The Sky is The Limit

  • By Adrian Pennington

The Sky is The Limit

PTZ technology has come on leaps and bounds since they were first introduced over 10 years ago, reports Contributing Editor Adrian Pennington…

PTZ cameras have offered broadcasters the versatility to capture broadcast quality pictures under remote control, which has opened up fresh production workflows. Robotic cameras have been able to simplify the creation of high-quality content with smaller crews and reduced production hardware requirements. As the world adjusts and adopts a more virtual approach to production, PTZ cameras enable activities which would normally take place in person to proceed virtually such as education, fitness, live events and concerts.

By incorporating advanced imaging technologies, they can now also deliver pictures to the high spec that the broadcast industry demands whilst also providing connectivity video over IP connectivity for future workflows.

Another plus is that they can be mounted on walls, ceilings, poles and many other crazy places. Since cabling can extend up to 100 metres quite easily, the sky is the limit. 

Sony’s range of PTZ and remote cameras are designed for unattended operation, according to Head of Live Production Solutions, Norbert Paquet. “Compact but powerful, our robotic cameras are an ideal complement to other broadcast cameras for capturing images in hard-to-reach or unobtrusive positions,” he says.

As one example, Sony created a solution for German broadcaster SWR that allows them to reach a wider audience by producing more content off-peak during studio downtime. The remote operation of Sony PTZs and vision switchers via touch interface has enabled SWR to re-use its equipment to produce great-looking programmes around the clock, while having fewer staff on site.

Additionally, Swedish broadcaster, Aftonbladet’s main studio in Stockholm now features eight Sony BRC-H800 remote cameras used to support daily news production. The cameras are networked via IP, allowing an operator in the control room to adjust exposure, picture settings and other parameters. The remote operation abilities of these cameras mean that Aftonbladet can minimise crewing requirements in both studios - a bonus for socially distanced production. “As part of our ongoing efforts to help productions work in remote and safe ways, ensuring that our PTZ cameras have in-built features that help to streamline studio operations is a priority,” Paquet says. “As such, we’ve focused on upgrading our range of PTZ cameras with enhancements that allow producers and operators to simplify their VR/AR production workflows. 

“These new features have been critical in allowing customers such as Spanish broadcaster, Castilla y León Televisión (CyLTV) to safely optimize production workflows. CyLTV uses 13 BRC-H900 robotic integrated PTZ cameras, which allows a single team member to operate up to three remote cameras at one time.”

Content creators can also enhance the creativity and flexibility of live productions using PTZ cameras with the industry standard Free-D camera tracking protocol. Sony BRC-X1000 and BRC-H800 PTZ remote cameras support this to output real-time tracking data including PTZ, focus and iris over IP. 

“They’re ideal partners for integration with other vendors’ VR/AR production solutions, simplifying system configuration and reducing costs with no need for an additional tracking system.”

One of the challenges camera operators might face when adjusting to a PTZ camera setup is to the fact they are controlling them from a distance. If an operator is less experienced, for example in sectors such as education or corporate, the challenge of keeping track of their actions may be amplified.

“In both cases the technologies to support tracking the subject, whether that is for pan/ tilt or focus, will ensure that the intended action is always captured in the best quality,” says Matthew Koshy, European Product Marketing Specialist, Canon Europe. “This makes PTZ cameras an even more practical tool for a multitude of productions and users.”

Canon has just released a new line-up of 4K PTZ cameras - the CR-N500, CR-N300 and CR-X500 - the result of over 80 years developing imaging and network technologies. They feature 4K UHD image quality across the board, detailed image setting capabilities, built in ND Filters, advanced focusing systems such as Dual Pixel CMOS AF and strong image stabilised optical zoom. “They are the perfect fit for any type of content creator,” says Koshy.

The CR-N500 and CR-N300 include multiple IP protocols for both control and streaming such as NDI|HX, RTMP/RTMPS and Standard Communication Protocol, enabling integration with new and existing systems. Canon has also developed its own XC protocol to allow other compatible Canon video products to work within the production system including the highly acclaimed Cinema EOS range cameras.

The CR-X500 is a dedicated outdoor PTZ camera which has excellent image quality producing 4K UHD resolution at up to 60p because of its highly capable 12G-SDI port. Rated IP55 waterproof and dustproof, the camera can be utilised outdoors in the harshest of conditions whilst still maintaining excellent image quality.

“All Canon PTZ cameras deliver exceptional image quality as well as precise control which can even be fine-tuned and optimised in various settings to ensure that the cameras will always provide the best outcome for any production or application,” Koshy says. 

 Marshall offers a variety of HD and UHD PTZ cams from the CV620 with HD60fps and 20x optical zoom all the way up to the CV730 with UHD60fps and 30x optical zoom. All models contain the same smooth and synchronous pan, tilt, zoom and focus. All also have the ability to save up to 250+ preset positions and multiple transition speeds from ultra-slow 5° per second to 300° per second for quick setup. 

The Marshall CV630 and CV730 contain one cable to camera setup with IP (Ethernet) connection for video, audio, power, control and tally in addition to NDI|HX integration with easy discovery over existing networks and low latency video transmission. The Marshall broadcast level VS-PTC-IP controller provides direct dial adjustment of colour, exposure, white balance, and joystick and rocker dial for zoom and focus.

 “PTZ cameras provide an opportunity for fewer camera operators to get more shots from multiple perspectives of the production from a single controller,” says Tod Musgrave, Director of Cameras. “Operators can setup alternative points of view and switch between them. This ability allows for more creative perspectives, which enhances production value of the event or production. When content can be seen from multiple perspectives it increases viewer participation with a deeper immersive viewer experience.”

Datavideo claims its PTC-140 is currently the most cost effective professional PTZ camera with NDI|HX technology on the market. Its new RMC-300A camera controller can control up to 24 Datavideo cameras using IP technology and features a touch panel to control all camera parameters.

“Our PTZ cameras are used anywhere, but the coolest place we’ve seen was underwater at a waterpolo training facility in Hungary,” says Valentijn Diemel, Marketing Manager EMEA. “They’ve encased them in special waterproof housings and put them underwater to see the movement of the individual players.”

He explains, “Datavideo PTZ cameras use stepper motors, so getting back to the exact same position each time is a piece of cake. Combined with IP control we can make them do the same motion time and time again. This means that they are exceptionally suited to be put in a system where they are operated automatically.

“Using AI you can incorporate tracking of a person moving on stage, however this comes with some pitfalls. As you can imagine you should carefully buffer the motions to prevent a jerky image when someone moves back and forth the whole time.”

Lumens Digital Optics offers another NDI connected model. The VC-A61PN transmits 4K 30fps video image quality directly to NDI. Its power, signal, and control go over a single cable allowing users you to reach a larger audience via live streaming with a simpler and quicker installation process without bulky cables. In addition, the VC-A61PN offers multiple interfaces such as HDMI and 3G-SDI, which enhances the convenience in connectivity. “With its 4K UHD ultra-clear video quality and a powerful 30x optical zoom capability, the camera can perfectly frame presenters and deliver outstanding detail and clarity to participants that are located far away,” the company says. “Even with low light or the extreme contrast of brightness and darkness in a room, a clear image is delivered. This makes it the preferred camera for capturing live events under any environment.” Panasonic’s flagship UE150 features a 1-inch sensor with 4K/50p images with the option of fibre or 12G video output. Its optics are built well enough to support usage within both AR and VR environments. 

“They have allowed us to support the growth of fixed-rig for factual programming, as well as within television studios or used in locations for beauty shot cuts,” says Oliver Newland, Field Marketing Manager. “We are constantly seeing PTZ cameras being placed in locations where high-quality video is desired, but it is otherwise difficult or unobtainable to have a camera operator permanently located.”

This includes a growth in lecture capture systems for higher education to support distance learning, court rooms as seen by the Supreme Court of the UK, or in-house studios and auditoriums for multinational organisations to help deliver both internal and external content as with RWE in Germany. 

“We’ve also seen our PTZ camera technology be used to continue bringing the performing arts to global audiences throughout the pandemic, as seen by the London Symphony Orchestra and at Lafayette London,” he says.  As someone that has a real passion for the experiences that the performing arts bring,  offering that ability to bring a taste of that performance to people at home gives me a lot of satisfaction!”
The firm’s Live Integrated Video Experience (L.I.V.E.) Series showcases the ground-breaking capabilities of its technology in virtual studios and to address the challenges of live production in a rapidly changing industry.

The demonstrations show how PTZ camera technology can be used alongside talent tracking system from the Blacktrax and Mo-Sys that provide position and orientation of the presenters on stage. 

“Using auto-tracking software multiple PTZ cameras can follow a single presenter on a stage without requiring an operator,” Newland says. “It does this without using any sensors - it is purely based on image analysis of the human body and facial recognition completely over IP. 

“We’ve continuously incorporated new features into our PTZ camera and control range to meet various changes in production requirements. This includes the FreeD protocol to support AR and VR applications, to full support of the latest IP protocols such as NDI, SRT and RTMP/RTMPS for stable video transmission and live streaming for more creative direction.”

PTZ cameras empower broadcasters and producers with more video angles with fewer cameras and operators. For example, PTZOptics’ cameras can store up to 255 preset PTZ positions, all accessible with the click of a button or through third-party production systems such as OBS, vMix, Wirecast, TriCaster and more. The ability to mount the cameras anywhere also allows creative shots that would be difficult for traditional broadcast camera operators to capture, such as ceiling-mounted views above a studio set. 

Auto-tracking cameras are great examples of the automation possibilities. They can even provide on-screen talent with control over the production. For example, the HuddleCamHD SimplTrack2 from PTZOptics sister company HuddleCamHD has ‘Preset Zones’ that enable on-screen talent to trigger an outro video or camera angle switch by waving their hand in front of a particular area of the set. 

“This is ideal for segments such as weather reports or sports commentary, again minimizing operator requirements while allowing producers to focus more on their vision than the mechanics,” says Paul W. Richards, Director of Marketing. 

The SimplTrack2 is an auto-tracking camera that also uses intelligent motion tracking technologies to give PTZ camera shots a more realistic feel. Meanwhile, the new PTZOptics SuperJoy is a PTZ camera controller that features four ‘Custom Buttons’ that can send a complete series of video production commands with a single press. In this way, a broadcaster can quickly move multiple PTZ cameras to capture a new area on stage, while also controlling lighting systems and compatible production systems. 

The JVC KY-PZ100 PTZ video production camera features JVC’s unique IP communications engine, providing network connection via Wi-Fi, 4G-LTE, or cabled LAN - it can be placed virtually anywhere, stream full HD and be controlled from anywhere in the world. 

According to the firm’s EMEA GM John Kelly, the model is designed to be used as a stand-alone remote camera or as part of a multi-camera system in both studio and field environments. In addition to its 3G-SDI and HDMI outputs, it is also capable of reliably streaming 1080i/60, 1080p, 720p, and 360p video with 2-channel audio - all with minimal latency and forward error correction. 

“Undoubtedly the highest growth area for PTZ solutions over the last year has been in remote production applications, where the need for social distancing has placed restrictions on the number of camera operators present for live productions,” Kelly says. “Therefore, having high-quality remote PTZ cameras allows content producers to maintain a high production value, whilst simultaneously operating efficiently from a cost and logistical point of view. 

“We’ve seen a particular growth in sports production over the internet over the last year, and PTZ cameras are an important part of that, again partly to minimise the number of operators on location. JVC’s PTZ cameras can be controlled remotely over IP from any location, and we can interface to third party control solutions via a web API.”

As we’ve seen, NDI is being rapidly adopted on cameras from Panasonic, Sony, Canon and PTZOptics’ Huddlecam for video conference. It has never been easier for broadcasters and AV users to implement AV-over-IP. 

“NDI-centric deployments have proven crucial during the pandemic,” says Scott Carroll, Director of External Communications at Vizrt Group - which owns the NDI and NewTek brands. “PTZ’s that speak NDI can also be seamlessly integrated with software video conference systems, dramatically improving image quality even when presenting from home. With a software-defined core workflow, it is possible to produce any show with a single operator, or with the right automation, no operator. PTZ’s can also be controlled and deliver signals remotely, over private WANs, and now public Internet with various cloud services on offer, delivering AV-over-IP to production.” 

NewTek’s latest cameras are the NDI PTZ UHD and HD version NDI PTZ2. Both use the latest iteration of NDI|HX offering significant advances in image quality, latency, and a fully native NDI implementation. 

“Partnered with the latest TriCaster 2 Elite production system, it has never been easier to provide automation, virtual set/augmented reality productions, native video conference integration, and live streaming from a single device for both AV and broadcast content creation,” Carroll says.