NewTek TriCaster Portable Live Production System
5131 Beckwith Blvd.
San Antonio, TX 78249
New Tech Dawn
In the last haven of analog video--the mid market regional TV station--we grafted into a well-equipped 3 Betacam production studio the little NewTek that could. Our goal: to observe if the time had finally arrived when the balance of broadcast power was truly in the hands of the proletariat (people without tons of money).
5, 4, 3, 2, 1Dang, I've Got a
For a mere $5k, the TriCaster from NewTek is a full multi-source production suite, a post-production editor and Webcaster, and it works. NewTek describes the TriCaster as a tool for live event production and presentation for corporate, church or educational genres. Which it fulfills, but that is selling the TriCaster and other video producers a bit short. The TriCaster has three camera inputs each with Y/C (S-video) and composite to choose from. Prerecorded video can be captured via FireWire or analog to be edited and or played off the hard drive in real time. There are two mic level inputs and a left and right unbalanced (RCA) line input for audio. Outputs include headphone, line, composite and Y/C out, as well as a VGA monitor/projector output and a RJ-45 port (Ethernet) for Internet streaming. Running XP Pro, the TriCaster has 120GB internal storage for approximately 6 hours of .avi video.
The TriCaster comes with a mouse and keyboard but there is an external switching console that is offered at an additional $1,000. If you're comfortable with the mouse and using keyboard shortcuts (which number high) then the control surface may be something you can do without.
We tapped in to the studio's three Betacams, one on a green screen wall the other two on a talk show set. Using the TriCaster chroma key function, we keyed our talent over a still photo included in the demo material, resized the photo and repositioned it to the left of our talent. With just a fraction of a second of lag time, the composite was complete. The key was adequate but we found it to be a bit ratty. NewTek claims that "the TriCaster is capturing at 5:1 .avi compression, yet uses 4:2:2 colorspace." Isn't there an old adage about closing the barn door after the horse is already gone? Most, those who don't have $20,000 Betacams lying around, will have already compressed the video signal, probably into a 5:1, 4:1:1 DV stream.
Suffice it to say if you're going to use the chroma key, make sure your lighting technique is dialed. The video out to our NTSC monitor looked great, though, and playing clips off the hard drive's virtual VCR was smooth and never faltered. We mocked a television show switching from the mouse by clicking the extremely intuitively designed icons in the TriCaster interface. Also, we attempted to learn a few of the many keyboard shortcuts that a seasoned TriCaster user could really take advantage of.
The demo unit also came with the video mixer control surface at an additional $1k price tag. Nice addition, but if the TriCaster was being run by a one person show with the multiple jobs of monitoring audio, changing and editing graphics and cueing footage clips, the flexibility of the TriCaster must come from power user keyboard prowess (it just doesn't look as cool).
Capturing your program to disc in either TriCaster's full .avi or for streaming media is just the click of a button. Speaking of clicks of buttons, there is a power switch on the keyboard that we inadvertently touched reaching to move a mouse cord and down the TriCaster went. That's not a good place for a button that can shut down the entire production, and no doubt NewTek will be hearing some horror stories.
Just Say No
There are hundreds of transitions and DVE effects onboard TriCaster that are of questionable use, but the $225,000 Grass Valley switcher that the TriCaster is sitting next to in this studio has the same useless accoutrements. TriCaster also has realtime keyframable color correction and slow motion. Some very useful heads full page and lower thirds title graphic templates are in TriCaster and are easily edited on the fly and smoothly transitioned into the program. There are even more live features in TriCaster than we can go into in this forum but suffice to say it is a powerful production suite.
Sounds Good but you're Late
The audio in TriCaster sounds great. Very low noise with what we detected was a nice clean limiting of the signal. The high and low broad band EQ section sounded very smooth and not at all harsh when boosted.
Only one failing came to our attention within the audio function of the unit we tested: an annoying latency of several milliseconds that the headphone monitor amp experiences when passing live audio. We found this a real problem for a technical director using this to monitor program and perform a live switch. We found no mention of this in NewTek's companion literature or any way to remedy this state.
Capture, Edit, Interface
Seamless movement between live production, capturing external media, editing and external CPU interfacing are real strengths in TriCaster. The capture window is easy to understand and navigate and TriCaster had no trouble communicating with our JVC Mini DV camera via FireWire or capturing on the fly from analog.
The edit window is super intuitive and we were editing in storyboard and timeline view with ease. We liked the fact that when shuttling through footage clips the media zips through displaying nearly every frame of video and audio just like scanning analog tape--very cool. Our FCP system can't do that.
Wrap it Up
It's officially a new era in live multi-cam production with the introduction of TriCaster--a multi-camera studio that'll fit in the trunk of your car and costs just a few month's worth of gas to fill it up.
Video System: NTSC
Media Storage: 150 Gigabyte hard drive
Video In: Composite Camera x3, on RCA connectors Y/C S-Video Camera x3, on 4-Pin connectors
Audio In: Mic Inputs x2, on 1/4" Phono connectors; unbalanced stereo audio, on RCA connectors
Utility Inputs: FireWire x2 (one 4-pin and one 6-pin connector), USB x2 (standard USB connections)
Network Input: RJ-45 connector
Video Out: Composite (RCA connector) Y/C S-Video (a 4-Pin connector), VGA Monitor (HD-15 connector), DVI Video (DVI-D connector)
Utility Out: Internet Streaming Output (RJ-45 connector)
Power Requirements: 120 VAC @ 60 Hz
Dimensions: (WxHxD): 7.5 x 11.5 x 8"
Weight: 10 lbs
A great, innovative production tool at an unbelievable price.
Bruce Coykendall is a commercial and television producer.