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Video Switchers Spark Creativity

More than switching, devices add graphics and store clips

Chad Heupel of the FDA prepares a production in the FDA’s studio control room.

Video switchers are used for increasingly unique government and public applications. They are no longer limited to production studios and can now be found in city councils, libraries and educational settings.

Blackmagic Design has a unique customer in the Melrose Center located in the downtown Orlando (Fla.) Public Library. The library is part of the Orange County Library system and it uses the BlackmagicAtem Television Studio with Atem Software Control.

“Library cardholders now have free access to a new video studio outfitted with an Atem switcher, green screen wall and full video/audio package,” said Stephanie Hueter from Blackmagic Design.

The Video Studio features a 29- by 14-foot green screen wall and Atem’s chromakey helps people understand the function of a green screen and explore the possibilities available when using it.

Patrons of the Melrose Center are being trained to perform live video switching between the three available cameras and a Mac Pro desktop connected via HDMI input.

Anthony Torres, video studio instructor, said, “The video studio is a visitor favorite thanks to Atem’s live chromakeying. The ease of use with the Atem Software Controller allowed children to begin live switching shows after a few minutes of instruction.”

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The library also uses the Atem switcher for live events, both inside and outside of the studio. “Given its ease of transport, the Atem Television Studio has enabled public outreach this past September at the Maker Faire Orlando, with a live green screen chromakey exhibit featuring the Killer Robots. Adults and children instinctively begin playing with whatever background they see behind them on the Program monitor,” said Torres.

Additionally, the Melrose Center is being used for recording training videos.

“Spencer Hay of Quatro Solutions offers the eBolt tablet solution to the education market,” Torres said. “To help train users on the features, Spencer created videos by connecting the eBolt to the Atem via HDMI. This captures the eBolt tablet interface in sync with Spencer’s voiceover, which is recorded via a wireless mic connected by a mixer into the Atem.”

The Atem’s built in H.264 encoder allows him to record video with compression applied only once, which also allows the available storage to store much more video.


Harvard University is using Blackmagic Design’s video switchers as part of a new production workflow to support the live streaming broadcast of Harvard athletics to the new nine-channel Ivy League Digital Network, supplying all eight U.S. Ivy League schools.

Imry Halevi, director of multimedia and production for the athletics department, said, “We set up six Atem one-M/E Production Studio 4K switchers on each of our indoor tennis courts and, most recently, six Atem one-M/E Production Studio 4K switchers on each of our squash courts.”

The athletics department needed an affordable solution with a DVE channel that could add audio input from the commentators’ feed. The Atem one-M/E Production Studio 4K provided that and will also allow 4K streaming in the future.

“For the tennis court setup, each of the six tennis courts has a camera at one end for a wide-angle shot, which is fed into an Atem one-M/E Production Studio 4K,” Halevi said.


There are currently three Ross production switchers used by the city of Austin, Texas. Two of these are Carbonite Extreme switchers, consisting of cards installed in a Ross HD video router.

“That way, any source on the router can be used as a source on the switcher,” said Abel Sassenhagen from BeckTV.

Every meeting held at the Austin council building and at remote sites all over the city have to be recorded and broadcast. Since there is only one operator in the control room, the control rooms needed to be as automated as possible.

In the main chambers are ten cameras.

“On the Dashboard Screen in front of the operator is a picture of the city council dais with thumbnails of the council members and where they are sitting,” said Sassenhagen.

The operator uses a touchscreen monitor to select the council member’s picture and three different cameras adjust to a preset shot of that council member. The monitor displays the video feed from each camera and the operator can choose the best camera shot to take to air.

“We are also using Ross Expression CG per control room that interfaces directly with LCS, so when you take the council member to air his name changes automatically on the lower third graphic,” Sassenhagen said.

The second control room using the Carbonite Extreme switcher is for Boards and Commissions, and has seven cameras.

The third switcher is a Carbonite MultiMedia two-M/E, and is used for the City of Austin’s production studio.

“We have two Sony handheld ENG cameras set up on pedestals with teleprompter monitors, intercom and camera return feeds,” said Sassenhagen. “We also have three Sony 330 cameras mounted hanging off the lighting grid for wide shots and crowd participation.”

Panasonic AW-HS450 production switcher

Panasonic has a range of switchers that target government facilities, including the AV-HS450NJ, a one-M/E unit with 16 inputs. Capable of working with SD and HD signals, the HS450 has built-in color controls for matching sources and the ability to control a Panasonic pan/tilt/zoom camera.

To ease the integration of the switcher into a system, the Panasonic AV-HS450NJ has a built-in multiviewer that can spread 20 source images over two HD displays, with as many as 16 images on a single display. The unit has built-in 3D effects and chromakeyer, and can upconvert SD signals to HD on four of its inputs.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration studio has one of the largest live studios in the Washington, D.C., area and are equipped to produce live television training and education programs for the FDA and other federal agencies.

“The FDA studio has a Grass Valley Karrera K-Frame production switcher,” said Chad Heupel, director of the FDA studio.

The FDA studios currently have one three-M/E Grass Valley Karrera control panel but are potentially moving to larger facilities in the future. The Grass Valley Karrera K-Frame video engine can expand as needed, accommodating up to 192 inputs, 96 outputs and up to nine mix/effect busses, with six keyers in every M/E, which allows a single frame to support two full live studios.

The Karrera K-Frame is a flexible production platform that provides an integrated control room panel but also allows for delegation during complex productions.

Heupel said, “The switcher has 10 channels of image store built in with 3,000 stills instantly accessible, and for simple shows, the technical director can flip to the image store menu and change stills with the touchscreen. In a more complex production, the image store function can be operated on a separate PC on the same computer network as the switcher, and a second operator can control all image store functions independently.”

Heupel finds that the Karrera’s touchscreen interface is user-friendly and the menu structure is easy to follow. He also appreciates that the switcher panel is also customizable.

“The FDA Studio has three TDs, with three different preferences for button layout, panel color schemes, and functions; as well as different set-ups for different productions,” he said. “The Karrera allows TDs to save panel layouts, show files, and all their user settings for later recall.”

Control panel for the Broadcast Pix Mica 500 switcher

The Broadcast Pix Mica is an eight-input switcher, with another input for a key source. The unit also has seven channels of file-based inputs for clips, graphics and animations, as well as a built-in clip server that holds up to 30 hours of clips. An integrated character generator makes it convenient for the Mica to add and sequence titles and graphics during a production.

One of the Broadcast Piz Mica’s interesting features is its ability to create macros to quickly recall complex setups. This is a timesaver for on-screen features such as triple boxes and other complex shots, and the unit is available with a panel that has dedicated control banks for instant access to macros.


For-A has video switchers in use in military and space applications. One example is the U.S. Navy, which uses a For-A HVS-100 one-M/E switcher.

For-A HVS-390HS switcher

“They are used for in house video production, creation of training videos and live presentation events,” said Jay Shinn, vice president of For-A.

NASA is using two For-A HVS-390 video switchers (one- and two-M/E versions) in the Wallops Island flight facility to produce live rocket launch event coverage. These video switchers have a built-in multiviewer to monitor inputs and outputs from a single monitor and multiple keyers with full DVE effects. The switchers are portable and can be completely controlled from any PC or iPAD.

“A built-in animation player allows the playback of live animated graphics,” Shinn said.

Rushworks has been a popular choice for PEG channels, schools and local government facilities, with its affordable options for camera control and automation. One such customer is the Yuma County, Ariz., government channel.

Screen shot of the Rushworks VDesk switcher controller

“Rushworks’ VDesk integrated PTZ production system is currently being used by municipalities and school districts all over the country,” said Rush Beesley, president of Rushworks. “VDesk is designed specifically for single-operator production of multi-camera events.”

Rushworks’ VDesk is available in four, eight or 12 inputs in analog or HD/SD-SDI, and encodes MPEG-2 or H.264 files. The company’s A-List automation can fully automate a channel, including switcher control and video playbacks.

As the world becomes increasingly technologically inclined, the use of video switchers will likely expand into previously unimagined applications in the government and public spheres. This is just the beginning of a bright future for video switchers.