By Robbie Coblentz, Broadcast Media Group, Inc.
It is obvious to everyone in the industry that video production needs and trends have changed with COVID-19.
My production company — Broadcast Media Group — specializes in short-form production like commercials and brand films. We typically pass on multi-camera, live streaming events. But this spring changed all that.
As the father of a graduating senior in the class of 2020, I was uniquely aware of the challenges in high school graduation ceremonies happening locally. We quickly saw the need to provide live streaming services to schools so they could share high school graduation ceremonies via social media to families and friends who couldn’t attend because of social distancing measures.
In my area, every high school had a different approach to how they wanted to handle the event. Some opted for a pre-produced video that was streamed later. Others wanted a live stream and needed it broadcast to their organization’s Facebook page. These schools wanted multiple camera angles and live audio from their PA to simulate as close to a traditional ceremony as possible.
Stepping into this job space was easy as we had most of the live equipment already in-house. We had matched cameras, tripods, an audio board and all the cabling needed
The one piece of the puzzle missing was a video switcher that could handle HDMI inputs and provide a high-quality stream to Facebook. The only unit we found that fit the bill was the recently released ATEM Mini Pro from Blackmagic Design.
The ATEM Mini Pro is a small form factor HD switcher with four inputs, HDMI output and both a USB-C interface and RJ45 jack, each capable of switcher control and streaming. The ATEM Mini Pro can be used stand-alone with no controlling computer needed, but the true power of the unit comes when it is hooked to either a Windows or Mac computer.
Before I dive more into the ATEM Mini Pro’s capabilities, I want to walk through the remaining equipment.
We shot with matching Panasonic S1H cameras. One had a Canon 24-70 f2.8 zoom for wides and mids. The second unit was equipped with a Canon 70-200 f2.8 zoom for closeups. The wide shot was locked fairly wide to cover the stage and the first few rows. The closeup was usually in the 160-180mm rage for podium tight shots and 120-130 for a mid head-to-toe shot of graduates.
The S1H’s have a great look and are fairly compact. We rigged each with a 10,000 mah USB battery pack for extended run times. Each camera has a full-sized HDMI port, which makes cable runs back to the ATEM Mini Pro easy. We used 50-foot cables to give us maximum flexibility in camera placement.
Audio was simple as we took the provided house PA feed into a small Yamaha mixer. The mixer had both RCA and 1/4-inch line outs. We used a stereo RCA to 1/8-inch cable to feed audio into the AMP.
The ATEM Mini Pro is a powerful switcher in a small package. In addition to providing four HDMI HD inputs, it has a stills store, audio mixer and hardware H.264 encoder for under $600. It also provides a multi-view HDMI out. An RJ-45 jack for ethernet is also built in.
There are a few ways you can config the ATEM Mini Pro.
– The HDMI out can be used as a true live output and run to a recorder while providing an H.264 out on the USB-C for streaming to a program like OBS. The computer sees the ATEM Mini Pro as a webcam video source.
– You can change the HDMI to a multi-view out so you can see program and preview all video sources. The USB-C can still be used to stream to OBS.
– One of the strengths of the ATEM Mini Pro is its ability to stream to Facebook Live directly from the switcher without needing OBS or other streaming software. When streaming output using ethernet, you can use the USB-C to record an H.264 signal to a USB-C SSD or flash drive.
Like I said, it’s a powerful switcher in a small, inexpensive package.
With our minimal kit built, we were able to walk into a high school stadium and set up a two-camera switch for a socially distanced graduation in under 45 minutes. All we brought in were two cameras with a wide and close-up shot, HDMI runs to the switcher, ATEM Mini Pro, audio board, small HDMI monitor and MacBook Pro.
The client was impressed with the quick setup. Within 60 minutes of arrival, we had a live stream on the client’s Facebook page.
The client was pleased. The viewers were thrilled. And we were in and out quickly, adhering to all COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
The ATEM Mini Pro has opened new business opportunities for us in this uncertain environment. The capabilities built into the device is unbelievable. Blackmagic Design has done an amazing job of creating a high-quality box at a low cost … again.
Robbie Coblentz is the Executive Producer/President of MS-based Broadcast Media Group. The company produces commercials, brand films and instructional videos for clients across the country. They have received Telly, Addys and multiple Emmy nominations for their work.
All equipment referenced in this article was purchased by the author with no promotional consideration given.