Since the dawn of television, the Production Control Room has been the heart and mind of the broadcast operation. Comprised of an array of video and audio equipment, the Production Control Room (often called the PCR, or commonly the “control room”) turns the streams of video and audio into the output we consume over the air, via cable or on the Internet.
These control rooms historically were massive early television studios in the 1930s, and in the 1940s, they needed a massive rack of equipment just to get the signal from one camera to a broadcast tower. Combining images from multiple cameras wouldn’t really come of age until the 1950s, and that challenge would usher in the era of the Production Control Room. There a group of engineers would combine the audio and video from multiple sources and add to it titles, effects, transitions and all the elements we associate with broadcast today.
Like with all things electronic, the gear in these PCR setups has shrunken radically, but the demands on video-production crews have increased tremendously. Luckily, Sony has combined its decades of unparalleled experience in the television and electronics industries to create the MCX-500, a multi-camera live production tool that shrinks the functions of PCR down into a single, compact, portable unit. The MCX-500 falls into the category of a video switcher, a device used to switch between different video sources during production, but in design and operation, it is so much more than that.
The MCX-500 allows a crew—or, more importantly, a single operator—to create broadcast-worthy HD-quality video for broadcast, recording and streaming (all at the same time), complete with transitions between multiple cameras, multi-channel audio control, tiles, transitions, chroma key, remote operation and more. Less than 15 inches wide just, over 8 inches high, and less than five pounds, the MCX-500 is small enough to go anywhere yet powerful enough that it can perform the functions of an entire control room.
Even better, the MCX-500 works with the Sony RM-30BP remote controller, and cameras like Sony’s new trio of 4K video cameras—the professional-grade PXW-Z90V and HXR-NX80 and consumer FDR-AX700—for remote operation of their focus, iris, ND, WB, gain and more from the single handheld device.
Production Control Room In A Box
The Production Control Room should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a TV show or movie set in a broadcast studio or television show. From Peter Finch’s classic on-air rant in the 1979 movie “Network” to the recent “Money Monster,” and in scores of dramas, action films, and comedies, the PCR is shown as a room of order and organization, until a character suddenly disrupts a live broadcast, throwing the room of distressed engineers into chaos.
The reason that this is such a popular theme in media is that we innately understand that live broadcast involves a large number of moving parts and requires coordinated control of various technicians and numerous systems to pull off.
Naturally, a dedicated control room is essential for a network or other broadcast studio, but the demand for live, recorded-live and streaming video continues to grow while the technology to produce that video continues to shrink in size.
The Sony MCX-500 is a perfect example of how design and transparent technology can redefine the boundaries of what’s possible. A small crew—or even a single person—can produce a live broadcast or streaming event with a level of professionalism not previously possible in the video space, using gear they can transport in a backpack.
Pair the MCX-500 with the new 4K camcorders from Sony, the professional-grade PXW-Z90V and HXR-NX80 and consumer FDR-AX700, or with Sony’s PTZ cameras, and you can synchronize recording, control the cameras and change settings like iris and focus remotely, from the same station running the MCX-500.
Sony MCX-500 Features
The MCX-500 incorporates several different functions into one compact chassis, enabling a producer to mix video sources, manage audio inputs, create titles and transitions, and output video from the self-contained unit.
The MCX-500 is scantly wider than an extended keyboard, measuring 14.3x 1.7 x8.1″ and weighing a hair over 4.5 pounds. Sony’s history of making compact consumer and professional electronics is evident in the MCX-500, which features top-panel buttons that have a rubberized surface for smooth operation, plus a nice tactile click to provide feedback.
An integrated touchscreen LCD changes function depending on what the MCX-500 is controlling. During video assignments, the LCD screen displays the various inputs, allowing the user to assign different feeds to different buttons, for example. When controlling transitions between camera inputs, the LCD screen switches to show the various effects and so on.
Connecting the MCX-500 to a Mac or PC allows for extended functionality and seamless control. For example, timecode can by synced between camcorders with Sony’s Content Browser Mobile app, and connecting a Mac or PC allows for on-the-fly title generation.
The MCX-500 has four 3G-SDI inputs, plus two HDMI and two composite inputs (plus a separate Title input), and the system can mix from any of these sources. Many video switchers completely ignore audio controls, but the MCX-500 has a five-channel audio mixer, with XLR right/left input. All five stereo channels can be individually tweaked, while the Pre-Fader Listen function allows the user to listen to each source before mixing them.
Sony has included many built-in effects in the MCX-500, and it’s possible to create a variety of cut, mix and wipe transitions with the LCD control screen in the system, and these transitions can include effects and titles. Picture in Picture support allows for the video dropped into the main footage to be resized and positioned. Titles can also be overlaid on the video, and the MCX-500 can import these from the SD card slot.
Chroma key support allows the unit to drop in graphics or videos behind the talent, while the Down -stream Key (DSK) functionality allows titles to be dropped in from a computer, something often accomplished by using one of the video sources. Since the Title input has its connection, the eight video inputs are freed up for content, while a user can drop in titles from a laptop.
While there are a wide variety of automatic transitions and effects, the LCD screen even allows users to bring up a virtual mixing slider, allowing for custom transitions between effects with a single sliding gesture.
MCX-500 Remote Camera Control
The Sony MCX-500 gets even more fascinating when it’s paired with Sony’s new camcorders and/or the company’s BRC series PTZ cameras and the new RM-30BP remote controller. This small device allows a single operator to control multiple cameras from a single location. Pair the RM-30BP with Sony’s new 4K camcorders, the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80 and FDR-AX700, for example, and you can remotely change the focus and zoom, change the shutter speed, and white balance—which can be assigned to different hot keys—to control recording on three cameras.
When the RM-30BP is controlling a camera, a “tally” display appears in the viewfinder, allowing the camera operator (if there is one) to know when their cameras are the active on-air devices.
The RM-30BP works not only with the new 4K camcorders but also with the previously released HXR-NX5R, HXR-NX80 and PXW-F5S.
Broadcast, Stream, Store
Mixing content is great, but all the features of the MCX-500 wouldn’t be useful if the device couldn’t deliver its footage the way a client wants it delivered, but, fortunately, the MCX-500 excels at video output.
Footage can be sent to broadcast, but it can also be streamed thanks to the built-in Livestream server and the Ethernet connection. With the Firmware 2.0 upgrade, the MCX-500 gained the ability to stream not only to Ustream but also to YouTube Live and Facebook Live.
A built-in SD card reader can also be used (simultaneously) to record AVCHD or XAVC S for later editing or broadcast.
For the small operator, the MCX-500’s various output options make it possible to accept—and complete—a more extensive range of jobs.
MCX-500 Ideal Uses
The MCX-500 shines as a versatile tool for the small shop or independent operator covering on-location events like concerts, weddings, news events and local sports broadcasts, but it’s also a cost-effective solution for installation in larger organizations. Houses of worship, corporate training facilities and educational institutions can all use the MCX-500 to increase their coverage while simultaneously reducing costs and improving the professionalism of the footage they generate.
The MCX-500 is also becoming popular with YouTube channels, where the system can be used to output recorded multi-camera video for upload, and for live YouTube broadcasting. It’s a perfect solution because of the integrated streaming and recording, allowing a small team to create a big-budget-looking live event without needing a massive crew.
With a price around $2,200, the MCX-500 earns back the cost in a few shoots for many users, thanks to the efficiency of the workflow. Combine the MCX-500 with two of Sony’s 4K FDR-AX700 cameras and the RM-30BP, and the result is a two-camera video setup that can be operated by a single person and comes in below $7000.
The MCX-500 is a world apart from the massive PCRs of the dawn of television, and the flexibility and simplicity of the system allow any team to get their broadcast and streaming content delivered with a level of quality that previously would have been impossible for a single operator or small crew.
To find out more about the Sony MCX-500, and see it in action, visit Sony’s Professional Video page or their setup and use video.
Sony Videos On The MCX-500
MCX-500 Basic Operation
MCX-500 Setup video
MCX-500 Internal Recording
MCX-500 Internal Recording, Streaming