New look to Graduation 2011

It’s a bit of a late posting for this blog, but never mind! July marked five years of professionally producing Award Ceremony DVDs at Bradford University, and just over five years since I naively suggested it’d be easy enough to do this in house and agreed to produce and direct them! However, bar a few minor hiccups, the process has always run smoothly. Since we began back in July 2007 we’ve produced DVDs of 56 ceremonies across July and December. And whilst the setup has got more sophisticated each year, the basic principles have remained the same, using four (and occasionally five) cameras hooked to our vision mixer via component video cabling. This year we have made the move to serial digital transmission and mixing, meaning that we can get a perfect signal out of the camera, suffering no loss through cable joints and the long runs from the hall to the gallery; plus the video signal only needs to travel over one cable from the camera rather than three. It also means that we were able to shoot in high definition for the first time, using the standard UK format of 1080i50 – 1920×1080 @ 25 frames per second interlaced. We’re not quite at the stage to produce surround sound, and given that even the BBC still has difficulties on their own HD channels with audio settings, it’s not something I intend to rush into!
Our new mixer for graduation is a Panasonic AV-HS400, having eight SDI inputs, compared to the previous four channel mixer; meaning that I have no scrabbling about switching cables mid-ceremony to get extra camera shots! The process has been made possible as we’ve had new cameras (Sony HXR-NX5s) since last year, and have been shooting tapeless onto HD compatible XDCAM discs for almost two years. These days we use five cameras to provide full coverage of the Great Hall, but even then, it can be difficult to get the exact shots required quickly. The three extra channels will make it easier to bring in VT (Video tape) footage, graphic overlays, and who knows – maybe even give us some new camera angles for 2011!
The move to digital HD has many benefits, but does bring some added complications and convertors. We have to convert to analogue to provide both component and VGA feeds for the campus, however these should work in analogue high definition providing coverage for the overflow audience in the Small Hall and to our sales stand in the Atrium. For the web I use a Blackmagic Design hardware convertor box to take the signal from 1080i down to 720p to improve the encoding process. This is then fed via a Decklink SDI capture card into a powerful computer for encoding. Microsoft have recently dropped support for Windows Media Encoder, the stalwart of all our previous ceremonies and so an added new test for the future will be using HTML5 and Microsoft Expression Encoder to stream the video in MPEG4. Our encoder streams to a dedicated Windows Streaming Server which ensures the encoding machine is not swamped with public viewing requests. So watch this space for future developments, once it is up and running I hope to be able to run the web feed in 720p too.