Product Review: Mobile Video Production System Handles Broadcast, Webcast and Screencast Functions

Product Review: Mobile Video Production System Handles Broadcast, Webcast and Screencast Functions

by / November 2, 2009

Editor's Note: In January 2009, the TriCaster video production system was used for live broadcasting of President Barack Obama's Inaugural Ball so troops overseas could be a part of the festivities and receive messages of encouragement from the ball's attendees. The system was also used by a Des Moines, Iowa, local government TV station to produce and air live conferences to update citizens during a June 2008 flood. In this month's Two Cents, guest reviewer Theo Mayer explains why the TriCaster is becoming the system of choice for professional-quality video production.

The NewTek TriCaster is a complete video production system contained in a rugged, portable box that measures only 11.5 by 8 by 7.5 inches.

The name TriCaster comes from the three functions it provides:

  1. Broadcast. It's a broadcast-quality live production and recording system with standard and unique features that allow one production engineer to manage and record a six-camera show that's graphics intensive and special-effects filled, and enhanced B-roll supplemental footage.
  2. Webcast. The TriCaster is a webcasting system with built-in encoding and "push" or "pull" streaming at selectable resolutions.
  3. ScreenCast. It's a live event production system for feeding video projectors, with clever capabilities that keep graphics and data at computer resolution while integrating video.

There are several models to choose from, starting with composite video, two-camera systems at $3,995.

I've been using the TriCaster Broadcast that lists for $11,995, which can operate in six-camera mode along with a variety of professional-level specifications. For nonvideo production people, it has everything imaginable, including the kitchen "sync."

The TriCaster is engineered with professional video in mind. This isn't surprising since the TriCaster is the brainchild of the same people who created the landmark 1990 Video Toaster -- a device that included the hardware and software for creating broadcast-quality television.

There are three major tabs on the user interface. One is "Live Production," featuring a special effects video switcher that rivals any physical hardware. Transitions include more than 100 effects -- from page curls and dissolves to animated laser beams.

There are two feature-filled digital disk recorders (DDRs) that can be set up with unlimited numbers of video clips for B-roll, backgrounds or special effects.

The TriCaster includes full graphics capabilities with lower-third titling, plates, overlays, backgrounds and foregrounds -- all of which can be composited to create professional-quality results.

One striking feature is the TriCaster's ability to generate virtual sets. By putting the talent in front of a green screen, they're magically incorporated into a selection of 3-D virtual sets. These sets feature shadows, reflections, foreground elements, background elements, multiple camera angles and even media displays. This isn't something you would expect, even in a $100,000 system.

Webcasting is simple. Connect the TriCaster to the Web, select settings from a drop-down menu (resolution, frame rate, bandwidth and format), press the red button marked "webcast" -- and wham, you're streaming on the Internet.

Besides the "Live Production" tab, there's a tab for "Media Capture." It has all the tools needed to capture and import video, audio and graphics into a production.

The "Edit Media" tab includes a full-featured nonlinear digital editing system for postproducing shows. I use it mostly to prepare video clips and elements for the DDRs or uploading to the Internet. NewTek has its own set of video editing conventions. I find it a little difficult to flip between Apple's Final Cut (an industry standard) and the NewTek editor without struggling a bit in transition. However, after working on the NewTek editor for several hours, I am impressed by some of its clever nuances.

Finally there's a tab called "Edit Text," a full-featured graphics studio that allows users to create lower thirds, production graphics, backgrounds and more. Again,

users may be more comfortable with Photoshop, Illustrator or Fireworks for graphics production. However, this is the perfect environment to prep a graphics package to use back on the "Live Production" tab.

Complete, feature-rich product for a low price.
It does everything it claims to -- superbly.
It's simple to set up and provides (at least on the Broadcast model) all the connectors and input/output options needed in a professional production system.
It allows you to capture, create, edit, record, postproduce and stream your results onto the Internet in a single, self-contained system.

The documentation only provides a glimpse into all the features and capabilities.
The "Edit Media" and "Edit Text" functions use numerous conventions that are unique to NewTek and TriCaster rather than standard conventions established by core applications, such as Photoshop, Final Cut, Illustrator, etc.
No high-definition model is available. However, NewTek is promising one soon and offers an upgrade program so customers who get the standard-definition model now can upgrade to high definition without penalty.

Product rating: 5 out of 5
Price: Starting at $3,995


TriCaster Specifications

  • Weight: 10 pounds
  • Recording Capacity: 10 hours MPEG-2
  • Video Input: three Y/C, three composite (RCA)
  • Video Output: one Y/C, one composite (RCA)
  • Audio Input: two unbalanced mic inputs (phone), one stereo line in (RCA) 
  • Audio Output: one unbalanced line out (phone), one stereo headphone out
  • File Formats: AVI, DV, MPEG-2, QuickTime, HDV, JPG, PNG and more
  • Camera Auto-Calibration
  • 16:9 streaming
  • DDR Playback: one DDR, one still store



Theo Mayer Guest Reviewer
Theo Mayer is a senior technology adviser who integrates commercial technologies into new applications. He formed in 2008 and works under contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to implement Web-based technologies.