As technology advances and becomes more accessible to the general public, it is important for organizations to upgrade their audio visual infrastructure in order attract and engage their audience. Here are three affordable professional video tech trends to follow in 2018.
Digital Signage, Video Bulletin Boards and Multicast Systems
Most churches, educational buildings and government buildings have a big cork board, where staff can post bulletins about upcoming events and other announcements. Nowadays, however, it is common to have televisions strategically placed throughout the facility with rotating slides containing the same information that previously was featured on a physical bulletin board. This ensures that the messages you are trying to communicate don’t get overlooked and allows you to better communicate with the public, no matter what room they might be in. It also offers employees a convenience factor, because the graphics can be updated on a computer and sent to the various displays with the touch of a button.
While there are many different ways to accomplish this task, Z Systems has a couple go-to products that we have found to be full-featured, easy to use and extremely reliable. One of those is the MediaCento Multicast System by Black Box. With MediaCento, you simply attach a transmitter to your HDMI video source which then converts the signal to IP video for transmission over Ethernet. You can then plug the transmitter box via Cat5 cable to any Ethernet jack that you would use to connect to your facility’s LAN.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to tax your existing network with bandwidth-hogging video signals, you can wire the transmitter to an Ethernet switch, which would then be connected to the various displays around your facility. At each display, you simply attach a receiver box to convert the IP video signal back to HDMI.
The MediaCento system is much smarter than your standard HDMI over Cat5 extender. You can copy the EDID information from any TV and ‘clone’ it to the transmitter, so that the video source sends video the proper format. If you purchase the MediaCento Ethernet switch, you can get a software upgrade which allows you to manage and route signals from multiple sources and destinations, like a digital matrix router. Additionally, you can use this system in a video wall application, splitting a video signal into multiple pieces to display it on a television matrix. We have found that the Black Box MediaCento system lives up to and even exceeds its advertised functionality.
As far as a video source goes, you can use a computer with HDMI output and a software such as PowerPoint or ProPresenter to power your multicast system. However, a lot of folks don’t want to dedicate a computer just to send a video signal to their bulletin board system. In this case, Z Systems recommends BrightSign Digital Signage Players. They are super reliable, affordable, and full featured. The player just has to be connected to the same network as a computer, and you can send videos and still images over the network to be stored and played back on the player. BrightSign digital signage players are highly configurable and are designed to be running 24/7, powering your multicast system while your computer remains free to take on other tasks.
High-Quality PTZ (Pan/Tilt/Zoom) Cameras
PTZ cameras have been a common sight in churches, city halls and auditoriums for over a decade, allowing for the capture of messages, meetings and special events. PTZ cameras are extremely versatile, because they can be installed virtually anywhere and can be controlled remotely. In the past, however, the video quality of these cameras has been acceptable, but not exceptional.
Low resolutions, poor low-light performance, noisy motors and jerky camera movements have traditionally meant that if an institution wanted any kind of ‘wow’ factor in their images, they needed to invest in an expensive studio camera system with human operators. PTZ technology has come a long way in the last ten years to the point that organizations no longer need to buy expensive cameras to capture broadcast-quality video to share with followers.
So which PTZ cameras should you purchase?
Well, if you are on a tight budget, Z Systems recommends PTZOptics 20x-SDI. PTZOptics leverages open-source technology to keep their prices low, but still maintains an impressive image quality. The camera is as full-featured as they come, with IP streaming, SDI and HDMI output and IP control. You can’t find a better value on the market right now.
Granted, it is a budget product, so you will be sacrificing a few things. The camera doesn’t allow you pan, tilt and zoom at the same time. The shading options on the remote controller are limited, and the interface is more clunky, but for $1,700, you are getting a heck of a deal.
Now lets jump up to the cream of the PTZ crop.
Panasonic has been the standard bearer in the PTZ camera world since the late 2000’s, when they released the AW-HE100, and they have updated it every few years, most recently with the AW-HE130.
The HE130 features a 3-chip, 1/3″ type sensor and produces spectacular image with brilliant color and detail. When you look at the images that these cameras produce, you can easily see why this has been THE go-to PTZ camera for anyone who is serious about their video productions.
But that might all be changing now that Sony has released the BRC-H800 and X1000.
Sony recently released their latest crop of PTZ cameras, the 1080p BRC-H800 and its 4K cousin, the BRC-X1000. Because the H800 and X1000 have a large 1″ sensor chip, they can capture a crisp, clear image even in low light conditions. In our tests, we were able to leave the gain control at 0dB on the Sony BRC-H800 in all but the dimmest of lighting conditions. Sure, you can get a similar look as far as brightness goes by cranking the gain on any camera, but you are introducing a lot of noise to the image, and the less light on your subject, the more you will need to lean on the gain, and more degraded your image will become. Also, in our opinion, Sony also has the best PTZ controller on the market.
Affordable, Compact Live Video Switching
In the past, if you were going to get into full-featured switching for live events, you were looking at spending ten thousand dollars, at the low end. That isn’t the case any more, with new, compact, and powerful all-in-one production switchers on the market today.
Roland is known more as a pro audio brand than a pro video brand, but one thing they do make for the world of professional video production is high-quality, affordable live production switchers. At the lower end of the cost spectrum, we have the Roland V-1SDI Four Channel switcher. It features SDI and HDMI outputs, HDCP mode, audio mixing functionality, remote control functionality and multi-viewer outputs. It is ultra-compact, and we are also very impressed by it’s rugged build quality.
Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Pro
Blackmagic Design’s rack-mounted ATEM switchers have always been a popular choice for people who want live video switching on a budget, but to really get the most out of them, you have always needed to buy a more expensive control panel. This is no longer the case with the Blackmagic Desisgn ATEM Television Studio Pro HD. This all-in-one, eight-channel switcher has everything you would want in an entry-level switcher, and then some. Dozens of transition effects, audio capabilities, an aux bus, and additionally, some on-board controls for Blackmagic’s studio cameras. While some of the features on this switcher might be a bit overkill, we still find that is a solid, well-built unit and a great value in the low $2,000 range.
If you have the need to upgrade the video technology at your organization but have a limited budget, the time couldn’t be better to make upgrades. For thousands less than their high-end counterparts, you can get most of the functionality that you need at a fraction of cost.