John Carter, senior production manager, production switchers, SAM
Stuart Ashton, director, Blackmagic Design, EMEA
Fahad Hasan, broadcast engineer, Advanced Media Trading
How is the market for production switchers, globally and in the Middle East?
John Carter: The Middle East market is witnessing significant growth due to a rise in the usage of broadcast switchers in studio production; a major driver of this is the increasing adoption of HD. SAM’s Middle East team are experiencing huge demand for our Kula 1-3M/E switcher for small studio production and flyaway kits.
What kind of trends are you seeing? Is there a noticeable preference for certain types of switchers and certain functionalities?
Stuart Ashton: A key trend that we’ve seen is the boom in online broadcasting, with more and more people looking to create high-quality content for video platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. The evolution of easy to use, mainstream social services such as Facebook, YouTube and Periscope Live has almost certainly created a huge opportunity for web broadcasters to reach millions of people with their message.
As a result, we’ve seen huge successes with our live streaming trio of products - the ATEM Television Studio HD, Web Presenter and HyperDeck Mini - launched at the beginning of this year, which only serves to reflect the demand for professional quality video production from a new generation of content creators.
This has been the case throughout the Middle East and Europe as a whole, so it’s clear that online broadcasting will play a huge part in how the television industry evolves over the next few years. Traditional broadcasters are already beginning to consider how they adapt so that their content remains accessible, and that in turn, they remain relevant to future audiences.
Fahad Hasan: It’s fair to say during the last three to four years the video production switcher/vision mixer industry has seen an overwhelming introduction of a flexible range of switchers not only in terms of features and ease-of-use but also price-wise.
It’s obvious that a major trend from the manufacturers’ side has been the 4K production switchers, largely due to the fact that they will be future proof, keeping in mind a video production switcher is a one-time investment and in general lasts for years to come.
Carter: UHD is one of the biggest trends that we are seeing in the market; the format is making headway in taking over from HD as the default standard for sports production.
What has really made an impact is a shift in the way live UHD content is now produced. Previously, you used to have to have one truck doing the HD, and one the UHD. Now at a sporting event you can simultaneously produce HD and UHD with one truck or facility and one crew when Kahuna is at the heart of the OB unit. This is a considerable saving when you eliminate the cost and time associated with having a whole truck and production crew on location. This multi-format workflow is enabled by SAM’s FormatFusion3 technology which can seamlessly handle simultaneous HD and UHD and can convert down from 4K/UHD to HD.
SAM is all about creating efficiencies within the workflow – whether that is HD, UHD or any other format. The Kahuna production switcher has native UHD/4K internal clipstore capability; this eliminates the need for external equipment when holding replay wipes etcetera and saves both time and resources. SAM’s more compact Kula switcher can be delivered as a 2M/E unit and then be converted to a 1M/E UHD unit at no extra cost. This is very typical of our approach as a vendor. We are focused on delivering solutions to our customers that are flexible and robust. We develop technology solutions that simplify rather than complicate workflows.
How are production switchers evolving? What are the latest advanced in technology, and “must have” features that end users expect?
Hasan: The manufacturers have come with the idea of hybrid multipurpose production switchers so that in one switcher there is baseband (Quad-SDI), 12G and IP options. Of course the end- user shall be required to do some minor hardware or software upgrades which are almost negligible compared to the cost of a switcher itself, thereby also allowing the end-user the freedom to choose what they want. Supposedly they want to use HD only for now and later they want to upgrade to 4K. With the current batch of production switchers this is truly possible.
Ashton: Alongside portability and flexibility, an important feature is the capability to control multiple parts of the production, be it cameras, recorders or other devices, directly from the switcher.
As well as enabling production companies to deliver a multi-camera shoot with fewer people, it also helps to minimise your overall footprint while reducing the amount of disruption on set when setting up. This is particularly useful for music videos and commercials, as well as live production in the house of worship or corporate markets.
How are 4K and IP affecting broadcasters’ decisions around production switcher investments? Are purchases being delayed as they wait to see where 4K and IP are going?
Ashton: It’s evident to us that there is still a big drive for 4K content in the broadcast market and this will continue to be a key trend for production workflows. However, when it comes to IP, I think it’s still very much in its infancy, particularly in the broadcast market.
You have to remember that SDI is still so prevalent throughout the industry, and so I don’t foresee any broadcaster rushing to make the switch to a fully IP-based infrastructure - it will be a gradual evolution once there is a single universally agreed standard.
As a manufacturer, we will continue to ensure that we support broadcasters, whatever path they ultimately choose. So while we remain committed to offering support for 12G-SDI, we are also exploring developing IP products based on the TICO compression standard, the first of which is the Teranex Mini IP.
Do you see broadcasters holding off investments?
Carter: We don’t see people holding off investments so much. What we are seeing is that customers want to ensure any investment is futureproof. They are buying systems they can migrate to 12G-SDI or IP when the time is right. SAM has a very clear and strong product roadmap, so customers know that their investment is protected and that we will help them migrate to IP, 12G-SDI or whatever new workflow or technology their business requires in a way and at a speed that is right for them.
What are the big advantages with the latest generation of switchers?
Hasan: Currently I recognise SAM, Ross, FOR-A, Grass Valley and Sony as the major players and rivals in the production switcher industry. SAM, Ross and FOR-A have really come up in leaps and bounds by introducing really flexible, cost effective small and medium size production switchers allowing customers to enjoy the freedom of outstanding features at the most affordable prices. They also have a full range of large scale production switchers.
Grass Valley and Sony thrive on relatively large production switchers focusing on major broadcasters around the globe. They also have a new range of switchers with equally impressive features.
Clearly to date SAM Kahuna series, FOR-A’s HVS-2000 and new HVS-490 series and Ross Carbonite Black series are doing very well in the industry and with technology evolving so fast it’s fair to say that there is much more to come.
Carter: Kahuna’s Make M/E feature enables customers to maximise resources and allocate them as and where they see fit. The system is completely interchangeable, depending on their production, giving them the maximum amount of flexibility and agility to adapt to operational needs on the ground. Our Make M/E technology is unique to SAM - our competition can’t do this.
As customers make the migration to UHD, keeping workflows as transparent as possible with no delays is crucial. With SAM’s Kahuna and Kula switchers, vision mixer/TD switching in UHD or 4K is just like switching HD, which is a big advantage to users. They deliver flexible, scalable production power, allowing users to maximise creativity by combining mixers, keyers and DVE effects in a way that suits them.
SAM switchers provide users with the ability to break up the resources on hand to make best use of them; multiple control panels can be used to control the same mainframe for greater cost efficiency. Full native support for IP/12G-SDI I/O is another significant benefit that SAM’s switchers deliver and if you add that to the flexibility of our Maverik control panel, provides customers with freedom to choose a configuration that is best suited to their specific needs. The Kula production switcher delivers the same functionality as the Kahuna, but in a more compact and cost-effective package. So we address the whole spectrum of broadcast and production requirements and customers know we can deliver a product that suits their needs and their budget.