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Posted by Carl on May 10, 2011

Behind The Mic Part 5 – Live Video Coverage Pt 1

Behind The Mic is a series of Blog Articles we are going to release about the trials and tribulations of two guys starting a podcast. We will go over how we got started, what goes into each show, and finally just explaining how the whole thing comes together. Even if you aren’t interested in running a podcast yourself, we thought you might enjoy this series.

In 2011 we were asked to take our podcast to a whole new level and a potentially wider stage, when Matt Weeks of Adepticon asked us to cover the finals of the Adepticon 40k Championship Tournament.

The Official ICs Banner we never displayed!

For us, this was a huge step in terms of technology and presentation. We had previously discussed whether or not we would be interested in doing a video podcast, and while nothing is ever definite, we had both determined this was not the direction in which we wanted to take the show.

However, here was an opportunity, being dropped in our laps, that was almost too good to pass up. So of course, we said we would do it.

By trade I am a project manager. So the first thing I began doing was putting together a list of what would be required from us and develop a proposal that we could send back to the staff at Adepticon.

From the get go we could see that there were a couple of basic points we needed to take into account when figuring out how to film this coverage. At a minimum we wanted:

  1. To get a shot from the top down of the entire game table.
  2. To be able to get video shots from the side of the table as well.
  3. To be able to cover two tables at one time.
  4. To be able to commentate during the course of the game.
  5. During all of this we needed to stay out of the way of the players in the game and not effect the outcome of the game in any way.

We had seen the coverage that The Gamers Lounge had done of The Nova Open, and while we applauded their efforts, we felt the coverage left alot to be desired. I was excited to see what they had done, however in watching the coverage it was very hard to determine what was going on, and there was really only one angle to look at.

We wanted to make sure that this was not the case during our coverage. We were going to try to allow people to see from multiple angles, and with practiced commentary, exactly what was going on in the final game.

The first thing we needed to focus on was getting the top down shot without it being in the way of the players. This solution needed to be either transportable or cheap enough that we could replicate it in Chicago. We live in California, so this was going to be a long trip for us.

Carl at about 4am still setting up the filming rigs!

Zach, with his film experience, had a great idea of using PVC piping to build a rig that could support the cameras. This fit a number of criteria. It was cheap enough to build that we could do so where we were going. Additionally, we could simply fasten the whole structure together with duct tape. This was the ultimate in affordability! We got a prototype of this together in the game room at my house the next weekend.

Next came the cameras and the broadcasting software. It seemed as though our best solution was to use Ustream. It was popular, and utilized by many of the Podcasters in the Hobby Talk Network already. This meant that not only were the Podcastsers themselves familiar with it, but the viewers would be familiar with it as well. This would mean it was more accessible.

Our original plan had us utilizing three cameras per table and one remote camera for a total of seven cameras. I quickly learned that this was not going to work out as we had anticipated. It was a bit ambitious at first, but I quickly began scaling back my expectations.

The Microsoft Lifecam is pretty powerful for a low price.

We were using Microsoft Lifecams for most of our coverage, these are small web cams that give great depth and clarity of picture. They were also affordable, coming in somewhere at around $45 on Amazon.com. We had purchased several of these cameras and we began working on how these would cover what we were after.

Eventually, we settled on utilizing two of the Lifecams and a third DVC (Digital Video Camera). The Lifecams would be positioned directly over the tables while the DVC would be mounted on a tripod we would move between and around the tables to capture side angles. Limitations around this would be around the USB and Firewire Cable length. There are better cameras for this type of mobile shot, but not that were affordable for what we were doing.

In order to do the camera switching and shot labeling that we wanted to do – we would also need to purchase Ustreams Producer Pro software. This is another $200 expense. Of course not until we paid for and downloaded the software did we realize that the Producer Pro software is very different than the free version of Producer. We ran into several bugs and conflicts with the new software and had to work through those.

Eventually we were able to get the whole system working, and working well! It was time for our first test coverage. We did some early top down footage of our Cities of Death playtesting, and then we set up a game between two of our friends to comment on.

Our first test coverage went “ok” by our standards. We were quickly able to identify that we had way too many spots of dead air as we worked our way through the filming. This was a good learning experience for us though and we sought to try again. We set up a second test with two more players and this time around we felt like we had hit much closer to the mark. It definitely helped us to have these early tests under our belt, and after the second live test broadcast we were feeling much more confident about Adepticon.


Our first test of the system and how we learned commentary is hard!

Other factors were taken into consideration as well, we were going to be taking a lot of equipment out to Chicago with us and there were some logistics around how we would get it all out there. If we had to do it again, I would ship most of it instead of bringing it in various pieces of luggage!

More about that next time…

(Continued in Part Two)

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