OTTAWA—The Three Cs: Creativity, Cloud and Covid are among the many trends driving the development of graphics and virtual sets for newsrooms today. “Given the situation with Covid, the option for many media organizations was either remote virtual production or not producing a show,” said Michael Geissler, CEO of Mo-Sys Engineering, a provider camera/broadcast tracking robotics.
And don’t forget a fourth “C”, profitability. “The beauty of broadcast graphics and virtual sets is how they allow presenters to do more with less and not have their creativity limited by location or budget,” said Bob Caniglia, director of business operations at Blackmagic Design, Americas. (The company’s ATEM Mini range of live production switchers are aimed at broadcasters moving towards remote and hybrid workflows.)
Digital brings freedom
Today’s newsroom graphics are more intricate, colorful and animated than ever. And you can thank digital typesetting and the cloud for making these advancements possible, according to Mike Ward, chief marketing officer at Singular.live, which offers cloud-based graphics solutions for broadcasting.
“The biggest trends in newsroom graphics are all digital, moving away from linear hardware systems to more flexible and scalable cloud-native solutions,” Ward told TV Tech. “Not only do these solutions offer greater scalability in terms of creating multiple outputs, but they can also quickly and easily accommodate increases or decreases in staff. Now journalists, producers and technical staff can operate systems literally from anywhere without the need to ship or carry dedicated equipment.
The virtual goes from sets to production
With their ability to render complex broadcast environments using economical green-tinted physical sets or even just sets, virtual sets have been a boon to TV newsrooms for years.
“That’s why the trend of replacing physical sets with virtual sets started a long time ago,” said Raul Alba, director of media solutions at Avid. (Avid’s Maestro | News is a comprehensive news graphics package integrated with Media Composer and third-party news automation systems.) “Some regions of the world have been more aggressive in their adoption of this technology. A shining example is Latin America, which embraced virtual sets 15 years ago.
In 2020, virtual sets came to the rescue when Covid isolation forced on-air talent and journalists to broadcast from home via the web. Equipped with their own green screens and high-quality streaming cameras, these folks have proven just how useful virtual sets are for remote production, much to the surprise of many skeptical broadcasters.
“During the pandemic, many newsrooms were forced into situations where their traditional approaches were no longer viable, so they took the leap and quickly realized that there are affordable and flexible tools for making virtual sets. a reality inside or outside the studio,” Caniglia observed. “Now that broadcasters have seen these benefits, they want more.”
“During Covid, everyone had to do business from their home office. As a result, our customers have achieved incredible effects using NDI, PTZ cameras and Vizrt Engine 4 integrated with Unreal Engine 4, where multiple presenters are grouped together in the same virtual set,” said Ray Ratliff, Technical Business Development Manager at AMECS at Vizrt. “We’re really only at the beginning of XR workflows, and many of these now popular technologies are only going to get better and blend VR and reality more.”
The trend of integrating video game rendering technology into virtual set platforms is certainly improving the visual quality of these graphics systems. In fact, “the biggest change for the virtual set market has been the ‘democratization’ of the space by players such as Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and Unity with their Unity Engine entering the space massively,” said said Jan Weigner, CEO of Cinegy. . (Cinegy enables multi-channel streaming for broadcasters.) “The capabilities of these game engines have been greatly extended to meet the demands of real-time multimedia production.”
This scaling up of virtual set production quality couldn’t have come at a better time. Viewers are now used to the crystal-clear resolution of 4K video on their television screens, and they expect everything to look this good, from Marvel movies to local 6:00 a.m. news.
“As audiences grow ever more demanding, newscasts must deliver flawless results, requiring background images rendered in ever higher resolutions,” Geissler noted. “This in turn has seen strong momentum behind the shift to virtual production, and in particular from green screen-based virtual sets to more immersive LED volume-based physical production sets that allow for greater integration between augmented and virtual reality elements, as well as live action. .”
That’s the irony of 4K: in some cases, it encourages broadcasters to move away from virtual sets and back to physical sets.
“The biggest shift in this market has been the massive shift from virtual sets to immersive sets using ever larger LED walls,” Weigner said. “As a result, ‘background graphics’ must now be rendered in 4K, 8K or even higher resolution, while for news at least the requirement for 3D rendering is gone. It is now expected that modern newsroom graphics software will be able to handle the automatic generation of these 8K+ backgrounds and be able to play multiple UHD or 8K clips simultaneously as part of the graphics scenes.
At the same time, the high cost of LED walls will have to come down significantly for this type of immersive physical studio to become more mainstream.
“The solution could be a combination of immersive LED screens, which help achieve realistic lighting and reflections, but only with limited resolution, and then replace the background with a texture fully rendered using the AI for supersampling and uprezzing. [scaling up without artifacts]”, Weigner said. “This would allow the use of low-resolution LED walls, but retain the advantage of immersive lighting and human interaction over ‘the old green-screen VR approach’.
All of these trends underscore the ongoing challenge for broadcasters to provide viewers with ever more detailed and realistic graphics and virtual sets.