The Covid-19 pandemic left many organizations unable to run their normal events. Local restrictions on gatherings coupled with a shifting patchwork of international travel restrictions and quarantines left many pivoting rapidly to an online model to maintain engagement with staff, students, or attendees. Luckily, many of the tools developed for use in the broadcast industry in recent years are perfect for the task, and costs have been driven down to the extent that high quality, sophisticated set ups are increasingly in reach of many organizations that would not have thought of using them before.
The education market has been particularly proactive in this area, and so, when the Association of the Thai Government Scholarship Students (TGS) realized that its annual alumni summit was under threat due to Covid-19 restrictions, it turned to Vizrt to provide a solution.
“This event might not have happened at all if we didn’t have the support from Vizrt,” says Assistant Professor and TGS committee member Dr. Antika Sawadsri.
TGS has over 70,000 alumni of a scheme that sees promising young Thai students funded for study abroad, often in the United Kingdom and the USA. Its annual summit reunites this diaspora, many of whom now work in the higher echelons of the government sector in Thailand, with a series of talks and seminars highlighting the organization and its members’ achievements in the previous year.
Meeting the challenge
To run this key event virtually, TGS was looking to meet five key criteria.
- High quality virtual set
- Minimal setup but with broadcast quality
- Fast deployment
- Live international links
- Ability to broadcast on both Zoom meeting and Facebook Live
With only one day available for setup and rehearsal, the solution had to work perfectly out of the box. The virtual studio was first designed by Vizrt Thailand using Viz Artist 4, and then the team had to work out how to meet one of the key components of the brief, ensuring the President of the TGS could interview four students live, each dialing in from different locations in the UK.
“With the Live Call Connect feature that comes with our Live Production Suite, we can bring in any Callers from applications like Microsoft® Teams, Zoom®, Skype and so on,” explains Pahuton Sriwichai, Solution Architect, Vizrt. “In this event, we used Zoom Meeting allowing the four scholarship students to join the Zoom call. Viz Vectar Plus, our software switcher, has an integrated function that allowed us to easily bring these four scholarship students, each shot against green screen, in different sources without any additional devices required. We then routed these feeds back to the Vizrt XR Set using Viz Vectar Plus, so they could be used as camera sources with green screen and combined into the same Virtual Studio set.”
An NDI®-enabled Panasonic PTZ Camera was set up at the center front of the green screen in the main studio space for capturing the President, who was also hosting the interviews. The PTZ camera sent the camera signal to the Viz Engine, and simultaneously sent the tracking data to the tracking hub application. As the four scholarship students were also essentially inputs into the Viz Engine, the PAN/TILT/ZOOM functionality of the camera was reflected in all the input’s sources.
The result was very impressive. The students were all shot in chairs against green screen and then dropped into the virtual set, so it seemed that they were all sitting in the same studio and being interviewed in real-time by the President.
“Because of the effectiveness of the tool, the audience might not even have noticed that the speakers were all from different parts of the world,” says Dr. Sawadsri.
Viz Arc was used to both control the VR/AR graphics and fine tune the Precision Keyer, with the intelligence of Precision Keyer enabling the operator to do some fast fine tuning even just in a few minutes while the team was changing the set.
Viz Vectar Plus’ built-in software-based audio mixer, meanwhile, looked after the audio workflow. Any participant who joined the Zoom call externally automatically got audio mix-minus, but the team also had two wireless mics on hand in the live studio as well.
“As a software-based audio mixer, apart from a very intuitive user interface that allows us to create mix minus for the live host, the system also fully supports NDI, Dante and AES67 which makes our setup much simpler,” says Sriwichai.
Two resolution independent streaming encoders as part of the Live Production Control Suite, provided the ability to do multiple recordings simultaneously, as well as select any sources or any mix output to be the streaming source.
“Vizrt’s Graphics Solution played a big role too,” says Sriwichai. “The Viz Trio system supports advanced 3D real-time graphics for any type of CG content and allows the operator to update the content right up until the very last minute before the CGs go on-air.”
The event was a runaway success, delivering the largest audience for a seminar yet, and has led TGS to rethink the way it will run future summits even when the pandemic is fully over.
“One thousand people watched our seminar online so I think that in the near future we will be able to do it as a hybrid version,” says Dr. Sawadsri. “Even if we have the onsite version perhaps, we can also do a broadcast in real-time online such as in the way Vizrt helped us this year.”