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Portable Production: Choices Expand as you Think Small

Can you really get a studio in a box?

Rushworks Remo production system
Can you really get a studio in a box? Not only is the answer to that question “Yes,” but it’s getting increasingly smaller and less expensive to do so.

by Bob Kovacs

Portability comes in a few different sizes today, ranging from the size of a modest suitcase to a large packing case that takes two people to move. Some systems include cameras and microphones, and lack only tripods and operators.

Still, one video producer pointed out that the basics never change: It’s still all about telling stories.

“We need to make what we do interesting, informative and down to earth,” said Len Sipes, a senior public affairs specialist for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, which supervises probationers and parolees in Washington, D.C. “It has to be as simple as possible, high-definition and affordable.”

One company targeting this type of producer is Rushworks, located in Flower Mound, Texas. The Remo by Rushworks is a suitcase production system that packs a video switcher, audio mixer, pan/tilt/zoom cameras, monitor and cables into a system that fits in a Hardigg case about two feet long and a foot thick.

Denis Labreche (bottom) of Public Safety Canada listens as John Rhodes of Panasonic points out a feature in the Mobile Studios MS-450 Flypack production system at Government Video Expo 2009. Photo by Bob Kovacs The Remo has a video switcher with six synchronized inputs that can work with any video source. In addition, the Remo uses versions of Photoshop and Premiere for graphics and editing, and options are available for a range of cameras from SD to HD.

“It was designed specifically for a single operator to serve as director, technical director and producer of a multi-camera production,” said Rush Beesley, president of Rushworks. Video monitoring in the Remo is done on a single LCD panel, fed by the switcher’s multiviewer output. The supplied PTZ cameras can be augmented by cameras with live operators, if needed.

The Remo features presets that will automatically move a camera to a specific shot when a certain graphic is called up, so if you recall the mayor’s lowerthird graphic, a camera will swing into position for the shot. Beesley also said that the Remo can be set up and broken down in a few minutes, and that one person can handle transporting it to its destination.

In Dallas, Texas, Bennie J. Wilcox Jr., telecommunication systems manager for the city, said that he uses the city uses a Rushworks Remo whenever there is a need for multicamera video outside City Hall.

“Besides the extreme portability, the Remo eliminated six people on remote productions,” Wilcox said. “It is self-contained, including recording, graphics and audio, and it cut set up from six to eight hours down to two hours.”

Other companies have easily transportable solutions for mobile production. For example, Mobile Studios of Boca Raton, Fla., specializes in building custom portable production systems for any application.

Echolab Atem multi-standard production switcher Richard Rubin, president of Mobile Studios, said that the company designs and builds systems from suitcase size up to large packing crates, depending on the needs of the customer and the equipment complement. (See story on Mobile Studios’ equipment in the U.S. House) Mobile Studios has been partnering with Panasonic for the past few years but can build a system using any company’s products.

And there are a wide range of products in the industry, from switchers to mixers and cameras to codecs.

The Echolab Atem is a compact video switcher that supports everything from standard-definition video to 1080p/60 3G HD. The Atem includes features such as a built-in multiviewer, clip/still store, digital video effects and computer scan conversion that can simplify portable production.

The HVS-300HS from For-A brings its own strengths as a mobile production switcher. With 12 inputs, a 16-split multiviewer, SD/HD compatibility and dual picture-in-picture function, the HVS-300HS can form the core of a small yet powerful transportable system.

For-A HVS-300S Panasonic’s AV-HS300G video switcher has six multi-standard inputs that can handle anything from standard definition to 1080i HD. Each input is frame synchronized and will automatically adjust to whatever signal is applied.

In addition to a number of choices for video switchers, there are plenty of vendors with a wide range of cameras, audio gear and control equipment if you want to roll your own portable production system. In particular, good audio is often much harder to acquire than good video, so don’t short-change the audio side of the portable equation. As tempting as it is to spend a little extra for better cameras, that money is often better spent buying higher-quality and more flexible audio gear.

Sipes has been doing radio programs about supervising criminal offenders for years and recently added video programs to his portfolio. He does much of his work on a MacBook Pro laptop, but has been thinking a lot about taking his video production on the road and what it would take to get the job done.

“I want a laptop approach to shooting video,” he said. “I want three cameras, superb sound and superb lighting.”




RUSHWORKS In particular, Sipes said that lighting is not a trivial issue. The people appearing on-camera come in a range of hues and putting enough light on dark skin while not over-lighting light skin takes considerable effort. Sipes wants manufacturers to work on this requirement, at the same time keeping the gear as small and light as possible.

Sipes’ laptop production system sounds a little farfetched, until you remember that you can hold a perfectly competent HD camcorder in the palm of your hand – something that wasn’t possible five years ago or even dreamed of 15 years ago. Even when that day comes, the gear won’t set itself up or take care of all the details on its own.

People are still the most important piece of equipment in any production environment. Thinking through the needs of a particular event, and working out the audio, video and lighting will put you on the road to better programs.

Bob Kovacs has done educational and corporate TV, and is an engineer and author working in the television industry. He can be reached