In the previous two instalments I described YSDC's podcasting equipment for both our main "magazine" podcasts and for our mobile and game recordings.
As 2014 marks a full decade of continuous podcasting from Yog-Sothoth I thought I'd round off this triptych of articles describing a few updates to our systems and the inclusion of our move into producing more video.
Changes in Equipment and Workflow
In the past year our audio equipment and working method has remained relatively stable with only a few minor changes.
For recording our podcast audio we moved to GarageBand 10 and 24 bit recording. The greater bit depth means we can record at lower sound levels and introduce less noise into the system, providing even cleaner audio. As discussed later on, for some our work we also record at 48 KHz frequency range, however GarageBand is limited to 44.1 kHz, so while we could use Logic Pro at 24 bit/48 KHz (24/48) the ease of recording into GarageBand currently outweighs the potential benefits in frequency response since most of our production is speech-based.
Our backup recorder has been upgraded from the Zoom H4n to the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder recording to WAV at 24/48. The lower noise floor, 4 XLR inputs, larger colour display and the interchangeable mic heads make this a rather good upgrade from the H4n.
Our specialist Icecast 2 server provider unfortunately closed in 2013 and so with them went our live audio broadcasts through that service. StreamSolutions not only offered Icecast servers but also enabled the 24/7 stream we provided on YSDC. With their closure we took the opportunity to simplify our broadcast provision. In essence we retired the Nicecast broadcast software and YSDCam 1 (static web cam) and then bumped up the resolution of YSDCam 2 (live video cam) sent out through Ustream. The audio for the live shows is now fed out of the Saffire Pro 40 audio interface directly into the Logitech Broadcaster camera and then to Ustream, thus removing a couple of interceding steps.
One issue with using a Ustream free account is that interstitial adverts are played randomly at varying times. These adverts buffer the content, the effect being that individual viewers can end up watching the show slightly time-shifted from each other. To try and overcome this we explored using YouTube Live as an alternative, however the additional software and extra steps involved meant this performed poorly for us, so the simplicity of Ustream integration means it currently remains our default choice for live broadcasting. We could of course upgrade to an ad-free Ustream account but at c. $100 a month for a less than weekly show the cost/benefit doesn't fall in our favour at this time.
The "Zulu Clock" used for showing the current time in relation to the shows was also retired and instead we run site banners advertising the next live show that includes an integral countdown clock so no more local time calculations need be done.
For audio encoding we remain with MP3 but have increased the bit rate to 160 Kbps (with very slight stereo panning) to provide clean, quality audio. The use of stereo panning in the mix means that with multi-host set-ups it can be easier to distinguish voices by their location. The applied effect need not be great but it can help with clarity of conversation.
We stopped using SoundCloud as we are not currently offering enhanced (.m4a) podcasts, simply providing the MP3 files directly from YSDC. (The money saved was put towards Vimeo instead, see below.)
This concludes the changes to our default audio recording setup. For mobile and game recordings it remains ostensibly the same save the move to using the Zoom H6 recorder. However one big area of change for us is the increase in our video/short film provision.
Online Video Production
We have actually produced online video for almost as long as we have audio - stretching back over 15 years (back in the days when RealPlayer was king). However over the past year we've increased our provision to offer full HD (1080p) video. As of writing, this is how we do it.
The main video recorder we use is actually a DSLR camera, a Canon 600D (Rebel T3i) with three kit lenses (EF-S 18-55mm, EF-S 55-250mm and EF 50mm f/1.8 prime plus EF 12 II Extension Tube). DSLR cameras record great video but terrible audio so attached to the hot shoe mount of the camera is a Rode VideoMic Pro (with fluffy windscreen). To capture 1080p video at 25 frames per second requires a fast memory card such as the SanDisk Extreme 64 GB Class 10 SD Card. For stabilisation or relatively static shots we either use a Manfrotto 190XDB tripod or where greater movement is needed then a DSLR shoulder rig is brought into play to allow for more flexible tracking shots.
One of the key aspects of good video is good lighting, even low end cameras can produce good video if they have suitable illumination. For portability we make use of Rotolight Stealth RL48-B LED lights that can either be attached to the cameraâ€™s hot shoe mount or fitted to tripods. Lighting can be further controlled on lens by use of either circular polarising or variable ND filters.
Visual quality of the image is checked either on the LCD screen on the back of the camera or via a larger Lilliput 569GL external monitor.
The DSLR and associated equipment are stored and carried in a Professional USA Gear backpack which features a lot of handy portable space.
For highly mobile recordings where a full kit would be impractical we turn to the mobile phone. Using an iPhone 5S either handheld or attached to a ZipShot tripod (via a Joby GripTight Mount) high quality full HD footage can be taken and the audio is sufficiently usable. The recording software is either Apple's own camera app. or MoviePro which has a number of additional recording features.
Another mobile alternative we have access to is an iPad Mini 2 in an iOgrapher case with a wide-angle Polaroid lens, with the audio recorded via the VideoMic Pro into a Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder attached to the case. This has the advantage of providing a much larger viewing screen but is bulkier to carry around.
Both iDevices can recorded excellent footage, however if you're after a shallow depth of field (rather than everything in shot being pin-sharp) then DSLR/video cameras are a better choice.
Audio for Video
It has never been easier to produce great looking video however the visual aspect is only half the story (or even less than half). People can stand sub-par image quality but they won't tolerate poor sound. An advantage of having produced audio for so long is that this importance is well known to us and so at least equal attention is made to how the video sounds.
As mentioned above we often make use of a Rode VideoMic Pro for capturing audio into the DSLR camera (or iPad/Zoom H1), it's great for "run & gun" style recording when out and about. We do have a couple of alternatives depending on the situation and this includes a Rode Reporter microphone and a Sennheiser EW 100 ENG G3 wireless system (with a Rode Lavalier Omni Condenser Mic). These are very useful when doing field reports or interviews. The wireless system again allows for greater freedom of movement and flexibility; the downside being the increased setup time necessary to employ them. The output from the Sennheiser receiver is brought into the XLR inputs of the Zoom H6 (again recording to WAV at 24/48). Another advantage of this system is that the receiver and recorder need not be physically anywhere near the camera or the host (in theory it could be several streets away).
If time is rushed my advice would always be: concentrate on the audio first. Lots of people listen to the radio, few watch silent movie channels.
Software and Delivery
The audio software side of this equation makes use of Hindenburg Journalist Pro (as with our audio podcasts) for setting audio levels to EBU R-128 standards and Red Giant's PluralEyes software for syncing up externally recorded audio.
For video delivery on the web we use Vimeo rather than YouTube. Why not simply use YouTube as it's free? Primarily because the image quality is much better as are the range of delivery and upload options (e.g.Dropbox integration). It's worth the price to us.
After 10 years of podcasting (I believe we are the longest running UK podcasters) we seem to have settled on a relatively stable format for production and the move into more online video provides us with another way to create, provide and engage with new content. It can be hard work, but it can also be fun.