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Commentary: What the New 4K NewTek TriCaster Mini Brings to the Table

NewTek has revitalized the TriCaster Mini with some powerful new capabilities. As a long time TriCaster user, and a Mini owner, I took particular note of this announcement to see what the new 4K-capable Mini brings to the table compared to my Mini HDMI.

On November 7th, 2019, 14 years after NewTek first introduced the iconic TriCaster, NewTek makes a big update to the diminutive HD production platform by revitalizing the TriCaster Mini with some powerful new capabilities. As a long time TriCaster user, and a Mini owner, I took particular note of this announcement to see what the new Mini 4K brings to the table compared to my Mini HDMI.

Joining the Mini HD-4 with HDMI, and the HD-4 SDI, the new Mini is simply called "Mini." To avoid confusion when talking about the different models, I'll call it the Mini 4K. It features some dramatically different hardware inside and upgraded video handling. 4Kp60 is the standout upgrade. Whereas the previous models were 1080p30 and 720p60 capable, mine would not even understand a 1080p60 feed. The new Mini jumps all the way to 4Kp60 capability, and handles everything lower than that, of course.

NDI Inputs

The new TC Mini features eight resolution-independent video inputs via NDI:

  • 2160p 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.976
  • 1080p: 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.976
  • 1080i: 59.94, 50
  • 720p: 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25
  • SD: 59.94, 50, 25

The key thing to note is that the new Mini 4K is NDI only. There are no HDMI or SDI inputs on the Mini 4K itself, so any input will have to go through an external NDI converter or be a device that offers NDI output natively. Converters start at around $350 for HD, and about $500 for 4K converters. The Mini 4K is available for a base price of $8,995 which includes two input modules (HDMI to NDI). Other bundles are available with a control surface, PTZ cams, etc. So if you have an all HDMI or SDI setup, you need to figure in the cost of the converters as well. Moreover, this is not eliminating wires, just changing from a direct point-to-point video cable to an IP-based solution.

This alone may have larger benefits as a single camera converted to NDI can now be seen by multiple video mixers, or destinations. With enough network bandwidth, or multicasting, a single NDI camera can feed multiple displays directly (with NDI to video converters) or it can even be used as a source by multiple video mixers to produce different cuts of the same event.

PoE

The Mini 4K's focus on NDI continues to the back plane of the Mini where there are four discrete Power over Ethernet (PoE) ports specifically to power these external NDI converters if connected directly. These PoE ports also work with the many PTZ cameras that feature PoE and NDI--meaning it's a single cable run for power, video, and camera control, directly from the Mini, without the need for an external PoE switch and power supply. My existing Mini HDMI power supply is pretty big, and to be able to power a more powerful Mini, as well as multiple PoE devices from the new power supply means that Newtek clearly upgraded the supply for the Mini 4K. Normally a Ethernet switch with PoE has a pretty sizable power adapter of its own.

There are also two network ports--one for WAN, your connection to the internet. The second port is for your LAN, enabling you to take in 4 more NDI sources over the local area network. Again, removing the need for an external router to handle these disparate tasks. By removing an external router, an external PoE switch, and the power supplies for those devices, NewTek greatly simplified the kit needed for setting up. In addition the Mini has built-in WiFi so with the Wireless Spark, you can even go direct to the Mini without wires.

Other Ports

USB also gets a bump up with the Mini 4K, in that there are five USB 3.1 ports now, as opposed to 3.0, and there is also a USB-C 3.1 connector as well. This makes external media essentially as fast as internal, especially if you are using SSD or RAID media. So if you need to record internally, and externally for immediate handover to a client, this feature bump makes it easier than ever.

The next big physical change is that the Mini loses the HDMI and DVI ports for monitoring. These are replaced with Mini DisplayPort ports. These tiny ports require the use of dongles (which can lock into the Mini) to convert to HDMI or whatever your monitor needs. Two of these outputs can be multiviewers, like we are used to using. But now there are four outputs total. I personally preferred a standard HDMI output, but there's not the space on the mini to offer four full size HDMI outputs.

Skype TX

The Mini 4K also incorporates SkypeTX, formerly a stand-alone hardware product for bringing Skype callers into a live production. I look forward to seeing how this works within the Tricaster's existing interface. Newtek says you can capture your sources during a production in any resolution or frame rate. You can also trigger replays from the Program or Preview bus on any input without using a separate replay system. Just make sure you have enough storage for all that recording. 

Mobile Delivery

Another real-world added feature is support for streaming square or vertical video for delivery to mobile devices, Instagram, and the like. I've had a couple inquiries about this, and it's nice to see it integrated into the system as a key setup point.

Streaming Encoders

Like the Minis before, the Mini 4K also comes equipped with 2 streaming encoders but replaces the spinning disks with a 1TB SSD for live recording, enabling much better real-time utilization of recorded and stored media. This new model comes up-to-date with NDI-4 and all the advancements of Advanced Edition 3, which are available upgrades for existing Tricasters, but it's very handy to know that the Mini 4K comes with all that already in place.

Premium Access

The Mini 4K also comes with 6 months of NewTek's online Premium Access service for free. This includes Story Creator, Unlimited NDI recording. Live Graphics, and a host of other advanced features. You can read more about these features here. Normally $200/mo, getting 6 months included with the purchase of the Mini 4K is a very nice perk.

I've already completed a few productions leveraging NDI converters, NDI PTZ heads and even the NDI app on cell phones as additional cameras. One was a 6-camera, live-switched wedding stream to an international audience. It felt a bit weird producing a 6-camera show, with not a single video cable plugged into the front of my Mini HDMI. Even though I really wish the Mini was a 1 RU design for easier integration into portable racks, IP video is where the future is going and I'm glad to see NewTek jump forward and firmly plant a new Mini 4K in the NDI world.