Behind the Lens: Media Servers

Hello everyone! Chance here with another edition of BMD’s tech blog series “Behind the Lens!”

I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last few week at training for Pandora’s Box, which is a media server used in large scale projection work. Rather than going into the specifics of how that specific server works I’m going to explain what media servers do in general, and how that differs from a typical Amateur setup.

Media Servers are computers dedicated to video output

I think the sentence above sums it up quite nicely, but let me elaborate.

A media server is a PC that is dedicated to playing video and nothing else. This means that the computer can dump more resources into playback, thus reducing the possibility of technical failure during a show. It can also handle more video files and much larger files due to the increase in allocated resources.

Many media servers also work with a layer based system. Meaning you can stack content on top of content to get a specific seamless look.

An example of a server would be a PC connected to multiple projector outputs playing 4k video content on loop. The multiple projectors and high resolution content benefits greatly from a dedicated machine.

How does that compare to a typical ProPresenter?

Let’s look at all the moving parts and see exactly how a server differs from a ProPresenter workspace.

First of all, the computer you are using to run ProPresenter probably isn’t dedicated to video output. Having other programs and tasks running in the background can reduce the resources dedicated to ProPresenter, making the process a little slower overall.

Secondly, if using BMD content you aren’t working with layers. Rather than having multiple video files (sky in background, house in foreground) to render at once, BMD content is compiled into one file to reduce the load on your computer. It gives you slightly less customization, but makes the content much easier to use.

Lastly, you are probably only using one projector for output. Now this last point isn’t entirely true all of the time. It is possible to use multiple projectors with ProPresenter and to use a server with just one projector, but in a typical setup this isn’t the case. Having a server dedicated to one projector is usually overkill in a theatrical setting, as the media wont be running 24/7.

What types of media servers are there?

There are many! A quick google search will give you a laundry list of options including Pandora’s Box, Watchout, Arkaos, and many more. Even the ImageCue is considered a media server, albeit on a smaller scale. It is a piece of hardware with one purpose in mind: outputting video. So if you are looking for something with the reliability of a server that costs a lot less, ImageCue would be the way to go.

Hopefully I was able to help you understand (on a basic level) what a server is! Many professional setups use servers, and if you are looking to spend some extra money for the guaranteed quality it may be worth checking out.

If you have any more questions please email and we will be more than happy to assist. Until next time!

chance-thumbnail-1.pngCHANCE CROFT, Support Technician

Chance is from Visalia, California and grew up performing in theatre. He attended California State University, Fullerton, where he studied theatre, focusing on theatre technology and education. If he wasn’t BMD’s awesome Support Technician, he’d likely be a voiceover artist (he has a very deep voice). He enjoys video games and finding new restaurants in town. Chance lives in Fresno, California with his girlfriend Sam, his two cats and his dog Lady. His favorite musical is Seussical.