Untether Your Cameras With NewTek Connect Spark™
June 13, 2018 by Chuck Baker
Richard Rubin, president of Mobile Studios, Inc, talks about their experience with how to get the best results using NewTek Connect Spark™ to free cameras from cabling for live production, and about their new SparkMount product.
Shooting a live production with operator-mounted and untethered cameras allows for incredible freedom that tethered cameras just cannot deliver - especially for sports. Also, moving around quickly when dragging cables just isn’t safe, especially in the midst of a crowd. Those factors have made a cable-free camera solution for live broadcast a Holy Grail of the industry.
High-end productions were first able to engage untethering with expensive technologies for transmitting signals using specialized radio, or later, cellular equipment. Such transmitting and receiving equipment was bulky for both the operator and the studio.
Time and advances made equipment more portable and less expensive, but untethered live production has still been out of reach for pretty much all but top tier broadcasters that could afford it. Today, however, NewTek’s NDI® version 3, bidirectional technology for video, audio and communications over IP, and modern WiFi technology have put untethered live video production within everyone’s reach.
Making this possible is a new mode, NDIHX™, for real-time compression that enables transmitting over limited bandwidths at higher quality than before with very low latency and higher frame rates. This mode is suitable both for wireless and long-distance network transmission. A new generation of products equipped with this technology is now available.
Here is our guide to what you can do with Newtek Connect Spark to free your cameras from cabling, and how to set up your internet infrastructure to make the most of Connect Spark in any facility.
Kick the Cables to the Curb 101
NewTek Connect Spark™ HDMI2NDI and SDI2NDI converters enable any HDMI or SDI camera to become a NDIHX network video source. Many producers immediately deployed these products to enable untethered solutions. There are two approaches:
- Pair Connect Spark with compatible 12v/1a battery and power cable. Options:
- Assemble them into a strap-on pack for a camera operator
- Jerry-rig a mount to the camera for the Connect Spark and the battery
- Split the difference and mount the Connect Spark to the camera and put the battery in a pack.
- Power Connect Spark using a D-Tap cable if you have a camera or camera battery with a D-Tap connector for powering accessories. Options:
- Jerry-rig a mount to the camera
- Use long enough D-Tap and video cables to allow the Connect Spark to be placed in a strap-on pack.
Mobile Studios has eliminated the need to jerry-rig anything with two commercially available “SparkMount” solutions designed for Connect Spark:
- SparkMount™ Battery Kit that provides a mounting bracket and hardware, 15-hr battery and charger, battery holder with belt clip, short and long power cables, HDMI and SDI cables
- SparkMount D-Tap Kit that provides a mounting bracket and hardware, D-Tap power cable, HDMI and SDI cables
The kits allow Connect Spark to be deployed in a variety of ways:
- Mount Connect Spark and battery directly to a camera
- Mount Connect Spark to camera, place battery in a strap-on pack
- Place both in a strap-on pack
- Mount to a tripod or pedestal
If using the D-Tap kit, you don’t have to account for the battery, just Connect Spark.
“Tripod or pedestal?”
Untethered operator-mounted cameras are more mobile, but inexpensive untethering also makes many more things possible. Any camera in your arsenal can now be placed anywhere within range of a wireless access point without running bulky and expensive video cabling, nor the much lighter and less expensive network cabling, nor even power, if you choose to go battery-operated for the camera.
So yes, low-cost untethering can be effective for every camera in your production arsenal:
- Field-mobile wheeled tripods or pedestals gain in maneuverability, convenience and safety when untethered;
- You can place cameras on stationary tripods or pedestals around your venue, but with more freedom to select locations and freedom to change or add to those locations without having to reroute cables or run new ones;
- Place fixed or robotic cameras on any of the infrastructure at the venue, giving you views you had no way to get before, again with easy ability to relocate or add more;
- Deploy completely mobile operator-mounted cameras able to get views from any direction at whim - as many as you want - to ensure you always get the insightful angle that exposes the key action and thrills the viewers.
Best IP Practices for NewTek Connect Spark
The video above is a field test of completely wireless video production with a handheld camera setup, shot at the PineCrest School, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Video was shot around the entire perimeter of a football field using a NewTek Connect Spark NDI converter and Mobile Studios’ new SparkMount Battery Kit, mounted to a JVC camera. The Connect Spark converted the video from the camera to NDI and transmitted NDIHX encoded 1080i video wirelessly to the network.
Mobile Studios tested a variety of means to receive the signals from the Connect Spark units:
- Routers with standard omnidirectional WiFi antennas - this had the least range, 100 feet or less
- Wireless Access Point (AP) receivers with omnidirectional AP antennas, connected to the network with CAT5 cabling - more range, but suffers interference due to receiving all sources in every direction
- Wireless AP receivers with 45-degree directional AP antennas, connected to the network with CAT5 cabling - this provides strong signal with least interference and at best distance - tested up to 450 feet from the antenna
All of these were tested with varying placements around the venues. The “secret-sauce” results for best performance with Connect Spark:
- Place a dedicated router or switch in the press box. Connect your high-position wide-angle and close-up cameras by cable directly to the router or switch. Run network cables from there to your AP receivers on the sidelines, courtside, or covering a stage.
- Use 5mhz frequency on Connect Sparks and the AP receivers
- Use 45-degree directional AP antennas connected to your AP receivers
- A single antenna can be placed appropriately (high in a corner aimed at the court, for example) in an indoor venue such as a basketball court and provide complete coverage
- 1 antenna can work fine even for a large playing field such as soccer or football, two provides even better signal strength and pickup assurance
- To almost completely eliminate interference, place AP antennas at field level between the audience and the camera operators on the playing field/court. Example: for a football field place two AP antennas along the sidelines at each end’s 20-yard line, aim appropriately to receive the signal from the mobile sideline cameras but not take in any signals coming from the crowd. Another alternative: place one AP antenna on each sideline, aimed appropriately to take in any sideline cameras for that side of the field but to miss the crowds in the stands on either side.
In the PineCrest School setup the final working configuration was as follows: two WiFi Access Points (APs) enable signal reception over the network to a NewTek TriCaster TC1 integrated multi-camera production system, located about 1/4 mile away in the studio’s control room. TriCaster TC1, able to handle up to 16 UHD NDI input streams at a time for live production, recorded the HD video streams from the cameras and produced the video-with-inset you see in this demonstration. Tests were also conducted at the school’s basketball court/gymnasium with the same results – 100% solid around the perimeter of the court and high-up at the bleachers.
Because NDI carries bidirectional communications and metadata as well as the video and audio signals, the Connect Spark is able to provide tally lights to the operator, so they know when their camera is on Preview ready to go live, or is live on the Program output of the TriCaster.
The system is now in use with both handheld and tripod mounted cameras at PineCrest School, covering sports from any of their venues using the WiFi APs available throughout the campus. The onscreen graphics for events are also delivered via NDI, from a laptop running NewTek’s LiveText software, on site at the game or event.
“Lightly Tethered” Cameras
The elimination of the need for standard baseband video cabling to cameras can still represent a savings and added freedom even if not carried to complete untethering. For permanently-mounted operator-less cameras, it is not ideal to have them battery-dependent. That can be solved by having them “lightly tethered,” set up in a way that gets them power:
Camera with D-Tap Power connector
- AC power adapter for camera
- NewTek Connect Spark
- D-Tap connector cable from camera to Connect Spark
- HDMI or SDI connector cable from camera to Connect Spark
- Electric power to the location with at least one outlet
In this configuration, the camera is connected to house power, and Connect Spark is connected to a D-Tap port on the camera, which is used to power accessories. Video and audio are transmitted wirelessly from the Connect Spark.
Camera without a D-Tap connector
- You need two outlets at the location
- Connect Spark’s AC adapter replaces the D-Tap cable
If using a robotic camera that requires Connect Spark for NDI conversion, then light tethering may have to include a network cable to the camera in addition to the power cable, to control the camera. Since most of these types of camera do not have D-Tap ports, two outlets and the Connect Spark AC Adapter will be needed.
If you need a network connection anyway, you might want to place a small network switch and connect both the camera and the Connect Spark. Any setup using an Ethernet cable saves a bit of your wireless bandwidth and is able to continue to operate if wireless fails. This can also allow you to place cameras where your wireless may not reach effectively.
NewTek recommends that for best results for live productions where top broadcast quality is mission critical, particularly sports and entertainment, producers use a dedicated LAN with WiFi APs for video production, rather than share bandwidth with other users and purposes. That way, both wired and wireless transmission of media can be at best quality.
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