Working with a number of teams from several countries, the RTL news organization’s Hilversum operation recently migrated its studio and gallery to High Definition (HD), while simultaneously transforming the existing facilities by utilizing the extensive capabilities of virtual-studio and on-air graphics from Orad (purchased by Avid in 2015).
Marc Schreuder, Director of News, explains that he wanted to keep physical settings within the studio to a minimum, but use large virtual images in both the background and foreground. “The look we wanted to create was that of an empty studio populated with some very big green screens. The idea was to frame the news pictures in such a way as to create urgency or explain stories for our viewers.”
Although RTL in the Netherlands had not previously utilized an Avid product, the virtual solutions had been used with amazing results in other members of the broadcasting group. “Our existing set-up was very basic. We were looking to create a studio with the option of using a group of very large virtual images and graphics to expand the scope of stories, plus carry out animations and on-screen explanations,” said Marc Schreuder, RTL's Director of News.
How did Avid solutions achieve the result RTL Netherlands was looking to create? Hank van de Loo, Manager AV Techniek, RTL Engineering, tells the story. “We are talking about a studio that was more than 10 years old. It was still operating in SD, so alongside the need for the more dynamic look, we needed to upgrade to HD. We also felt this was perhaps a good moment to see whether or not we were still on track with our audiences—for example, whether we were getting the message across in a way that matched the modern way of viewing news.”
According to Hank, with so many viewers using devices such as tablets and iPhones, the television news output should have a similar look and feel—allowing presenters to "swipe" to the next image in the story. The first stage in the project involved Belgian company Pièce Montee creating a new design for the studio, including the windows required to display the virtual images that were fundamental to RTL’s objectives.
“The Belgian developers came up with a physical ‘window’ which included a built-in virtual augmented frame. So, what was being suggested was a virtual environment and an augmented environment in a studio that had no cameramen, five robotic cameras on the floor, and a production gallery with only three people—the director, the assistant to the director looking after robotics, and the editor in chief with responsibility for the content of the broadcast.”
To make that system work, a number of suppliers were contacted and asked to provide solutions which met the ambitious specification.
“With the concept in mind, we had the additional challenge of working with a number of different suppliers to achieve our desired look. Once we decided on the solution, there was intense collaboration on the technical infrastructure and design from Avid, Sony, Vinten, as well as the RTL Board, technical management, plus editorial and news teams. This cooperation across multiple vendors and groups was key in innovating the way we designed the studio and now present our news programs.”
The result has been a new RTL Studio workflow, which includes three virtual green screens and one large frame for augmented content on the 13 x 22 yard-wide studio floor. At the heart of the solution is Avid ProSet for keying content over the virtual panels and creating augmented reality elements.
Avid ProSet extracts camera position and lens parameters from each of the robotic cameras to enable the keyed graphics to be accurately displayed on the three virtual panels within the physical studio. Avid’s authoring software, 3Designer, retrieves bitmap files in a format that permits per layer manipulation and animation. It also has dynamic scene blending architecture that permits the triggering of multiple graphic scenes at the same time using just the one system. This means a virtual background can be generated from one scene while foreground objects are created from an alternative scene. Both sources are then combined into a single unified output channel, providing a complete graphics solution.
The system’s internal chroma-keyer is utilized for keying out the large green screens and inserting the virtual elements within the virtual monitors behind the presenters. In addition, ProSet generates the augmented reality elements to create the distinctive look for each of the programs in the new studio.
Avid’s own HDVG4 rendering platform renders intricate 3D graphics scenery in real-time, providing depth and perspectives, as well as realistic textures. During playout, all graphics including virtual studio, augmented reality, full-screen graphics, tickers, lower thirds, and other graphic elements are under the control of Avid Maestro. The playlists are generated by the Maestro News Producer plugin, embedded in the Avid iNEWS newsroom system.
The rundowns are created, dragging and dropping graphics-elements into a playlist. Generated by Avid iNEWS, rundowns are controlled by the Sony ELC studio automation system, which triggers the Maestro-created playlist to air—including the information displayed in the virtual background, the augmented reality and on-air graphics. This automation also controls camera robotics from Vinten with APS (Absolute Positioning System) and Egripment track hanging in the ceiling.
According to Hank van de Loo, the set-up provides RTL with all the advantages of a video wall, without having to install a ‘physical’ wall. “We make 25 different shows every day from that studio, so that’s quite a number. And although we have reduced the number of personnel in the studio and gallery, we have expanded the size of the graphics department to handle the new demands. The screens are two meters high and eight meters wide, which isn't an average 9 x 16 picture. As a result, we must be creative to ensure the images are visually stunning on the screen for the viewers at home.”
He reports that the Avid technology has provided RTL with high-quality graphics output that matches the broadcaster’s demands for dramatically improved presentation. “Avid simplifies graphics production for changing sets between shows, and reduces the level of resources required to facilitate complex graphics workflows.”
He concludes, “The new studio provides viewers with a stunning visual set that is very fluid in terms of graphics presentation. For the future, we are already working with Avid on the next generation studio which we anticipate will be online in the middle of 2015.”