Each year, our Technology experts attend the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the largest show for media, entertainment, and broadcast technology. Traditionally NAB has been focused on the broadcast television and professional video production markets, covering network TV, radio, production, postproduction, cable & satellite TV, industrial TV, FX, CGI, and more. However, based on trends over this past year, that may soon change.
Traditionally, professional video production systems are typically an order of magnitude more costly than your typical Pro AV-level systems. Yet the recent proliferation of independent content creators, videographers, Esports, and streaming content developers has created an increased need for corporations and higher educational institutions to be able to produce a higher quality of video content than ever before. This demand is in turn leading to the development of lower-cost video production equipment that puts these kinds of production capabilities within the reach of individuals and smaller organizations.
This new need for affordable, high-quality video production solutions is having an impact on universities, corporations and beyond. With those pricey barriers to entry being removed, educational institutions and corporate entities are now constructing purpose-built video production spaces. These spaces can range from something as simple as podcast studios, to large video production studios with dedicated control rooms, with users creating content that meets or even exceeds the video quality consumers have now come to expect in their daily lives.
For example, in the world of higher education, supporting remote learning modalities is more critical than ever before. In-person classes may be back in session, but universities are continuing to build out lecture capture and distance learning systems with lessons learned “the hard way” during the pandemic.
Corporations have similarly begun having digital town hall meetings, which require professional-grade production to create high-quality live streams for all staff, regardless of geographic location. Additionally, video quality is important for company training materials and publicly posted content with branding.
In response to this, this year at NAB we saw that many barriers to creating quality video content have been lowered. The cost of what used to be “high-end” equipment has come down significantly. The technology has also advanced enough that the cost of the associated infrastructure needed to support a professional video production space is also reduced. For instance, some use cases leverage cloud computing and portable equipment that can help eliminate the need for dedicated spaces altogether. Cost is not the only factor though; the workflows are being streamlined, and operationally these kinds of systems are becoming more user-friendly. In other words, some of the technical challenges that a more novice user may have faced are also being reduced.
Another trend we saw is that affordable consumer-level 4K resolution displays have created an expectation that video content should be produced in 4K. Professional level 4K video cameras and production equipment used to be limited to TV networks and cinematography due to the cost. That is no longer the case. There were entry-level models of 4K studio cameras shown at NAB that are only slightly more expensive than a quality HD studio camera. If entry-level broadcast cameras are out of reach for smaller budgets, other options are available. Production facilities now have access to reasonably priced DSLR and mirrorless full-frame digital cameras capable of recording 4K resolution video. Microphone mounts, stabilizers, monitors, and lenses optimized for video production can make a digital camera an affordable option for capturing content.
Many manufacturers also have cost-effective (studio quality) video switching and routing equipment that is now within classroom and conference room budgets as well. Traditional broadcast cabling and infrastructure required proprietary cable assemblies that were extremely costly. Lower-cost options are now available, such as cameras that use SDI (Serial Digital Interface) or NDI video outputs which can use affordable and/or existing RG-6 and network cabling, and do not require expensive transmitter/receiver pairs to transmit across long distances. In contrast, consumer video signals such as HDMI can only be transmitted short distances without additional equipment. Newer standards, such as SMPT2110, will allow uncompressed video to be routed over data networks, but the bandwidth requirements are beyond what is available on most building LANs.
Recording, converting, and archiving video has become more efficient and accessible than ever, thanks to lower-cost digital storage and network-based solutions. Video capture of high-quality audio and video are all standards-based, so interfacing with your already on-site editing software is generally no longer an issue. Onsite recordings can be made to SSD media, and compressed video can be recorded offsite using cloud-based options. Compact camera-mounted recorders can capture on the same SD cards used in consumer-level cameras and phones, so buying additional storage is cost-effective.
The latest electronics can also reduce the costs associated with building expensive sets and custom backdrops. This year many vendors were showing off video production switchers and associated graphics software that make it easier than ever to use green screens to create virtual sets or extensions of practical sets. This can make a smaller studio look a lot bigger on camera. It also reduces the amount of storage space required to house unused sets.
Even if a facility is able to budget for the equipment, another hurdle that most organizations tend to wrestle with is physical space. Typically, when dealing with broadcast quality gear, a large control room was necessary, but new technology allows users to move certain aspects of production onto the cloud. With networked equipment ranging from production switchers to production communications, a large amount of the workflow can now move to wherever the employees are, instead of being housed in a single room. There are still pitfalls that need to be considered when using such devices, such as delays that occur when using such equipment off-premises, but the flexibility of such setups may offset any concerns.
With the cost of high-quality audio and video recording equipment coming down and the flexibility of cloud control, it is becoming easier (and more affordable) for universities and companies of any size to produce professional-looking content!