The next step
My column has been about technology in transition for more than a decade. I have to admit that I only partly saw the logical extension of the evolution of switchers until recently.
What if there was a simple box with tons of processing capability in a platform best described as a deep layering engine? Think of a conventional M/E as what it really is, a highly structured set of layers with transitions possible in each layer.
Taking this to the logical extension, what if that same layering capability could be described not as nested or infinite re-entry of descrete M/Es, but rather as a set of layers that could even be described completely in human readable text (XML) so that new instructions for switcher “configuration” could be authored in many different applications. Transitions can be made to appear global or affect a single element in a single layer of a deep composite of many elements.
Make that processing stack deep enough, with a boat load of memory, present sufficient inputs to it, and you effectively have a very complex, very powerful switcher that can be redefined any way necessary. Control panels truly become a user interface.
Though this may seem a bit futuristic, it is quite possible with current processing technology that arises in part from video processing developed for the gaming industry. Such a system would be inherently reprogrammable to do many different tasks, including digital effects, titling, compositing and essentially all the processes we are used to seeing in a production or master control switcher.
When musing about this with a colleague, it was suggested to me that a system like this might cost a fraction of a large production switcher and could allow a training facility to be built. TDs who have no experience with the latest model might sit down at perhaps a touch screen control panel, which could be configured to look just like any production switcher, but more importantly could be reprogrammed to act like others at will.
Even more powerful, though, is changing the function of the switcher completely to suit the immediate need. The processing frame could be a master control switcher one minute and a production switcher the next. Integrating graphics and commercials into a sports broadcast might be as simple as giving control of the master control electronics to a production control room with a different user interface running, perhaps at the same time that master control sees its panel just like usual. Lower cost in total, more utility and future extensibility — all in a compact package that harkens to its roots as a computer game console.
—John Luff is a television technology consultant.