Choosing The Right Teleprompter Is Key To On-Air Success

Of all the behind-the-scenes technology used in studio and field productions, the teleprompter is perhaps the least obvious yet most important piece of gear to the success of a newscast or video production. That’s because maintaining direct eye contact with the audience is the most powerful and accurate way to deliver a news story. Not having a prompter can block the effective delivery of a message.

While the use of prompters has been a fixture of television and professional video production since its early days, selecting the right one can be tricky.There is the issue of how far the prompter should be located from talent in order to be read accurately. Then, consider how fast the text needs to scroll, which typically depends upon the person reading it. Text display is typically controlled by the on-air talent using a concealed foot pedal or a separate person.

In addition, TV professionals want systems that are lighter and brighter. One of the biggest changes in prompters has been been the move to LED and LCD displays and away from cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs).

Some companies that make teleprompters include: Autocue (sold as QTV in the Americas), AutoscriptListec (owned by The Tiffen Company) and Prompter People.

Autocue (and its sister Autoscript division, both owned by The Vitec Group) are veteran makers of teleprompter systems and have a significant market share. Representatives said that there are a number of key questions a user needs answer when purchasing a teleprompter, regardless of the preferred manufacturer, budget, existing equipment or other prompting requirements.

Viewing distance and size

The first thing to consider is the distance between the on-camera presenter and the teleprompter. This will help determine the size teleprompter required. Someone sitting up to 6 meters (19 feet) will need a 17-inch monitor, at up to 4 meters (13 feet) you’ll need a 10-inch screen sized model. Also key, is that whatever size and manufacturer of prompter selected, be sure that the mounting configuration is compatible with the camera, lens and tripod being used.

The main question around compatibility of equipment is one of weight. Does your tripod head have sufficient payload capacity for the additional weight of the selected teleprompter? There are many first time buyers who work with small cameras and tripod heads and find that their tripods will not support the weight of a teleprompter. Autocue is a company that can provide a range of cost-effective tripods, that are specifically designed with sufficient payload capacity for each prompter it sells.

The second question, Autocue said, is to determine whether the camera and lens can be positioned in the back of the teleprompter glass/hood so that the eye line of the presenter is looking directly into the camera. This will depend on the specific camera and lens being used, and also the flexibility of the prompter's mounting configuration. Generally, the camera, lens, tripod and teleprompter should all be of a similar proportion to work well together.

Prompter People offers a wide range of prompters to fit any type of camera, including this ProLine C330 model that accommodates single-sensor DSLRs.

Prompter People offers a wide range of prompters to fit any type of camera, including this ProLine C330 model that accommodates single-sensor DSLRs.

Prompter People, a company in Campbell, CA also has been making prompters for many years. Their products range in size to mount on large format studio cameras to smaller versions designed for field work where a tablet might be used as the prompting device. They also make a number of specialty teleprompters that fit over/under a camera and those used for robotic camera setups.

The company said that the most important aspect of using a prompter is to understand its value and ensure it melds seamlessly into the production workflow. It can’t get in the way.

“You know you are using a teleprompter correctly when it looks like you are not using a teleprompter,” the company said. “Using a computer or piece of paper held next to the lens is not a good solution.”

And because prompters are widely available from a variety of sources for well under $1,000, many YouTube product demos, video bloggers and web personalities also use small prompters when recording or streaming live.

The Listec PW-10EB teleprompter turns any tablet into a professional teleprompter. It comes with an adjustable camera mount that allows for virtually all shapes and sizes of DSLR and video cameras.

The Listec PW-10EB teleprompter turns any tablet into a professional teleprompter. It comes with an adjustable camera mount that allows for virtually all shapes and sizes of DSLR and video cameras.

Teleprompter physics

Teleprompters use a “beamsplitter”—with specially coated beamsplitter glass. This allows the text to be displayed to the talent on one side of the glass while a camera is mounted on the other side of the glass and will not see the text as it views the talent. 

Glass formulations include 60/40, 70/30 and 50/50. The numbers represent light transmission/reflectance. The first number is the amount of light passed through the glass to the camera. The second number is the amount of light reflected up from the monitor or tablet onto the glass for display to the reader. The beamsplitter is typically mounted at a 45-degree angle over the monitor and only the talent sees the reflected text. The camera does not. A 60/40 ratio produces higher text brightness than does 70/30 glass, although both are common formulations for teleprompter beamsplitter systems.

While a beamsplitter will reflect anything fed onto the monitor, most installations rely on software running on a Mac, PC or tablet to scroll text. With scrolling text, the talent should only be reading the line in the horizontal center of the screen. This line would be right in front of the camera lens. This way it looks like the talent is keeping eye contact with the viewer. If the text is not scrolling at proper speed the talent would first look above the lens and then below the lens, breaking eye contact with the viewer.

The two basic types of teleprompters include: camera-mounted and speech prompters. In addition, camera prompters have a hood with a camera behind the beamsplitter glass.

Whatever the production application, there’s’ a teleprompter system that’s right for the job. Careful planning and consulting with the various prompting vendors is the best way to ensure success: the talent rarely makes a mistake when delivering the news.

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