Communications studies majors have new, state-of-the-art tools at their disposal now that much of the equipment at the Rex Mix Television Studio has been upgraded. Among other things, standard-definition studio cameras were replaced with three Sony 4K digital cinema cameras. In addition to being more lightweight and compact, the 4K cameras are less expensive than studio cameras — $5,000 compared to $20,000.
The 4K cameras also have four times greater resolution than high-definition, “HD” cameras, and are more versatile. “It’s not a standard studio camera,” Bill Noel, associate professor of communications studies, said, adding that 4K cameras can be used for multiple purposes, including broadcasting and cinema. “It’s where everything is going.”
The lab’s switcher, a piece of equipment that enables you to shift between cameras and add graphics, titles, and credits, also was replaced. Last fall, when the switcher suffered what Noel described as a “catastrophic failure,” all work in the studio screeched to a halt. “When that switcher died, it shut us down last fall,” he said. “One single component could put you out of business.”
That won’t happen anymore. In addition to replacing the broken switcher with a traditional-type switcher, made by Blackmagic Design, there’s also a Convergent Design Apollo tablet switcher. In addition to enabling the operator to switch between cameras, like a traditional switcher, the tablet can record individual camera feeds.
A third piece of new equipment, an Atomos Sumo19 monitor, enables operators to record video and play pre-recorded video. All three pieces of equipment overlap each other, ensuring that failure of one component can’t shut down operations.
Noel, who’s quick to call the space a “working lab” instead of a television studio, said the new equipment will better prepare graduates for careers in the real world. “We approached refurbishing the studio with two main goals,” he said. “First, given that 13 years have passed since the facility was built, we wanted to upgrade our ability to output very high-end projects technically.
“Secondly — most importantly — we aimed to expand students’ experiences. We are not a broadcast studio. We do that type of workflow, certainly, but now we’ve added modern alternatives that students are likely to encounter in a wider variety of media situations, casting a wider job-market net.”
Senior communication studies majors have been helping Noel “test drive” the new equipment. So far, it’s all thumbs up. “The new equipment is great,” said Matthew Fichtel, who plans to pursue a career in post-production video editing. “[It’s] been very beneficial for … students, particularly because we get to learn to use the same state-of-the-art equipment that we’ll encounter in the real world when we’re working.
“Working in the edit bays will be easier now with this new equipment. The new cameras can record video directly onto an SD card instead of having to go through a recorder, so students can just pop in an SD card, film, and go straight to the edit bay to start editing.”
Da’Jah Jones agreed. She said the new equipment is “more realistic” and more like what she’ll use after graduation, when she has a number of plans, including freelance video production and launching her own nonprofit. “With this new equipment we’re able to shoot shows with better quality and reliability,” she said. “I feel this equipment will help prepare me in directing my own projects in the future. Knowing what I can do with it expands my knowledge and builds confidence.”
Noel ran his ideas for the studio upgrades by manufacturers at the 2017 National Association of Broadcasters Show. He wanted to make sure — as he puts it — that all of the components would “play nice with each other.” Anxious to keep up with industry trends, Noel attends the conference each year. At this year’s show, April 7 to 12 in Las Vegas, he’ll give a couple of talks about the equipment upgrades at Lynchburg.