Story-telling skills and many production skills can be taught with a bare minimum of equipment. With today’s technology becoming more available at the consumer and prosumer level, it is possible to offer students new digital technology without huge investments.

In order to interest and encourage this generation of students in a field which is highly technical, a school system must make every effort to make modern technology available. However, the terms “modern technology” and “school budgets” rarely can be used in the same sentence.

Technology changes so rapidly that this document would be instantly obsolete if it listed specific brands and model numbers of equipment recommendations when it comes to the equipment outfitting needs for your studio.

We continue from the July issue with suggested configuration for “Level One” purchases.  

Level 1

Suggested product:

· “Morning Announcements” type of program with occasional short packages or VO

· Event videography such as archival recordings of athletic events, programs, graduation

· Production services (instructional tapes, highlight tapes, etc.) for in house use only

Location gear for television production:

3 Camcorders with batteries and cases for location shooting in one of these formats: Mini-DV or direct to DVD or direct to on-board hard drive

Extra Camera batteries and chargers try to get at least 2 batteries for each camera so one can be on a charger at all times.

Notes on Camcorders:

The most frequent question about camcorders is how many camcorders are necessary and what is needed as a basic camcorder to use for a starting program.

Here is a simple formula: buy one camera for every four students in your class. Nothing will stall a hands-on program like the lack of equipment! Know this as well: your class will quickly become quite popular, so plan accordingly.

Camera features to include:

Image Stabilization: electronic or optical.

This feature helps to diminish the shakiness of the hand-held camera – notice the word is “diminish” not “eliminate.”

Microphone In jack – Do not use the microphone built into the camera! You need to connect an external microphone

Headphone Jack:

Used to monitor audio playback

The number and size of CCDs (charged coupled devices) the camcorder has. Three

CCDs provide greater image quality.

As your facility grows, you are going to want to upgrade your cameras. Of course, upgrades are usually hand in hand with higher prices. You are encouraged to discuss “moving on up” carefully with your systems designer.

Items to consider:

Direct to DVD camcorders

Direct to on-board hard drive camcorders – thus going “tapeless” and vastly increasing your quality of product as well as eliminating the not insignificant budget item: videotape

Better zoom lenses

Mic inputs that are XLR instead of mini jacks

Larger CCD’s – not only does a 3 CCD camera provide a better image than a 1 CCD camera, the larger CCD provides a significantly better image. Be prepared for sticker shock. Large CCD’s are expensive.

3 friction tripods

Notes on friction/fluid tripods:

The top of a tripod where the camera attaches is called the tripod head. There are two types of tripod heads: friction and fluid.

The friction head is very inexpensive (the entire tripod and head may be $60.00). This is not a professional grade by any means. The friction head keeps the camera in place by the operator tightening a screw which presses two plates together. This pressure on the two plates keeps the camera from tilting of panning. Unfortunately, the only way to tilt and pan is to loosen the pressure between the plates. The friction system is an “all or nothing” system. Once loosened the camera is completely loose and is susceptible to every tiny muscle twitch of the operator. It will even move with normal breathing on the part of the operator.

The fluid head is professional level gear. Tripods begin in the $400 range and go upwards depending on the degree of “heavy duty” they are designed for. Get a tripod rated appropriately for the weight of your camera – think for the future not just for today. Tripods can last 20 years. The fluid head keeps the camera in place by placing pressure on a very thick liquid of grease between two plates. This pressure can be gradually increased or decreased making it possible to move the head but only with moderate pressure on the pan handle. This makes the camera much more stable.

3 25-foot extension cords

3 handheld mics

Notes on microphones and types:

The dynamic mic is considered the most rugged professional microphone. This type of mic is a good choice for electronic newsgathering (ENG) work, where a wide variety of difficult conditions are regularly encountered. These typically are the handheld mics used by on-camera talent or used for on-location interviews. The dynamic holds up well in school environments.

Condenser mics are not as rugged as dynamic mics, however, usually these provide a better quality sound than dynamic mics. Also, problems can result when they are used in adverse weather conditions; therefore, they are best used under controlled environments such as with anchors or in inside interviews. An example would be the

Personal mic (lavaliere or lapel mic),(Usually attached to clothing) These are all referred to as personal mics. These mics require a preamp; this means that, unlike the dynamic mics discussed earlier, condenser mics require a source of power, either from an AC (standard Alternating Current electrical power) supply or from batteries.

Shotgun mic - used for on-location production to pick up sounds emanating from a moderate distance from the camera. These are usually used in ENG situations. These mics have a very narrow pickup pattern and are good for eliminating noises coming from either side of the mic.

Boundary microphones - also called PZM mics. PZM is actually a product name created by a manufacturer however, like Kleenex is to facial tissue, PZM has become a synonym for boundary microphones. These rely primarily on reflected sounds from a hard surface such as a tabletop or stage floor. They can be used in multiple, round table-type interview situations. Several of these on the front apron of a stage can actually cover the sound of a theatrical performance.

Wireless microphones- can solve many audio problems in production. Most of the above mentioned microphones are available in a wireless configuration. Wireless mics are especially useful when talent must be free to roam, such as when doing an ENG report. Wireless mics are not without their own set of problems, however. They must employ the use of batteries. Not surprisingly, the quality of the signal from a wireless mic is directly related to the strength of the charge of the battery. Lesser expensive ones also can be susceptible to a variety of interference from lightning during a storm to walkie-talkies and baby monitors. Expensive wireless mics are less likely to be affected.

Wireless mics come in two types: the self-contained (all-in-one) unit and the two-piece type. In the self-contained, handheld unit the mic, transmitter, battery, and antenna are all part of the microphone. When small, unobtrusive clip-on mics are desirable, a two-piece wireless unit is the best choice. In this case, a thin wire connects the mic to a separate transmitting unit that can be clipped to user’s belt. In both cases, the receiver is located near the camera and connects to the Mic Input on the camera.

Studio gear for television production:

1-2 cameras to use as studio cameras

2 friction tripods

Studio monitor

4 small monitors (1 for each camera, 1 preview monitor, 1 program monitor) for control room

2 lapel mics (or one per anchor)

Audio/video switcher

Notes on Switchers and Special Effects Generators (SEG’s)

A switcher is a device that allows for the cutting from one video source to another.

Some switchers allow for dissolves and fades as well. A SEG will provide everything a switcher will do along with a wide variety of special effects. Clearly a SEG is more expensive than a simple switcher. One consideration should be the number of inputs the switcher will accept, the smallest number probably is six but in planning for the future, you might consider something with no less than 10 inputs. Discuss this with your systems designer.

Some units will provide audio mixing and switching as well as video switching.

These devices can be purchased as a stand alone piece of equipment or as a piece of software/hardware which is installed into a computer. Which you choose should be the result of discussion with your systems designer.

You are reminded that if you are trying to engage as many students as possible at the same time, purchasing things designed to be combined and installed on a single computer will occupy only one student at a time.

3-5 lighting instruments and stands or means to attach them near the ceiling.

Luxury item:

Headsets for camera operators and director. Your local electronics store can offer low cost wireless headset walkie-talkies which should be clear in the short distance between your control room and your studio space.

Post-production/ non-linear editing for television production:

You must have a way of inputting your raw video footage into the NLE editor and outputting your editing footage to your distribution device. Typically you’ll need recording/playback deck(s) for this purpose in order to avoid unnecessary wear and tear by using the cameras a the source. Of course, if you are using cameras with on-board hard drives, you’ll be able to connect the camera’s hard drive directly to the NLE editor and transfer the file with a simple click and drag operation that takes mere seconds. It is highly recommended that any deck you purchase have firewire inputs and outputs.

A small program such as such as the free-ware which usually comes with new computers works just fine and is a way many teachers start out. It does not typically offer extensive editing options but will do simple editing adequately. Face it, you do not want to start out with a program so complex that you, yourself, are not ready to use it. Both PC and MAC computers are shipped with this software. Which platform (MAC or PC) you purchase is often a decision that is made for you by the technology departments of your school system. Many school systems have policies of only purchasing one platform of computer for the entire system. This decision is entirely based on economics of having the tech support personnel only needing to be trained on one platform instead of two.

While PC and MAC users often will defend their platform as the “best” with a near-religious fanaticism, the reality is that both platforms provide entirely acceptable results and both platforms are found in the television industry. Moreover, as you move up to more complex editing software, the some of the best and most popular editing programs are available in both the PC and Mac versions. If you are in a situation where you are offered the choice of either platform, make your decision based on which platform are you personally more comfortable with AND which platform you have the largest group of people nearby who can help you if you run into difficulties. For example, if you are a PC person and nearly all the “gurus” you know are PC people, then purchase a PC.

Luxury item:

It is critical that you involve your systems designer in any decision related to editing equipment. This is true whether you are just starting out with free-ware or you’re about to upgrade to a multi-station $300,000.00 system. Rare is the purchaser who truly knows the exact requirements and “nit-noids” necessary for the effective purchase of a non-linear editing system.

Here are some suggestions and talking points:

1. Involve your tech support at the start. That way, they can better troubleshoot when problems arise.

2. Max out your RAM. The biggest mistake people make in system configuration is not adding enough RAM.

3. Get as large a hard drive as you can afford. Digital video is a huge drain on hard drive space.

4. Get a fast processor. Dual processors are now available for even faster editing.

5. Limit your machines exclusively to doing digital editing. Do not put these computers on the internet.

(Is any teacher fast enough to outwit crafty students who download things from the internet?) NLE editors are very sensitive. After installing them, obtain a program from your technology department which will essentially “lock” all the primary editing program data preventing computer savvy students from getting creative and accidentally or purposely corrupting the program. Many editing programs do not come with unlimited re-installs. Do not load extraneous programs like word processing programs on these machines. Make your NLE’s exclusively editors!

6. Decide on a single editing program. You don’t want to take up all your time with teaching different editors.

7. Consider “turnkey solutions.” These setups make a lot of sense for school situations and offer a onetime setup that is consistent from machine to machine. A turnkey system is one where the computer, monitor, keyboard and all software is distributed and serviced and maintained by one single manufacturer. Use the definition we have been using for your systems designer and apply that to the NLE editor. Get everything from your normal vendor but make sure the vendor gets the entire NLE from one manufacturer.

A supply of tapes.

This is a real and present cost! Mini-DV tapes are expensive and short-lived. Most mini-DV tapes have a 9-pass lifespan. “Pass is defined as one trip by the video heads either in record or play or scan. Therefore, if you shoot, rewind and view, then rewind and play into an editor, you have already used up 3 of the 9 passes a mini-DV tape is good for. Certainly, a tape can be used more than 9 times but the likelihood of distortions and artifacts appearing in the video increases dramatically. When creating your budget plan for purchasing tape as an ongoing expense. A good starting point is at least two for each student and a new tape for each program you decide to produce and event you plan to tape such as games, programs, graduation, etc. Also, encourage students to keep using a tape until they reach the end of the tape rather than use the beginning of a tape over and over again and leaving the high quality second half of the tape in pristine condition.

A budget to replace consumable batteries for condenser microphones, remote controls, etc.

Next month:  Level Two and Three