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Tutorial: How to Set Up a Single-Operator Live-Switched Stream with PTZ Cameras

Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera systems are now hitting a sort of renaissance for event videography, especially in live concert, government, and worship settings. This tutorial looks at how to use a PTZ-based workflow to pull off a multicam live-switched stream with a single operator at the controls.

In the September 2015 issue of Streaming Media, I took on a challenge to put together a one-man, turnkey live streaming solution that would fit entirely into a carry-on sized suitcase. The idea behind this challenge was that modern equipment is so good and so compact that a single operator could realistically run an entire shoot by him or herself using a combination of portable equipment and robotic automation. In that same spirit, for this article we’re changing some of the criteria to that challenge by making it an all pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) system.

For those more accustomed to a traditional camcorder workflow for live productions, PTZ systems—fully remote-controlled robotic cameras usually operated over a network infrastructure—might sound foreign or downright unappealing.

PTZ cameras and their accompanying controllers and accessories have been around for decades, but have been relegated mostly to security and monitoring uses, until recently, as optics and recording quality have improved dramatically. They’re now hitting a sort of renaissance for event videography, especially in live concert, government, and worship settings.

Advantages of PTZ Systems

What are some of the advantages to these systems? Because they’re small and can be mounted almost anywhere, PTZ systems are ideal for installations where avoiding line-of-sight obstructions is critical. Their silent or near-silent motors make angle changes nearly imperceptible to audience members.

When factoring in the additional cost of paid camera operators, headsets, tripods, setup/breakdown time, and other ancillaries required for traditional camcorder setups, the cost savings of PTZ systems add up quickly.

Running the Show

Although PTZ systems can reduce the amount of labor required for a production, the “people power” still has to come from somewhere. The single producer now has to take up all of the slack. This means the producer will become the multicamera operator and technical director as well.

If audio and graphics are being added into the mix, there are probably too many tasks for one person to manage well. However, once again, modern compact equipment helps keep things relatively simple.

Testing the PTZ System

In order to test the efficacy of a one-person PTZ operation, I teamed up with Panasonic to test out an end-to-end system made up of that company’s PTZ cameras, switchers, and controllers. Panasonic’s PTZ products are all built for professional use and are designed with broadcast production in mind. The same cannot be said for all PTZ manufacturers; some are still designing their systems with surveillance or basic image capture in mind. To put things in perspective, Panasonic already has a 4K PTZ camera that is geared toward sports production, high-end conference rooms, large venues, and corporate display.

Panasonic sent me five PTZ products from its production line: three cameras, a controller, and a compact switcher. Two of the cameras were full PTZ cameras (Figure 1, below), while the third was an AW-HEA10 control assist camera.

Figure 1. Two Panasonic PTZ cameras supplied for this test: the AW-HE130K (foreground) and the AW-HE40SW (background)

The controller, an AW-RP120, can control up to 100 cameras (Figure 2, below, left), and the switcher was the AW-HS50 compact live switcher (Figure 2, below, right). This five-input switcher is small but powerful, perfect for a one-person operation.

Figure 2. To control camera movements, I used the Panasonic AW-RP120 (left); to switch among cameras and mix the show, I used the Panasonic AW-HS50 (right).