‘Bulletproof’ Needs to Be a Standard Feature for Production Gear
When it comes to marketers pitching gear to streaming producers around the world, it’s all about, “Here’s the latest feature!” Or “We just added this!” Or “Now it can do that!” Part of this is because there are always new technologies to add. RTMP becomes RTMPS. H.265 succeeds H.264. SRT support becomes a must-have feature. Smart programming becomes AI. Buyers of gear are used to seeing ads that are only about what the latest feature is.
There was a time when production gear was sold with no possible upgradability after the fact. Today, another tentpole of marketing is that new features are being added to existing hardware with a software or firmware update. This has become so prevalent across the industry that buyers now fully expect—even demand—to get new features that they didn’t pay for. “I saw that a new camera can do x. I want my old camera to do it too.” If it’s not added (or can’t be), they voice their disappointment on every form of social media available, even if they were perfectly happy with the product before that new thing came out.
Another aspect of this discussion is that manufacturers are making products that break through traditional production barriers, offering amazing cost-to-feature ratios. “Hey, we made this little handheld item that can be used to display and assess your video, but now it also records, streams, and maybe even switches between inputs, adds titles, and more. All in the palm of your hand.” Or “We made a little camera that can now track you automatically, respond to gestures, and correct or distort images.”
But what often gets lost in the marketing hype is the need for absolute reliability. Not every piece of gear has to match its competition new feature for new feature. But it does have to be “bulletproof.” What good are a dozen amazing features if the video frame rate isn’t an absolute solid, reliable, bulletproof 29.97? Or what if users in European countries can’t get an absolutely reliable 50 fps? What good is cutting-edge AI motion tracking if the battery occasionally thinks it’s completely discharged, and the device won’t boot up? What if the color from the camera always looks off? What if the audio metering adjustments don’t make any sense? What if 10 dB in this device isn’t the same 10 dB found everywhere else?
What good are new features if they hurt the basic reliability of the device? What’s an overhyped firmware update worth if a camera that used to work fine now keeps defaulting to a black-and-white color profile and needs to be reset every time? What if upgrading a product means that connectivity to other devices using a standard protocol is no longer possible because now the device only uses the latest version of the protocol, and those other devices can’t be upgraded?
I have personally experienced all of these post-upgrade and ill-fated add-on glitches, and I’m sure others have as well. Chasing after the latest and greatest widget that does everything and sells for a fraction of traditional gear comes with a cost. That cost turns out to be the lack of reliability. While technology is indeed making smaller and cheaper devices that are capable of doing more, it is being pushed beyond the limit in order to chase the “latest and greatest” marketing wave.
The problem is that nobody markets reliability. It’s expected. People only see the icing on the cake. They have no idea that the cake itself is bad.
There is another cost: access to support. So, when an upgrade or new widget doesn’t work, or some aspect of it doesn’t work as you expect it to, you can’t reach someone in your own country or region—or at all. Or, if you can reach someone, they are a powerless customer service or sales agent, and they can’t actually resolve your issue. Or the problem gets funneled into some social media forum or Discord channel, where it can be discussed, but rarely addressed or fixed.
It’s hard to market gear as bulletproof because we all assume it does the core thing it is marketed to do. This much is expected. Of course, it captures video, switches cameras, has a really good zoom lens, etc. But, usually, we’re buying it because of other cool features that set it apart from the crowd. However, if the core thing—like the video itself it produces—has problems, there’s no mention of that in the marketing.
These days, we can no longer assume. We have to rely on the very rare critical reviews and tests by people who aren’t bought with product or sponsored by the vendors whose gear they’re “reviewing.” We need people who say negative things and point out a device’s problems so end users can make an informed choice. We must have this so the manufacturers that forget to make bulletproof reliability an absolute core feature can be held accountable.
The problem is there are very few resources that point out the negatives. With vendor-friendly alternatives, what company is advertising in media that is telling people its gear has problems? You go through all sorts of media channels, and it’s all about the perfect solution, this amazing new tool, how this item does it all and solves everything—they’re all perfect. This is what gets the views.
The problem is that there’s a lot more imperfect gear on the market than ever before—gear we can’t count on from gig to gig. Gear that can’t deliver reliable video. Features that work and then don’t. Devices that connect and then don’t. We’ve lost core reliability. Bulletproof needs to be a feature.
FAST programming needs space for the commercials. Unless you intentionally craft that space into your show, it just slices into your content randomly, ruining the mood of narrative content and frustrating viewers just as the show was getting to the "good part." Watching YouTube content on a Roku device is like this now. The random "pop" to commercials in the middle of a scene is very annoying.
The production and communication tools we use are ever-more tied to the cloud, and to take advantage of it is to open a door of possibility and additional capability. Where do you want to go today?
The pendulum has swung back away from streaming for a brief period, but COVID opened millions of eyes to the power, capability, and convenience of streaming—for the providers and the attendees. It also helped a lot of people realize that it's not as easy as it looks. I see the end result moving that pendulum toward more streaming—and more kinds of streaming—in the near future