NewTek's TriCaster in a High School | Print |
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Written by Charles Aldridge, TigerVision   

Here at TigerVision, a high school broadcast program at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas, we have been using the NewTek line of switchers for 5 years now.

Actually we used the original Toaster switcher on the Amiga Commodore, back in the mid 90’s.  But then we switched to a small hands-on switcher before getting the VT2 back sometime around 2003 -2004.  We have upgraded ever since, and are now using the VT5, as well as the TriCaster Pro.

Our Toaster was in a somewhat permanent install in our high school studio.  However, we had been known to take it out on location on a few occasions, for live productions such as our high school pageant.  We would use the Toaster on location because of its “Studio in a Box” features.  We wouldn’t have to take a downstream graphics system, or a sound board, or even playback decks.  It was all built in!

Then comes the TriCaster.  Wow, a smaller portable version of the Toaster, mostly limited because of only three inputs.  But it did include a small CG generator, video playbacks, a small audio mixer, AND most importantly the easiest “one click” streaming we’d ever experienced!

Our first and biggest gig with the TriCaster Pro was a Groundbreaking Ceremony of one of our Engineering and Mathematics Elementary schools.  One of the local donors that contributed to this new facility was Ross Perot.  He was scheduled to attend this ceremony.  Our district asked us could we tape this and air it later on our educational access channel.  The TriCaster changed our response.  We said, “How about if we broadcast it live on the Internet as well?”  They responded with “You can do that?”

So, we contacted our local cable company, and they went out to the construction site, dropped us a cable line, literally at the pole.  They even provided us with a little trailer expecting we would be bringing in lots of equipment.  Three of our IT guys came to assist, but they just got to watch.  They asked, “Where’s the rest of the equipment”?  We took one little black box, the TriCaster.  Well, OK, sure, we took 3 cameras, gotta have those.  But in the trailer we had the TriCaster and a Cable Modem.  Three lines coming in from the cameras, and one line going out, “to the pole”.  Our district and local community were able to view this “live”.  We did some fancy schmancy lower thirds, a full page graphic for the open and close and voila!  In addition to the live stream, we also, in the same box, recorded a full res video of the ceremony, and recorded the stream to a file as well.  This allowed us to immediately move the streamed file to our school server for re-broadcast.  Our IT guys were slobbering over it, with the “We gotta get one of these” comments!

That year we were asked to do a few other streams.  We streamed one of our elementary graduations, because a father of one of the students was stationed in Iraq.  I heard he was in tears watching.  Then came our high school graduation, where each student only gets about 5 or 6 tickets for the family to attend, due to space.  We didn’t advertise it much that first year; I guess some folks were a little nervous that we could pull it off.  We simply let the graduates know the day before.  That year we had 43 users viewing the ceremony from as far away as Hawaii.  It is more common now, just last week we streamed our graduation live for the third year.  All of this was done with the TriCaster Pro.  It was so easy; a 5th grader could do it!  Once you setup the “push” to the right IP address, it is ready, with the click of one button, we were LIVE!

Meanwhile back in our studio, our Toaster has been upgraded every version, now to the VT5.  Having the convenience of both, we actually use the TriCaster in conjunction with the VT5 by driving flat panel monitors on the set from the TriCaster.  We would have graphics on screen as well as the playback packages, coming from the TriCaster, feeding the set monitors as well as an input on the Toaster.

We have found it so convenient with the TriCaster, having everything built in.  In a real world studio, you would have the Tech Director punching the show on a switcher.  You would have a separate sound operator mixing all of the audio.  And don’t forget the playbacks; someone off in another room is rolling tapes for your VO/SOTS and packages.  NOT with the TriCaster.  It’s all on one screen.

However, as a teacher, I found this to be inconvenient in the teaching process.  When you have 20+ students staring at you, wanting something to do, the coolness of having it all in one is no longer so cool.  SO.  We have our studio setup with separate stations for the aforementioned duties.  We have a separate DSK station for all lower 3rds, shoulder keys and full page graphics.  Yes, the TriCaster can do that too.  We have a separate audio station with an audio mixer.  Yes, the TriCaster has that built in as well.  We also have a student rolling playbacks, whether its tapes or another NLE computer.  Of course, you can roll all of your videos right out of the TriCaster.  Oh, and did I mention that you can record your live show AT THE SAME TIME on the TriCaster?

So we have the best of both worlds.  When in class doing our daily live show, the students are working at several separate stations.  But when we are short staffed, like we are sometimes on our Saturday broadcasts, it is very easy to just do it all from the TriCaster.  The VM external switcher also makes things easier, especially if you want students to get the feel of an actual switcher.

We have been doing a 30 minute LIVE broadcast on our local ESPN2 channel on Saturday mornings (in the fall) at 10:30am, for the past 4 years.  This show is called the “ESPN2 Local Sports Break”, where we cover sports from our local area.  Then, one hour later, we also do a 1 hour “Football Locker Room Show”.  Students work “on the clock” on these weekend shows.  Sometimes we have gotten by with 2 or three students on these shows, fully utilizing the TriCaster’s studio in box capabilities.  “Guys, we’re short one person today, so let’s run the lower thirds from the TriCaster”, or “Let’s do sound directly from the TriCaster today”.  This is usually an easy changeup, maybe moving one cable or two.

I actually think NewTek has some kind of listening device or something in the TriCaster, because it’s like they know what we need.  For example we have always loved how easy the editing is on the Toaster and TriCaster.  We once said, “wish we could have the VTEdit on our other PC’s, then they came out with a stand alone version called SpeedEdit.  We love it!  We have always enjoyed using the cool chroma keying capabilities, but it didn’t work so well LIVE when you want to cut from Camera 1 to Camera 2 or roll some playback video, because you had the same background keyed in.  So they came out with LiveSet, where you can assign a different angle of the set to each camera.  Then they must have heard our concerns about having other stations that could somehow tie in to the TriCaster so that someone else could be doing the downstream graphics, video replays (even in slo-mo), and even link to data sources like the stats from a sports event.  Pardon my southern accent but I said, “Now look what those folks down in San Antonio done went and did”.  With the new features such as LiveText, TimeWarp, DataLink, and even a new control surface called LiveControl, WOW, this opens up the door to a whole new type of control room.  “We gotta get one of those!”

Charles Aldridge teaches Media Technology at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas.  He has taught for 14 years. Charles has a background in Electrical Engineering email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it website: