Touchscreen Tablets Offer Creative Tool for Broadcasters

Mel Lambert, who has long been involved with the international AV-production industry, is principal of Content-Creators.com, a Los Angeles-based consulting service. He reports from the Nab Show in Las Vegas.

Without a doubt, handheld tablet computers have fired the creative imagination of consumers and broadcasters alike. As an adjunct — or even replacement — for laptops and desktop PCs, the Apple iPad2, Motorola Xoom, and similar offerings with built-in WiFi and 3G/4G connectivity have a lot to offer. The broadcasters quickly embraced touchscreen tablets for script display and IP-based content control; even the Associated Press has developed a custom app for its widely used ENPS newsroom service that runs on both iOS- and Android-powered tablets.

For teleprompter and script management, a tablet provides portability and ease of use. Bodelin Technologies’ ProPrompter HDi Pro2 comprises a custom-designed frame that holds an iPad below a beam-splitter mirror and a camera mount; a companion iPhone or iPad provides scroll control.

“We developed the original system in 2002 for a pocket PC,” says Peter White, director of sales and marketing for Bodelin Technologies. “But our iPhone and iPad apps have taken the concept further with WiFi control. Given the high popularity and installed user base of Apple’s smartphones and tablets, it is really a no-brainer to make use of existing display and control technologies.”

Yamaha, Allen & Heath, and PreSonus also offer apps that enable remote WiFi-based control of many audio-mixing functions.

Says Broadcast Pix Director of Marketing Paul Lara, “Our iPixPanel app for the Apple iPhone and iPad is a logical development of the type of IP-based control we have been offering for Granite and Slate Series live video-production systems but with added WiFi connectivity. The original nine-button app we developed for the iPhone emulates the LED-format [self-labeling] buttons used on our production switchers; the iPad, with its enhanced real estate, lets us add more control functions. We also support the Android OS and its Flash-based control environment. In terms of developing our own portable controller, we just couldn’t compete with the cost-effectiveness offered by the current generation of tablets.”

Vizrt’s Viz Anchor app for the iPad tablet allows news, sports, and weather presenters to directly control playlists, including video and graphics. “The iPad is a perfect device for scheduling and manipulating replay material from a fixed location or while on the move around the set,” says VP of Creative Services Grigory Mindlin. “The system was used recently by CBC during its election coverage.

“Our VizReporter app for the iPhone and Blackberrys,” he continues, “lets news reporters send video back to the station via a WiFi or GSM link, along with metadata that might contain graphics placeholders, GPS data, etc. We are also working on other apps for smartphones and tablets that will allow viewers to interact with graphics generated in the studio as polling information, for example, and to send text messages [via Internet-savvy TV receivers.]”

As will be readily appreciated, current-generation tablets and smartphones are affordable, fully featured, and ideal devices for displaying data within a broadcast studio or remote, as well as for commanding IP-based systems via WiFi and related links. The iOS and Android programming environments are well-supported, and custom apps can be downloaded for just a few dollars. Such phones and tablets are also familiar consumer devices with shallow learning curves. Given the expanding market for such devices, there seem few financial incentives for broadcast manufacturers to innovate proprietary designs.