IF you attended the ice hockey match on Sunday evening, between Edinburgh Capitals and Hull Stingrays (won 5-4 by Edinburgh), you might have noticed it was being filmed and commentated on. Three cameras, two commentators and a mixing team located a few yards in front, to merge the images, add sound, and ping out the result, live, online.
At the helm was freelance live producer/webcaster, Kevin Holmes.
He submitted this on Monday, February 23.
What exactly is it you do?
My role at the Edinburgh Capitals began a few years ago when I approached owner, Scott Neil, about doing an interview series with the players as part of my graded unit at college.
From there, we kept in touch and I began regularly creating promotional material for the team and, at the end of last season, I picked up doing the highlights while they had a problem with their usual camera.
At the beginning of this season, the Capitals were having a lot of problems with their webcast and Scott brought me in to have a look at their set-up and suggest any improvements, as he knew I had been working and gaining experience in webcasting.
From there, I gradually became more involved with the webcast and I am now technical lead on the project.
What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?
It’s been about three months, now, since I took over the webcast and it has changed considerably since then.
When I first came in, to suggest any improvements, they were running a camera that was about three-quarters of the way down the ice and the upload speed was slow: around 0.8Mbits per second.
The camera position was also determined by where the ethernet port was, meaning something of an awkward shooting angle.
So, the first thing we changed was to install a 4G modem. We got a representative from EE to come in with a few test units and found we were getting around 20-30Mbits, which was a colossal improvement.
It also gave us a lot more freedom over camera positions as we could place the modem anywhere within the rink.
From there, I called in a few favours and borrowed enough equipment to put on a multi-camera production.
This consists of two cameras – a wide and a close up – allowing us to cut in on the action without too much fear of missing anything if there was a quick break out or long pass.
This was a big success and we got a lot of great feedback, so we kept building it up.
I borrowed some more bits and pieces and we invested in some equipment so that we could put in an extra camera and bring in instant replay.
The third camera we’ve played around with and tried a few different positions – either as a corner camera, behind-the-net one or presenter cam.
So far, we’ve felt that the corner camera works the best and gives the most dynamic shots but viewers seem to prefer the behind-the-net one.
Sometimes, it’s a bit of give and take between what we think is best and what the audience prefers.
The set-up has now been growing pretty steadily: three cameras and instant replay with the occasional night where we drop back to basics because of a lack of crew. On these nights, I will just operate a single camera myself.
Yesterday, we were a full crew, arriving at Murrayfield Ice Rink at about 3pm, for the 6pm face-off.
How different is your average working dat to when you started?
We’re definitely getting more people involved. But there can be times when something else takes precedence, and you are occasionally down on numbers.
Ideally, it’s a four-person production crew and two commentators.
We get most of our crew through contacts at Youth Football Scotland which is a local company that has many volunteers who create highlights of youth football events.
These last few months, I am glad to say we have built up a pretty decent network of camera operators. They’re a great bunch, we all get on well with each other.
Our two camera operators are the ones who help create the magic – one on the main wide camera, the other on a close-up of the action.
If we have a corner camera, then we need an additional camera operator but when we have a behind-the-net or commentator camera we take a feed from a GoPro, which doesn’t require an operator.
We then have one person operating the replay system, someone vision mixing and, if we’re lucky, that will free me up to just direct.
Most nights, the equipment we use is the following:
* Cameras: Canon HF G25s and a GoPro Hero 3 Black
* HDMI to SDI converters: These can be found on Amazon for around £35 each. We use these has HDMI cannot support the lengths of cable we need without losing signal strength. SDI is a professional-grade video signal and can be sent much further.
* SDI to HDMI converter – This is used to send a live feed from the mixer in to a monitor which the commentators can watch and view the replay
* Mixer: Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio
* Mixer controller: a pretty basic laptop
* Streaming PC: A PC with 8GB RAM, intel i5 3570, AMD Radeon 7800 series graphics card
* Replay PC: Unsure on specific specs but it doesn’t need to be as powerful as it does not do any encoding
* Replay encoder: Blackmagic H.264 Pro Recorder – This is used to create an H.264 stream for the replay software. It converts an SDI feed in to an USB feed in to the computer
* An SDI distribution amplifier – this is used to split the feed from camera two into two separate feeds, one for live cutting and one to be fed in to the replay system
* 4G modem
In terms of software, we use the Blackmagic Control software, MXLight for streaming and for replay, and Adobe Photoshop for live, updating score graphics.
We output the mix to MXLight which encodes and uploads to Dacast (our live stream provider) who then makes it into a live watchable feed available on the Edinburgh Capitals website (http://www.edinburgh-capitals.com). Between encoding on our end, processing by Dacast and download time the feed, there around 30-45 second delay from real time.
How do you see your job evolving?
The future for the Capitals’ webcast is actually being partly decided this week.
We have applied for funding which will provide more equipment and upgrades to the set-up, in exchange for which we will provide training for college students in multi-camera live sports production.
In many ways, this is a win-win for us as we get to improve our output as well as gaining a consistent and eager crew.
If it comes off, it will mean I won’t have to bring in the masses of equipment that I do every Sunday, because we will be able to set up a dedicated, more isolated control room (which will also reduce the chances of us being hit by a wayward puck, which has happened a couple of times).
We would love to be able to move up to four cameras, have a dynamic choice of cameras for replay, bring in pre-match and intermission content, and possible do live intermission interviews with players and coaches. That last one might be a bit of a stretch, however.
For myself, personally, the future is more live production and webcasting.
At the moment, I’m getting about five gigs a month outside of the Capitals, for webcasting, and interest is steadily growing.
It’s definitely an area that event organisers are becoming more and more aware of and are requesting it at an increasing rate.
A lot of the work is conferences but also music and football.
For anyone looking to get in to this line of work, I would definitely recommend it; nothing beats doing a live production and it is much easier than it might initially seem.
I remember the first time I saw a full, live set-up and how confusing it all was; but, in just over six months, I was taking on my own projects, speccing and directing them.
My only advice would be to get out there and see some set-ups for yourself; the only way to get your head wrapped around it all is to see it action!