Intellectual Property to a major vendor.

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