One Direction, Many Inputs, But No Bottlenecks
There is even an iPad app for controlling the Videohub!
When One Direction, the British Irish boy band sensation, took on a rigorous tour covering the UK and Ireland, Europe, North America and Australasia, video production was of prime importance. The 120 date tour, which began in February, has seen the boy band sensation performing to sold out audiences including a six date sell out at the O2 Arena in London, so the action on stage had to be seen by everyone. This meant having multiple live relay IMAG (image-magnification) screens positioned around the stage and at strategic points in the auditorium. Throw in stage monitors pumping out graphics of cityscapes, sometimes mixed with the onstage performance, and you have a lot of video content to handle.
The crucial task of making sure all things visual goes to plan fell to Tom Levitt, a UK based freelance video engineer working for Audiotech Services Ltd on the tour. Levitt has a wealth of experience designing video systems for the purposes of live IMAG and content integration, previously completing a lot of tours with One Direction's management company. He also runs a separate business with his brother, The LED Shed Limited, which supplies specialist LED monitors to act as the live relay screens at gigs. "The LED Shed works extremely closely with Audiotech and operates out of the same premises," said Levitt. "Between us we basically supply anything visual that the show could want."
1D and the ATEM 2M/E
For each night a backdrop would be built, featuring onstage LED screens with computer generated content effects, while standard 16x9 ratio LED screens, positioned stage left and stage right, would display the live camera relay. "Occasionally for larger rooms, we put in two more of them halfway up the hall, " explained Thomas.
A custom-built computer, featuring two Blackmagic DeckLink Quad cards, contained all the pre prepared graphics for the creative onstage LED screens. "For this tour they were in the shape of buildings and towers," said Levitt. "The backdrop is a cityscape that changes, sometimes it's London, other times it's New York."
HDMI cameras were used as mini-cams throughout the stage, while seven HD SDI broadcast cameras captured the main performance. Each night Tom Levitt, in the role of video engineer for the tour, would take a line cut from a Blackmagic ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher which was mixed using the ATEM 2 M/E Broadcast Panel. The ATEM was bought especially for this tour, not only for its broadcast-grade features and panel, but also for a significant factor in video for gigs, its one line video delay.
Thomas explained: "The one line of video delay is phenomenal. It's extremely fast compared to other video switchers, which maybe have one frame delay, or sometimes up to four frames, which makes them unusable for us, other than for live relay. With the ATEM, we're ahead of the game already. We can afford to add a couple of devices that add two or three frames of delay each and we're still less delayed than other systems. By the time you're standing twenty or thirty meters into the room, given the fact that sound travels slower than light, your sound has taken two or three frames to travel that distance anyway and it's bang in sync. That was a big selling point for the ATEM."
"Another factor was the ATEM 2 M/E Broadcast Panel," added Levitt. "It functions more like a broadcast vision switcher, compared to the panels that you would get with switchers at a similar price point."
Situated at the heart of this setup and acting as routing and traffic manager is the Blackmagic Broadcast Videohub. This is a powerful broadcast grade routing switcher that features up to 72 inputs, 144 outputs, 72 deck control ports, and auto switching SD, HD, and 3 Gb/s SDI, all in a compact rack mount chassis only a few inches thick.
Thomas explained the key role this router played in the One Direction tour: "Everything that comes into the system comes in as SDI and hits the Videohub first. For each camera that comes into the Videohub, one instance is routed to the ATEM, one instance is routed to the computer, to mix all the camera feeds to the screen, and one instance is routed to several Blackmagic SmartView Duo monitors. The Line Cut comes out of the ATEM Production Switcher over SDI via the Videohub.
"That line cut is also fed into the computer, taking up one of the eight inputs we have on the DeckLink Quad cards. It can then be composited and keyed onto the graphic content on the onstage LED screen, again via the Videohub."
One instance of the M/E output from the ATEM is routed to another SmartView Duo, so Thomas can monitor the program feed, while another instance of it goes to the Patch Panel on the back for anyone who needs a 'comfort monitor'. The Line Cut coming from the ATEM also gets routed via the Videohub into hardware that converts the SDI feed into DVI. That is subsequently then displayed directly onto the two side [the offstage IMAG] LED screens. The system just allows for that sort of flexibility. If I really wanted, I could have a hundred copies of the ATEM's output."
Blackmagic also offers an iPad app for controlling the Videohub. "You don't often get this with a router, I use it a lot and it's very straightforward," explains Thomas. "You just log on wirelessly to the same network that your Videohub is on, punch the IP address for the VideoHub into the iPad App and presto, all your buttons and pictures come up. You just need to push buttons on the touchscreen of the iPad to make your routes and your switches."
Thomas continued: "We looked at the drawings of what the designers wanted to achieve and just thought 'this is the system we need.' The idea was to have an overall, anything, anywhere system. That's the crux of it: any video on any screen in your entire show, with any effects composited on it, at the push of a button. Every bit of Blackmagic kit on the tour has worked exactly as it is meant to."