Review: Wirecast Gear 420

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Telestream’s Wirecast Gear systems are for live-event producers who are sold on Wirecast and want a stable, highperformance system to run it on. My recent tests of a Wirecast Gear 420 system (Figure 1, below) show that it quite aptly meets this definition. Gear comes in three basic configurations, though you can customize them as you like. According to the Intel product page, the Intel Xeon E-2176G processor has six 3.70 GHz CPUs and hyperthreading for 12 logical cores.

Figure 1. Telestream Wirecast Gear 420

Figure 2 (below) shows how the configurations differ in graphics and I/O. Buy the 310 for four HDMI inputs; the Gear 320 for four HD-SDI inputs; and the 420 for five HD-SDI inputs, baseband SDI output, and four integrated hardware encoders. All systems come with Wirecast Pro, and this itself comes with NewBlue Titler Live, which supplies animated 3D titles, scoreboards, and other graphics and Facebook comments, curation, and display.

Figure 2. Here’s how the systems differ in terms of I/O. Click the image to see it at full size.

All three models come in a rackmountable 2RU chassis that can fit in a standard 19" rackmount or run as a desktop unit with rubber feet included. The 420 I tested has the NVIDIA Quadro P220 graphics card, which includes four DisplayPort outputs and the four integrated hardware encoders referred to in Figure 2. As you’ll see, these really come in handy when outputting multiple streams of H.264-encoded output. The 420 also has one HD-SDI program out for confidence monitoring or to send to an external encoder, a workflow that some live-event producers favor over encoding in their mixer.

The connectors on the 420 are shown in Figure 3 (below). As you can see, the four DisplayPorts on the 420 are, in fact, DisplayPort outputs, and Telestream includes a single DisplayPort to DVI connector in the box to get you up and running. You see the four HD-SDI inputs on the right, the single HDI input/output up top, and the two XLR/TRS combo jacks that are available on all three units. The DVI and VGA DisplayPorts marked “Not used” in Figure 3 are the two outputs for the 310 and 320, and the pink-and-green Line Out and Mic In are available on all three units, complemented by the same ports on the front of the unit.

Figure 3. The 420 back panel shows the extensive I/O. Click the image to see it at full size.

Testing the Gear

To test the system, I created multiple projects with multiple outputs and measured CPU utilization during these operations. Though there is no magic number, once CPU utilization gets beyond 60%–80% or so, you start to worry about dropped frames, interruptions, and outright software failures. Although I was testing the 420, the other two systems share the same CPU, RAM configuration, and operating system, so performance should be similar except when outputting multiple file outputs using hardware-based encoding.

Specifically, the 420 has four NVIDIA hardware encoders using the GPUs on the graphics card to convert to H.264 output for storage or transmission to a live-streaming service provider, preserving cycles for the system Xeon CPU. The other two units have one Quick Sync integrated hardware encoder that uses the Intel graphics chip.

Operationally, you choose the hardware encoder in Wirecast’s Output Setting screen, where you configure your encodings for your live-streaming service provider or archive recording. This screen offers multiple presets that list the codec used in the preset name. On the 420, there are three H.264 codecs to choose from: one from MainConcept, one that’s the open-source x264 codec, and the hardwareaccelerated NVIDIA codec. Note that the NVIDIA codec wasn’t used in the default encoding preset, so you’ll have to choose an NVIDIA preset to activate hardware-based transcoding.

How does the NVIDIA and Intel Quick Sync output quality compare to x264? At Streaming Media West in 2019, I compared NVIDIA and Quick Sync to x264 quality (but not MainConcept). This was a live-transcoding use case (as opposed to offline video-on-demand [VOD] encoding), so the results are very applicable. As you can see in the rate distortion curve shown in Figure 4, below (higher is better), the NVIDIA codec edged the Intel Quick Sync codec and the x264 codec using the medium preset, while x264 configured to the often-used veryfast preset trailed considerably. Though both the Intel and NVIDIA hardware-accelerated codecs came out of the gate many years ago with quality-related issues, they’ve definitely reversed that deficit and now produce both quality and encoding efficiency that most software-based codecs can’t match.

Figure 4. NVIDIA proved to be top dog in my 2019 comparison. Click the image to see it at full size.

The fact that the 420 includes four hardware-based transcoders means that you can use these transcoders to encode video for your live-streaming service provider without impacting general CPU usage. So, you probably won’t have to buy a separate encoder for this task, thereby saving a few hundred dollars and eliminating one more piece of gear you have to pack when you’re hitting the road to produce an off-site live event.

Note that you can’t use any of the hardware encoders to produce ISO recordings of the input videos, which are all stored in QuickTime format using the Motion JPEG codec. This encoder has four quality settings—low, high, medium, and best—the last of which totaled about 70Mbps and delivered very good quality. If you’re storing ISO files, it’s likely for future editing or encoding, so Motion JPEG is probably a better choice anyway and is fairly efficient to produce without hardware acceleration.

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