The Basic Principles Of Production Control Room Design

Designing and building a production control room means different things to different people and is often accomplished in a myriad of ways.

For professional system integrators like the people at Key Code Media, as explored in their recent Broadcast2Post podcast, the key is to start by asking a number of important questions:

What size studio does the room support? Does the room support more than one studio? What about remote control?

Other things to consider include available room size, number of staff, number of video sources, network integration, and whether your infrastructure is baseband SDI, IP, or a combination of both.

Software-Defined Workflows

As technology becomes increasingly software based, it’s allowing single products to have more capability. It makes it easy for vendors to add new features to existing products. Software-defined systems have also led to fully integrated systems, like a production switcher that also generates graphics, chromakeys, handles video ingest, format conversion and playback and manages audio levels. Employing this type of fully loaded system helps save on cost and reduces the need for a large staff. It’s also ideal for space-limited facilities.

Larger facilities might go the traditional route and install a large video switcher with 96 inputs, a routing switcher with dozens of cross points, a replay server, a scalable monitor wall and a large audio mixing desk. All of these tools are then hosted on a network that helps move files around and gets signals to the right location at the correct time.

What these examples have in common is the ability to help orchestrate a wide variety of program productions from a director (and TD)’s position, with some also requiring extra staff to man dedicated workstations. Leveraging a network interface, or gateway cards, to convert signals into the proper “house” format is also important to keep things running smoothly. Which begs another question: What is your house format?

Among the key components of a video control room are:

The Video Switcher (Vision Mixer)

This is one of the first considerations in setting up a control space. It’s where the Technical Director sits and runs the console and serves as the heart of the control room. Some switchers are narrowly focused yet extremely reliable for production that can’t have any failure (live on air projects) while others, mentioned above, take a fully integrated approach that provides a suite of flexible software-based production tools.

So, how do you decide which one to choose? First you need to look at the type of programs you will be producing in your studio. Budget is the next consideration. There are so many options with production switchers. For lower end projects, one that supports NDI networking allows you to control PTZ video cameras, lights, mic levels and other things directly from the switcher control surface. For larger projects, a traditional SDI-type switcher, with its dozens of inputs, might be ideal and can also operate other pieces of equipment from the switcher control panel.

Another exciting thing about today’s production switchers is that manufacturers have begun to combine the video router with the switcher so that the routing switcher provides direct access to all of the production switcher inputs needed to produce a newscast or show. This joining of technologies provides a lot of flexibility, especially when you are in a hybrid facility that’s mostly SDI but contains some IP infrastructure as well. With this setup, you can mix both types of sources within the same switcher.

“There’s new technologies coming into play that are really pushing what video switching means today,” said Mason Pierce, Senior Solutions Architect at Key Code Media. “We’re seeing staff positions collapsing, so that the switcher operator is also running graphics, playback and other components of a show.”

Most switchers are also moving to FPGA-based processing and remote operations by adding software features that allows a switcher to do more. For example, a cloud-enabled switcher makes it remotely accessible to operators all over the world, enabling facility owners to get the most value out of their hardware investments.

In other cases you’re not looking at a traditional SDI in and out workflow, you have a server that has an I/O card and that sever is software (it could be virtualized), not hardware-based processing.

Graphics

The look and feel of your show is determined by the graphics you use.

Whether it’s for lower thirds, full screen AR elements and everything in between, graphics enhance a video story is a number of positive and creative ways.

Studio designers should look for a system that supports the most common formats and resolutions, in order to address multiple screens in the marketplace. Template-based graphics platforms have also been popular, as they allow operators to work collaboratively and fast by populating a series of computer screen fields that are then rendered in the background. Once finished, journalists send the story, with correctly formatted graphics, directly to air or it is inserted into a post-produced video project.

The best systems offer graphics cards with low latency and fast spin-up times or (more costly) real-time compositing engines that are used to generate high-quality augmented reality elements for live coverage of Elections results and major sporting events. In this example, graphics can be created once and then reformatted to fit many different sized screens on set. The graphics package can also take advantage of third-party live data feeds, like election results, to drive the creation of graphics in real time.

A control room could also install a green screen wall or virtual set to shoot against, with the effects managed by the video switcher operator or a dedicated VS person. This allows for a wide variety of backgrounds and virtual environments to be used to set the mood for your program.

To be safe, it always important to pick a graphics system that works well with other products in your control room or on your production network. Many manufacturers now offer custom “packaged” control room deals to ensure compatibility and a one-stop-shop customer experience.

Comms Systems

Perhaps the most overlooked yet vitally important piece of a control room is the Intercom system. This is how everyone on the crew communicates and keeps a production moving smoothly.

When choosing a Comms system, you should first determine if there is an existing system in house. If so, then adding to that system, or completely updating it, is the most cost-effective way to go. It’s sometimes hard to mix and match systems—some support network-based protocols like AES67 while others work best with Dante - but a bit of tweaking by the right expert can make it all work.

Crews have begun incorporating their own cellphones and WIFI communications into their Comms systems. It’s more convenient and, as a rule, crews do not like to share headsets if possible. Comms can also include MADI lines for programs and mixed minuses in your system. Mix-minus is often used to prevent echoes or feedback.

Replay Systems

Mostly used in sports production, replay systems now come with a variety of features and at a wide range of price points. Anyone looking to implement instant replay systems into their productions must first identify their overall expectations, their system requirements and of course, their budget before investing in a new system.

Instant replay systems are made up of two primary components. One is the device, which is typically hard drive based, that records and plays back instant replay clips. The other component is a device that controls the instant replay devices. This controller can be a computer with a keyboard, but ideally it is a separate professional control surface with customized buttons and a T-Bar for quick and efficient operation.

However, replay systems can do more than just create highlight reels. They can also be used for logging camera views that can be stored and recalled at a later date. This means an entire production’s worth of video can be reused for other purposes or to cut down on setup time when you move to a new location but are doing the same type of sports project.

Depending upon the type of programs to be produced from your control room, it’s recommended to find out how much storage capacity your replay system features and whether you can add on as the need arises. It’s also import to choose a removeable and stable long-term storage format, like solid state media.

[Of Note: production switchers typically include a clip store that can save files and recall them as macros.]

Ingest And Playout Server

Production often includes pre-produced segments that must be included in a newscast or program lineup. This video server device allows you to streamline ingest and playout of programs and commercials during a live telecast or pre-produced show. They are also used as a line feed for later postproduction prior to delivery.

Basically, these servers ingest multiple camera feeds and record them. The emergence of new, less costly models, some completely software based, add more features yet are hosted on COTS hardware.

Encoders/Decoders

In a video control room, decoders help receive remote video signals from outside of the studio - like those from satellite trucks and live cellular backpacks. Encoders, both hardware- and software-based, are used to send the pictures back to the studio while conserving bandwidth, especially in a wireless transmission set up. Compressing a file before delivery saves time and money.

Videowalls

No video control room is complete without some type of monitor wall that is used to watch over the program and various camera feeds during a production. It’s typically made up of a variety of reference monitors hung on custom brackets at slightly higher than eye level that help the control room team visually manage all of the video and audio components.

Most rooms are using multiple LED monitors that are managed by some type of control software. This software or a video router can help distribute program feeds to different parts of the facility that require it. For example, the replay operator or the audio mixing suite might be in a different room, but they still need to monitor the picture, so they need a feed separate from the replay operator.

When designing a video wall, first determine how many people in how many different areas need to see the signal. Then figure out how many camera feeds you’ll need to monitor. In some cases the production switcher can be used to drive the multiviewer display. Typically, however, the multiviewer is run out of the routing switcher so that you can set up different titles across your monitor wall and for supporting different users in different rooms.

Another way to set it up your monitor wall is to have the video routing switcher drive it. This helps avoid taking up important outputs on the router. Using the router also helps save money.

As for the actual displays themselves, consumer-grade 45-55 inch LED monitors are being used in many installations to save cost. Designing a video wall as a series of flat panels allows you to service them individually, as opposed to taking part the entire wall. And the best part: You don’t need an expert technician to do it.

Automated News Production Systems

Many news studios are now equipped with Automated News Production Systems that utilize a database system to create a rundown of programs and commercials that can then be run automatically while the newscast is on air. While technically cranky when it was introduced around 2005, these unique IT-centric software systems are now extremely reliable and help save operational costs while reducing the need for staff.

An automated system can be used to drive the production switcher, audio mixer, graphics processor and even launch virtual sets.

There’s some preparation that needs to be done to get such automated systems set up, but for many the efficiency and reduction in on-air errors can’t be denied. We’re also seeing such system being used for remote operations workflows. The latest news automation systems allow you to take a news script - linked to a newsroom computer system - to drive the switcher takes, cues, camera moves, graphics, and audio levels.

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