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Manhattan College Upgrades to 4K Television Studio with Blackmagic Design

Manhattan College is a private liberal arts college located in Riverdale, NY, a neighborhood in the northwest portion of the Bronx. In 2008, the college formed a new communication department, and as part of that initiative they began building a new, professional television studio for students in the broadcasting/telecommunications program. Their plan was to build the studio in high definition; however, due to the 2008 financial crisis, the decision was made at the last minute to make the studio SD instead of HD. 

Associate Professor Michael Grabowski joined the communication department in 2010. With a background in television production, shooting documentaries and music videos, and television editing, Michael now teaches production while consulting on documentary story construction and trends in television audiences and programming. When he began teaching Manhattan College students in the SD studio, he lamented the fact that it wasn't in HD and that the students didn't have better equipment. 

It took several years, but after putting in several proposals the department received the funds necessary to upgrade the studio to HD. While researching new equipment, Michael realized that Blackmagic Design's line of studio products would allow them to leapfrog over HD and upgrade the studio to 4K for roughly the same price. 

Out with the Old, In with the New
"As I began my research I was at first looking to upgrade the studio to HD but at the same time I knew there were 4K field cameras coming on the market," said Michael. "I realized that 4K was going to be the new standard in studios, but not a lot of companies had come out with 4K studio equipment yet. Then Blackmagic Design debuted their Studio Camera 4K and the ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K. I had worked with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera previously and was impressed with the image quality of the camera for the price. I realized that I would be able to get the 4K switcher from Blackmagic Design and be able to switch programs in 4K for roughly the same price I was going to pay for an HD switcher from another vendor."

As a result, the department installed three Blackmagic Studio Camera 4Ks with Vinten pedestals, an ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K switcher with an ATEM 2 M/E Broadcast Panel, a Smart Videohub 40x40 router and four HyperDeck Studio Pro digital disk recorders.

Today, the studio is used by students in the broadcasting program at Manhattan College, as well as by a college-wide group that produces content in the studio for the campus television station, MCTV. Immediately following the 4K upgrade in 2016, the studio began operating in HD until they could purchase 4K field cameras, but it is now operating totally in 4K. Michael said now that they have equipment with resolution that he can market, he is aiming to bring in outside clients to use the studio as well, so that students can work as assistants on real-world projects.

The production center consists of a 37'x28' studio with green screen backgrounds, a news set, an edit lab and a control room. In the studio, the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4Ks are fed to the ATEM 2 M/E Production Studio 4K which allows the students to do the live cut of the show. From there the feeds are sent to the Smart Videohub 20x20 which is used to route the feeds to monitors throughout the set and the control room. The students also shoot projects on location in 4K using SD cards, then complete their editing, transfer the files to an SSD and play back the footage using one of the in-studio HyperDeck Studio Pros. For a program they actually shoot in the studio, they record directly on the HyperDeck Studio Pros, then bring the SSD into the edit lab or to a laptop to edit the footage.

A Seamless Switch to 4K

"I'm teaching two classes in the studio currently and I'm finding that the Blackmagic equipment is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, starting from the first time we used it," said Michael. "The layout of the ATEM control panel is completely in line with industry standards for switchers. Students are able to adapt to it instantly. Students who have used a switcher previously say the ATEM is easier to use."

He continued, "The HyperDeck Studio Pro works just like a tape machine where you have record and playback buttons, and you can also easily queue up clips. It's easy to use, which is our number one praise for the Blackmagic products, but the reliability is also huge. I have not had one glitch or one crash at all. The cameras also look incredible and give us amazing image quality. The large 10" viewfinder makes it easy for camera operators to see every detail as they are shooting."

Michael noted that the ability to use the products in SD, HD or 4K was a huge benefit as they moved forward with the studio upgrade. Another benefit the department experienced during the upgrade was being able to use some of their existing infrastructure with the new equipment.

"Because our architecture had already been wired up for SDI Interface, and because we had a superior engineer with Jeff Anderson of G-Force Engineering, we were able to use all the existing wiring to send 4K signals throughout our studio," said Michael. "We also had broadcast lenses, and we were able to adapt them to the Blackmagic Studio Camera 4Ks. It is great to be able to use the lenses that we already owned, and they help us achieve incredible cinema-like footage. We get a beautiful, shallow depth of field and the image quality is incredible.

"I believe we were the first college in the area to upgrade our studio environment to 4K," added Michael. "I found one facility in NYC that's ever offered a 4K studio and it's not a school. Other colleges have started to use 4K cinema cameras in the field but as far as a studio goes I think we are ahead of the curve. It's an environment that has really benefitted us, and something that other colleges and professionals can certainly achieve as well."

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