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City of Pocatello Looks to Upgrade its Government Access Channel

Production department found ease of use and affordability with gear from Blackmagic, Sony

For almost 40 years, the City of Pocatello’s community and government access channels have been producing quality video on a budget.

Although I’ve been employed at the station for 18 of those 40 years, my involvement with access television goes back even further. I first came to volunteer here as a teenager in 1983, where I learned the basics of television production but was working with limited equipment. I was able to sharpen my technical abilities via a stint in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic and by working for a few years maintaining the university’s television lab.

Now as production manager, I am responsible for maintaining and upgrading all of the gear for the City of Pocatello, as well as training both professionals and novices how to use it effectively.

Production Manager Ken Wilson works to produce quality video on a budget for the City of Pocatello’s community and government access channels.

We first became aware of Blackmagic Design products when we upgraded our main studio facility from analog to SD-SDI in 2009. The DeckLink capture card was an ideal solution for recording, and it interfaced perfectly with Sony Vegas, our software of choice for editing.

Two years later we decided to similarly upgrade our field multi-camera unit, but our limited budget simply would not cover a switcher in the $10,000-plus price range. Fortunately, I happened upon the Blackmagic ATEM switcher line, which looked ideal for our situation. It had both composite and SDI inputs and outputs, multicam monitor out and was rackmounted. The price point made us skeptical, though, because it was a fraction of the price of an equivalent standalone switcher.

The City of Pocatello considered the Blackmagic ATEM switcher line because of its composite and SDI input and output capabilities.

We made the call and decided to build the unit around the ATEM 1M/E. Using a Gator rolling rack, we mounted a PC for capture to an external raid array, the ATEM 1M/E, a patch panel for connections, and our existing Telex intercom. We then built an audio box with a 10-channel mixer and a stereo compressor/de-esser. Lastly, we added monitors for the ATEM and capture PC, and a laptop for control.

Combined with several Sony HXR-NX5U professional camcorders, it has been transformed into quite a powerful portable studio. This year we rebuilt the system to take advantage of several upgrades that Blackmagic has made to the ATEM 1M/E. We replaced the capture computer with a more powerful system and installed the ATEM software on it, eliminating the need for a separate laptop for switcher operation. The upgrades also gave us the option of using the ATEM’s internal audio mixer instead of our sound gear, depending on the situation.

We have also been tremendously pleased with the Blackmagic Mini Converter products. We use them in several of our production streams for standards conversion and signal distribution.

Recently we’ve added live streaming to both our regular cable channels as well as our portable studio, which allows us to produce live programming from many more places than we could before, including League of Women Voters forums, school board meetings, city council meetings, high school graduations and Idaho State Civic Symphony performances. Currently, we send the composite output of the ATEM to a PC with encoding software to stream in SD. We would like to be able to take full advantage of the high-quality HD video that the ATEM is capable of, so, we are currently building a new streaming encoder which will use a DeckLink card to capture the HD-SDI stream and Adobe Flash Media Live encoder to send the program to our streaming host. We are also looking into point-to-point streaming options with an eye towards being able to utilize the stream for live programming on our cable channels. That would give us full live capability from any place we could access the internet.

Next year, we plan to replace the SD-SDI switcher in our main studio. Because of the high performance and low price, we’re almost certainly going to select another ATEM switcher. This will be an important first step in migrating our studio production and eventually our playback system to HD. For a small department like ours, ease of use and affordability are both critical.

Ken Wilson is production manager of Community and Government Access for the city of Pocatello, Idaho.