Vector animation of building blocks

Best Practices

This is a collection of best practices I follow and recommend for all types of media production.

Let's get started...


First Things First

Before all else, invest in the first things first.

It starts with you.

See these articles for more details:

First Things First (Audio Production)

First Things First (Video Production)

First Things First (Lighting Production)


Hardware > Software

Production equipment should be reliable, consistent, and efficient.

Nobody wants it to fail before or during a production.

It's easy to assume a desktop or laptop computer and software can provide all of those things, but that is often not the case.

That's why I recommend and use dedicated hardware for these things:

  • Switching between multiple cameras/sources
  • Recording and playing video/audio
  • Converting video/audio signals
  • Routing video/audio signals
  • Keying graphics over cameras
  • Encoding a live stream
  • Controlling other hardware
  • Mixing audio for live video

But wait...

Aren't computers hardware too?

Yes. But they are not dedicated hardware.

If it can do unrelated tasks simultaneously, it is no longer dedicated.

So here are a few reasons why I recommend dedicated hardware:

Dedicated Hardware Removes Guesswork

Computers and software have a lot of variables that affect performance and reliability:

Processor, graphics card, memory, hard drives, cooling, ventilation, power supply, capture/output devices, operating system, drivers, software, software updates, security patches, cache files, and settings and preferences everywhere.

On top of that, processing something like uncompressed video in real time takes considerably more processing power than most people realize, and it makes all of those variables even more important.

Dedicated hardware removes the need to think about almost all of those variables.

No more guessing.

Dedicated Hardware Is Purpose-Built

Computers are task-agnostic, which obviously makes them great for multi-tasking and doing many smaller tasks at once.

But it is often impossible for a computer to prioritize tasks when it was never designed to do so.

Dedicated hardware is engineered, designed, and fine-tuned specifically for certain jobs.

While it still runs embedded software, it does not allow multi-tasking or confuse the priorities of multiple tasks, and that's a good thing.

Dedicated Hardware Is Low Latency

Efficiency is important in live production, especially when handling live video feeds.

Every frame matters.

The faster your system can pass video and audio through, the better off it will be.

Capture devices alone can often have multiple frames of latency on inputs and again on outputs, not to mention the added latency of the processing and software in between.

Computers can generally input and process live video for streaming and recording fairly decently, but they quickly show their weakness when asked to output the live video again.

Most proper hardware that passes live video will measure latency in fields (fractions of a single frame of video) or a single frame.

Dedicated Hardware Is Low Maintenance

Computers and software require constant attention to continue running properly.

Updates, patches, caches, corrupting files, incompatibilities and more are constantly shifting.

It is pretty widely accepted that a computer left un-maintained will not run the same after a short while.

Give hardware proper power and ventilation and it will often last a long time with little, to no, need for maintenance or updates.

Dedicated Hardware Is Versatile

Separate units for separate tasks spreads out risk and gives you freedom.

If you use a computer for everything, a failure can be detrimental to your production.

Crashes, freezes, slow-downs, bugs, or an over-worked computer doing multiple jobs means everything potentially suffers.

If a piece of dedicated hardware fails you can usually bypass it and still get by with some degree of success.

Dedicated Hardware Is Tactile

Muscle memory is important during production.

Hitting a physical button that is always in the same place becomes second nature and removes any barriers of potential confusion during stressful situations.

Removing those barriers frees up people to do the more important things, like focus on content and creativity.

And that is ultimately what this is all about...

Remove barriers.

Build a system you can trust.

Get the gear out of the way so more important things can get the attention they deserve.


Wired > Wireless

There is no denying that we live in a wireless world.

So it is easy to assume wireless is an answer for anything in production.

However, while wireless may sometimes be necessary, running cable should always be considered first.

Wire is...

  • Reliable
  • Economical
  • Consistent
  • Predictable

Wireless is...

  • Not a quick fix
  • Always changing
  • Unpredictable
  • Not a solution for laziness

Before investing in any wireless solution, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it physically possible to run a cable, even if it may be difficult?
  • If it is physically possible, am I trying to find a way out of having to run cable?
  • If I decide to go wireless and it fails or is unreliable, will I end up having to run cable anyways?

If you can honestly answer yes to any of these questions then you know what to do...

If you're able, run a cable.


Manual > Automatic

Control, consistency, and predictability are important factors in all types of production.

When gear acts on its own it can often do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

While automatic features can sometimes make life easier, they can also do the opposite.

That is why using manual settings instead of automatic is recommended, especially during live production.

Here is why...

Automatic Is Reactive

Most automatic settings are not proactive, they can only respond to an input before making a change.

And once something adjusts incorrectly, the damage may already be done and too late to fix.

Automatic Can Be Inaccurate

Cameras overcompensate for dark backgrounds by making people too bright.

Focus inadvertently jumps to a person or object in the background or foreground.

Audio gain ducks just a little too late for loud sounds or ducks too much when a mic is accidentally bumped.

Automatic settings can often be tuned to a "happy medium" or "one-size-fits-all" approach, but struggle to cover every situation perfectly.

Automatic Lacks Context

We see a person - a piece of gear just sees a bunch of math.

Autofocus choosing the wrong person in a frame is a good example.

While gear and features are constantly improving, they're still not nearly as observant as humans.

Exceptions

As with most rules, they can sometimes be broken.

Automatic settings can be a valuable tool when used properly in the right contexts:

For example:

  • Auto mixing plugins for multi‑person conversations, such as Dugan Automixer
  • Set-it-and-forget-it shots, like POV cameras that just need to get a shot without an operator
  • High end automation and robotics that have granular controls and are designed with very specific tasks in mind
  • Scheduling of repetitive tasks that don't require a production mindset

The key is understanding when and how the rules can be broken to your benefit and not detriment.

✓ Link copied to clipboard