Keeping the Show on the Road


Andy McKenzie TV-Bay Magazine
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There is long-established saying in the media business that, if something goes wrong, at least nobody dies. It is almost true unless you happen to be a TV producer suffering a cardiac arrest because your primary video feed has gone blank during a high-budget programme.

First-line maintenance is usually in the hands of the user. If a device malfunctions, the operator checks for obvious problems: power switched on, lens-cap removed, relevant cables connected, software settings in order, that kind of thing. Many broadcast prod-ucts are designed to be openable by the user, allowing boards and subsidiary compo-nents to be pulled out. This is more common with rack-mounted equipment in apparatus rooms and OB vehicles than with devices such as cameras. If a problem persists and the device is still under guarantee, the logical next step is to phone the original vendor or the source manufacturer.

Beyond the guarantee period, a logical option is to contact a broadcast equipment maintenance specialist such as Finepoint with an industry-proven reputation for speed and effectiveness. If a device fails, we have the tools necessary to bring it back into fully reliable operation, plus over 30 years of relevant experience. It is a service originally established to support our Hire Division and subsequently made available to anyone needing help with a defective broadcast device. This short article explains some of the ways in which maintenance techniques have evolved to match the ongoing progress in manufacturing techniques.

The type of equipment sent to us for service ranges across practically the entire pro-duction chain: cameras, camcorders, camera supports, servers, vision switchers, routers, glue and monitors, as well as microphones, audio mixers, and lighting. Our technicians are skilled across all three key areas: electronics, mechanical devices and optics. We also have the contacts and logistics in place to source components and maintenance information from the relevant manufacturers.

Cameras and camcorders

Starting with cameras, these are a vanishing breed except at the studio and OB top end. Most cameras today have integral data storage so are more accurately termed camcorders. Studio equipment in general has a relatively gentle life, operating in a dry and clean environment under fairly close supervision. Not so gentle are the worlds of electronic field production, newsgathering and outside broadcasting. Most of the cameras we receive for repair have been subject to accidents such as control-knob breakage, damaged filter wheels and broken connectors.

Dust ingress into optical components might seem a likely issue but is actually fairly rare. Moisture ingress is more common and can be quite troublesome because condensation corrodes circuit board tracks, leading in turn to failures of various kinds. Board re-placement is the safest cure because the corrosion process tends to continue, eating into conductive tracks which are nowadays very narrow and compacted. We have also seen and repaired many instances of manually-adjustable lenses that have been dam-aged through mishandling.

Camcorders in the early years incorporated a helical-scan video tape recorder which, like any VTR, required a lot of care to keep clean let alone realign. The VTR elements were succeeded by laser disk recorders, magnetic hard-disk-drives and of course solid-state memory media which are the modern preference. We have often had to replace optical pickups in laser disk recorders. These use tiny solenoids and have a finite life-time. Hard disk drives are relatively robust even when used 'on the road'. Most are sealed units which function effectively until the tracking mechanism decides enough is enough or the drive motor fails. The standard cure is a relatively straightforward re-placement of the drive pack unless special measures are needed to recover the stored content. Operators should always remember the axiom that no IT data is safely stored unless archived on three independent devices. If one of those is 'The Cloud', make sure the subscription payments are up to date and that none of your colleagues has the right to delete your material.

Camera support devices such as tripods look and feel robust but quite often come in for repair. Most are straightforward to dismantle and service. Others require special tools and even then can be surprisingly tricky to strip down.

Servers and glue

Production servers are basically PCs with video in/out. Storage is to magnetic hard disk drive or in some latest-generation models to a high-speed solid-state memory. Solid-state memory is more tolerant than HDD of physical shock but so it should be with a re-placement price tag some 14 times higher. The relative mean time between failure of HDD versus flash memory is a matter of conjecture but an important detail is that both types of memory have thus far become ever more affordable in terms of cost per giga-byte.

Vision switchers, routers and the very broad family of products called 'glue' are largely electronic and therefore straightforward to test and repair. Mechanical issues are largely confined to front panels, especially the horizontal variety where the acid in fizzy drinks has been known to corrode faders even more effectively than ordinary moisture. Orange juice is equally destructive as can be demonstrated by leaving a tarnished coin overnight in either type of liquid. Sugar in soft drinks can harden and turn a conductive fader track into an insulator.

Disposable products

Broadcasters have long been tempted to cut costs by using very low cost equipment, right back to the days when consumer analog VTRs were reinvented for newsgathering in countries with no special concern about 'Code of Practice'. Modern digital kit is far more reliable, hence the popularity of miniature action cameras which are so cheap as to be practically disposable. Many low-price broadcast products are designed to be re-placed (under guarantee if covered) rather than repaired.

Support

Before buying into a new brand for the first time, check the level and speed of support available from the manufacturer in case a product fails within or beyond the guarantee period. We can assist at the pre-purchase level and onward through the lifetime of prac-tically every device in the broadcast business.


Tags: iss139 | service | support | finepoint | maintenance | Andy McKenzie
Contributing Author Andy McKenzie

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