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Review: AJA HELO Streaming & Recording Device

The AJA HELO H.264 Encoder is an excellent entry into the existing AJA line of products. Don't let the small form factor fool you--this device packs advanced compression control, streaming, recording, and scheduling features for a reasonable price.

Over the last seven months, I have had the opportunity to test the new AJA HELO H.264 Streamer & Recorder (Figure 1, below) in both lab and production environments. I had been anxiously awaiting its release since late 2016.

Figure 1. AJA HELO H.264 Encoder. Click the image to see it at full size.

Core Features

You can use the AJA HELO H.264 Encoder in a wide variety of use cases. With a form factor of 5.5" D x 7" W x 1" H, it’s small enough to bring on location with the rest of your production kit, or install it at your studio or venue with other components. The stock unit ships with an AC adapter, and you can buy additional power cables that enable you to power the unit from a DC source, such as a camera battery.

On October 31, 2017, AJA released firmware version 2.0 for the HELO, which includes major enhancements over previous releases. Be sure to download and install the latest firmware to have access to these new features.

Inputs

The AJA HELO can accommodate your HD source signal in and out with 3G-SDI and HDMI. One of my favorite features is this unit’s ability to repeat the input signal on both SDI and HDMI out simultaneously. So, if you have an SDI input, you can use HDMI and SDI out to other devices or monitors.

You can also use the 3.5mm (aka “mini”) audio input to accommodate an audio master signal separate from the video input. You can monitor audio with the Audio Out jack as well.

For network connectivity, the AJA HELO has a 1Gbps Ethernet port for LAN access. (Note that the unit does not have WiFi connectivity.) In an ideal production environment, you should have the HELO and a laptop (or desktop) computer on the same LAN so that you can configure and monitor the HELO from your laptop. I’ll talk more about network discoverability in the next section.

For recording live broadcasts, the AJA HELO has both an SD card slot as well as a USB slot, making it easy to provide high-quality recordings to your clients and presenters on site.

For direct configuration and firmware updates, you can connect the AJA HELO to a laptop or desktop computer via the USB Config port to interface with free AJA eMini-Setup software for initial network configuration and for configuration and control via a web browser.

Discoverability

Configuring the AJA HELO requires you to have access to a computer connected to the same LAN as the HELO. You don’t necessarily need a laptop or desktop computer--you can configure settings with a smartphone browser that’s connected to the same LAN as well. By default, the HELO is configured with DHCP IP allocation and will grab an IP address from your network’s DHCP server. The HELO will have unique Bonjour name based on its serial number, such as aja-helo-1HE000443.

To find the HELO’s IP address on your network, you connect the HELO to your computer via the USB Config port on the HELO and the free AJA eMini-Setup software. When you launch the software, the HELO will automatically be detected and its information displayed in the application, as shown in Figure 2 (below). The IP address is shown, and you can click the Open Web Page button to access the HELO’s configuration in a web browser.

Figure 2. AJA eMini-Setup application

If you don’t want to use a USB connection to find your HELO, you can use Bonjour discovery services to locate the device. On Mac systems, open Terminal and type:

dns-sd -B _http._tcp .

This command will continuously monitor Bonjour services and display devices that are broadcasting over Bonjour. The AJA HELO will show up in this list, similar to this example:

Browsing for _http._tcp
DATE: ---Wed 11 Oct 2017---
21:25:10.913 ...STARTING...
Timestamp A/R Flags if Domain Service Type Instance Name
21:25:10.914 Add 3 12 local. _http._tcp. aja-helo-1HE000443

Press Ctrl-C to exit the command, and use the device name and domain in a web browser, such as aja-helo-1HE000443.local from the prior example. For easier access, you can rename the HELO’s name in the Config options of the management interface discussed next.

On iOS, OS X, and Windows, you can install Bonjour Browser to locate the HELO and other AJA devices connected to the same LAN as your iOS device.

Responsive Web Administration

While the front of the physical unit has basic controls to start/stop streaming and recording with single-button activation for quick operation, streaming and recording settings are controlled in the AJA HELO’s incredibly fast web-based management interface. I have tested and used a wide range of H.264 hardware encoders with similar management interfaces, and none are as responsive as that of the AJA HELO. With most management interfaces, you need to click and wait to apply settings. With the AJA HELO, all settings are applied as soon as you input the new value.

The 2.0 version of the HELO firmware enables a new low-res preview of your input source, as shown in Figure 3 (below), allowing for visual confidence monitoring of the source material. The left sidebar of the interface displays alarms that are clear and identifiable.

Figure 3. AJA HELO Management Interface with Status page

The Status page (Figure 3), which is the first page to load in the admin, provides information about the input signal, scheduler status, the current presets applied to streaming and recording, network status, and firmware status.

The Config page (Figure 4, below) allows you to control the active video source input (SDI or HDMI), the audio source input, and the audio delay (new in firmware v2.0). You can also control default behaviors for the HELO.

Figure 4. Config page of HELO

Firmware updates can be applied on the Firmware page (Figure 5, below), as well as system reboots and resets.

Figure 5. The HELO firmware page