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Sony Brings Touch to All-in-One Live Production Content Producer

Sony has been making portable, all-in-one video productions switchers for more than a decade. During that time, the potential market for this technology has expanded, the company believes, thanks both to the evolving definition of "broadcast" to include real-time Web streaming and the ubiquity of a different kind of user interface. Sony is betting on that belief with its new Anycast Touch (AWS-750), an updated version of its portable switcher that is operated exclusively by touch screen.

"We wanted to get rid of anyone's apprehension in the non-traditional switcher market about using a powerful tool by introducing something they use every day," says Alex Rossi, Sony's senior product marketing specialist. "Everyone nowadays has a smartphone operated by touch screen, and /or a tablet PC. It automatically makes them comfortable sitting behind the Anycast Touch."

Introduced last year, Anycast Touch is the successor to Sony's Anycast Station, a portable all-in-one video production switcher that debuted in 2004. Anycast Touch reprises Anycast Station's laptop-like form factor (16 3/8 x 3 7/8 x 13 ¼ inches, just over 14 pounds), but without the analog switches and sliders. Instead, the new, sleeker system provides a dual touchscreen interface: a large touch-enabled display screen, and a secondary screen in the keyboard position that can present users with either a touch- style version of a switcher's fader controls or a touch keyboard for text generation. (Three USB ports also allow a user to plug in an external keyboard and mouse.)

Sony developed the intuitive touchscreen controls for this system as a way of making a powerful production switcher less intimidating to end users who aren't the traditional "broadcast guys," Rossi says.

"Take, for example, your typical house-of-worship volunteer," he says. "This is someone who's giving his time on the weekend, but probably doesn't know anything about operating a switcher. Or take a student in a high school's AV club—who could probably teach us a thing or two about touch screens. These folks are very comfortable with the Anycast Touch."

Sony describes the system as a "live production content producer," which is a mouthful but a better fit than "switcher," given its tools and features bundle. Anycast Touch combines a video switcher, a video recorder, an audio mixer, a text and title generator, a set of remote camera controls (pan-tilt-zoom), a clip playback feature, a template tool, and real-time Web streaming capability.

The switcher component supports up to six video inputs including HD/SD-SDI, HDMI, RGB, and/or composite inputs. The recorder can capture up to 10 hours of PGM video output to a built-in solid state drive (SSD) in high resolution. "PGM" (Pragmatic General Multicast) is a network transport protocol that can deliver a sequence of packets to multiple recipients at the same time. The audio mixer supports up to five audio inputs that can be mixed using the "sliders" on the secondary touch panel. The text and title generator (accessed through the touch keyboard) supports up to 10 languages. The clip playback feature can pull in recorded and imported content as video sources during live productions. And the system uses Flash H.264 to stream Web content to an external streaming server of program or auxiliary output.

One feature that seems designed for non-professional users is the "scene" creation tool, which allows operators to compose up to 99 templates in advance of a broadcast that incorporates titles, logos, transition effects, different sources, and even camera positions, and then store them collectively as a "scene." Once created, a template can be launched with a single command.

Also, unlike its predecessors, the Linux-based Anycast Touch system is software upgradable, which means that future system improvements can be delivered via download, Rossi says. When new versions of firmware are available, Sony will notify users, he says.

Anycast Touch was unveiled in April, but has only been available since September. Ease of use is the key selling point for this system, and the company is marketing it to non-professionals in environments where its live applications are likely to be in demand: education, houses of worship, and corporate seminars, for example. And the company is pitching the potential the system to generate new revenue streams in environments, such as K-12 schools, where it might not have been considered before.

"The streaming feature of the Anycast Touch can be used in a variety of ways to generate revenue for a school," the company said in an email. "For example, a school may set up a subscription service for streaming/viewing sports, drama, and other events where they can charge a fee to parents and other relatives to watch the events live."

The company hopes that potential new users of the system will take a cue from higher education, where fee-based live streaming of sporting events is now commonplace. Davidson College in North Carolina, for example, has been offering online live-streams of everything from football to women's swimming and diving since 2008. The school currently provides access to webcasts of its live sporting events via subscription (per game, monthly, or yearly) and maintains a large archive of videos on its website.

Davidson, a longtime user of Sony's Anycast Station, recently purchased Anycast Touch, and, according to the school's sports information officer, Gavin McFarlin, plans to implement the system this fall to webcast live football games, with plans to use the system to live stream soccer and baseball.

"We're not looking to make a ton of money off the system," McFarlin says, "but it helps to defray the costs of the freelancers we use [to record sporting events]. And its gives parents of students from out of state a chance to easily go online and see their son or daughter play."

The Anycast Touch Live Content Producer is available now for a list price of $19,995. More information is available online. At press time, the company was also offering "early adopter pricing" at $15,995.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Palo Alto, CA.

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