Amitrace's Recommended Equipment List For Georgia AVTF Programs
One of the most difficult questions we have to answer is “do you have an equipment list you can share with me?” It’s a tough question because the goals of your program may be different from the other program in your town or even the same building. Below you will find a list of equipment to cover the needs of most programs. This list is not all inclusive and while there are some specific recommendations, this isn’t a shopping list because there may be things that you already have that won’t work with this equipment or equipment in this list that won’t work with other items in this list. Please consult your advisory council or our staff to make sure you don’t make a purchase or a plan you will regret.
If your program focuses on news production or you have been tasked with creating an announcement show, having the right equipment will cut your production time down tremendously and allow you to do more in your classroom.
Whether it’s a hardware switcher like a Blackmagic ATEM or a software solution like the Vizrt TriCaster, the ability to switch cameras quickly, add graphics, video, or other elements is essential for a high quality production. Video Switchers range from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand. Each has it’s benefits and drawbacks so budget, your workflow, and skillset all should be considered when deciding on a switcher.
Studio cameras are the portal to the world for your program and need to be a great tool to showcase the work that you and your students have produced. These cameras range from camcorders that serve as an all in one tool or a true studio solution with interchangeable lenses, manual controls, and more. The right camera depends on several factors including the size of the studio, the amount of light in the studio, the number of people you plan to have on camera at any given time. In addition to the needs of the show, you must make sure that your camera is compatible with the switcher you choose. This means that you have to make sure the connections will work both physically as well as in terms of framerate, etc.
Imagine trying to remember 5 minutes of meeting dates and times and having to present them to a viewing audience in a professional manner. Telepromtpers make that problem go away. Teleprompters display the script for your talent so they don’t have to remember anything, they just have to read. A proper teleprompter uses a mirror to bounce an image in front of the camera lens so your talent looks directly into the lens so they connect with the audience. Teleprompters are operated by someone using a computer to scroll through the script. Ideally this person would be outside of the studio so they don’t make noise and interrupt the show.
Cameras and teleprompters can be very heavy so making sure you have the right support is important. You don’t want your camera and teleprompter taking the expressway to the floor. There are many supports to choose from including tripods, dollies, or pedestals. Tripods are the simplest support - the literally just hold the equipment and allow you to pan and tilt your camera. The dolly holds a tripod but allows the tripod to roll around the studio. The most complex and versatile camera support is the pedestal. It does all that the tripod and dolly do but also allows for vertical adjustments of the cameras. This is essential in a high school setting as you have small, young students working in the same space as larger, more adult students.
Another area that greatly impacts your product is the look. In a studio setting, the amount of lighting determines what you can do. The size of your room, the number of “sets,” the number of people on camera, and the wall color all play a role in getting your lights right. If you are planning to use a Chroma Key, your lighting is the most important thing of the entire process as you have to evenly light the chroma area as well as your talent while limiting shadows.
Microphones and Audio Mixers
A show is only as good as it sounds. Having the right microphones and a good audio mixer is one of the best ways to set your show apart from the crowd. Typically studios use lavalier microphones that are placed on their talent so the audio is clean and clear for the audience. The audio mixer, or engineer, is in charge of making certain that all of the audio is balanced between the speakers, video elements, and sound effect.
Being able to hear what goes to air is essential. A good set of speakers wired to your audio mixer makes a world of difference when it comes to being able to manage audio and control the final output. Too often speakers in the control room are overlooked and the final product suffers.
The key to a professional production is communication. The communication between the control room to the studio is the main determining factor for news production. A partyline intercom system to allow the director to communicate with the other production team members is the best way to do this. Wired or wireless systems both work well for this. The prices for these systems range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Film Production/Film Gear
Every program has some sort of field production element. This could be as simple as an interview with a student or a newspackage with several interviews and b-roll. Getting the right gear for the job is essential. There is a lot of flexibility and choice in this area because of the amount of tools needed to effectively produce professional grade content. While some cases are simply run and gun solutions, some projects deserve more.
Field cameras are almost always camcorders. This allows your students to shoot and record the media directly into the camera. The word camcorder simply means a camera that you can record to but a camcorder can take several forms. Handheld cameras allow for the easiest entry into the video world. Set the camera in auto, point it at what you want to capture and hit record. There are many other options including a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) or a mirrorless camera. The handheld camera, dslr, and mirrorless are the most common form factors in schools. The decision to go with either of the three lies in the teacher/student skill level, the “look” that is desired, and budget.
The camera supports for field work is more limited than studio in that most choose a tripod due to the easy transport and set up. As programs and skill sets grow, many programs will move to a gimbal set up which allows for a lot more options when it comes to field work as the camera operator isn’t bound to anything and the stabilization of the gimbal allows for very impressive shots. Again, skillset, visual goals, and budget are a determining factor in which camera supports you go with.
Audio in the field is often the most challenging aspect of the production. There are a ton of factors that impact the quality of your audio - ambient noise, digital interference, weather. The right microphone in the right place is the key to success in collecting audio in the field. Whether you use a handheld microphone for your reporter in the field, a shotgun microphone to capture ambient noise, or a parabolic microphone to get something very specific in the field, you need a variety of tools for field audio. Often wireless microphone systems are essential for a successful project.
Another tool often used in field production is a portable audio recorder. This allows for better quality audio as it doesn’t require the camera to be close to the audio source and the audio recorder often better handles audio quality.
In order to make sure your subject is properly exposed when shooting in the field, light kits are essential. This allows you to modify the light in the field in a way to highlight the things you want to show and not distract your viewers. These kits can be wireless or battery powered. (If you go with battery powered systems, get extra batteries!)
Field Light Stands
Having a good light kit is one thing but to have the lights placed where you want is another and light stands and mounts allow you to place light exactly where you want them. These stands range from heavy duty C-stands to light weight light stands or mounts. The key to success here is to have a variety of tools in order to make adjustments in the field.
In film production, controlling light is one of the most underrated aspects of the process and therefore it’s often overlooked by school programs. Light modifiers such as cookies, flags, and scrims can take your project to the next level because they allow you to better control what the camera sees.
The walkie talkie with an earpiece is the key communication tool for set productions. The walkie talkie allows you to separate your crew by department so conversations aren’t confusing and controlled. In a school setting, the variable channel Walkie Talkie will allow you to talk with your crews without interrupting others.
Live streaming continues to grow in education. From sports to community events, there is almost always an expectation that school
video programs can and will stream content. These shows can be simple, one-camera shoots to major multicamera productions. It all depends on the nature of the program and the tools and abilities of the instructor.
Cameras for live streaming are typically fixed lens cameras in order to reduce the amount of time spent adjusting focus, et. al during the live broadcast. The fixed lens cameras allow the operator to follow action more easily.
As the program grows, a mirrorless camera with a high speed lens will allow for shallow depth of field shots. This is for more advanced programs because it will not only require better understanding of camera operations but also wireless transmission systems and more advanced camera supports
Tripods are the main support for live production. This allows the operator to pan and tilt the camera smoothly to follow the action. The optimal tripod for live production is a fluid head.
Advanced programs may use shoulder mounted cameras, jibs, or steadicams for live production but this will require wireless transmission systems and advanced operators/understanding of the event that is being streamed.
If your live streaming efforts include multiple cameras, you will need a way to preview the images and determine which should go live to your viewers. A switcher is the way to do this. Switchers can take many forms.
Switchers allow you to not only determine which camera is to be viewed by the audience but many allow you to do special effects such as multi box looks or instant replay.
Software switchers use converters to convert your video signal to a digital format that is controlled via a software program. There are a variety of programs on the market and their prices range from free to monthly subscriptions.
Hardware switchers do the same as the software switchers but typically do not require a powerful computer to run the program. Hardware switchers range from a couple hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
Often with switchers, you get what you pay for so the beginning programs may want to stay with the middle to lower hardware switchers or software switchers.
Adding play by play and color commentary to a live stream immediately takes the show to a whole new level. An audio mixer takes the input from several microphones and mixes the levels to showcase what should be focused on. If the event is a sporting event, the on-air talent’s voice should be louder than the ambient sound from the event while a band competition will want a great mix of ambient sound in order to better hear the bands.
At this time, there are two types of audio mixers - analog and digital. The difference is in the science within the mixer and there are applications for both in all programs. The biggest concern for choosing the right mixer is the number of inputs, number of outputs, and the type of microphones you will need.
As with all tools, picking the right microphone for the job is essential to get the job done right. With live streaming, you will most likely need a variety of microphones - shotgun mics to get ambient sound or a specific area of sound, headset microphones for your play by play talent, hand held microphones for sideline reports or interviews, and maybe even a parabolic microphone to pick up those specific game sounds.
Getting your signal from your camera or switcher into a form that can be used to stream is essential. Some switchers have encoders in them while others provide a video output that you need to convert to something the computer or streaming service can use.
The most common capture device is an HDMI to USB device. These range from $20 to $200. The differences range from having pass-through (so you can see what’s being sent to the computer before it gets there) to special encoding tools such as hardware encoding.
The computers you use for your live streams will often determine your level of frustration with the venture. In most live streaming scenarios, the computer is the last step before the internet so it needs several things to function properly. The first is a hardline internet connection. Having an RJ45 port on the computer allows you to plug in an ethernet cable to insure you have a better internet connection than if you were trying to use a wireless connection. Wireless connections are not as reliable as a wired connection.
If your switcher doesn’t have an encoder, you will need a computer to connect to the streaming service of your choice. The service you choose determines the workflow on getting that signal to the world.
In addition to a computer to connect to your streaming service, you may want another computer to handle graphics for your broadcast. There are a variety of graphics tools that will allow you to add scoreboards, information, etc to your stream. Again, the tool you choose will determine the workflow on how to use that in your broadcast.
Podcasts are the fastest growing form of media and the reason is simple - high quality content that is easy to produce and easier to consume. Video podcasts continue to grow as many providers make way for anyone to upload the video content. Audio podcasts are the easiest way to consume long form media. Allowing your student so create this content for your school could set them up for greater success.
For podcasts, the audio mixer is the heart of the production. All of your microphones will go into the mixer to be controlled by the producer to make sure everything you want to hear is clear.
It is recommended that you use a digital mixer for podcasts in order to record an isolated feed from each microphone or record directly into a digital audio workstation (DAW) so the content can be edited later.
Podcasts usually use microphones with very small pick up patterns in order to isolate each speaker’s audio so if edits are needed, there isn’t bleed between the microphones. Table top stands or boom arms are preferred to support the microphones in order to make sure there isn’t an issue with the microphone being moved around too much or tapped or laid down during the recording.
Headphones are the guardrails to make sure the show sounds good. The producer should definitely have a pair of good over the ear headphones but it is also recommended that all guests and hosts have headphones as well as it helps them to hear themselves and limits talking over each other or yelling during the show.
Podcasts are rapidly becoming a visual medium and the use of cameras continues to grow. Typically podcast studios are smaller so smaller cameras such as point of view (POV) or Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) cameras are used more frequently. These allow the cameras to not be in the way while the host and guests are talking.
If you go with a PTZ camera, you will need to determine a method to control the camera. Some switchers can control PTZ cameras but all PTZ cameras have recommended control surfaces available.
If you are doing a video podcast, being able to see who is talking is only secondary to being able to clearly hear the speaker. Switchers for podcasts don’t typically have to be too complex as they aren’t usually a lot of visual effects. A small four to eight channel mixer will be perfect for most shows.
Giving students the opportunity to create is limited only by the tools provided. Computers are often the last thing thought of when it comes to building a video production program in a school. That’s very unfortunate as this is often the biggest hindering factor when it comes to creating a successful program.
Ideally, there would be a 1:1 scenario where each student would be able to access and work on a computer to create content. These computers do not have to be supercomputers in order to be effective but most likely the standard school issue computer will not be effective. As you consider computers, research the editing software of choice and make sure that your computers are actually more robust than what is recommended currently. Buying at the bare minimum requirements for the software puts you in danger of a software upgrade that renders your computers useless as editors.
Apple vs. PC comes down to teacher/system preference but know that the industry ebbs and flows in desire for each manufacturer. Pricing and actual student experience with the different operating systems should be considered as it would be better to have 10 mid-level computers that work well than one that is more than the program needs.
** Chrome OS systems have editors available but none that are commonly used in industry. A Chromebook will not do the same job as an actual computer.
Non-linear editors allow teachers and students to edit their footage to create amazing content. Choose the right software often depends on the instructor, their goals, and the budget. There are professional grade softwares that are free and some packages that are hundreds of dollars each year or more per seat. There are pros and cons to each.
Headphones in a classroom prevent insanity. Imaging a room full of computers all playing different audio at the same time over and over. That’s what a room of students editing would sound like if headphones weren’t considered for the program. This can be headphones (preferably over the ear) provided by the school or a requirement for participation for students.
If you are not able to go 1:1 with computers, headphone splitters are a great way to have all of the students engaged during the editing process. These devices allow you to split the signal to multiple sets of headphones so an entire group can hear the work as it’s being done.
Bags for Cameras
Transporting cameras is going to be essential for all programs as they move from the classroom to the field or to the community. Consider purchasing professional grade camera bags in order to easily pack out and transport cameras. These bags range from $100 to $500 depending on the bag and what options you decide are important.
Cases for other Equipment
Many of your production tools are going to need to be transported. Tripods, C-stands, lights, stands, and more all will need to move across your campus so concern need to be given for how that will happen in a way that is safe and prevents damage to equipment.
Power Supplies and Surge Protectors
A successful video program will be powerful and will also require a lot of power. Remember to factor in high quality extension cords and surge protectors to power your equipment. Power conditioners are recommended for any major products (switchers, audio boards, etc) in order to best protect the equipment but also limit electrical interference.