First Look: NewTek TalkShow VS-100

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NewTek today announced it is shipping the TalkShow VS-100, effective immediately. The product represents something of a sea change for the company, as its first foray in to the remote news gathering market.

TalkShow VS-100 is based on Skype TX, a technology that Microsoft acquired—and then extensively refined, over more than a year—from a U.K.-based company called Cat & Mouse, Ltd. The technology, marketed under the CatCall name, is an add-on to the Skype video instant-messaging-cum-videoconferencing tool that Microsoft also acquired within the last year.

Skype TX, which Microsoft showcased at NAB in April 2014, signed three hardware vendors around the time it was released to manufacturing in late 2014. None of the hardware vendors have been able to ship products, until today. The inability to ship product meant NewTek missed its self-imposed deadline in Q4 2014.

TalkShow is a departure from the two main product lines that NewTek generates revenue from: 3Play and TriCaster. Instead of gathering content from within the studio environment, either via Ethernet (IP) or traditional (SDI) cabling, TalkShow connects to any remote talent with access to the desktop or mobile Skype application.

From a hardware standpoint, TalkShow VS-100 fits into any studio environment, offering both SDI and dual Ethernet connections.

“The 1RU integrated hardware and software solution is broadcast ready,” the company notes in today’s press release, “offering two channels of HD-SDI I/O (1 in, 1 out), dual channel Ethernet connectivity, SDI-embedded audio, and professional XLR audio support.”

The one rack-unit form factor (1.75-inches high and 19-inches wide) means that TalkShow VS-100 is equally at home in a data center or a traditional AV rack in a corporate conference room.

Should the remote Skype connection signal go down or bandwidth quality dip, TalkShow VS-100 is designed to failover to a still image. This allows broadcasters to maintain their own quality parameters when it comes to remote talent and traditional news gathering. This may be especially important if the Skype call is to remote talent on a mobile device.

TalkShow VS-100 has a built-in set of video pre-processing tools. During a demo at NewTek’s San Antonio headquarters in November, a NewTek engineer demonstrated the ability to clean up Skype content, including both color and audio quality. Not only does TalkShow’s pre-processing render a better quality image to be output via its SDI connector, but it also seemed to do a good job at handling extreme lighting conditions, such as when a mobile Skype user stepped outside. TalkShow recovered nicely, enhancing the mobile device’s camera output without blowing out the image when the remote talent moved from a darker building into the sunlight.

While each of the individual enhancements for TalkShow offer quality improvements over Skype, the overall benefit of TalkShow VS-100 may well be its integration with TriCaster itself.

Direct network integration uses NewTek’s AirSend technology. This allows a TalkShow unit to supply a video call to TriCaster, and receive a return signal via Ethernet, rather than using SDI cabling. Think of it as a two-way IP camera connection.

TriCaster will also send a tally notification downstream to TalkShow to indicate when a Skype call is on air.

“TalkShow and Skype TX allow producers to fundamentally change the way shows are made by taking audience participation to a whole new level,” says Dr. Andrew Cross, president and chief technology officer at NewTek.

NewTek is providing an introductory price of $3,995 through the end of Q1 2015 as an acknowledgement of the slipped deadline. This pricing runs through March 31, 2015.

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