By: Sébastien Verlaine, Marketing & Communications Manager, EVS
With the popularity of live competition TV shows continuing to increase and attract bigger audiences, the production levels required to make them have never been higher. Consequently, it’s now common practice to employ a second technical director or “screens TD” along with the lighting department’s graphics server operator to create the look and feel of the extravagant LED video tile-intensive sets. For most live productions today, a “screens team” along with the LED tech is usually needed to manage the LED tiles, as many of the stages have millions of LED pixels and countless lighting rig configurations.
For veteran live-action multi-camera director and technical director (TD) David Bernstein, the stage for Season 17 of American Idol was no exception. These tiles are used to quickly change the look and feel of the studio to suit the different performances each show will feature and make up the upstage wall, floor, band boxes and the walkway to the judge's table. With this sheer scale and complexity involved, it’s imperative to have a solution that enables speed, efficiency and flexibility.
Scalability and creativity enhance on-stage production
As founder of Sun Screens Productions, a Los Angeles-based production services company for corporate and broadcast entertainment clients, Bernstein opted for EVS’ Dyvi production switcher for the demands of the on-stage production of American Idol. Bernstein has worked on numerous high-profile live productions including Dancing with the Stars and X-Factor, as well as various sports networks’ production of Super Bowl halftime shows (from SB XL to SB XLII). For most of these projects, he oversaw a second, fully loaded production switcher during the live telecasts and added IMAG (image magnification) to the wide variety of pre-determined set designs in real time in sync with the main TD switching the live program feed.
The Dyvi production core that Bernstein used was configured to manage 96 inputs x 54 outputs and 24 channels of Ram Recorder using processing modules (PMs) that all connected via a 40GbE switch. As a result, all 1080p and 720p sources, which could be routed as needed, were switched to the 32:9 main screen output, floor, band stage and judges’ monitors.
This scalability allowed Bernstein to manage the numerous screens simultaneously with multi-layered effects that were simply recalled as scenes. One of the key creative features of the Dyvi switcher is that a scene is made up of several desired layers. It is recalled to an output, or number of outputs for the set design, and works in combination with lighting and graphics. Therefore, the set can be changed between each 90-second performance to match the artist’s musical style. Dyvi only requires one frame and is ready for the next act to commence.
Unleashing the creativity of Dyvi in real-time is underpinned by a GPU approach. Traditional switcher designs layout several busses grouped together. This is the Mix Effect (M/E) with four or more keyers found in the confines of this architecture. These constricting boundaries are overcome with the targeted GPU design within Dyvi. Building sophisticated effects normally takes several M/E’s, but Dyvi can instantly cut, mix or recall a single scene. This means that Bernstein can simply redesign the internal structure of the Dyvi switcher to suit his changing needs.
“All of that switching and layering that happens with other switchers is virtualized on the Dyvi,” he said. “The operator creates virtual M/E banks, so if you need a ‘keyer’, you just add another layer without having to borrow it from another M/E. I can select a source, throw a filter on it, and another filter, and just keep stacking things up until I’ve built the desired effect.”
Reducing latency and empowering next-level production
The Dyvi switcher has enabled Bernstein to solve several of the key challenges involved in putting on a live production at the scale of American Idol. For instance, because Dyvi’s powerful GPU can carry out all the switching and layering involved in processing video clips virtually, he can overcome video delay issues that are prevalent in legacy switchers.
Its native latency is lower than the cumulative latency of the various devices used to massage video through a legacy switcher for the screen’s application. Tasks such as format conversion, IMAG positioning and pixel geometry can be performed with a fixed end-to-end latency of just 2.5 frames. This significantly reduces the risk of signal delay and lip-sync error problems, thereby improving the quality of the images displayed on the set screens.
Dyvi’s use of virtualization also means Bernstein can connect multiple M/Es, rather than having to tie up keyers to build effects. He can take several different resources; build the effect he wants and store it as a ‘scene’. Since everything is virtualized, he can then dissolve into and out of that scene, make use of different types of layers and effects and build in changes in real time. Ultimately, the Dyvi offers a new way to switch that provides additional flexibility when compared to legacy switchers.
“I’ve always been someone who likes to push the boundaries of what is possible,” Bernstein said. “Thanks to the Dyvi and the capabilities it provides, I’m able to be creative in ways I can’t with other switchers. To me, the Dyvi switcher represents more power and more everything. It’s full of possibilities and offers different ways to get to where I’d like to go.”