The Virtual Studio - Myths and Realities
In this article we explore the myths and realities of Virtual Studio Sets. Are they an inexpensive answer to renting costly studio space and custom designed sets or are they financially out of reach for the average video producer?
I don't think there's a single subject that can lead to more confusion to the average video producer than Virtual Sets. We've all seen them on Network TV Shows from Fox Sports and ESPN, to CNN and the BBC. But can your average video producer afford them?
The answer to that is: yes and no!
Why am I giving you a confusing answer when I am trying to enlighten you about Virtual Studio Sets? Because there are two types of Virtual Set Solutions. One is very affordable even for a small video business, the other one will require a millionaire's budget. Let's explore them both:
Virtual Sets - Hardware Systems
A Virtual Set system that consists of hardware and software can cost some serious money. When you visit the websites of the producers of Virtual Studio Set Hardware Systems, you won't find any prices listed for their systems. (I guess, if you have to ask, you can't afford it) So what do they do that makes them so expensive?
First of all, they provide you with a computer generated 'virtual room', a 3-D graphic that you can place your announcer, talk show panel or weather man in via chroma key. What makes these hardware systems so expensive is the fact that they can electronically link your video camera(s) to the computer generated background. So if your camera zooms in or moves to one side, the background is automatically adjusted. This motion tracking system is what makes the prices for such virtual sets jump into the stratosphere.
Once you own a hardware system like that, you will still have to pay a pretty penny to get the graphics for your actual set designed.
If you want to learn more about these hardware based Virtual Studios you can check out sites like http://www.orad.tv or http://www.accom.com
Obviously, these kind of Virtual Studio Systems are really only reserved for the big networks, the ESPNs and CNNs and not for your small time or even medium size video production company. So let's move on to the second solution.
Virtual Sets - Software Only
Would you believe that you can get in on the Virtual Set action for between 40 and 200 bucks with virtual sets that look ever as good as the ones you see on CNN or ESPN? The poor man's answer to network quality virtual sets is in software only virtual sets.
Is there a difference in the quality of the design? No! Is the resolution or video quality lower? No! The only difference between software sets and hardware systems is that you do not have motion tracking. The sets will not automatically change their perspective when you move the camera.
Is that a problem? Think about it, in most studio shots, you don't really want to move the cameras all that much. You may want to simulate a 'multi camera' shoot by changing camera angles but except for an occasional zoom in, a 'wandering camera' does not necessarily add to the production values.
So can you change camera angles on a software based virtual set? Of course! Software based virtual sets come with all kinds of camera angles, from close-ups to wide shots, from stage left to stage right. When you change your camera position, just key the appropriate virtual background behind your subject, and you're ready to go. There are even camera angles included in most virtual sets that have built in camera blur to add extra realism to close up shots.
In short, your finished project using software Virtual Sets will look exactly as professional as the ones produced with the million dollar hardware. It will just take a little more effort on your part to line up the different camera angles 'by hand'. Is it worth the effort if you can save a few hundred thousand bucks on equipment? You bet it is!
So where do you find software based Virtual Sets? Check out http://www.3dvideobackgrounds.com They have a whole collection of Virtual Sets and you can get a package with 12 different sets and over a hundred camera angles for $39.95 and the whole collection of 72 different sets with over 700 camera angles at $189. You can even instantly download your sets or order them on CD.
Virtual Sets - What do you need?
If you got the big budget and you really want to buy a hardware system, you won't need anything but deep pockets. Companies like Accom and Orad will come out and install the whole system for you on the spot.
If you want to give the software sets a try, all you really need is a green or blue screen background, some good lighting and your non-linear editing system. Pretty much all of today's computer based editing software has chromakey capabilities and you will be able to use these software Virtual Sets with Mac or PC based editors like Premiere, Final Cut, Avid, Ulead, Vegas and many, many more.
Instead of needing a big studio space with multi point lighting and movable sets, you can produce million dollar video in a small 10 x 12 room with a blue wall and a decent three point lighting setup. And if you need some good advice on how to get the most out of chroma keying, you will find a lot of helpful tips on that subject at http://www.3dvideobackgrounds.com
Many video producers have never even considered using virtual sets because they think they are unaffordable, but for the price of a few blank tapes, you can really give your productions the edge with a virtual studio set. There are so many types of production that can benefit from this, from how-to video to corporate productions, from religious and educational programs to infomercials and local TV programming. I'm sure there hundreds more good uses and I am looking forward to you sharing your results with virtual sets with me.
Article by Alan Steward, Video Producer, Animator
CVN Music Television