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June 25 2013

21:53

December 10 2010

18:22

Teleprompters…

Courtesy Creative Commons

Somehow I’ve always taken teleprompters for granted. Never had to deal with them myself ’cause I always worked wild and free in the field and rarely inside the confines of the station. But they are there and used daily, by anchors on news sets and by glassy eyed wanna-bes elsewhere. Heck, even the President uses it daily. And with today’s complex stories and the need to get facts straight, they are becoming part of the VJ’s toolkit.

What exactly IS a teleprompter? Well, first let’s break the word down into its roots. Tele means distant or far. Prompter refers to a person who is offstage reading a play from a book, providing the actors (talent) with their lines. Thus a teleprompter is something that provides lines or information from a distance.

However in these highly technological times we really don’t want someone offstage passing along forgotten lines in a harsh stage whisper. So we resort to a printed script projected where the speaker can see and read it at his or her own pace.

There are usually two parts to this distance prompter. Hardware and software. Below I’ll review some inexpensive or free options for both, as well as link to some pro gear sites.

Now the easiest way to prompt from a distance is with plain old paper and markers. Get a big sheet of paper (or a white board) and write down your script. Then, when ready, hold up the paper out of sight of the audience so the speaker can read along. Problem with that is the speaker must look over towards the script…and if the “teleprompter” is hidden from the audience, then he will be looking away from them. Makes it kinda obvious. And if you’re taping, from the camera’s perspective, she will be looking off screen – and THAT will make the speaker look shifty-eyed.

Next best is a desktop or laptop with software loaded…either sitting near the camera or even on the desk in front of the talent. A bit better, but there is still the problem of talent not looking directly at the camera lens. Actually the laptop on the desk is workable because an audience watching would realize and accept that the talent is checking either a script or facts.

So the next level is a combination of hardware and software that allows the image to be projected onto a surface that only the speaker can see. I’m going to skip how it is done for public speakers (think Presidential), but the concept is pretty much the same, although without a camera.

So – hardware first. We’ll assume you already have the necessary gear – a camera, mike, lights and talent. Your hardware will cost you anything from a few dollars to as much as you care to spend.

My choice is always to check out low end first.

Here’s an example: PromptDog’s do it yourself teleprompter plan. For this you’ll need a cardboard box, flatscreen monitor (your laptop lcd should do fine), glass or acrylic, black fabric, and a few other items. PromptDog suggests you feed from your computer to a flatscreen in the box so you can control the pacing of the words…but you could also position your laptop in there and use a remote. No estimated cost give, but since the main cost is the glass, maybe under $25.00. For some reason the diagram on the main page shows half-silvered glass but that is specified in the actual plan. You want one-way glass so the camera can see through it while the talent reads from the other side. Oh – and you also get a discount coupon for PromptDog’s software with the plans.

And <a href="

“>here’s a video for another plan. It’s kind of bulky and only good for in-house use.

For other plans just Google “teleprompter plans.” One of the results that came up was Top Twenty site that gave even more options, one of which is Teleprompter Mirrors. On this site you can get prompters, plans, and even free software.

You can also buy the prompters, again costing from around one hundred dollars and up. One of the low end prompters I’m tempted to try is the QuickPrompt from telepromptermirrors.com. The price is right and it seems simple to set up and use.

And here’s just a list of sites I found that look interesting enough to research:

Bodelin
prompterpeople
teleprompters.com

Once you get past the hardware, you’ll need software. Many of the hardware site have links to free or for-pay software. Below are some that I’ve used.

VideoCue Pro, Prompt 7 Lite, MirrorScript Pro

There are dozens more out there…from freeware to shareware to full scale full cost applications. Here’s one suggested by 10,000words.

How to choose? You want a few basics, which include

1. Ability to type lengthy scripts (some of the shareware or freeware may have limited abilities here)
2. Choice of white on black or black on white. Color does NOT matter here. Oh – and with BIG clear font choices. You want your talent to be able to see the type from a distance of anywhere from four or five feet to maybe up to ten or fifteen feet.
3. Ability to control speed of your content. Either you or (preferably) your talent needs to be able to control the speed of the type as it scrolls up the page so that they can read at a natural pace.

And finally…once you have it all together…PRACTICE. That glassy-eyed look you see with some inexperienced on-air folks doesn’t mean they are stoned or their minds are wandering. It means that, despite the hardware and software that are meant to make them look like pros, they HAVE NOT PRACTICED. And they are reading word for word directly off the prompter and not looking beyond the prompter into the lens and at their audience. The teleprompter is exactly that – a distance aid to help on-air, on-camera folks who have already familiarized themselves with the script, present their lines accurately.

BTW: if you have favorites or suggestions, add them to the comments below. I know I’ve just barely skimmed the surface here.


October 25 2010

09:35

Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Creating Awesome Video

For this month's Net2 Think Tank we asked you to share your tools and tactics for creating effective video messages - regardless of budget and organization size. Affordable video capability and basic editing software are now widely available and easy to use. But, how can organizations and enterprises best use video to inspire change? Below is a list of tips and suggestions on making decisions to do with hardware and software, message and editing, video quality, and promotion ideas. 

read more

December 21 2009

16:05

An Orchestra of Linux Laptops, and How to Make Your Own Laptop Instrument

L2Ork-1

For a generation of musicians of nearly every genre, the laptop has become an instrument. It’s easy to take for granted, but the rise of the computer for music has been remarkable. Less than twenty years ago, real-time digital synthesis and audio processing was the domain of expensive, specialized workstations. Now, $700 per seat can buy you a full-blown musical rig, with the computer hardware, gestural input courtesy the Nintendo Wii controller, and even a DIY speaker made from IKEA salad bowls. The next challenge is to make this setup as flexible and reliable as possible. Enter Linux.

According with the laptop’s graduation to instrument status, laptops orchestras have spread worldwide, inspired especially by the innovative Princeton Laptop Orchestra (“PLOrk”) directed by Dan Trueman and Perry Cook. PLOrk’s alumnus Ge Wang has even gone on to greater fame making applications for the iPhone via ocarina and T-Pain app developer Smule. The sounds of these ensembles may sometimes be strange, but by pushing laptop performance, the groups are a great place to look for how to get the most out of computer music, whatever your tastes may be.

Virginia Tech’s L2Ork’s claim to faim is that it’s a laptop orchestra powered by Linux. Why does that matter? For one, it makes a big difference on cost. By using Linux-powered netbooks, they’ve slashed the per-student cost from that of the Mac laptops used in some other ensembles, on a machine that’s more compact. Far from making sacrifices to save money, the result is actually  greater reliability, flexibility, efficiency, and audio performance.

L2Ork Debut December 04, 2009

As with the PLOrk ensemble, L2Ork combines expressive input with open-ended digital sound making production, localizing the sound near the computer itself using hemispherical speakers. In this way, the laptop instrument can attempt to learn something from acoustic instruments, which are played with human gestures and have sound sources that are positioned physically where the instrument is.

L2Ork

You don’t have to enroll at Virginia Tech to apply these lessons to your own music making, however. You can apply the lessons of the L2Ork ensemble to put together your own Linux audio machine. They’ve even further-documented the process of making PLOrk’s signature “salad bowl” speakers. And you can do it all without breaking the bank.

L2Ork-2

I got the chance to speak with Dr. Ivica Ico Bukvic, director of the Linux Laptop Orchestra and the DSISIS Interactive Sound and Intermedia Studio at Virginia Tech.

CDM: What is your software rig for this ensemble?

Ivica: We basically use Ubuntu 9.04 (vanilla) with our own custom-built rt kernel, which apart from solid performance also offers full support of standby/hibernate/external monitor, webcam, wireless, bluetooth, etc. We also have various patches/scripts that deal with chronic UI bugs (e.g. order of panel icons in gnome getting trashed whenever a resolution is changed).

Basically, our configuration supports every single functionality of MSI Wind netbooks, which we use as the backbone of the orchestra.

FWIW, our setup offers pretty darn cool price point. The entire setup (MSI Wind, UA-1G soundcard, hemi speaker, [Nintendo] Wiimote/Nunchuk, all the cables/accessories, headset, and case) comes down to approximately $700/seat which arguably makes it as cheap as an iPhone setup, except you get to enjoy flexibility of using a laptop (ok, a netbook :-).

L2Ork-3

What music software are you using?

Our audio platform is currently exclusively [multimedia patching environment] Pd-extended 0.42.5 (running through [low-latency audio server] JACK) which we’ve also customized to allow advanced GUI setup (e.g. per-patcher configurable background, menu/ontop/resize/scrollbar toggles, what is IMHO better scrolling algorithm than what we currently have) as well as integrated several new objects whose source we are about to release (our multithreaded version of the Wiimote object for Linux has been already posted on the Pd-list a couple weeks ago, and it fully supports Wiimotes/Nunchuks without any interruptions to the Pd’s audio thread).

What do you do to get Ubuntu running properly?

Basically, it’s lightly-modded Ubuntu 9.04 that allows us to support all the hardware on the netbook, thus offering a quality desktop experience as well as RT audio performance. The kernel is custom-built 2.6.29-rc6-rt3. We have it available for download from a temporary folder off of my personal site
(http://ico.bukvic.net/Linux/). Once we clean everything up we will actually generate a full HD image and offer it for public download in hope to allow people to load that thing and thus allow them to have the best possible out-of-box experience (obviously as far as MSI Wind is concerned).

Is the hemispherical speaker something readers could build?

There are probably dozen videos on the VTDISIS Youtube channel that are designed to help potential L2Ork adopters build their own speakers, from cannibalizing/retrofitting the amps to improve their performance, to building cables and final assembly.
L2Ork-5

L2Ork-4

Videos

Rehearsal video shows how the L2Ork work out playing and soundmaking as an ensemble.

A quick look at how to make your own hemispherical speaker pod:

Local news coverage:

Virginia Tech students demo new laptop orchestra [WSLS10 NBC]

Laptop orchestra at Virginia Tech gives people an affordable alternative [WDBJ7]

More videos, and lots of how-to’s on the speakers (including the conclusion of the video above), are available on the VTDISIS channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/VTDISIS

Got more questions for the ensemble? Let us know.

I’d definitely like to offer, as well, some information on how to make Ubuntu work this well for you, and how to learn Ubuntu, Pd, JACK, and other free tools, in a way that’s beginner-friendly. That sounds like a decent New Years’ Resolution.

In the meantime, it’s worth mentioning that if you aren’t excited about the prospect of custom-configuring kernels yourself, the Indamixx Linux laptop we’ve featured previously is pre-configured in a similar way; the netbook I’m testing now even runs on the same MSI netbook. And that also, in turn, illustrates how research and volunteer efforts can go hand-in-hand with commercial solutions:

http://www.indamixx.com/

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