Field Report: Skehan Communications Augments Production with Matrox VS4-Server

Skehan Communications provides multi-camera HD video production, webcasting, satellite uplinks and other services to a variety of customers at locations from San Francisco to Boston.

Specializing in remote, multi-camera HD field production, the company covers all types of events and shows. Recent events include:

  • Horatio Alger Association Awards & Induction Dinner
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Holiday Lectures on Science
  • US Conference of Catholic Bishops Annual General Assembly
  • ESPN’s Baseball Tonight
  • History Makers & PBS: “An Evening With Gwen Ifill”
  • “Opera House Live: Dr. John Concert” for the Smithsonian Channel
  • “Interludes DC: Jill Scott” for the TV One network
  • OTAKON 2015 Convention of anime’ afficionados
Horatio Alger Association Awards and Induction Dinner at the DAR Constitution Hall.

Horatio Alger Association Awards and Induction Dinner at the DAR Constitution Hall.

The company prefers to own its equipment and facilities so seldom relies on outside sources. Its eight-camera mobile production truck, named “Kiwi”, is readily adaptable to any kind of HD television production requirement, thanks in part to its multi-camera recording system based on the Matrox VS4 quad HD-SDI capture card and the VS4Recorder Pro software.

The Drive for Change

Before integrating the Matrox-based system into their equipment arsenal, the production truck already had six disc-based media recorders. Then one client had a specific need to record eight camera feeds as well as two program feeds, increasing the requirement to ten recording channels. At a cost of approximately $3600 per recorder, adding the extra capacity with more of the same recorders was not an affordable solution and wouldn’t offer the desired operational flexibility.

Mike Skehan, CEO of Skehan Communications was on the lookout for a capture card on which to base a multi-channel HD recording server. The solution had to be financially practical and at the same time not make the operational workflow overly complex.

Plus, Skehan saw the growing need for redundant recordings at varying bitrates using a variety of codecs. It was time to find a more efficient and affordable solution to meet his clients’ needs.

Skehan production truck interior displaying the monitor wall - multi-camera recording system based on the Matrox VS4 quad HD-SDI capture card and the VS4Recorder Pro software.

Skehan production truck interior displaying the monitor wall - multi-camera recording system based on the Matrox VS4 quad HD-SDI capture card and the VS4Recorder Pro software.

Solution Discovered

After exploring several hard drive-based options, Skehan found a few custom recorders that suited the need, but at a cost of about $5000 per recording channel. Then he came across the Matrox VS4, which provided the features he needed to record multiple channels of HD video.

Customers have a variety of recording needs. Typically the most basic task is to record a main program along with a program backup. However, many clients want their main camera, and perhaps others, recorded as isolated (ISO) feeds.

This provides options in cases of a misstep in the program switching. ISO recordings are also used in post to produce varying versions of the event. In the Skehan truck, all recorders have routable inputs, so the VS4 recording server’s four channels can be used to capture any of the truck’s sources.

One requirement is the ability to share a common time code (TC) across all the equipment. The Matrox VS4Recorder Pro offers three options for master time code set up — Embedded SDI, System Time, or Time of Day. This truck uses an external GPS-based time code generator to reference the server’s system clock, so every recording has exactly the same time code.

One of the larger shows Skehan Communications has covered is the annual Horatio Alger Awards & Induction Ceremonies dinner held at the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall to honor new members. The organization raises money to promote and fund higher education for disadvantaged students.

The production typically entails four days of work: two days of set up, a day of rehearsal, and the show day. In previous years, only a few selected feeds could be ISO recorded, which proved inadequate when it came time to edit after the event.

This year, ten cameras including two robotics were used and all feeds were ISO recorded. In addition to the ISO recordings, two program recordings were done.

Matrox VS4Recorder Pro software in action.

Matrox VS4Recorder Pro software in action.

Workflow and benefits

The Matrox server provides four HD recording channels in a networked 4RU server chassis. The server’s MPEG-2 I-frame codec records at up to 300Mb/s in an AVI wrapper.

H.264 is provided in either MOV or MP4 wrappers and DV/DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO50 and DVCPRO HD QuickTime files are provided in MOV wrappers. The server’s RAID protection provides an added measure of security and reliability.

Future Plans

Because the Matrox VS4-based quad recorder has been so successful in productions, the company plans to add more. Some recorders will be truck-mounted to be used with Skehan’s HD production switcher packages or in the production truck, as needed.

By leveraging the VS4Control software, any number of systems can be easily controlled in a master/slave configuration, eliminating the need to develop a separate control system. For example, recordings can be started simultaneously across multiple VS4 systems with a single action. With this setup it is possible to have unlimited number of recording channels, all synchronized.

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