School Video Production Made Easier

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It used to take Alex Wolf 40 minutes to record Loch Raven Academy's morning show so that teachers and other individuals could watch it at a later date. That's because once the show was recorded, it had to be re-imported back into a computer and readied for upload to the school's Safari Montage system.

After trying to pare those 40 minutes down to into a more manageable timeframe, the well intentioned teacher gave up. "It just wasn't worth it," said Wolf, who also serves as technology liaison for the Towson, MD-based school. "It was just too much of a time commitment."

A few months ago, when the school's TV studio switcher stopped functioning, the institution killed two birds with one stone by purchasing a new live production and video editing system from NewTek, maker of the TriCaster video production line.

As part of a group that's attempting to increase the use of television studios in all county schools, Wolf not only installed the system to serve as Loch Raven Academy's default switcher, but also recommended it for institutions looking to retrofit existing studios, or build new ones from scratch.

In operation for about two months, TriCaster is used to run Loch Raven Academy's morning show and its accompanying, facility-wide announcements. Still in the "figuring out everything this system can do" mode, Wolf said the next step will be to use the solution's green screen capabilities in conjunction with weather maps and other visual elements. "This is more than we ever had before," he said, "so we're still in the learning phase.

What Wolf does know is that the system's one-button record capabilities has shaved 38 minutes off of the time it once took to make the shows available for review at a later time. "When the show is over," he said, "I just push a button to upload it to Safari, and it's ready to go in two minutes, max."

Along with the TriCaster unit, which cost the school about $4,200 (list price on the company's products ranges from $2,995 to $11,495), Wolf said his department purchased an $800 touch-screen monitor. "Using the mouse was clunky," he said. Total time commitment for the installation and implementation was about one week for Wolf, who provided the hands-on training for students.

Some of those students are still getting the hang of using the state-of-the-art system. "There are some things that they miss from the old system, and a definite learning curve involved," said Wolf, who is also helping other schools learn how to use the video production system, "but it's well worth it."

Stefanie Schneck said her high school liked its TriCaster so much that it purchased the mobile version for football games, school plays and other events. As the television production instructor for grades 10-12 at Conrad Weiser High School in Robesonia, PA, Schneck has been using the original system since 2007, and the mobile setup since June 2008.

Looking back to 2007, Schneck said her school was "pretty much at a standstill in terms of studio production." Saddled with old, malfunctioning equipment that hadn't worked the right way in seven years, Schneck began campaigning for a completely upgraded TV studio right around the time that TriCaster was promoting its products to schools.

"We checked it out, and realized that it would serve our purposes very well," said Schneck. The stationary unit rounds out a studio that includes three cameras, four microphones, a grey screen and VCR capabilities. The mobile unit, which includes fewer bells and whistles, allows students to tape sporting events, graduation ceremonies and assemblies in an "unencumbered fashion," said Schneck.

"It is saving us a tremendous amount of time by allowing us to switch between cameras and not have to come into school to edit everything," said Schneck, who estimates the school's investment at about $10,000. "Thankfully we had a School Board that was willing to invest the money to get our TV studio back up to where it needs to be."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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