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Tablet-Based Teleprompters: User-Friendly, Energy-Efficient Options for Production

10/18/2013 1:00 PM Eastern

Teleprompters have always existed as a series of components. You had a source of text, whether it was a computer or simply paper scripts being fed under a camera; a display for that text, originally a CRT but now a flat-screen monitor; a prompter assembly to display the copy over or near the camera’s lens; and a scrolling controller. Now that nearly every professional has access to a tablet computer of some kind, however, the list of components in the teleprompter chain has shrunk considerably.

“No-Brainer”

Field teleprompting has come a long way since its origin as a paper roll memory aid in the 1950s. In 1969, Autocue introduced the closed-circuit prompter, in which a camera filmed a scrolling paper script and displayed that image on a monitor attached to the camera shooting the speaker.

“With everyone having an iPad or Android tablet for work or entertainment, the idea of building a teleprompter frame for them was kind of a no-brainer,” says Mike Burdick, sales manager for Mirror Image Teleprompters, in Oshkosh, Wis.

Autocue first built a prompter assembly to mount an Apple iPhone. “It was pretty clear that the iPhone iOS was going to be an important direction for us to go in,” says Aaron Brady, Americas managing director for Autocue in New York. “As soon as the iPad came out, we had an iPad prompter ready to go.” Autocue currently offers the Starter Series iPad Teleprompter Package with iAutocue app.

Listec, a Tiffen company, was also quick to market with a prompter assembly to mount a tablet computer. “The nice thing about the tablet is they tend to be very bright, have very good backlighting, so they’re visible outside,” says Michael Rubin, senior product manager at Tiffen in Hauppauge, N.Y.

Built-In Intelligence

Mirror Image IP10 iPad teleprompter kit

What companies such as Autocue, Listec and Mirror Image bring to the table when they incorporate a tablet into their prompting systems is expertise in providing lightweight but rugged prompting assemblies, high-quality beam-splitter glass, and sophisticated software and controllers. Tablet prompting assemblies are generally built for the 10-inch tablets, and some companies offer a smaller assembly for the iPad Mini.

“Some of the companies are making prompters to work with the iPhone,” says Burdick, “but frankly it’s too small to allow the cameraman to get very far” from the speaker, who needs to be able to read the script.

“With a tablet, there’s some intelligence built in,” says Rubin, “so you’re able to do a bit more and not be tethered to a computer for your source of information.” If a field crew is using a tablet for prompting, they may additionally use the tablet to do additional research on a subject or receive script material from the studio via e-mail or text message.

Listec’s PW-10EB Teleprompter includes an adjustable camera mount

Burdick says that Mirror Image has chosen not to write software for the tablets. “The iPad and Android tablets have a large number of apps for prompting, [so for us] there’s just really not that much money in doing that.” He adds that Mirror Image’s iPad teleprompter kit, the IP10, will work with any of those prompter apps.

Listec’s PromptWarePlus software is available for iOS and Android operating systems, along with a PromptWare Remote Controller. These options augment Listec’s PW-10 series of tablet teleprompter solutions.

“Tablet-based teleprompters are the most portable way of doing prompting,” says Brady. “There’s no power cable in, there’s no video cable in, and if you set up the wireless controller, there’s no wires at all.” Wireless control of the tablet is often via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, while some users employ a smartphone as the controller.

Autocue Starter Series iPad Teleprompter Package

Rubin points out there’s a cost advantage to tablet-based prompters because the computer and the display are combined. And the tablet is the primary cost; if the camera owner already has a tablet, there’s less upfront cost in buying a teleprompting assembly to mount it in front of the lens.

“There’s also a weight advantage. Today, with the DSLRs and the smaller DV cameras, [using a tablet] allows you to put a lot less weight on the front of the camera,” Rubin says. “So certainly if the cameraman is shoulder-carrying, he’s very happy, or if he’s using a Steadicam, it just makes it a lot lighter, a lot more compact.”

And while tablet-based teleprompters are well suited to the smallest video cameras, Brady adds, “we saw that the different cameras that people were using with it weren’t restricted to the smallest types of cameras. We saw people with large, professional cameras using tablet-based teleprompters.”

Tablet computers and teleprompters seem to be a perfect match.