For a while now I’ve been researching low-cost, easy to use Character Generator (CG) system for our Public Access Station’s TV Truck. Today I want to share what I found and outline the solution we’re implementing.
First, just a little background on what we needed out of the CG system. The station is very active, covering more than a hundred community events each year. Many productions require graphics to be updated and modified on the fly. Especially for sports coverage, it’s is a necessity.
We also needed a CG that was compatible with our Blackmagic Design ATEM Switcher.
A quick, but important side note on ATEM switchers. ATEM’s DO NOT have built-in scalers, which means that all incoming video must match exactly what you set in the configuration panel. In our case, we’re using HD 1080i. This is an important note when setting up an external CG.
Users should also know that ATEM switchers CAN store pre-produced, static graphics. If you’re working on a project where all graphics are known ahead of time, you can simply load your graphics into the switcher, DONE. Photoshop is the best graphics software to accomplish this. There’s also a Photoshop plugin that speeds up the process with some automation, but that’s still not ideal for sports production.
Once you decide that you need an external CG there are many solutions to look at, here are just a few:
- ChyronHego – High-End Broadcast Level Solutions
- Compix Broadcast Graphics – Mid-Range, Well Respect
- DataVideo CG – Low Cost, Software feels old
- PowerPoint – Low Cost, Easy-to-use
- CasperCG – Open Source Solution
We first purchased the DataVideo CG350, but found it cumbersome and lacking some basic features we need. Software just felt outdated and difficult to work with, we’ll find a use for the software, but not in our main production truck.
Other alternatives include Compix Character Generators, which is a great solution. Our station has used their product in the past with our SD systems. We’ve avoided this option, mainly for budget reasons, if you have the budget, Compix is likely one of your best options.
For our situation, PowerPoint was actually the best solution. A low-cost and user-friendly experience. A system we can deploy in multiple production facilities and deal with failures quickly. For example, if the CG system dies, a quick trip to Best Buy or Amazon.com and we’re back up and running. PowerPoint is a well supported and modern software used by millions, unlike more specialize CG software that has a smaller developer team and only a few hundred users.
I’m working on a blog post that outlines how to connect PowerPoint to a Blackmagic Design ATEM Switcher. Stay Tuned!