TriCaster TCXD8000 – can it get any better?

At NAB earlier this year Newtek announced a trio of new broadcast mixing and switching solutions. As expected, there were upgrades for the TriCaster XD450 (XD455) and their established flagship for low-cost, high-end production and the centre piece of many TV Studios around the world, the TriCaster XD850 (XD855). But what no-one was expecting was the announcement of the all-new 8000. Strolling in as TriCaster’s new heir to the throne, the 8000 comes with a swathe of new features – many in areas we really didn’t expect…

Sporting a sexy glowing blue stripe on the outside and a leaner, cleaner interface in the inside, the new suave TriCaster struts into the spotlight and brings with it the kind of upgrades that frankly, we didn’t think would ever grace a TriCaster.  New features include social networking, scripting, remote control, 3D effects and more besides. Let’s take a look:

Social Media Integration now means that while you are producing your live show, you can be interacting with your viewers via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube etc. The percentage of people who watch TV on their portable device (be it a laptop, tablet or phone) is increasing all the time. Gone are the days of having to say the old line “and we received this letter from a Mrs Trellis of North Wales” in relation to something from the previous show; now she can tweet her comments and get a response moments later during that show. Support for live upload to an FTP site is also included for those corporate jobs. Put simply, Tricaster’s inclusion of Social Media Networking could be the single biggest addition to any vision mixing platform ever!

The ‘Extreme’ versions of the 450 and 850 already had ISO recording (the ability to record not only the program output but also individual feeds coming in). The TriCaster range has always recorded its media as MPEG2 by default based on the need for compatibility across multiple edit platforms. The 8000 brings a shift towards QuickTime recording as the standard. This move brings the addition of up to 4 channels of audio recording along with time code embedded. This should mean that post show editing is made easier and as QT support on PC has been getting steadily better over the years, this shouldn’t present a problem to the non-Mac crowd. Software codecs also mean that both PC and Mac platforms can produce media optimized for TriCaster although anyone who has ever used a TriCaster will tell you it plays pretty much anything you can throw at it! With the standard storage in the 8000, Newtek claim approximately 50 hours of 1080i but as the drives are hot swappable, this is effectively unlimited.

Finally, proper workspace control comes to TriCaster. In the more recent TriCasters you could fold away the display section to give you more space for DDRs and stills but this new approach adds much more control over what you see and how you see it. Many TriCaster users (including me) have been asking for this for some time as everyone has different needs – even when referencing something quite particular like broadcast mixing. The new ability to use one touch automation and create macros means that complex changes to setup such as layering, video clip choices etc. can be pre-defined before going live and then called into play using a single click.

The traditional TriCaster virtual input channels ( V1, V2 etc.) are now replaced with M/E (Mix/Effects) keys, offering far greater flexibility. On the 8000 we get 8 M/E channels. These can be used for such things as chromakey, virtual studio inputs, picture in picture setups etc. and can be routed together to allow an almost endless amount of configuration. Each M/E channel comes with up to 4 overlays and has its own 3D positioning, scale, crop, keying and transition controls so with just a few cameras you can give the appearance of a massive multi-use studio setup that’s ready for anything. In the past TriCaster users always ended up asking for more (regardless of how many their specific model shipped with). Now with the ability to configure router switching within the TriCaster, connecting a Blackmagic router (for example) to one of your inputs means you can have almost limitless live sources in your production.

TriCaster’s audio handling has traditionally been a bit of a bugbear for larger broadcasters – many wanted to use a dedicated sound desk with a sound engineer operating it. This was possible for everything apart from the DDRs and internal TriCaster audio. Mics and external sources can all be pre-mixed before being fed into the TriCaster, but as the DDRs are already inside, getting them out and back in again has always been an issue for the systems integrator. Thankfully the 8000 makes a huge step in the right direction with the ability to remote control all the audio channels from either a simple iPad application or via one of the popular Avid Artist series of control surfaces. This means your sound man feels he’s in control and your TriCaster operator can focus on other tasks.

Virtual Sets have always been a big selling point with the TriCaster range. Good old ‘collage’ chromakey where you ‘cut out’ and ‘stick on’ was fine back in the 90’s but viewers demand more these days. Virtual studio setups can now draw the viewer into a more believable world with reflective surfaces on floors and desks etc., realisitic 3D environments with video walls, windows showing live outside weather and so on. A few years back Newtek added a very nice feature to Virtual Sets by including a zoomable virtual camera. This meant that from a single live camera feed, you could get up to 4 switchable zoom levels which provided wide angles and close-ups from a single source, saving money, time and effort. Now with the 8000 they have given this feature a huge injection of adrenaline with the inclusion of up to 4 live sources (yes, I’ll let that one sink in for a second…….), and new 3D motion control with what Newtek describe as ‘Pan, zoom and pedestal movement’ functions. Virtual Set Editor (VSE) has also been upgraded to version 2.0 to allow these new features to be created by the end user.

We touched upon the macros and scripting earlier but one of the more exciting features of the 8000 is ‘talent triggerable hotspots’. Imagine a Weather Presenter being able to trigger the next map image simply by walking from one side of the shot to another. Or a presenter simply pointing at a thumbnail of a video with his hand to make it play that video full screen. Presenter / environment interaction is finally achievable meaning small crews can now achieve results that used to need much bigger crews, and bigger crews can achieve… well, almost anything! Another feature of this motion tracking feature is the ability to track any source onto an in-camera element, meaning things can be mapped onto something in your hand for example (like a piece of card) and project live video onto it.

The visual effects achievable with the 8000 have also improved. In addition to the many standard 2D wipes, crawls, slides etc. the video-based transitions are included as standard (only previously available in Extreme models). These allow a transition where not only the A and B channels are switched but also an additional graphical element such as a football, fluttering flag or slamming vault door (think high end sports shows, American wrestling, robot wars type stuff). These transitions can also include sound allowing you to produce very dramatic shows with visually complex themed punctuation, yet with hardly any impact on your operators stress levels! And all the tools needed to create your own animated transitions are included meaning no extra costs when you want to customize things. Newtek have also reintroduced 3D warping transitions (think page peel with live video on it) last seen on older SD TriCasters. With this much variety, you are sure to find a transition to suit your needs (and if not, make one.)

There’s evidence that better routing has been a priority wherever you look on the new 8000, especially on the back panel where you’ll see a number of extra output sockets. But it’s not just a hardware thing; very simple but clever options like the ability to send the output from one TriCaster, via a network to another TriCaster means interlinking between multiple physical studios is possible – even if they are on opposite sides of the planet.

Previous TriCasters had only two DSKs (downstream keys) which were fully controllable.  Now we have four, which means if you need to show a lower third, a channel ident and two picture-in-pictures, you’re covered. With the nine frame buffers also included in this model, you can specify which particular title is sent to a specific overlay, DSK or virtual input. All of which ultimately means your production will look top notch, without the need for crazy button pushing.

Read the full version of Mat Recardo’s review of the the TriCaster 8000 and the new entry-level TriCaster 40 in the Iris magazine, 3rd issue of 2012.  Back issues of the Iris can be read online at www.theirismag.com/irisonline

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