The HD Odyssey: Manufacturers’ Suggestions — Switchers

By Carolyn Braff

When a college athletic department transitions its video operations from standard-definition to high-definition, the switcher determines the capabilities of the entire control room. Lying at the heart of the system, it dictates the size, character, and destination of all content produced in the room, so plenty of decisions must be made before the switcher is purchased.

To assist in this process, SVG-U has polled representatives from several major switcher manufacturers on their top products for the cost-conscious college space. Below, we have compiled product suggestions from NewTek, Ross Video, Sony, and Thomson Grass Valley.

For some key questions to ask before choosing one of these systems, click here.


When staffing is an issue in an athletic department, the NewTek TriCaster is an effective option. Functioning as a live truck, it requires only one operator to produce three simultaneous outputs: digital signage (JumboTrons or video boards), closed-circuit TV (student TV network or a local broadcast feed), and live Webcasts.

“We’ve taken the key pieces you would find for a television broadcast and put them in a 10-pound box that can be operated by a single operator,” explains Philip Nelson, SVP of strategic development at NewTek. “It allows you to mix up to six live video sources, we have units that can do serial digital, and it has built-in graphics and a built-in digital disk recorder.”

According to Nelson, pricing on the TriCaster was an important design criterion, so a three-input TriCaster starts at $2,995. Adding more cameras (up to six inputs), improving the connectors, and inserting additional storage space and serial digital brings the price up to $11,995 for NewTek’s highest-end model, the TriCaster Broadcast.

Ross Video

Ross Video’s production switchers can send separate feeds to stadium concourses, luxury suites, and the Web, all from a single interface, but the company’s product line provides seamless integration of production switchers, servers, terminal gear, and automation control.

“These are the key areas of most facilities,” explains Steve Romain, key accounts program manager for Ross Video. “The unique thing about them is, because we have common design goals between the development teams, we have very tight interface between these products.”

Ross OverDrive, an automated production-control system, is one of the company’s newest developments. It can import an entire game-day script into a rundown, and then a single operator can run that script from the OverDrive system, accessing all of the production switcher and external devices that need to be controlled.

“What we’re doing is making it very simple to do a very involved production and do it in a more efficient manner and with possibly less people in the control room,” Romain says.

Ross’s switchers range in price from $50,000 to $350,000.


The Sony Anycast switcher has a built-in streaming engine, which is essential for many college video operations. The $14,000 desktop switcher comes in a box with a handle, so video coordinators can pick it up and take it anywhere.

Among short-frame switchers, the 40-input MVS-8000 GSF is Sony’s top seller.

“One of the nice things about the GSF is, you can connect multiple control panels to the one switcher frame,” explains Chris Marchitelli, marketing manager for live production systems at Sony. “If you wanted to, you could have two people switching on the same frame at the same time, or you could do it all through one panel.”

With multiple outputs on the switcher, the GSF allows operators to run a streaming output through an encoder, enabling them to stream to the Web right from the switcher. With 2.5 M/Es, the GSF is priced between $110,000 and $130,000.

Thomson Grass Valley

Many of Grass Valley’s switchers integrate external features, including DVEs, keyers, and internal RAM record or image stores — which can replace character generators by storing graphics from such software as PhotoShop. The Kayak model can also play back up to a minute of high-definition video, giving it one of the largest capacities in the market.

“I think that, if the goal is to train operators for working in live production environment, colleges should probably be considering at least a 2 M/E switcher,” explains Rick Paulson, product manager for production switchers at Thomson Grass Valley. “Our 200C model is probably the optimum model for a college in terms of tradeoff between price and performance. It allows them to learn how to set up mix effects upstream of the program mix effects for re-entry.”

The 2 M/E, full-function switcher on a small two-bank panel is priced around $100,000, although the price varies with the options.

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