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Pro tips for TV production at home

Bob Knauf, senior product marketing manager at Poly offers some tips on broadcasting from home

The current Covid-19 pandemic forced television productions to work remotely – from regular news reporters to programmes such as The One Show and Sunday Brunch. It resulted in the explosive growth of reporters, anchors and entertainers quickly turning to web-based videoconferencing platforms to produce programmes.

However, in many cases, networks were so eager to get their talent and content on-air as quickly as possible that they were doing so with haste. 

A patchwork of hardware technology was packaged up that wasn’t optimised to work together or designed for broadcasting purposes. A simple consumer-grade webcam connected to a laptop or smartphone with some home lighting is a common but ineffective set up.

This limits the viewer’s experience, showing an unidimensional shot where the presenters are fixed in one place, and it’s often exacerbated by poor audio quality and misplaced cameras and lighting.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Studio-quality AV gear can be set-up quickly and easily deployed for home production – with no IT specialist required. 

Gear for the presenter or host

Top of the range gear is critical for presenters and hosts because they are on-air the most. To ensure high-quality audio and imagery, an all-in-one video bar mounted on top of a 24- or 27-inch monitor is the ideal system. 

The best video bar solutions will ensure no computer or laptop is required because Cloud video services are built-in, for complete ease of set-up for the non-technical. Look for 4K cameras in these devices too, with automatic speaker framing so presenters can move around freely and stay in frame – as if they had a videographer in the room. Unlike the famous case of Professor Robert Kelly speaking on the BBC, if a child comes crashing in, the video bar will hold the frame on the speaker.

Audio needs to be crisp and clear no matter where the presenter is in the room, which state-of-the-art, portable video bars now deliver. Local background sounds can be minimised thanks to noise blocking technology powered by machine learning, which leaves the microphones open for conversation but eradicates the likes of next door’s music. 

Gear for the guest or remote expert

For on-the-fly guests, there may be no option but for them to use whatever camera and audio set-up they have at their disposal. However, for recurring experts, panellists or pre-scheduled guests, technicians should provide them with solutions that will greatly enhance the viewer’s/listener’s experience.

Shouting into a laptop isn’t a good experience for anyone and neither is the hollow echoing sound that some headsets produce. To sound professional from anywhere, enterprise-grade headsets with HD audio and active noise cancelling will ensure expert’s voices can be heard clearly. 

Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch stayed on air during the pandemic by broadcasting from Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer’s homes

Noise cancelling technology also means unwanted, distracting background sounds such as the neighbour’s dog will be eliminated, both for the end listener and the user, so that they can clearly hear the questions they’re being asked.

A portable speakerphone that provides rich, clear sound with 360-degree audio can also be delivered to remote experts. These turn anywhere into a more professional-sounding space with far-reaching microphones and echo cancellation. The plug-and-play nature means you only need a USB connection and many come with simple, intuitive one-touch controls or touchless functionality via a video conferencing provider’s app.

For video, opt for enterprise-grade smart videoconferencing cameras, rather than a consumer webcam or built-in laptop camera for top-quality visuals. Studios need to look for camera cubes with state-of the-art HD video, automatic zoom and backlight compensation that make participants “jump” off the screen. In addition, choose a device with built-in stereo microphones for true-to-life audio quality and extra features such as flexible, easy installation and the ability to centralise device management.

In terms of camera position, the participant should always locate the camera at eye-level or slightly above. If this means stacking the camera up on boxes or books, it’s worth it in order to not show off those nose hairs! 

Connectivity tips

As well as hardware, studios also need to think about connectivity for any live, conversational scenario. Ideally each participant needs a low latency connection to reduce any awkward cross-talking and long pauses. Among other factors, this is influenced by network quality, so ensure participants have a good service provider, or if a slow connection is caused by geographic location, a cellular hotspot can go a long way.

Choosing a reliable videoconferencing platform is also imperative, for presenters, guests and internal production teams alike. Standardising on a reliable platform and getting everyone up to speed with the user interfaces and content sharing functionality will ensure teams are ready for action. 

For optimal flexibility however, hardware that integrates with any video platform should be considered, in case an important guest uses one specific platform that’s different to those used by the studio.

The broadcast industry relies on the highest quality audio and video experience and remote live or live-to-tape productions need not be any different. Best-of-breed gear seamlessly fits into any workflow, even when life throws its curve balls!