NAB in Review: The Changing Face (and Price) of Production Switchers

Technology vendors exhibiting at the NAB Show make a habit of pointing out that their latest product development is a result of conversations with customers. In no market segment is that more true than in the rapidly changing world of production switchers.

NAB 2013 saw a widely diverse offering of production switchers spanning the gamut of needs and price points. Some even turned heads.

Grass Valley’s Dramatic Shift
Making the most head-turning move was Grass Valley, which introduced the GV Director integrated nonlinear live-production center.

GV Director is intended to simplify production and distribution of live content across multiple platforms.

GV Director is intended to simplify production and distribution of live content across multiple platforms.

GV Director is aimed at simplifying and streamlining production and distribution of live content across multiple distribution platforms. Just the look of the device suggests a paradigm shift and a very different way of thinking about production. Grass Valley CEO Tim Thorsteinson jokes that it is “a switcher for people with hair on their head.”

GV Director’s touchscreen, traditional switcher buttons, and T-bar controls are designed for experienced technical directors (TDs) and students alike. The software-based tool runs on mostly common hardware components forming a scalable CPU and GPU platform with Grass Valley-designed I/O technology. That makes it very flexible and customizable with virtually unlimited M/E buses, keyers, 2D/3D graphics, localized clip storage, and the ability to handle baseband and file-based sources.

“What a [content creator] is really doing is developing a scene for what is on the TV set,” says Greg Huttie, director, product marketing, switchers, at Grass Valley. “Back in the day, the only thing the director and the [TD] were really interested in was what was going on the screen for the home viewer, tell a story. So GV Director aids you in being able to create ‘the scene’ that the viewer is going to see on their TV and try to make it as easy as possible.”

In addition, Grass Valley kept with the software-based theme as it hit the market with its first fully 1080p-capable switcher, Karrera.

The K-Frame software-based modular approach enables Karrera to configure full 3G 1080p50/60 HD support. The intuitive control panel and the touchscreen side-panel interface are easy to learn, meaning new operators will quickly be up and running — particularly helpful for freelance operators.

Huttie acknowledges that, in some market segments, it’s less important to be on the cutting edge than to offer technologies when those working in the industry are actually ready for them.

“It’s about bringing technology and the formats to the forefront when [they’re] needed,” he says. “There was a buzz for 1080p for a long time. So we weren’t the first to the market with 1080p, but, certainly, when we bring it to the market — it ships in June – it’s exactly what the industry needs.”

The 1080p-capable switcher can offer up to 192 inputs, 96 outputs, and 9M/Es with six keyers in every full M/E.

Ross Video Goes to the eXtreme
Ross Video’s Carbonite production switcher has been wildly successful for the company. According to Nigel Spratling, marketing product manager, communications, switchers, more than 1,200 units have been shipped in the first 18 months since its launch.

During that sales boom, developers at Ross Video took careful note of customers’ buying habits: those buying Carbonites were also supplementing their purchases with signal-management systems, routing systems, distribution tools, etc.

In response came the Carbonite eXtreme, which has all the horsepower of Carbonite wrapped inside a highly configurable signal-routing and -management system. This combination makes it suited to mobile-production vehicles as it simplifies installation and operation.

“When looking at what the task is in certain kinds of production systems — like event management, house of worship, trucks — many of those applications always have some kind of signal management and distribution that go with them,” says Spratling. “And, obviously, space is limited in trucks, and churches are very budget-limited. So we said, Wait a second, we’ve seen people put little bits of processing, maybe even big bits like multiviewers, into routing systems, but nobody has ever put a production switcher inside one. Well, we make routing systems, so let’s put a production switcher inside.”

The eXtreme chassis can be configured with an I/O of up to 144×144 in increments of eight. It is available with any Carbonite control panel, and destination-based signal-routing control is managed with the company’s NK router panels. eXtreme can also be configured as a studio system with XPression graphics systems, BlackStorm playout servers, and DashBoard control.

Carbonite eXtreme is scheduled to ship in June.

Blackmagic Design Raises the 4K Bar
Although much of the sports talk of 4K at NAB 2013 was about using the technology as a production element in an HD environment, that didn’t stop Blackmagic Design from getting out in front of the industry with the ATEM Production Studio 4K, an Ultra HD 4K production switcher with support for Ultra HD live production with 6G-SDI and HDMI 4K technology.

“It’s a major step for us,” says Simon Westland, sales manager for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. “This is a very exciting development.”

Available now priced at $1,995, ATEM Production Studio 4K lets users connect up to eight SD, HD, or Ultra HD 4K video cameras, disc recorders, and computers for live production. ATEM Production Studio 4K includes all the features expected from a professional switcher, including chroma key, transitions, media pool, downstream keyers, audio mixer, multiviewer, and 6G-SDI and HDMI 4K video connections.

Sony’s Anycast Gets Touch
Sony’s “studio-in-a-box” Anycast has been an active player in the market for some time, but, at NAB 2013, the company raised the curtain on a touchscreen version (AWS-750).

The Anycast Touch system combines a video switcher, audio mixer, special-effects generator, PTZ camera control, a real-time streaming encoder, image still store, character generator, and scale converter.

It uses a sliding, dual-touchscreen interface similar to a tablet. A unique tilt-screen function allows the dual screens to split video and audio controls and conveniently store them in scene folders with settings including titles, logos, and effects. Operators can recall the next video source by touching its thumbnail picture, and content can be easily streamed live over the Internet or a dedicated network.

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