Studio Equipment Tour

Studio Setup

For those that are curious about what tech I use  – here it is:

The studio can handle audio and video for a number of guests at the same time.

This Studio has a number of uses.

1. It is the generic ‘office’ for web development, blogging (here), watching tech podcasts, research and on-line purchasing.

2. It is a base for Gaming and using the same technology we use to stream to Ustream and record broadcasts for YouTube. I can also use the exact same systems to stream to TWITCH and Game.

3. It is a TV studio see Below.

 

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OFFICE

So like any generic office, all of the below + just add HP PhotoSmart 8450 printer (which is rarely used), mostly for high quality photos (on HP glossy archival no fade paper) and printing product returns.

 

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Click here for Gaming

 

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TV STUDIO

Podcast Studio

The idea is that we can host conference podcasts similar to that of Leo Laporte here http://live.twit.tv/ .

The AV is supplied by a number of custom built pcs (currently we use 8 Skype Machines, although 6 is the norm) each with only one task, to provide audio and video to the mixers. Video to the custom built Tricaster mixer.  Audio is managed separately in an Audio Mixer. This allows the best possible audio and video quality available. The studio space can be seen above, it enables up to 8 people to speak at the same time (but with better quality and all independently managed and recorded locally and can be streamed live via UStream. This is different to Google Hangouts as it is far better to manage and the quality is higher – although we can of course bring Hangouts in in the same way as Phone Callers). Each caller is on their own channel with broadcast quality video that is then mixed like a TV show or 12 people on Skype, and each channel independently recorded. This allows better post production possibilities. Not everyone comes in at the same strength or quality – one caller may have a poor hissy connection or a bad mic, so it is essential they can be edited independently before the mix down to an stereo/mono track.

Equipment

AUDIO

Mixer

Mackie Onyx 1640 Firewire mixer which handles both outgoing and incoming audio via Skype and telephone digital hybrid (2) and the pro PR40 mic to the recording devices (see below).

It allows every channel to be recorded individually on a PC which allows for individual caller audio to be improved without affecting others with the benefits of mix minus (x6), Mix Minus is removing the caller’s own voice so they don’t hear themselves back. Skype does this automatically, but we can’t always trust that, you will unlikely ever hear an echo with us.

Couple this with every track recorded individually via firewire and you have a mixture that cannot be beat.

As this is limited to 6 aux sends (mix minus) we rely on Skypes own echo cancellation and the inbuilt mix-minus on the telephone hybrid to handle more than 6 callers, to do this we tap the main outs of the mixer send that through the digital recorder and then split the headphone out of that – the recorder works as a compressor/limiter and then send one out to Headphones.studio monitors and the other to 2 x Behringer Microamp HA400 headphone amplifiers.

Backup Audio Mixer:

Yamaha – MG10/2 mixer currently hooked up to a Yamaha DGX-620 piano and Novation X Station 61 Controller Keyboard Synthesizer and Rocktron Banshee Talk Box to produce in house music overcoming copyright PRS issues. Ideal for OB work as it is very portable. We can connect it up to a laptop with the Edirol UA-25EX.

Microphones:

Heil Sound PR40 with Rode POP Filter for studio.
Beyerdynamic M58 for interviews.
Sony ECM-MS907 Stereo Mic ideal for live performances.
Giant Squid Pro Lapel Mics (2) – These are the best kept secret in the AV Pro world highly recommended imported from cottage industry audio engineer in the USA.
Sennheiser e815s

Microphone Stands: Heil Sound PL2T Boom Mount and a cast iron based boom arm version from K&M 25960. Gorillapod original with mic clamp top attachment for in the field.

Headphones:

Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones for studio and 2 x Sony MDR-V150 Headphones and Sennheiser CX 300-II for exterior also used for monitoring on camera where headphones can look ugly. One Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 Headset for one to one when informally speaking and preparing interviews when it is unnecessary to start all the equipment. As we have only 6 aux sends then we use 2 x Behringer Headphone amplifiers from the main out of the mixer to feed the remaining PCs and monitoring headphones. For editing and informal pre-production we use 2 x Sennheiser PC150s with zip-tied foam mic covers.

Digital Recorders

Of course we can use Software recorders like the Free Audacity and we have Adobe Audition for the Mixer on multi-track Firewire – In this way each channel has it’s own audio and can all be independently edited before mixing down to stereo..

However for hardware we use the following:

Main Recorder: PCM-D50

SONY PCM-D50 – this is the very last part of the audio chain – the show engineer monitors from that. This prevents audio problems not being noticed. We can also hit record on this for a special additional recording where we need high quality audio in addition to the h264 video we record- a musician for example or notable guest we may not be able to speak too again too easily if we lose the audio for technical reasons.

We also have a Q3HD and Accessory Pack and some add-on lenses.

Q3HD

The Q3HD may seem a bit of an odd choice. But unlike mobile phones, or Flip cameras etc. This delivers the very highest quality uncompressed Professional audio with a Line-in feature. Then on top of this it has a Full HD camera to boot! This means that for VOX Pops or grab video interviews it is perfect. Light, and of course a back-up for the PCM-D50 (above). As they say, “you can get away with poor video but you can never get away with bad audio!” This is a bit specialist for most users – if we did not run a studio then I would recommend an Ipod Touch 5th Generation, The Ipod Touch 5 does a good job, although you would likely need an iRIG and external mic to match this above audio-wise, but it can be done – more on iRIGs later.

Field Recorder:

3 Sony Minidisc MZ-R55 with a Beyerdynamic M58 Dynamic mic for bad weather or rough and tumble situations. 2 matched pair headsets Sennheiser PC150 with batteryboxes to allow mixer use or create portable studio in a bag with recorder. Now we use the M58 with an Irig and Q3HD. Unless it is raining or bad weather, on the beach etc… Then we use the MiniDiscs as thats more sensible!

If you are interested in recording the human voice on the go then check this tutorial out with the BBC Reporter Training with the MZ-R55 Minidisc.

Main Recorder: Custom Built Intel Atom 330, 4GB Ram, Firewire, 1TB running Adobe Audition 3.

Field Preamp

iRig

The problem with most consumer level equipment is it will only record on camera or with a 3.5 mini-jack. To overcome this can cost a lot of money indeed. Beachtek DSLR adapters for example or even your own sound engineer with a Sound Devices mixer and Boom Mic! However, as so many people now have apple Ipods, Iphones and Ipads. A company has created a product called the iRIG. They cost about £25 bucks and accept XLR professional mics, and can power phantom powered condenser microphones – they plug into an Ipad, and away you go (powered by a 9v Battery). Many of our devices use high quality hiss free pre-amplifiers, getting rid of HISS is expensive! Dynamic microphones (unpowered) need to be able to have the gain raised but this also increases hiss. However the Q3HD only has a Line Level. So needs a microphone amplifier. But if you are not using a mixer then you need something portable, you can use another device like a mini-disc shown with an XLR-3.5mm mini-jack but the more leads you add the more of an encumbrance it all becomes, and plus the risk of connection crackle, static and interference increases too! This is where the Irig comes in. However I want to use it with a standard 3.5 mini jack not the Ipad jack (that is designed slightly differently. There is a mod where you open the iRig and solder 3 cables together, and use the headphone jack on it for the 3.5 out. Monitoring can be done in the actual recorder so the headphone jack is unnecessary and is redundant as a headphones anyway. This save buying a £17 quid +Postage and Packing for a special cable to do the same. The ‘special cable’ is not worth almost as much as another iRig, plus another cable adds more leads and mess to the operation. The iRIG hack is available online if you Google it, but only do so if you are confident about soldering and invalidating the warranty of a brand new item ;). Two of these could allow for stereo obviously but as the mics we use are mono and dynamic unpowered. Then this will do just fine!

Here is how I did this hack!

Telephone and Communications:

VOIP: Skype Our preferred system of communication as it is very good quality assuming the guest microphone is of reasonable quality and conferencing with a number of participants is possible, co hosting shows where two people present a topic or discuss it is useful and best of all its free.

Telephone Digital Hybrid:

Often interviews over Skype just are not possible or practical for the interviewee in such cases we can call them and interview a la talk radio via a Gentner/Comrex DH22 – The DH22 is a dual digital hybrid, allowing connection of two external telephone lines for use on-air. Chances are if you have ever called a radio station or heard one broadcast a telephone conversation in the last 20 years it has been handled by one of these. This digital hybrid model is optimal for virtually any application. Used on *mix minus from the board.

Connection

Connection is by fibre optic high speed internet that allows up to 75mb down. https://sales.talktalk.co.uk/product/fibre

Lighting:

Lighting is essential for good crisp video, we have seen just by adding a few desk lamps aimed at the face how our guests have improved their quality without spending more on cameras. We use LED with diffuser sheets over them and have one Key light which can be seen in the image (Fig 1, 10) above. This is then surrounded with fill lights to the top right and top left, and hair lights top right and top left.

You can see some of those lights here in front high up to simulate daylight.

Backgrounds:

We now use a Black Curtain as it is better for Youtube Cover Art, however if we need to we can use a ChromaKey Background (Blue 1.5 x 2m collapsible) to make up the 2 backgrounds. Chroma Key is lit with two additional daylight balanced lamps each side and just above host’s head. This enables virtual studios to be built.

Supports and Tripods

Back in the day I used to hump about a ‘Manfrotto 58B Triaut Tripod‘ with a 3D Head. Back then I was a professional photographer using Mediaum Format Cameras – which weighed a tonne! These days I have simply added a Slik Tripod with a Manfrotto Fluid Head and have a compact Velbon ULTRA STICK L50 Monopod. This is one of the smallest and best quality monopods around it has a universal ball and socket head. The Flash Shoe Option is for mounting Video Lights or Microphone holders to a boom arm for remote miking of subjects. The Monopod doubles as a Mic Boom arm as well as it is light and long enough to be of service with a NTSM3 Microphone Suspension Shockmount. Monopods mean you are likely to take them, they are handy for high up shots. Or even selfies if you don’t trust a person to photograph you without running off with your phone!

For the Studio we use large Spring double ended clamps for everything! They are practical and we have loads of them!

Daylight Double Clamps are one of the best items we have! We have about 12 of them. They hold everything from lights to webcams to Softboxes.

Very very useful items – you can get cheaper, but it is false economy! You get what you pay for and if this is holding up something you want it to be safe we also have safety cables, or gaffer tape on things above the head but they have never failed as yet – touch wood! Simply bend to adjust – simples and done!

Lastly do not underestimate the Microphone Stand – the ones with a heavy base (cast iron style have a smaller footprint) for mounting webcams and Lights. Short ones are ideal if used with the Double Clamps (above) for holding lights and even fans as all this makes a room hot!

A ‘cheap’ portable Air Conditioner is a good idea for the Summer Months vented to the outside.

VIDEO

Cameras

The quality of webcams today allow very good picture quality and an affordable price. We can use C510 for face due to its ability to handle low light noise (no speckling) and flattering warm output, and Lifecam Cinemas for their excellent wide angles. Perfect for over the shoulder shots. These cameras are on 5 meter USB Repeater cables.

Camera 1: 1 x 3ccd Panasonic x Sony dv cam with wide angle (currently not being used).

Camera 2: Logitech C510 HD Webcam x 3.

Camera 3: Microsoft HD Lifecam Cinema webcams x 6.

Computers and monitors

Now this is where it all gets a bit complicated – the Skypasaurus is based on the famous build by Leo Laporte. With 6 x custom built Intel Atom 330 duel core pcs with S-Video in and out. However, things have moved on and we can use a LAN to provide video back to and from all the machines rather than video cards and S-Video Cables now this allows for HD as the old Twit set-up was Standard Definition.  There are some good free programs out there you can try from Vidblaster to Wirecast (with watermark) to open source – so check these out.

Our ‘Tricaster’ Video Mixer

We have now built a new Tricaster especially for video. It an i5 Custom Built PC on a Gygabyte Board with an Nvidea 750 Ti Graphics Card. It has an SSD 250 that is partitioned. Running Windows 7 on both partitiones, allows the Video Mixer for live and recording on one and all the editing software and plugins on the other. We simply boot into which one we need. There are 4 1TB drives. One for storing Software etc, 2 Backup drives for all recordings inc raw unedited data. And 1TB for the workspace, this is partitioned to allows for a scratch drive for recording to when live. As it is always a good idea not to record to the OS drive! It has 12GB of matched Ram DDR3.

Web Surfing and Chat Room

We also have to have a Chat Room running and capture it with the ‘Tricaster’.  We also discuss news stories of note and therefore need a spare machine to grap the live web feed to look at the websites concerned.

Web and general use: PC Desktop: Dell XPS used for day to day work web development, but is also rigged with Skype, Facebook video and Hangouts (if necessary) used for pre production meetings mainly and to enable us to link to the media archives and play video clips into the show. Also used for sound files as a ‘cart machine’ sound FX and for playing in live web surfing to the group. Used for Streaming Video back to the hosts bypassing the live stream. So we can skype and have pre-production meetings off air. Anything you do on your day-to-day PC but linked into the show basically.

19″ Samsung: used for general browsing Chat and playing in audio/video clips, this is hooked up to a KVM where 4 other computers share it.

19W” LCD x 2: used for monitoring the audio recording with adobe audition and Skype callers.

21W” LCD: used for monitoring Skype callers.

4 x 17″ LCD: Acer V173B LCD Monitors 17inch tft used as a back drop to the host to allow skype interviewees to see everyone else on webcams (usually special guests and tz co-hosts) in the conference inc the host (a la news style with over the shoulder screen) from one camera angle – this avoids video mixer transitions interfering with peoples webcam return signal. Currently used for monitoring the main public call machines 1 through to 4 – click here for more.

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1x 24″ LCD Asus Monitor (in red to monitor Chat Room and Live Stream).

15″ HP Laptop: HP 6720s Laptop 3gb Ram (upgraded) 320 GB HDD (upgraded) – backup.

Acer One (duel core) for Monitoring Stream with earbud. Acer Aspire One D255E 10.1 inch Netbook (Intel Atom Dual Core N550 Processor, 2 GB RAM (user upgraded), 250 GB HDD, BT 3.0, Windows 7, 8 hours battery life) – Red – backup.
6 x custom built intel Atom 330 duel core pcs with S-Video in and out: one for each skype caller/co host, all are configured to be received as video sources with S Video now uses Windows 7 and a live Lan Video Signal ‘Stream Machine’ to feed back video to the Skype users unable to watch the live stream ‘local host’ in and out on each pc allowing for a virtual television studio with 8 guests should the need be – but primarily used without video as 4 audio sources – this is then mixed using a video mixer that allows fades, wipes, picture in picture and titling live and then recorded – live streaming is possible but not used at this time. All set in a STUDIORTA Producer Cart from Thomann.

1 x custom built intel Atom 330 duel core pc: for recording the audio from the firewire, this is all the PC has to do but as this can be many tracks all recording at once it can take a lot of power to manage without problems. This has one large drive 1TB for track storage as raw wav files can become very big quickly. Can also be used for Skype the rest of the time. Used to monitor live stream and chat room – but also allows the use of a lan multi screen/pc keyboard and mouse called Input Director which we have found better and more reliable than Synergy .

Video

We recently updated the Video Mixer as we need a more quality, better frame rate and stream and record the shows at the same time in h264 QT. The original system below could do this but the live stream had a very low frame rate.

Back up Tricaster if the new one fails (Video Mixer):
This runs the chat and the live stream monitor back from Ustream – specs that are suited to a video mixer rather than a workaday PC.

HP DC7800s Q6600 Intel Core 2 Quad 2.4GHz, 8GB Ram 250GB SSD drives, Windows 7 64bit, Nvidea 750Ti, and 2 x additional internal 1TB Samsung F3 7200 rpm and 1 x 500gb, (to record to and for storage), Black Magic Video In. Also on that machine is Sony Vegas video editing suite to edit the Audio and or video (if required) and AfterEffects and a number of pro titler programs and 3D editing engines for special effects if and when needed (often fo fun but mostly for titles)..  So it is all kept on one machine, so should have faster render times also.  The video mixer will just run a software video mixer for streaming live and recordring and that’s it! It handles 2 Microsoft HD Lifecam Cinema Webcams and chroma key. The video card required a StarTech DisplayPort to VGA Video Adapter Converter, as I use the video screen broadcast monitor option on the video mixer as a feed back to all those on Skype so they can see the hub. This is all done through an S-Video converter (StarTech High Resolution VGA to Composite (RCA) or S-Video Converter – PC to TV) and onto the S-video splitters to each Skype machine. See ‘Video Splitting’ below. I highly recommend StarTech devices!

Autocue/Teleprompter – Occasionally I have to read an intro for a special guest straight to camera. We have now built a Teleprompter for this. You can see a screenshot below.

It is built from a 10 x 8 Picture frame and a black pull cord bag a Lifecam Cinema mounted behind the glass or a bar. And a Toshiba Encore 8.1. As the Encore is a full windows machine we can run remote desktop software and prompter software on it to control it over WiFi from the Dell XPS.

Video Stream returns to each Skype Machine so the Skype users can watch the show – handled by a software server over Lan that creates infinite IP cameras.

Video Capture: Screen capture software, webcams and for standard definition a Canopus advc110, also can capture from LG DVD  and Video Tapes connected to a Media PC for archiving video captured in the last 15 years (ongoing digitization) of the tzone media archives. An S Video amplifier splitter is used to separate the 7 S video signals from the main camera and sent to the 7 S VIDEO in on the ‘skype farm’.

Video splitting (now superseded by video server but we have kept it in case of emergencies) – When required we can have S-video sent from a camcorder to each Skype computer but this signal must be split without video loss from on video camera into for identical ‘s-video in’ slots on 7 skype computers. To do this we use 2 x KEENE KDA 1S 4-way distribution Amps. This option overcomes the need to stream the hub beyond the group and can be used as a more private option.

Music Production

Keyboards: Yamaha DGX-620 piano, Novation X Station 61 Controller Keyboard Synthesizer and M-AUDIO Axiom 49.
Misc: Rocktron Banshee Talk Box.
Software VSTi Plugins are too numerous to mention most used are – Sony Media Suite, Nuendo, Omnishphere, Stylus RMX, Symphonic Choirs, East West Orchestra and Native Instruments Komplete.
Sound Cart is created with PodProducer which is free and ideal for all your sound effects and audio clips. BBC, Sound Ideas and Warner Bros Sound Libraries. Home made/produced jingles and stings.
The Music composition is a very important part of podcasting and overcomes the problem of PRS Performing rights and copyright infringement. It is recommended to create your own music if you can if you decide on podcasting yourself.
Internet Connections
Broadband: Netgear Router.
Lan: 2 x 8 Port Network Switch to enable all machines to be connected to the 4 port router. Gives 12 x ethernet ports.
Miscellaneous
Cables: Professional grade HD cables with gold connectors.
EXT HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB x 8 also used for media archiving. In Icy Box cases.

Fig 1

Our Hub: 1(x4)/2/3/4/5. Skype machine monitors (below mixer), these share all PCs inc 1 video mixer and one audio recording machine with Adobe Audition using 3 x 4 KVM switches. 6. Skype Machine 9. 7.Main Quad core Dell XPS PC for day to day work. 8. Skype Machine 7. 9. Core Duo Laptop backup (unused atm). 10. Led Video Lights x 6.

 

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Our Hub:

1. Gentner/Comrex DH22 telephone Hybrid, for normal ‘phone in’ type calls. 2. 2 X 4 (8) KEENE KDA 1S 4-way distribution Amp Svideo amplifiers (to enable a single video mixer output signal to feed 8 PCs so guests can see everyone else. 3. Canopus ADVC 110 Firewire Svideo passthrough to allow tapping firewire from the Svideo in. 4. Audio/Skype PC does double duty can be fed by mixer and firewire passthrough, this firewire can record all mixer channels on Mackie Mixer, But when podcast recording is unnecessary it is used as an extra Skype machine. 5. Video Mixer PC, this does only one thing and that is manage video mixing software from all other PC S-video outs. 6. 5 x Skype Machines with Svideo in and Svideo out all custom built for this one purpose. 7. Sony (SONY PCM-D50) Recorder all audio passes through this it is at the end of the chain and the producer monitors from that. Although it is on pause during regular Skype groups. 8. standard telephone handset plugged into the telephone Hybrid for making calls prior to being switched/seized by the Gentner/Comrex machine.