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Cut the Cord with Wireless HD: A Paralinx Review

COW Library : : Helmut Kobler : Cut the Cord with Wireless HD: A Paralinx Review
CreativeCOW presents Cut the Cord with Wireless HD: A Paralinx Review --  Review


www.losangelescameraman.com
Los Angeles CA USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


A few months ago, I started yearning for a way to give my clients a "director's monitor" so they could see what I was shooting without being tethered to my camera by way of a long video cable.

Of course, there have been tools to do this for years, but all of them seemed to have unacceptable compromises for my kind of work and budget. The higher-end solutions from the likes of Boxx and Nebtek were big and expensive. The more affordable solutions, like Teradek's Cube, were smaller, but suffered from delays from a few frames to a few seconds (aka "latency"), couldn't support 1080 resolution effectively, and required using a tablet or computer to receive the signal.

But as I did my research, I noticed there was a quiet revolution going on in the wireless video space, with new products eliminating performance issues like latency, while getting smaller and cheaper. I tracked down two products in particular that seemed to be getting some traction, and got evaluation units of each (the benefits of writing for Creative COW!).

The two units are the Paralinx Arrow, and the Teradek Bolt Pro. Each offers a couple of different models to choose from, but I picked configurations that were different from each other, and appealed to different audiences.






The Arrow is HDMI-only, and least expensive at $1,198 for a single transmitter/receiver package (there's also an Arrow Plus package that's $1,398, which can multicast to up to four receivers at the same time).

The Bolt Pro is about twice as much at $2,490, but you get industry-standard HD-SDI connectors with loop-through. A Bolt Pro transmitter can also broadcast to up to four receivers, and the transmitter features a built-in 60 minute battery so you don't have to worry about powering it in certain scenarios. (Note: you can also get a less expensive Bolt Pro with HDMI connectors, or a non-Pro version without pass-through, multiple receiver functionality or the built in battery).

 

TESTING THE TERADEK BOLT AND PARALINX ARROW
After trying out the Arrow and Bolt Pro for a couple of weeks, my experience shows them both to be reliable, with similar performance -- ie, the same simple setup and operation, the same signal range, the same bandwidth to carry a high-quality HD image (1920x1080, 4:2:2, 10-bits, up to 60p with 2 channel audio) and the same negligible latency of less than 2 milliseconds.

Regarding signal range, they both advertise a range of about 300 feet when their transmitters and receivers have a line-of-site to each other. I wasn't able to test out the 300 foot range, but did try a 100 foot test in the great outdoors, and could not see any degradation in the HD image being beamed to a 7" SmallHD monitor. (Apparently, when the signal degrades, you'll begin to see artifacts in your image, or will lose the signal altogether. Since artifacts might be hard to spot unless you're really looking for them, I would personally not use either of these units to record an HD signal to a field recorder, expecting that to be my camera master).

I also tested the Bolt and Arrow in my basement, without line of site (ie, around corners and storage boxes) and found they held their signal for the 40 feet of distance I could put between transmitter and receiver. Finally, I walked my camera up 7 stairs and another 10 feet into my backyard. That move finally killed the connection between both the Arrow and Bolt's transmitter/receiver. I guess the elevation change, through a narrow stairwell and doorway, along with the concrete foundation of my house, was enough to muck things up. The good news is that when you lose a signal, both the Arrow and Bolt can re-establish a link automatically once you bring their transmitters and receivers within range. I found it took about 10 seconds for my camera's image to show up again on my monitor.

It's also worth noting that both units showed no vulnerability to interference from other common wireless devices, like Wifi networks and cel phones. You can also run multiple pairs in the same vicinity (for instance, a transmitter/receiver for an A camera, a B camera, a C camera) but you'll need to follow some minor prototcol so they don't interere with each other. First, power up the A camera's transmitter/receiver pair to establish a link, then wait at least 60 seconds before powering up the next pair, and so on. Also, keep the pairs at least a couple of feet away from each other.

At any rate, the Arrow and Bolt's solid real-world performance was certainly enough for plenty of scenarios -- ie, put a handheld, battery-powered monitor in the hands of a nearby director; set up a video village for clients without laying cable, or monitor a camera while it's mounted on a crane/jib/dolly, or in a car.

As I worked with the Arrow and Bolt, I also found another benefit to going wireless, and that's for fine-tuning lighting on a set. I often shoot as a one-man band, without a grip or PA available. When I'm setting up lights, one of the little hassles I endure is adjusting a light, and then running back to my 17" FSI monitor to see how it looks, and then running back to the light for more fine tuning. But with the unique combination of the Flanders and a Bolt or Arrow, I was able to easily move the monitor around with me to each light. Despite its 17" screen, the Flanders is only 6.4 pounds, and can run for hours on a single Anton Bauer Dionic HC battery. Even with an HD receiver and small light stand attached, I can easily lift the whole package with one hand, and carry it over to any corner of the set.

 

POWER AND MOUNTING
Mounting the Bolt and Arrow is pretty straightforward: you get enough �xBC-20 and 3/8" threaded screw holes on the transmitters and receivers to make that pretty easy. It's powering the gear that can involve some hassles.

Aside from conventional AC power, both the Bolt and Arrow let you power their transmitter/receivers using the p-tap of an external battery plate for Anton Bauer or IDX batteries. So if have a p-tap battery mounted to your camera or monitor, you're good to go.

Things get more complicated if you don't have a big battery's p-tap on hand. For the Arrow, you can power its transmitter and receiver from just about any portable USB battery pack (the kind usually sold as secondary power sources for smartphones and tablets, here's an example). These typically cost from $30 to $60, are the size of a very slim portable hard drive, and last about 3-5 hours per charge. It's a little bit of a clunky solution, though, because those batteries don't have conventional mounting holes, so your best bet is to use heavy duty Velcro to attach the battery to your Arrow gear, and try to keep the usb cable out of your way.



"Ikan sells this great rig for a wireless monitor. It's light-weight, gives the monitor some protection, and costs $149. Pictured is the Ikan rig with an AC7 monitor from SmallHD, a Paralinx receiver and USB battery velcro'd to the receiver."


As for powering the Bolt, you can recharge its internal battery from any USB source, although it can't run on USB power like the Arrow can. Teradek does sell modified camera batteries that have built in p-tap cables to power the Bolt. You can slip them into your camera, and then attach their single cable to the Bolt. It's a decent way to power the Bolt without adding more gear on your camera, but the batteries cost around $190. Teradek also sells small p-tapped battery plates for a lot of different batteries, but then you're adding more clutter to your gear.

All in all, I wish the Bolt and Arrow had better power solutions for those that don't have a big Anton Bauer or IDX battery attached to their gear. I wish they both had small, removable batteries that I could easily swap, and that wouldn't require extra effort or clutter to attach to my camera. But for now, if you want to use the Arrow and Bolt without a big battery, you'll have to accept some awkward compromises like specialty batteries, Velcro, and so on.

 

OTHER IMPRESSIONS

Here are a few other random impressions and details about each unit....




Paralinx Arrow

  • It's impressive how small and light the Paralinx gear is. The transmitter is about the size of a stick of gun, and weighs less than 2 ounces (it includes a "sleeve", which protects the HDMI connector and adds screw holes). The receiver is like a deck of cards, and tips the scales around 3 ounces.
  • When you buy a transmitter/receiver package, it comes with only one HDMI and one p-tap cable, so you might have to buy an extra cable or two ala cart.
  • Initially, I couldn't try out the Arrow with my FSI 17" monitor, because the Flanders doesn't have an HDMI port. Same goes for thousands of field monitors out there on sets today. Fortunately, I found a pretty impressive HDMI-to-SDI converter from Atomos called the Connect Converter H2S. It's very small, weighs almost nothing, has an internal battery that lasts an hour, and it has a mount for small Sony NP-style external battery that can power it for up to 10 hours per charge (it actually ships with an external battery to get you started). The Atomos doesn't have any common screw holes for mounting, but I was able to mount it with Velcro on the back of my Flanders monitor, and it stayed there all day long. Anyway, there are other converters available, but I haven't found one that's so small/light, with a convenient external battery. The Atomos also gives you a test pattern generator, and you can mount multiple H2Ss on top of each other and power them from the same single attached battery.
 




  • Paralinx announced a few add-ons at NAB 2013, including an HD-SDI converter for its transmitter called the Crossbow, and a high-powered receiver called Tomahawk. They'll be available in the summer of 2013, and you can get a glimpse on this YouTube video.
  • Paralinx is partnering up with SmallHD to create a "dock" that lets the Arrow integrate into SmallHD's new, top-of-the-line DP7-Pro monitor series. The dock lets you mount an Arrow transmitter or receiver on the back of the DP7 monitor, and draw power from whatever power source the monitor's using.


 

Teradek Bolt Pro

  • Again, the Bolt's use of HD-SDI is very welcome, since SDI is available on much more gear. A Bolt transmitter can work natively with cameras like an Arri Alexa or a shoulder-mount Varicam, whereas an HDMI Arrow transmitter would need additional conversion hardware. And the Bolt's receiver worked natively with my beloved 17" Flanders Scientific monitor, which has no HDMI inputs. I'm pretty sure that HDMI will be relevant to certain cameras and monitors for quite a while, but SDI is still the gold standard, and that gives the Bolt more flexibility with any gear you throw at it.
 




  • The Bolt hardware is noticeably bigger than the Arrow. The Bolt transmitter also feels about twice as heavy as the Arrow transmitter, while the Bolt's receiver is bigger, but its weight feels pretty similar. Regardless, I think the Bolt is still small and light enough to not be a burden when mounted on a camera or monitor.
  • I definitely appreciate the internal, non-removable battery found in the Bolt Pro's transmitter, which lasted about 56 minutes of non-stop shooting. Obviously, the battery isn't an all-day solution, but the transmitter does have an on/off switch so you can stretch that time out beyond a single hour. And even 56 minutes is handy when you need to strip your camera down to its lightest form for specialty shots, or when you're trying to quickly figure out shots with a director before rigging up your camera. By the way, you can recharge the battery by hooking it up to an included AC adapter, a DC power source via the p-tap, or via USB through its miniUSB connector.
  • The transmitter's HD-SDI pass-through is also a nice touch, and surprising on such a small unit. This lets you plug in other SDI devices like an AC monitor, or viewfinder, without worrying about running out of SDI ports on your camera.
  • On the flip side, the Bolt's receiver is a bit of a disappointment due to high-pitched fan noise that's present as long as the receiver is getting power (the Arrow's receiver is silent). If you're shooting outdoors, or in noisy situations, no one will hear the fan. But on a quiet indoor set, shooting interviews or dialog, I could still hear the receiver's fan from about 15 feet away. It's actually more noticeable than the multiple fans found in my 8-core Mac Pro, largely due to its higher pitch. I shoot a lot interviews in quiet rooms, which means the fan is loud enough to register on a sensitive microphone the way a room's air conditioning vents might. Even if the whir doesn't pick up on a mic, I can see a lot of my clients being annoyed by it because it makes itself so known. If you think this might be an issue for you, Teradek is offering customers a free hardware modification, which installs a fan on/off switch on your receiver. That's helpful, but Teradek doesn't recommend going fanless for more than 25-30 minutes at a time, so it still might not be enough for certain work.
  • A nice touch is that the Bolt includes a sturdy, coiled HD-SDI cable with right-angle connectors so you can position the transmitter in a lot of different places on your camera, and the connectors take don't stick out nearly as much as conventional connectors would.
  • Teradek sells a plain-vanilla Bolt system, as opposed to the Bolt Pro that I tried out. With the standard Bolt, you miss out on the internal transmitter battery, the transmitter's HD-SDI pass-through feature, and the ability to broadcast one transmitter to multiple receivers. On the other hand, you save about $500.
  • In May 2013, Teradek will offer a firmware update that lets the Bolt wirelessly transmit time code, record flags and file name/metadata. SDI field recorders should be able to read it. Again, I wouldn't trust a wireless signal to record your camera master to a field recorder, but it could be useful for using a recorder to wireless record light-weight proxy videos.
 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I should also point out there are other wireless HD kits available at similar or even lower prices than the Arrow and Bolt. Abel Cine, which has a great reputation as a dealer, sells their own unit in the $1200 range, supporting both HDMI and SDI. Geffen sells a consumer-oriented unit for a few hundred bucks. Type "wireless HD" into eBay and you'll find even cheaper options, if that's your priority.

As for me, I'm focused on the Bolt Pro and the Arrow, given how well they did in my hands-on work. In fact, I'm actually pretty torn about which to get for myself. I want the HD-SDI connectivity of the Bolt, but the fanless receiver of the Arrow. I like the internal battery of the Bolt's transmitter, but the longer-running USB power option of the Arrow. It's going to be a tough choice, but I know that either option will make things easier for my clients, and quicken the pace of production on set.

 

About Helmut Kobler
Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based cameraman who shoots for networks such as the BBC, PBS, CBS and BET. For more info, go to http://www.losangelescameraman.com.


Comments

Hi Mr. Kobler
by Sai Tun
Thank you so much for such an useful facts for indie filmmakers like us. Really appreciate for your effort. But after I read your article and one question raised up, it's about the bolt, which seems have more opportunity to connect more devices like feeding images even with ipads though CUBE. I would like to know your thought about it if possible. Again thank you for pointing useful things out.
Re: Cut the Cord with Wireless HD
by Rome Will
Mr. Kobler,

First, thank you for this. I really appreciate you taking the time to right this. I was searching the web for a comparison of the two and I think you narrowed it down for me. The silent fan option of the Arrow was the win for me...while I wanted the latency-free option of the Teradek, I think the noise you said was a turn-off.

Again, I sincerely appreciate this write up. THANK YOU!!


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