Since we’re living in a time of enhanced remote communication, let’s talk a bit about upgrading your video camera and streaming options to optimize your organization’s message, and break down all the equipment you’ll need to visualize and automate your environment. One of the most efficient options for automating, consolidating, and broadcasting video to remote viewers is the PTZ camera.
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The letters PTZ stand for “Pan, Tilt, Zoom,” which are the basic mechanical functions of these cameras. The acronym “PTZ” has now become synonymous with the remotely controlled conference camera category, so let’s explore what you might need to create a PTZ camera environment.
Survey Your Environment
First, take stock of your environment. PTZ camera systems are ideally suited for these types of productions.
- Houses of Worship
- Corporate/Video Conferencing
- Live Event (includes Studio and OB)
- Legal / Medical
Evaluate Who and What Your Target Is
- Streaming on the Internet
- TV broadcast
- An event with monitors
- Recording only or simultaneous recording with a live event
Defining Your Parameters Ahead of Time Will Help Determine
- How many cameras you need to cover the entire area
- What type of cabling you’ll need
- How much distance you’ll need for your cabling
- If you need video switches and/or network switches
- If you need a remote camera controller
- If you need signal extenders for long cabling runs
- If you require physical or software video recorders
- If computers with broadcast, switching, and/or graphics capability are needed
For example, you may want to consider remote cameras if your aim is to mount them on the wall or ceiling, or if you want to operate more than one simultaneously with a limited staff without sending someone up on a ladder to adjust the camera.
Next, let’s dive into camera options.
Generally, PTZ camera setups require physical, wired connections since we are dealing with video and control signals, and an unsecured and possibly unstable wireless connection is not ideal. However, there are options available if your camera environment really can’t be wired, such as the Teradek Orbit PTZ Wireless Transmitter/Receiver Kit, but it will involve an additional hit to your budget, as well as additional equipment to manage. For this basic guide, we recommend that you start with a wired configuration for the best results.
There are different types of cameras in the PTZ category, which may involve non- or partial-pan/tilt/zoom operations, and your environment may benefit from the simple conferencing webcam. If you’re in a small conference room and can manually move your cameras, these simple cameras may be just what you need to plug into a computer for web conferencing and recording on your computer.
If you are in a larger environment such as a house of worship or event space, you may need remote-control features and multiple cameras to cover the entire space.
- Conferencing cameras with control include USB cameras with serial or IR control that connect to your computer.
- Professional full-featured PTZ cameras provide serial control, high-resolution HDMI output, and Ethernet options for streaming video and control.
- Professional PTZ cameras with NDI support combine the features of high-resolution pro PTZ cameras with the ability to connect with an NDI network (see below).
You may have seen the mentions of serial and NDI in the camera links above. There are a few options for controlling PTZ cameras—serial, IP, and IR.
- Serial control allows you to plug a cable into a serial port on the camera, such as RS-232 or RS-485, and this provides communication to a controller or switcher that has buttons or dials to control the camera functions. These serial connections use specific communication protocols such as VISCA, Pelco-P, and Pelco-D, for example, and you would need to make sure your camera and the controller support the same communication protocols.
- IP control allows you to control the camera over an IP network, a standard LAN, by software installed on a computer, mobile device, or web browser. NDI stands for “Network Device Interface” and is an IP-based protocol created by a company called NewTek that provides a uniform video signaling and transmission protocol on a local network. NDI makes it easy to add and control new cameras and devices because the signaling standard is understood between software and devices. For example, if you want to transmit Tally status (whether your camera is recording or not) between your broadcast software and your cameras, this signal is automatically detected by all the NDI-enabled software and devices on the network.
- IR control involves infrared remote control, similar to your TV remote, to control the basic motor functions of the camera. Many PTZ cameras come with an IR remote by default and allow you to choose a different method of control, if required.
Generally, PTZ cameras come with built-in, wide-angle lenses, which not only reduce any focusing issues, but also provide ample space in the frame to see your venue or meeting. These cameras aren’t meant for dramatic close-ups, but rather to capture overall events and large settings, so wider angles of view are the standard. They do come with varying angles of view, so pay attention to how much of the area the camera covers.
If the camera is in a meeting room with a static setup, you may need a wide lens to make sure you capture the whole room—especially if you’re using a static camera without controls. If you’re in a larger venue and the cameras are far away from the event, or if you can control your camera to move onto the subject, you can get away with a longer lens (narrower angle of view).
Some PTZ cameras include SD card slots that allow you to record your broadcasts. Others require you to output to a recording destination, such as a DVR, an NVR, a computer with recording software, or a social media destination site with recording function.
Control and Switching
Now that we have our basic camera functions laid out, let’s look at what is needed to connect, control, record, and extend your setup. As mentioned above, the cameras can be controlled in different ways via serial, IR, or IP, and each requires a specific set of hardware to control pan, tilt, zoom, iris, and focus functions.
- Serial control with a joystick is a standard option, like this HuddleCamHD controller that provides serial control of multiple cameras using source select and full PTZ function control.
- The BirdDog PTZ Keyboard PTZ Keyboard controls your camera via serial and can also connect to an NDI network and output your video onto a LAN.
In addition to being able to control the camera or cameras, if you are using multiple cameras in your setup, you will need to be able to select what camera source to send over your broadcast using a video switcher.
You can use a hardware switch, which will input HDMI, SDI, DVI, NDI, or other video signals, or you can use a software switch that can input the above signals to your computer and broadcast your event using software.
Hardware Video Switches
- The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Switcher allows you to switch HDMI output from PTZ cameras and send it on to a computer for broadcasting over the Internet. The ATEM Mini Pro version of this switcher can stream to the Internet without a computer.
- The Roland V-1SDI Switcher allows you to switch HDMI or SDI video output from different types of cameras and video sources, and it also has an HDMI-only version.
- The YoloLiv Portable Livestreaming Switch can input HDMI or USB video sources and stream live to the Internet over Ethernet or by SIM card using a cellular a data plan—perfect for ENG or live event production.
Software Video Switches
- Telestream’s Wirecast Studio allows you to stream to social media and streaming sites by inputting your camera feeds into your computer and lets you preview your cameras, add a variety of effects and transitions, as well as record your broadcast.
- The BirdDog Central Pro routes and switches your HDMI or SDI video output onto an NDI network.
- vMix Live Production Software Pro provides the ability to switch, convert, record, and even control your PTZ cameras from a central place, providing a complete package for switching multiple sources for broadcast.
Sometimes if you have a setup where you need to broadcast one type of signal, but your cameras have a different output type, you’ll need an encoder or converter.
For example, if you want to send your signal over NDI and your camera doesn’t have an Ethernet video output or NDI support, you can send the video out its HDMI or SDI output to a converter, which will then convert and encode your video for use on the NDI network.
- The BirdDog 4K HDMI NDI Encoder allows you to convert an HDMI signal from your camera to an NDI signal. It also features an SDI version of the encoder.
- The Axis Video Encoder or Hikvision 4-Channel Encoder convert older analog video sources over BNC to IP over Ethernet, and also allow for PTZ control passthrough.
Connecting It All
Detailed LAN and basic networking are beyond the scope of this guide, but it is important to research how your PTZ cameras will connect to your switches, encoders, and computers.
For example, if you’re using a LAN to connect your cameras and computers, required LAN features include a DHCP server/router to provide IP addresses and separate private networks and the ability to add elements to the network using an Ethernet switch. Some switches even provide PoE (Power-over-Ethernet) to supported hardware to save annoying power cabling.
To connect your cameras to a LAN to use NDI, for example, you will also need to connect to an Ethernet switch, which should already be a standard on your network to connect computers. Be sure to keep in mind that NDI video is designed for closed networks with high bandwidth, such as Gigabit Ethernet networks, especially when you are transmitting high-resolution video.
You may also encounter some PTZ cameras that feature HDBaseT output, which is a popular video transport protocol that can transmit all control signals, power, and video over a single cable. HDBaseT networks require a compatible switch and compatible cameras.
However, while a single cable transporting multiple signals saves considerable cabling, there are signal strength and distance limitations for different kinds of cables. If you exceed the length of cable rated for your video signal, you may run into quality issues or simply no signal at all. You may need to use another method of transport or use a signal extender. For example:
- HDBaseT over UTP (Ethernet) cable supports up to 50′ between your camera and switch.
- HDMI cable has a limit of 50′ for 1080p HD video and only 10′ for 4K video.
- HD-SDI signals can run over coaxial cable up to about 100′, but the distance is shorter when you send 3G, 6G, or even 12G-SDI signals.
If you do have a cable length limitation, a signal extender (or balun) can provide an extension for just about any video signal such as HDMI, HDMI with serial and PoE, USB, or SDI. The extenders convert the signals from your video cabling such as HDMI, serial, or SDI, send it over another cable that allows a longer transmission distance such as Cat5+ or fiber, and then receive it on the other end as the same origin signal.
Also, if you’re transmitting high-resolution video over Ethernet on, say, an NDI network, be sure to check the gauge and type of the cable. For example, if you are using a high-resolution PTZ camera to transmit on a Gigabit NDI network, be sure to use a minimum of Cat 6 Ethernet cable; lower category rated cables will prove inefficient and possibly cause connection issues. Also consider what type of PoE signal you are transmitting and whether the cables you are using support enough power.
Extras to Consider
Now that you’ve gotten your camera system decisions out of the way, don’t forget to consider these other aspects of the production in your budget.
- Monitoring: Pay attention to what loop output you may have on your camera or switcher so you can set it up for monitoring. Devices usually have a lower resolution support on the monitor output than the actual program output, so be sure to match your monitor with the maximum output for best results.
- “Image flip”: If you are mounting your PTZ camera on a wall or ceiling, be sure to consider whether the PTZ camera has the image flip function so your footage doesn’t record upside-down.
- Noise level: If you are broadcasting in a house of worship or event that requires quiet, be sure to consider whether the manufacturer mentions a quiet motor on your PTZ camera. Some can make a little noise.
Adding Graphics and Titles
If you’re using a computer to switch your PTZ camera and other video sources, you may want to add some graphics or titles, which can be done with software.
- If you are working with an NDI network, NewTek’s Telestrator software can auto-detect your streams and provide graphics to your live feed.
- GlobalStreams Panamation integrates with software like vMix and Wirecast and NDI switches and provides graphic overlays for video up to 4K.
- NewBlueFX Titler can add titles to your streams using SDI, HDMI, or NDI using text files and RSS feeds.
PTZ cameras provide an extremely versatile broadcasting environment from small rooms to large venues, and hopefully we’ve outlined a few places where you can start to form your plan. Be sure to budget in other considerations as well, such as:
- Lighting: The latest PTZ cameras have great auto features to adjust to light in the environment, but you still have to consider how you will be lighting your environment for broadcast.
- Audio: Some webcams support audio input, but most PTZ cameras are meant for video only, so you’ll have to consider microphones, audio mixers, and audio wiring, as well as how to integrate your audio with the broadcast.
- Teleprompter: Using a teleprompter is enormously helpful when you have different speakers at an event or service, and they are much more accessible these days with the use of computer tablets.
If this list of options is a bit daunting and you’re willing to start with a kit, many starter kits have been put together to help get you on the road to your first PTZ broadcast, for example:
- Datavideo provides a complete EZ Streaming Package with a PTZ camera, video switch, encoder, and cables for an easy-start one-camera setup.
- This Panasonic kit puts together an NDI package with three PTZ cameras with NDI support, a serial camera controller, a managed switch, Ethernet cables, and Wirecast software with Mac or Windows support.
- Sony also provides a similar kit with three cameras, NDI support, an IP camera controller, cables, and Wirecast software with Mac or Windows support.
- If you need a little more, this solid professional starter kit from NewTek provides two PTZ cameras, a professional video switcher/mixer, HDMI-to-NDI encoders, and the professional hardware TriCaster Mini, a compact but full-featured video production studio with support for 4K video.
- There’s also the option to set up your PTZ cameras for automatic tracking using the Datavideo Virtual Studio, which supports up to four PTZ camera inputs and can track your subjects automatically, while injecting graphics and switch via built-in Windows-based software.
Browse the B&H Photo website for more PTZ camera solutions, and let us know how your PTZ environment setup is progressing in the Comments section, below.