What's the background to this project?
We’re working with BBC 6 Music and BBC Introducing to broadcast live performances from this years Get North festival. Hopefully, if all goes to plan what you’re about to watch will look like a regular broadcast through YouTube live. But there is more going on behind the scenes than you’d know. Read on to find out more about the project.
Live TV broadcasting is a big operation. There’s the camera crew, the team on the studio floor including set designers, floor managers and a bunch of people with clipboards headsets – and there’s the gallery. The gallery is where the director sits alongside all the sound and lighting technicians – and the vision mixer. This is the person who will switch between the cameras and has control over which pictures you see on the TV at home.
What BBC Research & Development have been working on is a tool that condenses the mixing desk down so that it works on a laptop in an internet browser. It’s called Single Operator Mixing Application, or SOMA for short. In theory, SOMA allows the whole TV gallery to be run by a single operator. The cameras are 4K and fixed in position, and set to a wide shot. If the operator wants a tighter shot, say a close up of someone’s reaction then they make a crop. The final footage is intended to be watched online rather than on a 4K broadcast. So you don’t lose quality when you crop.
Cutting down on the size of the crew can save money – but that is not the only benefit. You can access location that have less space, or cannot accommodate a big TV crew. And you can send a small team out to do a broadcast from smaller events such as gigs or other performances. And the broadcast goes out through the internet. So there's no need for satellites (very expensive).
What we’re doing right now is to test the technology. Does it work? What’s the quality like and what can we make better. We performed similar trials last year at the Edinburgh Fringe, and that taught us a lot about how SOMA works in a live situation. This year it’s about putting what we’ve learnt into practice as we get another step closer to SOMA being used across the BBC