Building a Broadcast Studio with Blackmagic Design
COW Library : Blackmagic Design : Bob Zelin : Building a Broadcast Studio with Blackmagic Design
Since the introduction of the Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio switcher for $995, everyone has been asking, “How can I build my own TV studio?” You can do it, but not for $995. The ATEM Television Studio is just one piece of the puzzle to building a working production system.
In this article, I hope that I can answer the rest of the question of what it will take for you to build your own TV studio around Blackmagic Design hardware. The costs will vary depending on some of the choices you make, but the price is still incredibly low compared to any other options available. I have put together these Blackmagic-centered studios for several of my clients now, and they are all extremely happy with the results.
The first problem in making this work for you is that there are a lot of variables, and I certainly don’t know all the answers. “Can I use my existing camera?” “Can I use these old PCs?” I don’t know the answer to these questions, so I will only address NEW equipment from Blackmagic Design that is readily available.
THE CAMERAS AND LENSES
The first piece of the puzzle is the camera. It’s at the front end of the production equipment list.
The camera I will specify is the Blackmagic Studio Camera, which has a retail price of $1,995 each. You want 4K? You can do that for $2995 each. Amazing.
Blackmagic Design has recently released the less expensive Micro Studio Camera 4K, but this camera requires a viewfinder, and in my opinion, will not readily meet the needs of a company that wants to put together a conventional 3 or 4 camera studio with camera operators at each camera.
The Blackmagic Design Studio Camera comes with an integrated 10” Viewfinder, so there is no need to pay for the “option” to purchase another viewfinder.
Blackmagic Design Studio Camera with integrated viewfinder
It also comes with an integrated intercom system built into the camera, which is compatible with another Blackmagic product that is a “base station.” (I will get to that soon).
The other critical item to purchase is a lens for this camera. To be clear, this camera does not ship with a lens, but it accepts any micro four thirds lens.
Most people ask the same question. “Okay, so EXACTLY which lenses work with this camera, so I don’t have to guess or experiment?” Blackmagic has specified two different lens series for the Studio Camera – the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ series, and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED lenses.
These lenses, while reasonably priced, are not the same quality as a $20,000 Fujinon or Canon micro four thirds lens, nor do they have the same features or capabilities. When you pay under $1500 for a lens, please don’t expect it to have the same performance or features of a $20,000 lens.
Now, as with any camera package, there are other items that you need that are not electronic. These include a tripod, a panhead, and a mounting plate for the camera that goes on the panhead. Blackmagic Design does not make these items, and the options for these from other manufacturers are beyond the scope of my knowledge.
Because camera operators need to talk to directors, they need a set of headphones with a built-in microphone. Sorry, you can’t use your old Sony Walkman headphones – it just won’t work!
Blackmagic uses aviation-style headsets for their products, which are not readily available from video mail order companies. Blackmagic Design kindly provides a link from their site to the aviation headsets available at Sporty’s Pilot Shop, where you can choose from among a dozen or so manufacturers. They start at just under $100 each.
As you can readily see, if you need 3 or 4 of these studio cameras, then you need 3 or 4 of these headsets, 3 or 4 lenses, and 3 or 4 of tripod systems. So the cost adds up quickly.
ATEM STUDIO CONVERTER INTERCOM BASE STATION
Once you have the camera systems, you need to plug them into an intercom base station. This is called the ATEM Studio Converter. All the Blackmagic Studio Cameras connect back to the Studio Converter, so that the director can speak to the camera operators.
Because I have specified the Blackmagic Studio Camera, the ATEM Camera Converter is notrequired for each camera. It’s built into the Studio camera, so there is an enormous savings, especially when you are buying several of them.
The Blackmagic Design ATEM Studio Converter (black) and ATEM Camera Converter (white)
The ATEM Studio Converter retails for $1995, and will control up to 4 cameras. This initially may seem expensive for just an intercom base station, but it does much more than that. If you use fiber optic cables to connect the Studio Cameras to the Studio Converter, you not only have intercom, but the HD-SDI video signal, as well as two channels of analog audio that are given to you standard on each Studio Camera.
This means that you do not have to run out separate HD-SDI coax cables, audio snakes, and intercom cables to every camera. Everything travels along one fiber optic cable!
(If you are worried about the fiber cables getting damaged, you can purchase Tactical Fiber cable from companies like Camplex, or directly from Tactical Fiber Systems.)
This will not only save you an enormous money on the amount of long cables you have to purchase, but reduce your labor costs on having to run extensive amounts of cable out to each camera when the cameras get set up in your studio.
Tally light function is also included in this, and the tally command travels along the same fiber optic cable.
And for studios configured as flypacks for deployment in remote locations, having a single cable makes a huge difference not just for set-up, but for packing, unpacking, and operation.
Flypack populated with Blackmagic Design gear, Diamond View Studios, Tampa, FL
Please be aware that at NAB 2015, Blackmagic introduced a larger model of the ATEM Studio Converter, called the ATEM Talkback Converter 4K, which handles 8 cameras, for only $500 more than the ATEM Studio Converter.
THE BLACKMAGIC DESIGN ATEM SWITCHER
So now you have your 3 or 4 cameras plugged into your ATEM Studio Converter. We now have to plug them into the video switcher.
This is the Blackmagic Design ATEM. There are many models of this switcher, and there can be a temptation to rush to specify the inexpensive ATEM Television Studio. But from experience, I can tell you that for many people the ATEM Production Studio or ATEM 1M/E is a much better value for just a little bit more money.
At $1695 retail for the ATEM 1M/E, you get a very powerful 10 HD-SDI input video switcher, with DVE effects, lots of keyers, media players, macros, remote camera control settings, and AUX outputs.
Bob Zelin's clients at Adrenaline Films in Orlando, FL went for the top of the line ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K with 20 6G-SDI inputs, for $3995
Most people that I know don’t even purchase a control panel from Blackmagic for this switcher. They just plug in their Mac Book Pro laptop, or iMac, or Mac Mini, and use this to control the switcher. If you buy an inexpensive Mac Mini to run this switcher, don’t forget to buy a wired keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor so you can see the screen of your computer, which will be your switcher control panel.
In addition to this, you need to purchase a “multiview” monitor, which lets you see all the cameras, as well as the main Program and Preview outputs of the switcher. All of these ATEM products have multiview output, so it's simply a matter of plugging the output into a wide range of HDMI monitors. Blackmagic offers several options, but I have personally found that the wonderful and inexpensive Seiki 39” 4K LED monitor with HDMI inputs is a “best value” purchase, selling everywhere on the internet for $340. Can’t beat that price!
Don’t forget to buy an HDMI cable so you can connect the output of the ATEM switcher into this monitor.
Here's another example of how it might work. HDMI out of the ATEM Television Studio switcher into a typical LG computer monitor. The control panel for the switcher is simply software running on a MacBook Pro. Nice and easy.
To be clear, when you plug your cameras into the ATEM Studio Converter (or ATEM Talkback Converter), the ATEM 1M/E will provide you with HD-SDI outputs for each camera, so that you can run a very short HD-SDI video cable from the ATEM Studio Converter into the ATEM switcher input.
So instead of a mess of HD-SDI cables from each camera going to the switcher, they are just tiny short cables that go from the ATEM Studio Converter to the ATEM switcher inputs. All cameras appear instantly on the multiviewer monitor that is connected to the ATEM switcher.
CAMERA AUDIO OPTIONS
One of the main reasons I specified the ATEM Production Studio instead of the ATEM Television Studio is audio.
You will notice that I have not specified or discussed microphones for your talent. This is beyond the scope of this article. Microphones can range anywhere from 20 dollars apiece to thousands of dollars each. They can be wired, or they can be wireless. There are countless options available to you.
Whichever microphones you choose, if you connect them to the dual XLR input jacks on each of the Blackmagic Studio Cameras, these audio signals will now appear on the back of the ATEM Studio Converter. You can now use very short XLR cables to go from the Studio Converter to an inexpensive audio mixer (like a Mackie or a Behringer) to control your audio levels.
And when your audio mixer adjusts the levels to their liking, they can send the output of this mixer back into the ATEM Production Studio switcher analog XLR inputs, to embed the analog audio signal back into the video.
Now some may say, “Why do I need an external mixer? Can’t I use the mixer inside the Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio?” The answer is YES you can, but you will need someone with another computer to “ride” these levels that are embedded into the video stream. From my experience, most audio people like having an independent audio mixer to adjust the audio levels, instead of relying on the internal digital mixer of the switcher.
A typical external audio package for a system like this could consist of a Behringer Audio Mixer (like the XENYX X2442USB) with a set of regular headphones or a set of external speakers for high-quality audio monitoring, like the Behringer Truth B1030A.
Some people will say “Behringer is junk, you should use Brand X or Brand Y,” which may be true. I am just trying to specify something inexpensive, readily available, and that I know will work.
RECORDING THE SHOW: HYPERDECK STUDIO
So now we have a nice three or four camera system setup, where we can switch and dissolve between multiple cameras and handle the audio. What comes next?
We need to record our show somehow. A very easy way to do this is with the Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio. We simply connect the Program output of our ATEM Production Studio into the input of the HyperDeck Studio recorder, and we can record our show on an off the shelf, generic SSD card, which we can use later to further edit the show.
There are many models of HyperDeck, but I have specified the HyperDeck Studio in this article, because it is rack mountable, and offers a tiny 1” monitor on the unit, to give us confidence that we are actually recording something on the SSD card.
Your needs may require you to have iso recordings for every one of your cameras. At $995 each, recording all four cameras, AND a switched feed from the ATEM Production Studio would be a grand total cost of $5000, making this a very very, low price for so many recorders.
Of course, many people would only need to record the switched feed, keeping your total cost at $995.
Shown here, the HyperDeck Studio 12G: 12G-SDI, HFR UHD, etc., for $2495.
Audio adds even more variables to the recording. Some may want to record isolated audio tracks on each recorder. If this is the case, you would choose the more expensive HyperDeck Studio Pro, which offers independent analog XLR audio inputs, giving you more flexibility.
You may also have a demand where you want to choose what sources are going to each recorder, and changing these requirements during the show. Instead of recabling the HyperDeck recorders, you could put in a Blackmagic Videohub router, starting at $1395, to choose what camera goes to each iso recorder at a push of a button. There are infinite options available to you.
Of course, you don’t have to have any of these, and could just say “Let’s just hard wire it this way, and we can save all that money!” That will work too.
DAVINCI RESOLVE LIVE GRADE
When it comes to controlling the cameras, Blackmagic gives you DaVinci Resolve color grading software for every channel, for every camera that you connect. Using the Resolve Live feature, you can grade live from the camera, and your color grader can grade iso shots that they can choose themselves, or the line feed. The grades can be saved and relinked to the camera files for post – but the grades can of course be applied to the camera output in real time, which is why including a copy of Resolve with every studio camera makes so much sense.
The easiest way to access Resolve Live is to hook up a simple inexpensive Ethernet switch, like a Netgear GS716 switch. You would connect your ATEM switcher to this switch, as well as all of your computers. Every computer would run the ATEM software.
One computer could be used for switching the show, one computer could be used for color grading the cameras, one computer could be used for adjusting audio levels, and one computer could be used for creating graphics and loading the media players of the ATEM.
Of course, you don’t have to do this. You can do everything on just one computer – but I have found that during the chaos of a live production, it’s nice to be able to share the workload with other people that can help you, while you are busy trying to direct and switch the show production.
What if it’s really, really important that the people who are doing the color grading need to see a really high quality monitor to color match those Blackmagic Studio Cameras?
Using an AUX output from the ATEM switcher, you can feed the Blackmagic SmartView 4K 17” monitor ($1995 retail) and the Blackmagic SmartScope Duo waveform monitor/vectorscope combination for $995, and now you have a professional monitoring package for the people doing the color grading.
Shown here: a portion of the flypack for Omni Productions, Orlando FL, featuring, on the left, the SmartView monitor and SmartScope Duo waveform monitor/vectorscope. On right, the ATEM 1M/E and software control panel.
They can use a computer running the ATEM switcher to switch the AUX buss for the monitor feed, so they can see cameras independently of what the person cutting the show is doing. Or if you got one of those small Blackmagic routers, your color grader can switch the cameras using the router to feed the color grading monitor.
LIVE STREAMING YOUR PRODUCTION
In addition to recording the show, you may want to stream your production live. I have found that the most efficient way to do this is by getting yet another computer (like a Mac Mini), and plugging in a Blackmagic UltraStudio product (all of them work) and running a free copy of LiveStream ProCast, which supports all Blackmagic hardware.
You take the program output of the ATEM switcher, send it to the HD input of the Blackmagic UltraStudio, and you run the free LiveStream ProCast software, and now your show is on the internet. Of course, you need to setup a free LiveStream account to accomplish this.
You may also want to put your show up on YouTube or Vimeo, and need a quick way to encode your video production to the h.264 format. Another Mac Mini and the Blackmagic H.264 Pro Recorder for $495, and you have a dedicated h.264 encoding station of your live event.
OKAY, REALLY: IS THIS FOR REAL?
YES. I am building studios exactly this way for many clients, right now.
Diamond View Studios, Tampa FL
First, the Blackmagic equipment is VERY easy to use. The quality of the Blackmagic hardware is fantastic. The image quality is wonderful.
Tim Bartlett, manager of Adrenaline Films, Orlando FL. Their setup includes the ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel hardware switcher control.
Most jobs are not The Super Bowl. Why do you need a $100,000 switcher and $100,000 cameras to shoot a game show, when you can do it with products from Blackmagic? Simple corporate training jobs, You Tube Video shows, streaming for church services, etc. -- these products are perfect for all of those applications.
But they really are also ideal for people who could never possibly have afforded to build a truly complete, affordable broadcast facility or flypack, even in 4K. It is not only possible. It is happening with clients like mine, right now.
A studio is a studio, whether it's bolted to the wall or packed in flypacks to go. This one from Omni Productions in Orlando is loaded and ready: the ATEM 1M/E Production Studio 4K with software control, SmartView monitor, SmartScope Duo, a couple of 4K HyperDeck Studio Pros, and more.
This is not an unfair question though. Expensive products can often carry certain advantages, and many of those manufacturers claim that Blackmagic’s products are not flexible enough, and do not offer those same powerful features.
To me, something like not having integrated recorders is no big deal, when you can add HyperDeck recorders for $995. Want 4 more recorders for iso recording - add $995 each per channel. No other switcher company allows you to do this.
And Blackmagic records in standard ProRes and DNxHD formats, not MPEG2 which requires a codec so you can edit these.
You can get an integrated character generator from "them," or you can bring along your MacBook Pro with Photoshop on it, and simply plug it into the Blackmagic network, and go to work. Is that really a disadvantage?
This reminds me of the early AVID days, particularly when AVR77 "broadcast quality" came out. None of the linear video facilities took any of this seriously. And then my clients started to deliver AVR77 as "broadcast quality" on BetaSP and DigiBeta, and the stations took it. This was the beginning of the end for the linear facilities.
So when it sounds like I’m saying that “you can get away with” spending this little to get so much, it is no different than saying you can “get away with” finishing on Avid Symphony rather than working with one-inch tape.
Blackmagic is unstoppable at this point.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So as you can see, there is a lot to doing this, besides spending $995 for that ATEM Television Studio. There are lots of things to consider, and lots of things to purchase. And I have not even covered all of them in this brief article. In addition to microphones, cables, tripods, panheads, etc. there are other important considerations in building a studio that are also beyond the scope of this article.
For example – everything needs power. Do you have good battery UPS backup systems for all of your equipment? Do you have enough AC power strips to plug everything in?
Should you consider buying professional rack mount AC power strips, instead of the $3.00 ones from Home Depot? Do you need a desk to hold all of this equipment? What about a wall mount for the multiview monitor?
Or perhaps this is a mobile system – do you need road cases to rackmount all of this equipment? And do you need cables to hold your fragile cameras and lenses? And when you travel, are you considering a separate case for all of your audio cables, video cables, and fragile fiber optic cables? I can assure you that all of these things add up very quickly.
Blackmagic Design has made it possible for most people to finally have their own production facility, with a large gamut of production equipment at very reasonable prices. It’s important to remember that they don’t make everything, and once you will compile a list of all the stuff that you do need to make all of this happen, it’s still not as cheap as you thought when you first considered doing this. But it’s still dramatically cheaper than doing it any other way.
Ed. Note: Many thanks to Bob Zelin’s clients at Adrenaline Films, Diamond View Studios, and Omni Productions for the images. We asked Bob for details on these companies, and he told us, “Adrenaline Films is the main subcontractor for Universal Studios, and are one of the only remaining post production companies in Orlando, FL. Omni Productions is a full service digital media production company, also in Orlando. Diamond View Studios in Tampa is a bunch of crazy 30 year olds that have started a new LARGE production company in Tampa, FL, and are doing it all.”