July 6, 2023 - Planning memorable event experiences requires thoughtful production design, which is Cogent’s specialty. Blending creativity with innovative technology, its team supports conferences and events around the world for large-scale associations and corporations. With sessions and panels often a central part of the job, Cogent has built a dedicated AV workflow with AJA HELO Plus H.264 streaming and recording devices at its core to capture and record hundreds of sessions per day for client events. Cogent Sr. Video Engineer Mark Beazley recently lent us some of his time to talk more about the work he’s doing.
How did you get into the AV business, and what is your role at Cogent?
I joined the Navy out of high school and trained as an electronics technician for radar systems, then started a career in production. The AV space was a natural transition since radar involves a lot of waveform work, and I could apply that knowledge to video due to the similarity with camera signals and waveform vector scopes. In 2018, I joined Cogent Global Solutions, Inc. It was an easy decision because we’re like one big extended family. My work largely centers around video engineering, but I also handle motion graphics and editing and manage live show productions.
Tell us more about Cogent.
We provide full-service production for major associations like the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Kidney Foundation, the National Association of Independent Schools, and corporations like CoreNet Global. Our projects range in complexity and scope. We understand that every element of a high-profile event must be perfect. We specialize in crafting experiences that leave lasting impressions and create unforgettable memories. Our team of experts has the knowledge and expertise to navigate the complexities of large events and ensure that each detail is taken care of. We are dedicated to creating truly unique events that reflect the client’s individual needs, vision, and goals. Our work takes us everywhere, from the US to Europe, the Middle East, and even the Asia Pacific region.
Describe what Cogent does.
At our company, we strive to adapt to our clients' unique needs, which means our services vary depending on the event. Our range of audio visual support can cover everything from recording sessions to facilitating live streams. Recently, we've also been specializing in smaller hybrid shows with content recording. With the growing demand for extensive and informative breakout sessions, our clients seek to document hundreds of 30-60-minute sessions. Thankfully, AJA’s HELO Plus has proven to be the perfect solution. We utilized this cutting-edge technology to successfully record 107 sessions across a five-day conference organized by the National Kidney Foundation.
What did that workflow look like?
Our clients wanted a quick turnaround, which meant we would need manageable file sizes, so that we could copy over the data for editing. We’d used AJA Ki Pro recorders in the past to record individual sessions and loved them, but the file sizes would be too large for this project, so we looked at HELO Plus and ultimately went with it. The interfaces are very similar, so it was an easy transition, plus HELO Plus records in H.264, which takes less time to copy over to our editing system because of the smaller file sizes.
We ran computer presentation feeds from each room directly through HELO Plus units located in each room, and we had an audio feed from our mixer going into the HELO Plus. We came out of the HELO Plus to the projector via HDMI or SDI, which helped us be sure we were getting a signal. It also helped us support overflow demand with less gear than previous setups. We recorded ten megabits per second but had another RTSP stream at five megabits per second, which was our overflow on demand. All the presentation computers in the rooms were networked and run through our speaker management system, so the team could log into one of the computers if they needed to do overflow on demand, bring up the stream on the local computer, and get it going on the projector.
HELO Plus was essentially an interface box to get to the projector. We were able to access and control all the HELO Plus units from our command center, where we had a MacBook Pro and monitors using the web UI over our network. We copied all the recordings from the HELO Plus over the network, so we could edit and hand them over to the association in less than 48 hours.
How would you describe your experience with HELO Plus?
On large, high-profile events, we use the HELO Plus. It is such an intuitive device that we were able to plug in, play around, and have it work. I wanted to use both encoders at 60 frames per second, and while the encoder can’t do that, there’s a smart way AJA enabled to get around it. You can set it up to encode at half frame rate, so even though the computer signal is coming in at 1080p 60fps, we could record and stream at 1080p 30fps. Most CDNs can't handle 60fps, so it’s an ingenious feature they put into the device settings.
What trends are you following?
I’m really interested in virtual production, but right now, the budget just isn’t there for most of our clients. Maybe one day, if the costs come down. File size is also important to us because clients want content turned around as fast as possible. We’re continuously exploring new technologies that give us a final product that looks and sounds good in a manageable file size. This is, in part, why we love HELO Plus. H.264 is still the de facto standard, and it provides great video and audio quality.
What advice would you offer to other AV professionals or even people just entering the field?
Follow your passion and be flexible. It’s not a matter of whether or not the client will want something that adds a new set of challenges, but really, when. You have to remember to be flexible. Honesty is also key. Working with a plethora of technology can bring unforeseen issues. It's the nature of the beast. Although unfortunate, it's crucial to be upfront with clients about any setbacks. Being transparent engenders appreciation and trust with customers.
About HELO Plus
AJA HELO Plus is a compact H.264 streaming and recording device offering both SDI and HDMI I/O, with the capability to stream up to 1080p60 to a content delivery network and record simultaneously. Two different streaming destinations can be set up and recordings can be made to a combination of SD card, USB storage, and NFS or CIFS network storage. It also provides picture-in-picture and graphics functionality in-hardware for compelling presentations made simple. HELO Plus offers high quality streaming with ultra-reliable performance for any critical streaming service needs, including esports, news, sports, education, creator, live events, and beyond.