Snell & Wilcox Press

A little while ago Snell asked if we would answer some questions about our new Kahuna so they could craft a press piece about our install. we eagerly agreed, because the Kahuna is amazing, and we love it. here are the questions and answers. They will pull from these for their release. I thought it might be interesting, so here you go:

Please describe your production facility and the type of productions you do for the church including worship services and other programs.

For almost 50 years First Baptist Orlando has been extending our ministry through broadcast television. Currently, we have 3 weekend services with full video support. We do a “broadcast” cut, which streams live on the web, that we later edit for our two TV programs. We also do a separate cut for Image Magnification.

In addition our 5500 seat worship center has hosted a lot of different kinds of events. From concerts to conferences, we find that flexibility is key for us to accommodate the needs of these events. Many have really stretched our ingenuity.

As we looked ahead to the future, and completing the transition to HD video production, we wanted to make sure we could not only do anything a conference might ask, but also be able to integrate media into our services to a greater degree. The decision about new switcher is a major factor in that.

How were you handling production switching before, and what were the issues with the old system?

We had two separate switchers. We cut for broadcast on a Grass Valley 200. It was a workhorse, and lasted for almost 2 decades, but pieces and parts began to fail. The equipment began to compromise the production. At one point one the internal fan broke, and we placed a small fan on the front of the mainframe so we could keep working. It was time to replace it.

For IMAG we had a 10 input Snell Golden Dave SD SDI switcher. It was a great switcher, but with somewhat limited capability when compared to where we wanted to go. Obviously it would not be able to go with us through transition to HD video.

What were the drivers that led you to purchase the Kahuna? Was an HD upgrade part of the decision?

To be honest, I was opposed to Snell products, and the Kahuna, when we first started looking at what production switcher to buy. I assumed that we would be able to get more capability for less money from a competitor. Then I went to a trade show, and a friend (Dana Meeks) dragged me over to the Snell booth. I walked away from that presentation impressed with the abilities of the Kahuna, but still unconvinced we should go that way. When we explored actual costs, with real numbers, we were very surprised.

Ultimately, we found that the capabilities of the Kahuna were the best fit for our needs. Being in a process of transition from SD analog to HD, the options the Kahuna offered for conversion were a huge factor for us. We were able to get one with enough features to accommodate the needs of the events we host, as well as enhance the technological parts of the worship services we produce every weekend.

What model (# of M/Es) of Kahuna did you purchase?

We have a 3ME Kahuna with 2 control panels (compact 2ME and compact 1ME) and an Aux panel

How is the Kahuna used in your operation? Are you using it to mix SD sources into HD productions?

We run the Kahuna as 1 physical switcher, instead of breaking the two panels off into separate MEs. In normal operation we still do a separate broadcast cut and IMAG cut. But by having access to all 3 MEs we can do more. For example, lately, we have been doing a lot with multiple video feeds directed to different locations. Using a macro we can load, switch and fire three separate video feeds to three different screens. Not something we do every day, but we like the flexibility.

In a place where we rely on volunteer labor to accomplish our weekly service production, we love the ease of programming the Kahuna to perform complicated switches with the touch of a button. Recently we needed to do one switch which would required a volunteer to hit 12 buttons in the right sequence, within about 3 seconds. The Kahuna allowed us to very quickly and simply preset that entire switch to one button stroke.

We also use the multiple auxes and outputs to deliver different signals to various video confidence monitors and screens. In many ways we use it like a router.

Please describe a typical workflow, such as that of a worship service, and how the Kahuna comes into play. How many feeds do you typically mix?

In a given weekend service, we cut 5 cameras, 2-3 graphic sources, and up to 4 video playback sources. 2 of our graphic sources are keyable. We also have a logo or 2 stored on the Kahuna. We are just scratching the surface of what we can do.

Generally, IMAG has control of ME 1&2, with 2 as the main output to the screens. Broadcast switches ME3. Depending on what is going on, IMAG may take the ME3 cut, or do a separate cut, and we may split off ME1 to another source. Broadcast calls most of the camera shots with IMAG following, but IMAG can grab one for a specific need. There is a lot of communication between the two directors.

What have been the overall benefits of the Kahuna to: your operation? The church? The congregation?

Installing the Kahuna was the first major step toward a complete HD transition. The production switcher forms the cornerstone of the system. With this in place, I know that we are ready to move forward.

In the meantime, we can do more that every before. We talk about leveraging technology to create an environment where people can meet God, and the Kahuna gives us more capability to do that. The benefits of this directly impact the people in the pew and at home watching on TV. We can not only continue to facilitate the ministry of the church through video, but enhance and extend it in ways we have never been able to before.

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Making the Kahuna Work With Macros

Yesterday we put the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna through some work. For the first time we really used it’s capabilities during a service.

It was Missionsfest weekend, and we had four different video streams to show. And the video on the side screens was different than the one on the center screen. We loaded the 8 videos (4 streams) onto our Gras Valley Turbos. The Kahuna can completely control playback from the Turbos. So, once everything was loaded we tested playback. It worked like a charm. But during the rehearsal we realized that there were way too many button pushes for us to be comfortable. We had to load and cue each clip in he right player. Put each ME into the right preview,and switch and play the videos at the same time. That already meant that we had to do a macro, so we decided to make the macros count.

We programmed each set of videos to be loaded and played by a specific macro command, and then programmed one macro to switch to the appropriate Turbo for each ME. That meant that each video could be loaded and played by two button pushes, rather than a dozen or so. This level of automation really helped make this past weekend’s services simple, while allowing us to use tech to enhance the worship service.

I know that automation isn’t something exclusive to Snell, but coming from a Grass Valley 200 to the Kahuna is such a light year move forward it still amazes me.

Singing Trees Reflections Video

Last night was the opening night of the Singing Christmas Trees. It’s quite simply the largest production we do. Hundreds upon hundreds of man hours go into getting ready for this production. Two 40′ trees with 266,000 mini lights controlled by MIDI hold hundreds of choir members.

This year the theme is Reflections. The drama shows scenes of people going into an attic, looking at their Christmas storage, and remembering Christmases… long long ago. I wanted to do something that allowed the audience to participate in this, as well as something kind of cool with technology.

If you have ever been the Disney’s Hollywood Studios here in Orlando, and seen the American Idol Experience, you may remember the video camera that came out into the line pre-show, and later that footage appeared in the production. I wanted to do something similar. I wanted to go into the crowd for the show, have them share a Christmas memory, and show that at the beginning of the presentation.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a wireless connection from an HD Grass valley into an editor, tied to a playback system. How could we do it? We talked about it, I asked for advice. There are two elements that take up time in the process from recording to playback that we would have to cut very short in order to accomplish the task. We had to be able to get the video into the computer quickly and we had to be able to get it out of the computer quickly.

In order to make this work we used a Sony Z1U with a FireStore FS-4 to capture the footage. From there we transferred the Quicktime files to a Final Cut Pro for a quick edit. The animation, graphics and music bed were already waiting on the timeline. Once done, we played the video directly out of the computer through an AJA, into the utility input of our video switcher. We practiced this a couple of times before the opening night.

It’s basically a 45 minute turn around. Last night the video finished final renders about 10 minutes before we needed to play it back. In order to cover ourselves in case of a equipment malfunction or human error, we will always have the video from the night before ready to roll, just in case.

It was nice to see this be successful, and well received by the audience last night.

From Friday:

And Saturday (we hold some clips over from the night before, if they were good or funny):

From Sunday:

The New Control Panels

The new control panels for the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna are in.

The 1ME panel for the front position where we switch for broadcast is a bit smaller than the old Grass Valley 200 panel.
1mepanel wrong size

So TI had an inset made to hold it.
front1mepanel

And it turned out very nice.

The 2ME panel for IMAG position is also in and ready.
2me on and in

And we have an aux panel going in.
auxpanel

The rep from Snell is in commissioning the switcher, updated software and making sure it’s all set up. Tomorrow we train. Tomorrow night we have a service.

End of an Era

In the process of installing the new Snell & Wilcox we finally shut down the Grass Valley 200. After 20 years of service, we finally powered it down for the last time.

First we shut down the control panel, then removed the external fan. Then I realized I didn’t know where the actual power switch was because we never turn this thing off.

It’s the end of an era. It has served us well.

Out With the Old…

So we are in the middle of upgrading or video switchers in the broadcast control room. We currently have a 20 year old Grass Valley 200 for the broadcast cut and a Snell & Wilcox “Dave” 4:3 SDI switcher we use for IMAG.

Here’s the GV 200 control panel:
grassvalleypanel

And the front of the mainframe. Note the fancy cooling system. That is one of the many things going wrong with this piece of gear. 20 years of service is amazing for a piece of electronics:
grassvalleyfront

Here is the smaller Snell control panel for our IMAG switcher:
snellcontrolbest

And the mainframe for that switcher:
snelldave

The process is going well. We had the new rack for the new gear in place before the install. Note the contrast between a 20 year bandaid and the new rack. (The guys that work with me hate it when people see this, since it reflects on us. The key here is that this is years of analog timing loops, not simply people being lazy with wire ties. It was like this long before any of the guys on staff now were around.) This is the first step in an overall, long term HD upgrade that will fix a lot of our issues:
back of rack

These pieces are being replaced with one 3ME HD switcher. The Snell & Wilcox Kahuna with 4 full keyers per ME, on board SD/HD conversion, 64 inputs and 24 outputs. The broadcast position will have a 1ME control surface, and the IMAG position will have a 2ME surface. Going from 2 separate switchers to 1 will give us some more flexibility when doing smaller events, and when trying to tie in video sources to be used both on the broadcast and IMAG.

Plus, it will work, which already puts it ahead of our current situation. I will post some images of the new machine soon. In the mean time, we have switched our last Sunday with this great gear. And we are taking a huge step toward full HD production capability.

Unboxing the Panels

Because we are like school children at Christmas time, we couldn’t wait to open up at least some of the switcher boxes:

Here’s the 1ME Panel:

Here’s the larger 2ME Panel:

We got a 3ME switcher with 2 separate panels. Broadcast will use the 1ME panel, since we do all our graphics in post. The IMAG position will have access to 2MEs. From there we can do more effects, or even switch two feeds at the same time. For instance, we could control flat screens on the platform and the IMAG screen at the same time from the same position. Or we could set 1 ME to chase another without graphics, and still do a different switch on the 3rd.

The Snell comes with the HD upgrade already, so we are ready to take HD sources, when that day comes. Meanwhile, it can handle SD just as well.

By next Saturday we will be up and running, ready for the weekend.

The Big Kahuna

kahunaAlmost 20 years ago First Orlando purchased state of the art broadcast television production equipment.

Almost 20 years later, we still have it. It is a testimony to companies like Grass Valley, Sony, and Fujinon that we still use their gear to create decent looking broadcast-quality video for TV every week. Oh, the gear has issues, but we can make it work.

Recently, though, it has been fading… fast. The lenses are literally de-laminating. Back focus and zoom issues plague us. Every time we have to shut one off, I wonder if it will turn on. The cameras color just drifts. By the end of the service what was once brown may now be a shade of green. The light handling capability of the cameras is getting so bad that pretty much anything under 100 foot candles is too dim for the best picture.

But all those things can be over come with skilled operators and engineers. For a while longer anyway.

But the Grass Valley 200A at the broadcast switching position has come to the end of it’s road. A few months ago the main program out card began to glitch (see photo). We patched around it. We eventually got that back in line, but we don’t trust it anymore.

switcher output

Then the fan died, and we placed an external cooling device on the mainframe so it would continue to operate. When the power is on, the fan is on. If the power goes out, the fan stops. Once, we moved the fan to try to re-time something, and watched as the outputs began to do some very strange things.

external fan

Most recently, right before a major event, the color black simply stopped being black. it insisted upon being a m=nice shade of purple. we had one of the best engineers in orlando in for the event. He tracked it back to the internal black generator. The switcher would not time out to any external black, and no amount of tweaking would deliver the actual color black. it is simply broken. In order to fade from or to black, we iris down a camera, and fade from to to that.

purple screen

It is time for a new switcher. There is just no telling when the one we have now will stop working. And most likely, it will stop working right before a weekend service or event. A couple of years ago we installed an SD Snell & Wilcox Dave switcher at the IMAG position. It does SD SDI, and has worked well. But while Snell makes great switchers, they can be pricey when you start looking at the features we need to take us into the realm of HD production.

A few months ago we began to talk with Blue Hat design, which is a part of Technical Innovations. They have been great. A few weeks ago we got a quote from them for a Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher. I was amazed at the price. I don’t think I can actually mention it in public, but it was very competitive.

Last night I was able to brief the Trustees, and gain permission to purchase the Kahuna. Though it is a good price, it is still an expensive purchase, but we routinely get donations from the TV broadcast. After over 47 years of broadcasting, without even asking for money we see a decent amount come in from people who want to help support the ministry. Because of these kind of donations, we were able to fund the entire purchase of the switcher without impacting the general operating budget of the church.

Today we sent off the paperwork to get it ordered. It should be installed well before the Singing Christmas Trees this Christmas.

A few of the features: 3MEs with two control surfaces (1ME for the broadcast position, and a 2ME for IMAG), 4 full keyers for each ME, 64 inputs with 24 outputs, Full SD and HD functionality, 2 dual-4 tiles of 3D DVEs, and an aux panel.