On-Screen Tally Light for ProPresenter using software

I wrote a new piece of software recently that I’m really excited about. It’s called ProTally and it is designed to display video tally markers directly on the screen.

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What’s tally? In broadcast setups, it is often helpful to be able to tell camera operators, computer graphics workers, etc. when their shot is being used on-air or visible on screens. Most broadcast equipment comes with some sort of tally light that, when connected to the right system, lights up to let the operator know.

With today’s broadcast equipment, a lot of this tally information can be communicated directly over the network, in real time using a variety of protocols. One particular protocol is TSL UMD, from Television Systems Limited for Under Monitor Displays. It is supported by a wide variety of broadcast industry equipment and allows the devices to know the tally state of one another.

In church environments where we use computer software like ProPresenter to send CG content to a video switcher, it can be very helpful to have a tally light that the user can see so they don’t accidentally change a graphic while it is live or on the screen. While there are a variety of external tally lights available for this purpose, I wanted to design something that would allow for a green (in preview) or red (in program/on-air) box directly on the screen that the user can easily see while operating the software, without having to purchase additional hardware.

For this project, I used Node JS and the Electron libraries, along with an existing Node JS module that acts as a TSL 3.1 Protocol server. I was able to whip up a demo in just a few short hours. Then it was just a matter of finessing and adding features.

Using ProTally, you can monitor up to 4 Tally Addresses using TSL UMD 3.1 and keep track of their Preview, Program, and Preview+Program states. You can even customize the colors as needed! The boxes can be resized and moved around on the screen and those positions will be saved and recalled the next time the software launches.

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I decided to add options to allow the user to choose whether they wanted a filled-in box or a transparent box with a color border. It also reads the label data and stores that as it comes in, to give names to the tally addresses. And, because we use two Carbonite switchers at my church, I also wrote in an object array that uses the TSL UMD protocol implementation described by Ross here: http://help.rossvideo.com/carbonite-device/Topics/Devices/UMD/TSL.html

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The software stores the label names of the devices as they are read in the tally data over time, so as the software runs longer, this drop down list becomes mnemonicly helpful.

Due to some limitations of the Electron framework, I had to make the windows appear “always on top” of other windows, to ensure they would be visible while clicking around in ProPresenter (or ProVideoServer or whatever software being used). This can be a little annoying if you’re using the computer for another task and don’t want to see the tally boxes, so to help with that, I added a “Hide All Boxes” option that can be used rather than quitting the software.

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Here is ProTally in action:

 

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This is a transparent window with a border sitting on the output window of ProPresenter.

 

 

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This is a filled-in box.

 

This solves a problem for a lot of people who want on-screen tally for ProPresenter, ProVideoServer, or whatever software they may be using. You can even use it to monitor general inputs like cameras, etc. Just assign the tally address, position the box, and you’re set!

I will have this available in my GitHub repository soon. Feel free to check it out and if you use it, let me know how you like it! I plan to add more features to it as I have time.

Using Ross Dashboard for Production Control

At my church, we rely heavily on Ross products for our video systems. We have two Carbonite switcher panels/frames and several OpenGear frames with cards doing things from audio embedding/de-embedding, video up/down/cross conversion, fiber conversion, etc. The Ross framework makes all that possible.

A great product that Ross makes is their Dashboard software. It’s free, cross-platform, and with the community forums available, you have a lot of power at your fingertips to control all of your equipment. I would highly recommend it even if you don’t use other Ross products.

With Dashboard, you can create your own custom panels to do whatever you need. It does require some programming knowledge if you really want to have full control to design and create your own workflows, but if you’re up for learning, there are plenty of resources available to help you along the way. It uses Java and JavaScript technologies.

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Here’s a screenshot of some code in one of my panels.

In ministry, it’s always great when we can create simpler systems where volunteers can succeed, which is why tools like this are so valuable. I started creating my own custom panels in Dashboard about 4 years ago. The first one I created was a panel to control and arm our Aja Ki Pro recorder so we could easily record the sermon video for later editing. The first version wasn’t too fancy, it basically just allowed you to enter a custom clip name and start/stop recording, but it suited our needs.

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I later wrote a full transport control version that allowed you to cue up or delete clips, rewind, fast forward, etc. I’ve made both versions of this custom panel available and there are churches, new stations, and government agencies all over the country using both version of these panels. This is all possible because Aja created a RESTful API that can be used to access their KiPro devices, and through Dashboard, we can take advantage of that.

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If you’d like a copy of this panel to use in your church, let me know. I would be happy to send it to you!

I’ve also created custom panels to turn on/off projectors and do simple operations on the video switchers (by firing custom controls through Dashboard), and over time this developed into the complex but flexible system we use today. Now we have a “master production control” custom panel that is always open in DashBoard on one of the production machines.

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Then, each production machine has Dashboard installed and is running one of the remote panels I’ve created.

Here is an example of one of the remote panels, used primarily for turning projectors on and off in one of the auditoriums and controlling screens we use in those rooms. I tend to customize these panels for their application, only giving them the command options necessary for that area.

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This master control panel is where all of the code lies that does the actual work, whether it is turning a projector on, executing a custom control on a video switcher, setting a PTZ camera preset, etc. This is great because now anytime I make a performance improvement, add a new feature, etc., I only have to add it to the master control panel, and the remote clients will get that benefit when they execute the command.

The remote panel simply sends a web HTTP request to the master panel at a specific address and port, which triggers the corresponding button on the master panel.

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The master control panel then keeps track of the remote listeners and sends updates as commands are executed. Right now, I primarily use this to update an activity log on each remote client, or to update the state of a button if needed, but the flexibility is there to do what I want, and all of the clients can stay up to date no matter who pressed a button from any particular machine.

I hope this gives you a few ideas for your tech ministry on ways to simplify equipment and production control! If you need help along the way, drop me a line. Happy coding!