Jan. 10, 2023 - From producing live school board meetings to covering community events, the video production crew for Prince William County Schools packs a lot of activity into a day. Considering the number of events it produces each year, the team depends on reliable gear to deliver high-quality content that aligns with the Prince William County Schools' Strategic Plan. Senior Communications and Video Systems Specialist, Marcos Salinas, gave us more insight into the role of video in modern school systems, and we've captured key interview highlights below.
What is your role, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I juggle many tasks, from producing school board meetings and other events to contributing to the creation of social media content for our Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok pages; equipment sourcing and selection, and beyond. No day on the job is dull, and new challenges constantly inspire me to think outside-the-box, which I love. I'm also thankful I get to work with a management team who is genuinely supportive and willing to embrace emerging technology. I couldn't ask for more.
Tell us more about Prince William County Schools' productions.
We ensure that every production benefits the students, parents, staff, and community. Anything we cover must support one of four commitments of our Strategic Plan:learning and achievement for all, positive climate and culture, family and community engagement, and organizational coherence. On top of producing school board meetings and social media content, we also produce major conferences around our school system which inspire and prepare our new teachers, and leadership every summer, as well as develop content around ribbon cuttings or new school dedications. Whatever the job, our goal is to provide the best audience experience; it's part of what recently drove us to renovate our control room.
What did the control room renovation involve?
We wanted to reduce our staffing requirements for school board productions, as well as our on-site technology footprint, so I moved our old control room to a smaller space and purchased new gear that supports more automation. This also included an update to our traveling fly pack. Over the summer, we were maxing out our current fly pack router, so we needed something reliable. I started looking at AJA since they're a brand I've trusted for years, and came across the AJA KUMO 1616 router. It had great reviews and was affordable, so the purchase was a no-brainer.
It may seem like a small thing, but KUMO spaces out the BNC connectors in such a way that I can easily go in and change out cables, which is great when I'm in a rush; the last thing I want to hassle with is changing cables with a trompeter tool. The unit is also whisper quiet compared to others on the market that sound like a plane taking off, and its complementary KUMO CP Control Panel makes setup and operation straightforward.
Which other gear are you using for on-site production?
Our school board meeting production system consists of five robotic cameras and multiple microphones. During an active production, these sources are mixed through a master switcher, fed through our closed caption encoder, and then output through our Cablecast equipment. Cablecast is our scheduling and playout automation for our cable channels and live stream on PWCStv.com.
The setup also includes several AJA Mini-Converters for SDI and DVI signal conversion needs. I've always been impressed by the durability and lifespan of these units. Not once have I seen a unit fail. We also use an AJA Ki Pro Ultra 12G to record the meetings in the Avid DNxHD format; it's one of three recording decks we have in place for redundancy. Since the sustained data rate when transferring footage is much faster with the Ki Pro Ultra 12G than our other recorders and the signal quality unparalleled, we've found it to be our go-to. It makes it easy to get up and running quickly for editing in Adobe Premiere Pro.
Describe your off-site production setup.
For live events coverage, we maintain a flypack, which needs occasional modifications depending on the production needs or the venue's physical layout. These typically include three cameras, four laptops (one for slide presentations, one for video playback, and a redundant laptop for each), a production switcher, and a KUMO router. On-site, in addition to feeding record decks and streaming encoders, the system also needs to support feeds to downstage monitors and projection screens, a monitor feed with a countdown clock for speakers, and more – all of which run through the KUMO. It's been a solid choice for this workflow.
What technology trends are you following and why?
With the pandemic, we saw a need for staff to be able to work remotely, but for live productions, I didn't know how the industry was going to respond to that. Seeing companies develop solutions that allow teams to do graphics and other functions remotely for live events has been amazing. I'm continuing to watch developments in remote workflows as well as exploring emerging technologies like AR and VR. I can't wait to see what else is down the road.