Continuing Community At Fort Hays State University With Vizrt Group Tech

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst Fort Hays State University, needed to upgrade the school’s broadcast equipment with the latest innovations from NewTek, NDI and Vizrt, brands under the Vizrt Group.

Located in the heart of the largest city in northwestern Kansas, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) and its 15,000-person student body mirror the excitement and vibrancy of its hometown of Hays. The public university is one of six governed by the Kansas Board of Regents and is home to some of the state’s most celebrated athletic teams, all of which participate in the NCAA Division II Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).

With sports playing an impactful role in the university community, the school had long been equipped for broadcasting the exciting games played by its football, basketball, and baseball teams. But as the pandemic scattered students and faculty, Tiger Media Network Director, Nick Schwein, and News and Sports Director Russell Heitmann, found they needed broadcast technology to replicate the school’s community values virtually, while maintaining production quality with as small a staff as possible.

“When Tiger Media Network began upgrading equipment to meet the demand of a virtual school year, our team was drawn to the ease and affordability of NDI® tools,” said Schwein. “Using an NDI® PTZ2 Camera in the classroom, we can go down to our control room and pull up the camera in our TriCaster 2 Elite because it’s on the same network. Any time, day, or night, from two classrooms away.”

“Using NDI is intuitive and our opportunities to create with it are endless,” Schwein continued. “You don't have to worry about running SDI cables or anything— it’s beautiful. NDI makes for a cleaner, faster, and lower latency workflow.”

Interactive Recruiting and Learning, even at a Distance
Not only was the sharing of classroom lessons critical to keeping the existing student body connected and up to date on classwork during virtual learning, but the university also needed to continue expanding its community through recruiting during one of the most difficult admissions processes in recent history.

Each year, FHSU runs the Student Recognition Programs (SRP) for high school juniors and seniors in the area who express strong interest in or have already been accepted to FHSU. Normally, the programs would be throughout Kansas, visiting Topeka, Wichita, and other cities across the state. With COVID, these vital student-university meetings were rendered unimaginable, unless held virtually.

To maintain connections with prospective and incoming students virtually, the admissions staff turned to the TriCaster® 2 Elite. Utilizing its Live Call Connect feature, the school facilitated Zoom-based discussions with prospective and incoming students.

“If we had two kids in Topeka, each one of them would connect through Zoom and do a side-by-side video conversation with our admissions director, who could speak with them live and hear them through an interruptible foldback earpiece,” said Schwein. “The TriCaster is a great recruiting tool for the entire university, even beyond the pandemic, for prospective students who may not be able to travel to campus for an interview.”

“Bringing Live Call Connect into our recruitment and admissions process allows the university to still have face-to-face interaction with students. Our university staff can engage with the students as opposed to just watching a pre-recorded presentation with a talking head on screen,” added Heitmann.

Supporting the Sports Community and Delivering for Fans Despite Lockdown

Maintaining connection and community has been a paramount concern for FHSU and, as with any Midwestern school, the beating heart of that community is its sports program. As a result, FHSU needed to go all-in with its NewTek equipment to capture and share its Division II teams in action.

For home games, the school deploys a TriCaster® 2 Elite, a fleet of NDI®-enabled Panasonic CX350s cameras and a 3P2 for replay and graphics.

“FHSU was one of the first, if not the first school in the state, to have those two pieces of gear,” added Heitmann, referring to the TriCaster 2 Elite and 3P2, specifically. “Humbly, our productions are some of the best in the conference and oftentimes the best in Division II, because of the gear we have and the broadcast quality we’re able to provide. Recently we also upgraded our workflow to include Viz Engine,” he continued.

“When other schools in the area see Tiger Media Network’s productions, we get comments asking, ‘How are you guys doing this? How are you pulling it off?’”

With the addition of Viz Engine to the workflow, FHSU is able to not only capture and distribute the content, but apply photo-realistic, real time 3D renderings to enhance what the audience sees on screen.

“We put a lot of work into our productions, so ensuring our audiences receive an engaging show on the other side of the screen is of the utmost importance for us. That’s why it made sense to integrate Vizrt technology— we wanted great, creative graphics but without added complexity,” added Schwein.

Tiger Media Network also goes on the road, making it mission-critical for the equipment to not only be portable but also be able to work effortlessly on the same network, without cumbersome cables.

“Our team put together a mobile unit with a Bigfoot cart that houses our TriCaster® 1 and 3P1,” said Heitmann. “In addition, we have 48 terabytes of mobile NRS storage, similar to what we have in our building. So, we have an entire mobile unit that we can roll anywhere, deploy with a simple internet connection and create a full broadcast production.”

Preparing Students for a Future in Tech
Amassing a professional-level gear setup for sporting events and university activities ensures broadcast-quality content with unmatched ease of use and provides students the opportunity to learn digital media production on some of the best equipment
available. Content for the Tiger Media Network is created by students studying that field, learning both pay and credit hours along the way.

Justin Davis, a senior at FHSU, is currently the Director of Sports for the Tiger Media Network. A web development major, he knew nothing about broadcast technology when he first came on board but has since been motivated to look for jobs in the broadcast field, thanks to his experience with the TriCaster® 2 Elite and Vizrt technology.

“In the beginning, it can be daunting to learn how to use broadcasting technology, but once you start using it and see that everything has logic, it becomes an easy piece of equipment to work with. Plus, learning broadcasting has helped me and my classmates in avenues we didn’t expect,” Davis continued. “At any given game, there are 100 things going on at once and you need to be able to make split-second choices to decide what to capture and what will make the best shot. Working with this program and technology improved my decisiveness, time management and my ability to juggle multiple projects.”

“FHSU takes pride in the broadcasts and content we create at Tiger Media Network. We value our arsenal of NewTek, NDI, and Vizrt technology not only for the quality content it allows us to create but also for the learning experience working on this technology provides for our kids,” said Schwein. “We’ve got the newest, coolest technology, and often our students find that the equipment they have here at Fort Hays is better than what they will have in their first jobs in the industry.”

By using products from NewTek, Vizrt and NDI, FHSU has been able keep its community educated, entertained and, most importantly, intact during the pandemic.

Even more, FHSU is able to provide students with the rare opportunity to have real-world experience with the equipment that will position them for roles at businesses and institutions around the world that are similarly embracing broadcast

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