The graphics and playback workflow in live production is quickly changing as technology evolves. The days of an expensive infrastructure with multiple workstations as a requirement is increasingly diminishing.
The annual United event from WorldVentures serves as an intriguing example. United bills itself as an international convention that brings people together from around the world to celebrate each other’s strength and diversity, with opportunities to build team synergy and collaboration with peers, colleagues and fellow attendees. This year’s event took shape at the Fort Worth Convention Center, with more than 10,000 in attendance.
With dynamic speakers, presentations and entertainment-based performances over the three-day event, WorldVentures– the world’s largest direct seller of curated travel – requires an elaborate professional AV setup to accommodate high-quality image magnification and more. The company retained the services of several live production professionals to create the right technical architecture at an affordable price.
“We had some interesting challenges to consider when we started the design work for this event,” said Evan French, president and owner, Big Picture Productions, which managed all video production elements. “The biggest challenge was actually feeding the projection screens accurately. We had limited throw distance to consider, and were forced to turn the projectors on their sides to feed giant portrait screens. That was unusual.”
Big Picture Productions had four Barco HDX 20K projectors feeding four large Draper screens. Those screens surrounded a large, 25’ x 18’ LED wall in the middle of the venue. The LED wall propelled forward and backward, utilizing a moving track that crossed the length of the stage.
Graphics operator Matt Walden was contracted to handle the graphics and playback workflow. Walden’s experience in corporate and worship event production gives him great insight into the pros and cons of various systems on the market. And for the most part, the lines are blurring between what can be achieved using a “high end” system versus lower priced solutions.
Walden found Renewed Vision’s ProVideoPlayer2 (PVP2) server software to be the best option for United’s requirements of delivering high-quality, reliable playback of graphical and video content, balancing affordability with exceptional workflow flexibility and simplicity.
“My immediate concern was that we needed to rotate the images 90 degrees from the traditional landscape layout, which is normally a very expensive application,” said Walden. “We needed a system that would allow us to map everything out both as a wide canvas and as five individual portrait screens. That challenge required an affordable platform that could accommodate an array of individual outputs, with the flexibility to crop and scale all images – without hindering quality.”
Rather than go with a traditional Spyder or Green Hippo, Walden purchased a new Mac Pro and loaded the PVP2 software. This provided five Thunderbolt outputs and one HDMI output to deliver 1920×1080, 1280×720 and 1360×768 images to the various displays. Walden had seven total outputs: one local visual monitor, one feeding an onsite production truck operated by Video One Productions, and the five separate display feeds. Three of the display feeds were delivered from a single Thunderbolt port via a Matrox TripleHead2Go DP system, further simplifying infrastructure.
“A few years ago we would have needed a Barco Encore and a trained operator with an expensive day rate to program everything,” said French. “With this workflow, we could rotate the images in PVP2 and place them on our user monitor in the same arrangement they were being used in the show. From a programming standpoint, it was painless.”
Importantly, the ProVideoPlayer2 workflow simplified incorporation of effects and manipulations to deliver more dynamic and lively visuals. This gave Walden and his onsite graphics creator the ability to mix more compelling, custom-designed content into the event. The graphics workflow included a couple of additional laptops running Renewed Vision ProPresenter software, with one laptop handling creative and another running as a dedicated clock and teleprompter.
“For many presentations the screens were simply environmental, providing a general backdrop for attendees in the room,” said Walden. “There were landscape screens at each side of the stage driven by the production truck, displaying PowerPoints and camera feeds. In those situations, we were basically just playing out stock content to the five portrait screens. But we could have a little fun with it during the performances and awards ceremony.”
That fun included manipulating live video in real-time, mixing in his own custom effects as well as those built into PVP2. The manual option in the PVP2 menu allowed Walden to seamlessly blend in his own effects, playing out a motion background, loop or graphic with the live video. All video feeds were delivered from the production truck to an open Thunderbolt port in the Mac Pro via a BlackMagic UltraStudio 3D system.
“Big Picture Productions really helped us out with the video feeds, ensuring that live video was shot within ‘safe zones’ to keep faces centered and out of dead zones on the displays,” said Walden. “That, combined with PVP2’s flexibility for cropping and scaling images, allowed us to keep everything centered for the portrait displays, from graphics to live video.”
Walden also points to the low-latency of PVP2 as another significant benefit to the workflow, with all output delivered with less than 2 frames of latency – “spot on” with the landscape displays fed from the truck. The affordability factor offered perhaps the biggest collective benefit for all parties.
“I’ve gotten to the point where I am using PVP2 like a Spyder system or a Hippo server, but its both more flexible and far less expensive,” said Walden. “There are a lot of things I did on the fly for the United event based on last-minute requests from the client, such as playing out a recap video within minutes of its production. I simply popped a flash drive into my Mac Pro, dragged the file into PVP2 and hit play. It doesn’t requiring assigning layers in advance or other complex requirements. It doesn’t even require saving it to the local computer.”
“But it really comes down to price,” he continued. “One copy of PVP2 cost me $999, and gave me at least eight I/O connections to work with from my laptop. That’s way less than renting a Spyder and Hippo, let along purchasing one.”
French is similarly enthused about the flexibility for future productions. “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what we can do with this setup,” he said. “We provided six channels of video from a single computer with one click of a button for this event. We think we can keep stretching it into more outputs, whether coupled with Matrox TripleHeads or otherwise. Ten screens remains a distinct possibility for the next event.”