GeneralHardware

The Line Always Moves

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who want everything, and those who want just enough.

You may believe that you fall somewhere between the two, but you don’t.

If you think you want more than “just enough” but not a lot more, I encourage you to meditate on that. Try to find the line in the proverbial sand where you’d be willing to lay down your labors and enjoy what you have. Just sit with that for a moment, and then get really honest with yourself. Envision someone offering you a little bit more. Imagine one more car in the driveway—one more Caribbean vacation—hell, just one more linen shirt in the closet.

Would you hold up your hand, palm out in refusal, shaking your head?

Probably not.

This is one of those things that most people are too afraid to consciously admit to themselves. We work hard to achieve our ends. In the endeavor, a very strong (but nonetheless delusional) part of our being truly believes that the end is The End—a place to rest and finally be content. But even if we achieve our end beyond all expectations, that degree of satisfaction—that finality—never materializes.

The truth is, the line always moves. No matter where we draw it, the ocean waves sweep in and wash it away.

This fundamental aspect of human nature goes a long way toward explaining why (pardon me for being blunt) most people suck at technology. Even if you’re generally not a “just enough” kind of person, I encourage you to be a “just enough technology” kind of person. You’ll function much better, and be much happier, in our increasingly technology-laden world.

Just Enough Video Switcher

We’ve been busy at LVP in the last month. I’ve had my hands on five different video switchers, at wildly varying price points. Some were too much for their use cases, while some were just right.

The most expensive of the bunch was the Analog Way VRC300.

This machine is a beast. I have never handled a more feature-packed video switcher. The things you can do with it are astounding. You can create incredibly complex macro commands to automate your show. If you’re fluent on this machine, and have the time, you can front load much of your work before your show, making the live event itself significantly easier to execute.

I spent an entire day training with an Analog Way representative, and I felt like I only scratched the surface. It is, to turn a phrase, a lot of video switcher. Too much, in fact, for the client who purchased it. This is a client with a market cap larger than many countries’ GDPs. Money is no object, and they spent lavishly. Perhaps they thought, to the exclusion of other considerations, that money equals quality. It is a quality machine. But there’s something else worth considering even more:

What do you really need?

I think the de facto approach to purchasing just about anything is to buy more than needed, as to avoid having too little—or missing something entirely. After all, it’s easy to not use something, versus not having something when you need it. When it comes to your kitchen cabinet, for example, there’s no downside to having too much stuff. For some party, years from now, you may finally use that soft pretzel maker with built-in cheese warmer. But video hardware is not like stocking your kitchen. In video, as with computers and other technology, there is a downside to having more than you need, and that downside can be summed up in a phrase: ease of use.

You make your life needlessly harder by buying more than you need.

The kinds of shows this client was putting on didn’t warrant a machine as full-featured as the VRC300. Why be burdened with all of these features you’ll never use? It’s clutter that gets in the way of the functionality you actually need—layers of abstraction built on top of an already complicated device. Add up all of the lost productivity that accumulates show after show after show, and then try to justify having that one feature that proved modestly useful that one time. You make your life needlessly harder by buying more than you need.

To their credit, the client realized this and returned it for a more modest device. For them, it was a wasted day of training. For me, I live for this stuff. Education is never a waste.

At my day job, we were looking to replace our Panasonic AV-HS400A with something more 1080 friendly (this unit only accepts a 1080 29.97 interlaced input). As a test drive, we rented a newer Panasonic model for one show: the AV-HS410N. It did what we needed it to do, but for a 5+ year old switcher, it was hard to justify the price.

Instead, we opted to purchase a Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K. It’s a great switcher. For the price, you get incredible value.

The only problem is, it’s not the most compatible switcher with our Sony PMW-EX3 XDCAMs. This camera outputs a PsF signal that the AV-HS410N recognizes, but the ATEM 1 does not.

Headaches ensued, let me tell you.

I’m not going to go into detail, because the tangent would end up being longer than the article that contains it, but suffice it to say we probably should have ponied up the money for a switcher that better fit our needs. It can be tough to work within a tight budget, but we’re talking about a video switcher here. This isn’t a pair of socks; you’re going to keep it for a while. You should get exactly what you need.

Contrast these two situations to the smallest show I worked on: a community meetup on Facebook Live. We used the simplest, cheapest, and most humble switcher: the Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio HD.

And you know what? It went great.

I didn’t even use the software interface. I just sat there pushing the physical buttons on the face of the unit. Camera 1. Camera 2. Camera 1. Laptop. Back and forth. That’s all we needed, and this switcher did it.

When it comes to technology, get just what you need.

No more. No less.

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