Revamping the Broadband Studio

David Gewirtz continues his ongoing Broadband Studio series with a preview of the coming major studio redesign that will add both flexibility and new capabilities.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

It's been four and a half years since I started the DIY-IT Broadband Studio project here on ZDNet. Since it first came online, it's been in use continuously. But when Google stopped supporting Mountain Lion on OS X, a lot of the studio's software-based functionality broke.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and since I'm going to have to rebuild the studio's software systems, it seemed like a good time to also update the space itself.

The studio is located in a 10 foot by 9 foot spare bedroom here at Camp David. It's gone through a few upgrades since I initially put it together, but the basic layout of the room has remained the same. That's been a problem that has limited how much I can actually do in the space.

As the video above shows, the room has table in the middle of it, upon which many of the studio's components are mounted. While the table is meant to roll, there's so much wiring and strapping, that it's pretty much stuck solidly in place.

In addition, because it started out life as a $39 Walmart bargain, it's not exactly all that robust. I've always been worried that if I try to move it, the whole thing will collapse.

Next to the table is the camera/teleprompter/tripod unit, and this too is pretty much fixed in place. The teleprompter/camera portion is rather top heavy, so I've been concerned that picking up the tripod and trying to move it might cause something to snap off. In fact, earlier today as I was filming the accompanying video, the tripod I normally use to film shop videos with my iPhone simply snapped in half. So my caution about moving tripods has been proven to be pretty much spot on.

A before view of the production control area

A before view of the production control area

Last year, I completely redesigned the audio environment for the studio, so I'm not going to be replacing gear. Instead, I'm going to be changing the structure of how all that stuff is used within the space.

The idea is to open up the center of the studio and make each of the major components module and movable. There are three main elements that are going to be reworked:

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The two monitors: Right now, the main monitor is on an Ergotron arm attached rather dangerously to the Walmart table, while a second monitor is way off to the side. Both monitors will be mounted on vertical stands which can be wheeled to wherever they're needed in the studio.

Computers and sound processing: The main studio computer will remain the Mac mini I've been using since I started. It's small and powerful and has worked well, although it's getting a complete software overhaul. The mixer will be removed from its very precarious laptop arm, and the sound interface will also be moved. All three of these items will be mounted to one small cart.

The mic: Right now, the mic is on a small desktop boom arm, which itself sits on a weird little wooden stool, held in place by some weights. It's a bit wobbly and will be replaced by a large boom stand, which should allow overhead mic placement as well as direct mic placement.

I've placed the Amazon order for about $450 worth of stands, cables, and brackets, and once it all arrives, I'll show you how it all comes together. After that, I'll take you through the software changes. I'll still be using Skype for the webcasts, but I'll be using Hangouts more and more for video interviews.

The trusty Boinx TV system I used for dynamic, on-the-fly post-production is being replaced, either by its successor product mimoLive or its competitor, Wirecast. Both Boinx and Telestream have provided review copies, so I'll be looking at them both for studio operations in the coming months.

Finally, there is one potentially huge benefit to this revamp that overcomes a major limitation of the current structure. Right now, the presenter (me) must also be the operator, the person who switches video sources, effects, and triggers overlays like lower thirds.

This has limited how far I could take this system. It has also limited my ability to put others (like my wife, who has some great medical knowledge to share) in front of the camera. That's because all the controls for operating the video shoot are dynamic and the control screens are right in front of the camera.

But by making everything movable, it's possible to put the production controls behind the camera, even add additional cameras, and have an operator run the production while the talent is performing. In my case, I might run the production while my wife gives a lecture, or train her to run the production while I do a four-person discussion. We could even bring in guests and have space for us to do a side-by-side in-person interview while someone sits behind the camera producing the show.

So there you go. Very exciting stuff. Stay tuned. It's always fun working in the studio and this revamp should open the door to some productive new video opportunities as well.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

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