The TriCaster STUDIO features six sets of live component, Y/C and composite inputs, and spectacular virtual sets that include sophisticated chroma key, reflection, refraction and lighting effects.
Studio in a Box
It's been about two years since we got wow'd by Newtek's first studio-in-a-box, the TriCaster. So when we heard about all the improvements packed into this latest version, the TriCaster STUDIO, we made a phone call. What we got was a black box that packs about twice the punch of its TriCaster sibling - at twice the price.
Video professionals producing both live and recorded shows for corporate, educational, government, worship and sporting events will want to look very closely at the TriCaster STUDIO. It is also a good fit for community television and even small and mid market broadcasters. Wayne's World would have, sadly, looked more like Entertainment Tonight had the STUDIO been handy.
Thinking Inside the Box
The TriCaster STUDIO features six sets of live component, Y/C and composite inputs, and spectacular virtual sets that include sophisticated chroma key, reflection, refraction and lighting effects. Four additional inputs, one from an external computer, two independent digital streams from hard disk, and a background generator, gives you a total of 10 sources from which to output a variety of file formats. It doubles the number of live video inputs, mic and line audio inputs, recording capacity and DDRs over the original TriCaster. The STUDIO also boasts seven new file formats.
Once we got past the required Windows XP activation and download of the latest TriCaster update, we rebooted and the TriCaster screen popped up in less than 1:15. This is truly what a turnkey system should do. It defaults to the six input configuration but the TriCaster STUDIO gives you the option to work in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios and two configuration modes. One that lets you switch between six different live inputs but with very limited on-screen monitoring of these inputs, and another that lets you use three live input sources but gives you more on-screen monitoring options. We had four live input sources for our test so we chose the former. To compensate for the lack of dedicated monitors for each input source, we found ourselves poking around the preview bank to decide what shot to cut to next. Our sources included: two professional camcorders, one connected via component, the other composite; one consumer camcorder connected by S-video cable; a network attached computer; and a Mini DV tape deck.
Connecting such a variety of sources usually requires separate processing equipment to adjust signal quality and timing. However the TriCaster STUDIO includes individual processing amplifiers (Proc Amps) at each input so the results were surprisingly good. We noticed some image latency coming from live video feeds, but it is not enough to impact a production. There is, however, about a half second delay when directly selecting different sources from the live buttons. There is no delay when switching from preview to live using the take button.
After some minor tweaking of brightness, hue and contrast among the three cameras and tape deck we brought in the source from our network attached computer by simply loading a small program on it, clicking on the VGA tab in the TriCaster, selecting the name of our computer and we were ready to incorporate a very good looking VGA signal.
With all of our live sources ready to mix, we loaded several clips into each of the two VCRs (virtual tape decks that play two streams of video off the internal hard drive), hit the Record Output button and quickly weaved together a series of shots on the fly with a variety of transitions and overlays; all of it glitch-free.
If you've ever used a video switcher before, or even laid your hands on a Video Toaster, the STUDIO's layout will be familiar. Below the tabs for Capture, Edit, and CG panels, at the upper left you have four preview windows. Two that show you what's cued up in your two VCRs, one for the connected external computer, and one that is a waveform/vectorscope. Using a 20" LCD monitor we found ourselves leaning in to see any detail on the waveform/vectorscope. The other windows are the same small size but they give you an adequate idea of what's cued up. To the right are larger preview and program windows.
Three rows of input buttons are nested below the monitors, one for Effects, Live and Preview. A mouse driven T-bar and Auto and Take buttons sit to the right. You can select from dozens of high quality transitions and load your favorites into five tabbed banks that you can quickly access during a production. The Overlay window shows you what is ready to key over your program monitor but the window is very small and if your text is also small, forget about catching spelling errors.
The lower third of the layout gives you access to the VCRs, Text, Background generation, Input Setup, VGA , Record/Stream and audio.
Virtual and Beyond
The Virtual Sets are nested in the Input Setup and with just a little experimenting with the Tolerance and Smooth adjustments, we were able to produce a reasonably good key. Keying compressed video always presents challenges, but the addition of Edge, Spill, and Garbage Matte adjustments makes getting one that is acceptable for most situations fairly easy. The sets do an excellent job of making the subject look integrated into the environment by simulating reflections off shiny surfaces like desks and floors, refraction, and even shadows that map onto the set background. Close-ups feature realistic background blur and each live input can be assigned its own LiveSet. Additionally, you can squeeze as many as four different shots from just one camera by having the TriCaster digitally reduce your keyed subject in perfect sync with the LiveSet.
Other features include easily outputting a live stream to the web. After setting up the details of your streaming provider, you can encode on the fly and either push or pull your feed in dozens of different resolution and bitrate profiles. You can also record an .AVI file simultaneously to your hard disk; a feature lacking in the original TriCaster. The TriCaster is primarily for live productions but it also includes a very capable editor and character generator that were both improved in the latest update.
The TriCaster STUDIO is truly an amazing production tool. Beyond having features no other turnkey system can match, it also appears built to take the rigors of the road. All front panel connections feel solid and the two metal handles on the front also protect the protruding BNC connectors from a careless whack or bump.
The TriCaster STUDIO; a production van in a backpack? Absolutely!
Video Inputs: (6) Component, Y/C or Composite
Video Outputs: Component (2) Y/C (2), Composite (2), XGA, live web-stream output
Video Outputs: Component (2) Y/C (2), Composite (2), XGA, live web-stream output
Virtual Set Support: Yes (Virtual sets included)
16:9 Video Support: Yes
Projector Output: Yes 4:3 and 16:9 aspect
Projector Resolutions: XGA; SXGA; QSXGA and higher
Camera Auto-Calibration: Yes
Live Internet Streaming: Yes; Push/Pull Windows Media with VC1 Streaming support
16:9 Streaming: Yes
Recorder: Simultaneous AVI & WMV
Hard drive: 500GB Seagate Barracuda
Recording Capacity: 20 hours AVI
DDR Playback 2 DDRs, alpha channel assignable to downstream key
Mic Inputs: 4 Balanced (XLR or Phone)
Line Outputs: Balanced Phone Stereo; RCA Stereo
Headphone Out: Yes
Waveform Monitor: Yes
Phantom Power: Yes
Nonlinear Editor: Yes
Upstream Effects: Yes
Render Outputs: AVI, DV, MPEG-2, DVD, QuickTime, MP4 (iPod and PSP)
Weight: 16 lbs.
Dimensions: 15.5"D x 8.5"H x 10.4"W
- Plenty of inputs, high quality virtual sets.
- Small/lacking preview monitors
- No live HD support
- Layout cannot be customized
A powerful, stable and comprehensive live production tool that has no equal.
Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer, and lecturer.
5131 Beckwith Blvd
San Antonio, TX 78249