Broadcast Solution for Public Access TV, Part 2

Patrick Thorpe, network and technical manager of Montgomery Community Media, talks about the station’s upgrade.
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Broadcast Solution for Public Access TV, Part 2

Jun 28, 2011 12:14 PM, with Bennett Liles

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Wise budgeting is essential for a public educational and government access TV station. Network and technical manager Patrick Thorpe has balanced the old and the new production gear at Montgomery Community Media and he's back to wrap up his talk about how it all gets done. Up next on the SVC podcast.
Pat, thanks for being back with us for Part 2 from Montgomery Community Media, a PEG station in Rockville, Md. We talked earlier about new JVC camera upgrade and what a big step up that was for you, but you mentioned when we got in touch about this that you were having some work done on your master control automation. Tell me a little bit about what you're doing in there.

We're working on the first part of our master control upgrade. We hope to do the rest or another major portion this year and we use a system called Synergy from Synergy Broadcast which an automation system. We've had it for 6-7 years now—got it in around 2003 and this was an upgrade/crossgrade from the old system to the new system and we were just a couple of weeks short of where we needed to be getting that done. The old server crashed and crashed hard the week before Christmas and Synergy was really fantastic in just keeping us on the air, but we were never able to recover the server. It was well beyond age and well out of spec—part of that upgrade thing where you really need to be doing servers on a 3-4 basis and we're on a 7-year basis. So we really refreshed the system. Their system is a…basically a master control computer with a server and then two encoding machines and along with that the company bought what they call a Translink transcoder engine which is a DVD ripper and will rip almost any kind of file to any kind of other file and I have to say the master control guys love the transcoding engine. [Timestamp: 2:28]

I'll bet they do and they're going to keep loving it with all these different formats.
Right and we really have end of trouble with DVDs just because there's so many varieties but a lot people wanted to do it and we moved in that direction and up to this point they've really had to encode them, if they were going to put them in the server, live which means for a 30 minute show it's 30 minutes to encode. Well right after they got the installation done one of the master control guys, he helped me and he said—it was at the beginning of the quarter when a lot of people submit programs and he said, "I went through 110 DVDs"—which would probably be 50 hours worth of normal work, "in one ten-hour day." So he was just able to process enormous amounts of content in a single day, which would have normally taken more than a week for them to do if they were working hard at it all day long. So pretty good purchase on that—we're really happy with that system. And the other system is just a modern server. We were using a quad with the output device under the old server which is a four stream, four channel output device and the new one uses Vella cards but they're actually inside the server and there's one channel output per, we have two channels—19 and 21, one channel output per unit. So it's an upgrade, those cards are supposed to be able to handle HD-SDi and to do up-converting, down-converting, cross-converting. We haven't really tried any of that yet but we're going to bank it on that down the road that that's going to be able to be the base point to build an HD master control system back around. [Timestamp: 4:02]

Well anything that stretches your manpower is going to be worth its weight in whatever you have to pay for it. That's the name of the game now. So tell me a little bit about your audio, we've been talking about all the video stuff but how do you handle audio things there?
We're still on the analog audio. We like analog audio. I don't really want to switch out of analog audio…we may eventually be forced to but we use Mackie mixers in the studio. They used just some small ones in the field—they don't have real professional mixing in the field but a lot of people just don't really do that. They're straight into the camera and just monitor levels there. [Timestamp: 4:36]

A Mackie's easy on the training. That's for sure.
It's easy on the training and it's an inexpensive item. I think we replaced the one in Studio B. It was a 16-channel and I forget, it's their newer model, it was 12 or $1,300 for that unit and to replace the 32-channel one in Studio A was…it was like $2,000—it was like some of the most cheapest equipment we ever buy and some of the most durable and it works really so we're real happy with that kind of stability. [Timestamp: 5:05]

Have you got any sort of IFB system there for your on-air people?
Yeah for Com audio we're using an RTS system which goes back probably 25 years. That system really hasn't been improved that much—an extremely durable, re-buildable headsets or com-boxes break down…there are…parts still out there and we still get them fixed. That's one system…eventually we'd kind of like to get replaced but it's a big system—two studios and 30, 40, 50 headsets and boxes and producers stations and all that's going to add up to be a pretty big chunk of money so as long as this one keeps working we'll probably stick with it. [Timestamp: 5:45]

Yeah it tends to be durable. I've seen those things dragged all over the place with the remote trucks and it just keeps on working—everybody knows how to operate the system once you've got a lot of people coming through there. So what are you doing for video switching?
Camera switching; we're on Ross for most of the county. I think the other PEG operators and ourselves are using Ross. So we've got a Ross Synergy II in Studio A that's an SDi switcher it was put in fall of 2006. It's a still dynamite working unit. It's a two full whammy switcher and then in Studio B last year we put in a Ross Vision QMD which is also a 2ME switcher. People are interested in doing a lot of green screen in that studio a lot of faux virtual set type arrangements. That one we really purchased with a number of keyers and still stores built in, multiple channels, a DVE to facilitate that and that's been a good unit. We really do like it and it's a multidef unit so…but that studio is primed to go HD assuming we can get the money together for cameras and recording decks and routers and monitor walls and all of that equipment. [Timestamp: 6:57]

And how are you doing graphics there?
Graphics were on a number of different systems, obviously for editing, we're in Final Cut, After Effects, we've got CS suites on most of the computers that use editing and then for in-studio stuff we have Harris inscribers Harris Inca Store which is a still picture store which I think is no longer on the market anymore. We also still are using our Pinnacle Deco's and Pinnacle Lighting that we've had for 10, 12, 13 years. So those are pretty good systems. They've been fairly reliable. One of the Harris inscribers has blown a power supply like twice in a row and we're actually coming up on the year anniversary of that…just real weird just all of a sudden just flaked out and blew a power supply and we had to get that replaced but other than that they're dynamite units. People get use to using them and one time there was a big fear among Access people and others about how they would handle new graphics and new graphics systems but anymore so many of them are lined up and do things similarly that people just pick up and run with that stuff almost immediately. [Timestamp: 8:06]

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Broadcast Solution for Public Access TV, Part 2

Jun 28, 2011 12:14 PM, with Bennett Liles

Yeah the graphics gear is fairly easy to demo so you know what you're getting and the people who pay for it can pretty much see what they're paying for but with PEG stations and commercial outfits one of the things that seems to be the hardest sales for higher ups is the lighting gear. So what are you doing with the lighting there?
Well lighting, we're still mostly on stuff that we've had for years and years and years and years. We've got Strand Instruments in Studio A…Nomally 45x55 and there's a support pole in one corner of the studio that limits it's use a little but…78 lighting instruments in that facility—34 of them are Fernell's, so it's a 2:3 ratio for 1,000 and 500 watters. We've got a number of psych lights around the outer edge those are in pretty bad shape and really should be replaced they're just…parts aren't available for them anymore and if you're doing something like a cyclorama light LED lighting would just be almost perfect in this day and age for just being able to put out those really brilliant colors and almost infinite mixes and low maintenance and then some Weiko's and soft boxes. We're kind of on a theater lighting system so it might be a little different than other studio lights and in Studio B is the run and gun studio. You go in, you hit one button, the lights come up to a certain level and you just go with that—there's really no lighting to be done in there per say unless a bulb needs to be changed. [Timestamp: 9:3]

Yeah I guess with most of the studio stuff that you do you really don't have to get real fancy with the lighting changes as long as you have the good basic setup that makes fairly static formats look professional.
Yeah and there are occasionally people that come in and want to do lighting effects and do more specialized stuff but a lot of people that come in are just…they're happy to have a decent image and happy to have a decent light on so we don't attempt to do anything fancy. It's mostly standard—3.0 light and then take a look at your image and see if you need to adjust. [Timestamp: 10:01]

So now that you've got those new JVC cameras have you had any surprises in training people? But actually you don't have to train people a whole lot in using those do you?
Well we did…we had a lot of training course because it was a big deal for people to go up but the primary thing is really just how to handle the camera and the ways it's different from previous cameras and I have to tell you what the big surprise really is…has been for me. The cameras came in…starting coming in, in different components in March of 2010 and then we started running certification classes for people that were already members and already certified during the summer. The cameras were…packages were all put together and finally released to people in October and in January they really switched the training classes over so if you come here you signed up, you take a training class. You no longer use the mini DV cameras, the DV 500's from JVC. You using…now using the HM 700's and we're required to write a quarterly report and I report on studio usage and hours and kind of off the cuff I wanted to see how the…how the cameras were doing because I don't really report on field gear and I was just blown away. I mean the other types that we have in house have almost dropped to nothing and almost all usage is really going to the JVC's. That's a big turnaround in a couple of months for really how people are using them. We had a schedule that we were going to follow about taking the mini DV cameras, rolling them out over a period of time because everybody was all freaked about not being able to get to them. Why I think they had, over the first twelve weeks of the year, they had maybe 12-15 uses among the five still remaining cameras and we were over 100 for the JVC's. It was just really an amazing occurrence to me. [Timestamp: 11:46]

Yeah how you going to keep them down on the farm once they've seen the new ProHD outfits?
Yeah I guess so and you know, some people have complained about the price of the cards because they are more expensive than just standard DVC pro tape or…and especially for mini DV tape but one of the facilitators told me the other day, he said, "I've had people come in and they're starting to recognize that the cards are reusable." So you buy whatever you need. You get maybe a spare to take with you out in the field. If you're really cautious you get a second in case there's problem and then you're good to go. The JVC system from that aspect has really been dynamite for us. [Timestamp: 12:23]

So what do you think you're going to be doing as far as upgrading next? What's the next big thing you're planning to go to the county for?
The next thing would be Studio B. County does give us money, they pretty much own a lot of the equipment on site, to purchase equipment and we've gone to them and said, "We want to do Studio B up to HD," and they're good with that so that's the next step—how much money we get. How much we can provide from internally. We'll see. The big worry for me moving forward with HD has really been how to record it in the studio because for us there really hasn't been a good way to record tapeless content which is what you're going to do when you move to HD. And in terms of access station, we're a little different than most other organizations would be. Most other organizations simply put in a file server and that works great for them but for us because of the amount of people we deal with the physical media is really always the best way for us to go. So a producer comes in, they stick their tapes or whatever they have in some type of recording medium, they do their show, they take their stuff out, they leave, we lock the door and turn off the light behind them and we're done. We don't have to manage their content. We don't have to deal with doing maintenance on a server. We don't have to do the electricity on it. We just…when you leave, you take your stuff with you and go and that's really been the primary worry for me. A couple of weeks ago I found out that Black Magic has now produced a deck that's supposed to be released in the next few weeks that will meet that need. It runs on SSD hard drives, solid steady drives, which are still fairly expensive but the deck looks pretty good as a primary replacement for the kind of VTR's that we use now. We also go the ISO boxes which would kind of fit that bill but aren't probably as user friendly for us as we would want to see and once I saw the Black Magic a lot of pressure went off of me because I know now people are actually coming out with systems that will fill the bill for us. So…we were thinking before, "OK we can do the ausces or we can put Macks in and set them up with Final Cut Pro and then Ascia box and then do the recording that way," but that's way over kill from my prospective so other than that it's really just money. I mean everything is out there that we would need to purchase at this point and at decent price points. We use Hitachi D-series cameras in the studio. The HD versions are almost down to the price point that we paid several years ago for just SD cameras. We've got the switcher in place, we need to upgrade our routing system and we're going to have to deal with monitoring one way or another. Right now monitor wall, particularly for us, probably is the best way to go but you can always just go back to individual monitors if necessary. Somebody walked in the door and said, "Here's a couple of million dollars, go to town," we could flip the studios probably within a year both to HD and just be an entire HD platform. [Timestamp: 15:25]

Well that's always the big trick. It's figuring out not only what you need now but how well it's going to hold up until the next time you have to go the county and say, "This is what we need the most right now," and I wish you good luck with that. I love PEG stations and what you do and what you do and it's always a challenge keeping it up and running—loved having you here. Pat Thorpe with Montgomery Community Media and you guys keep up the good work.

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