If you regularly follow legislative and other state government meetings, you might have noticed not long ago all of the sudden, the pictures were much brighter, clearer and the sound cleaner and crisper.
It’s all coming out of arguably the most high-tech TV studio in Nevada, an operation hidden in a third floor room in the legislature..
Home of Broadcast and Production Services, the newly remodeled control center handles Internet broadcasts of up to eight legislative or other meetings at once and can manage up to five video-conferences with multiple sites around the state.
Unit chief Jeff Loflin said the remodel took the legislative broadcast system from low quality analog to high quality digital both for pictures and sound and, in league with LCB’s IT unit, added a number of operator and viewer services.
The picture quality is the most noticeable improvement, giving operators a lot more control over what legislators and others look like on screen. He said the best example is the glare from windows at the rear of the Senate chambers that made it nearly impossible to see lawmakers in the back row.
“Ms. Spearman would stand up and there’d be a halo around her,” Loflin said.
With the new digital cameras, he said that halo is gone and everyone’s face is clear.
“We have a lot of contrasting skin colors in the Legislature and this really allows us to portray everyone equally,” he said.
Now, he said, you can even see the look in that legislator’s eyes.
The new system gives the technician total control over audio as well, letting them turn microphones on and off and adjust volume individually since some people have a strong voice and others a soft voice.
They can also put up a caption identifying who’s talking and which agenda item the meeting is on.
In addition, the old system allowed mistakes such as mixing one meeting’s audio up with another meeting so sound and picture didn’t match. That happened a number of times during the last couple of legislative sessions to the complete frustration of lawmakers and staff.
It can’t happen with the new system, he said.
When a meeting draws a crowd, the new system makes it a lot easier to send sound and pictures to an overflow room.
In addition to the studio in Carson City, Loflin and his crew spent three weeks installing the same new equipment in Las Vegas. Furthermore, he said it’s the same system the university system has installed so it can videoconference meetings to any part of the state that has an NSHE campus. That includes, Elko, Ely, Fallon and Pahrump among other communities.
The new system wasn’t cheap but both Loflin and LCB Director Rick Combs said it had to be done. First, the electronic heart of the old system was so old it was no longer supported technically. Second, the programmer who created that system and maintained it for 15 years retired. In addition, the cameras and sound system were failing and far below modern quality even in their best days.
The audio-visual remodel was budgeted at a total of $950,235 but Combs said the nearly final cost appears to be about $90,000 under that amount.
That is still a lot less than it could have been because of the amount of work Loflin and his crew did themselves — including pulling all new cable to support the digital signal throughout the building and installing the new equipment.
Had they not done all that work, the total price tag could have been 50 percent higher.
“We really had a learning curve on that but we had to know it,” he said. “We wanted to own it and now, if something breaks, we know how to fix it.”
During the Legislative session, Broadcast Services puts every committee meeting along with every Senate and Assembly floor session on the air for the public, all for free. Loflin said Nevada is one of the few states that broadcasts every meeting.
As each meeting progresses, the technician is also archiving it. And, unlike most states, all those archived meeting videos are free to anyone who wants to watch them.
“Go to California and try to get one of their meetings,” he said. “It’s like a hundred bucks.”
Working with the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s IT staff, the archived videos even have a series of time stamps at the bottom of the screen so a viewer doesn’t have to wade through the entire meeting. Click on the time stamp that deals with the subject you’re interested in and it takes you to that part of the recording.
He said his crew is also posting archived meeting videos from the past and is going to eventually have everything on line except the old VHS taped meetings because converting and posting them would be a huge undertaking his small staff just can’t manage.
Loflin and Combs say the system isn’t just for lawmakers and legislative meetings.
As Combs put it when the remodel was announced, “The executive branch and other agencies use us like a convention center during the interim.”
Outside groups also make use of the broadcast services.
It’s also one of the best buys other agencies can find. There’s no charge if the meeting is small and doesn’t require a camera operator. If an operator is needed, it’s just $25 an hour with a minimum of two hours.
And those organizations, Loflin said, get a DVD of their meeting handed to them as they leave.
He said the new system is operating near flawlessly and ready to go for the 2017 Legislature.