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48 TVBEurope The Business Case January 2013

“Being in at the beginning of a game-changer is exciting”

Partners in time

Paul Scurrell has gone from being a busy sound recordist through developing an award-winning product to running a successful start-up in just three years. Dick Hobbscharts the provenance of Timecode Systems and its new Buddy

“I WAS working on Scrapheap Challenge, where we had seven cameras and 17 tracks of audio running all the time,” says Paul Scurrell. “They all needed to be synchronised to timecode, and I wanted to make it easy and elegant to set up and forget.” Scrapheap Challenge, with

multiple cameras and wireless microphones for teams, experts and presenters running for 12 hours a day or more, might be an extreme example, but in the modern digital era virtually every shoot involves synchronising equipment. Even if you are shooting on a digital camcorder it is standard practice to back up the sound on a separate device. Reality shows and other productions tend to use multiple cameras, which all need to be synchronised. GoPros and DSLRs do not support timecode, so you need to find a way of marking sync. When Scurrell was faced with his own scrapheap challenge, the standard solution was an analogue RF system. It was prone to interference, often caused by the camera it needed to be mounted on, and it drifted so someone had to go around all the devices at the beginning of each shoot and tweak

them all. What he wanted — and he

felt sure other recordists would want — was a device which was digitally stable, simple to set up, and could be left all day to maintain sync without attention. Nothing existed, so he pulled around him the people he needed to make it happen.

His first association was with Engineer Paul Bannister, who could create both the hardware and software for the device — “he is the brains behind it”, according to Scurrell. They recognised that the ease of use part would come from an app so that all devices can be set up from an iPhone or iPad. They were introduced to iOS expert Ben Jenkins. Getting accurate timecode in and out of iOS was not something that had been achieved before, and while Jenkins said he could do it, there was no alternative to developing the app to prove it. “We had to take the plunge at this point,” Scurrell says. “We had to pay for the app to be written to see if it would work.” The app proved successful, so the elements of the system were coming together. The core device — the Timecode Buddy — would be a small box which clips to whatever you want to synchronise. All the Buddies on a job would talk to each


using the ISM band. This is an internationally agreed part of the RF spectrum originally intended for non-radio

Paul Scurrell: “Treat

everyone with respect. Give suppliers the

information they need, and pay them on time”

compatibility on its iPad app, which means a single system is used to provide the technical sync to all the devices on a shoot, a slate when you need it, and a means of generating technical and production metadata which is directly associated with timecode. The partnership was launched at IBC2012. “The collaboration with

MovieSlate enhances each other’s products,” Scurrell says. “The combination is much greater that the sum of its parts. “Pre-IBC, the sales were

generated by technical requirements,” Scurrell says. “That was turned on its head with the MovieSlate integration. At IBC we were bombarded by production people who like the idea of logging on an iPad that’s emailed to the editor. And editors love it because it saves dull jobs like identing audio tracks or multiple GoPros.” The company attracted a lot

“The biggest

success comes from having the right

partners: choose the right people in the first place, then do not meddle” Paul Scurrell

industrial, scientific and medical (ISM)

applications, although it is now commonly used for short range, low power

Timecode Buddy master unit: “Pre-IBC, sales were generated by technical requirements … at IBC, we were bombarded by production people”

radio: Bluetooth and NFC are in the same band. Given good reception —

up to around 250m line of sight — all the Buddies remain in

precise synchronisation. If the link fails then each device free runs but, by investing in temperature-compensated crystals, each Timecode Buddy is accurate to less than a half in 24 hours. When the RF link re- establishes itself they gradually migrate back to perfect sync.

Production innovation From the internal design they looked at the externals, feeling that the device should look

the part. They engaged a product design company to come up with ideas. “We liked the drawings, but the tooling costs ran into thousands,” Scurrell recalls. “We had gone so far down the road that we went

for it.” Finally, they identified a local assembly company that would take on all the manufacture. “We got it all together in time

for NAB2012,” he said, adding “We were frantically assembling and testing before we got on the plane.” For a first outing they had a successful NAB, gaining vindication for the concept and winning a few orders. It was also the opportunity to win over a major partner. MovieSlate was already

widely regarded as the industry standard in virtual slates. It now offers Timecode Buddy

of attention at IBC2012, and won the sought-after IABM Peter Wayne Award for technical innovation. But the journey from a desire to make the job easier to an award- winning product was a tough three years. “If I had known how difficult

it would be I probably would not have started — until NAB when we knew we were doing the right thing,” says Scurrell. There are no backers: he put in the time and money himself. “There were a few sleepless nights,” he admits, adding “there still are! “But being in at the beginning

of a game-changer is exciting. The biggest success comes from having the right partners: choose the right people in the first place, then do not meddle. Do not try to learn something yourself if you can find an expert to do it. “And treat everyone with

respect,” he concludes. “Give suppliers the information they need, and pay them on time. Now we have people queuing up to buy, and by NAB2013 we plan to announce more major partnerships and new products.”

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