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First Look: BirdDog FLEX NDI Converters

An exclusive first-look review of the new BirdDog Flex NDI Converter, a tiny device that delivers tally, audio, video, PTZ control, audio intercom, and power via a single Ethernet cable.

Today, I have an exclusive for Streaming Media: a first look the new BirdDog Flex 4K NDI converter.

Figure 1 (below) shows the Flex 4K. As you can see, the unit is tiny, and it’s very light because it’s plastic. It has two little fans in it and ports all the way around. Inside the box, you also have a power adapter and plugs for various, versions of outlets around the world. It all comes ready to go.

Figure 1. The BirdDog Flex 4K NDI Converter

Tally, Cooling, and Connectivity

The lines on top of the unit are not really heat fins or a heat sink because this is a plastic enclosure. BirdDog emphasizes that they really managed the thermals on this. I have had one running for three days and it’s barely lukewarm. There are a couple of small fans on one side and an air vent on the other side to keep it nice and cool.

You’ll see screw holes on either end of the Flex for an optional mount with a 1/4-20 thread on the bottom. You can put this mount on a magic arm or wherever. I added a small cold-shoe mount on so I can attach it on top of a camcorder. The mount (Figure 2, below) sells for about $20.


Figure 2. The BirdDog Flex Camera Mount

The top ring all the way around is your tally. Positioning it on top of the camera in the holder ensures that your entire crew can see it.

On the rear panel visible in Figure 1 you have your Ethernet which is PoE+. If you don't have power over ethernet, the unit also has a DC input. There'a a DC output which supports 15 watts out. Then the HDMI input. None of these Flex units have a loop through.

There's also a Flex OUT (Figure 3, below), which has HDMI output. It does not have a DC output. That one's going to be available late July or August. Each of the Flex units has the same list price: $399.

Figure 3. The BirdDog Flex OUT

Full NDI for $399

The opposite panel of the Flex (Figure 4, below) features RS232, an 1/8” or 3.5mm phone output. BirdDog says they will have adapter cables available so that you can use this input with various PTZ cameras. I use an NDI|HX PTZ camera, but if your pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera is RS232-based, the BirdDog Flex gives you full NDI for $399. Your PTZ camera might also have NDI available as an optional purchase. For Panasonic cameras, it costs $299 to purchase the NDI|HX license. For PTZOptics, it costs $599 to purchase NDI|HX. So you could purchase the lightweight version of NDI for $600, or you could purchase full NDI for $400 with the BirdDog Flex IN.

Figure 4. RS232 on the BirdDog Flex

The Flex is full NDI. There's big difference between full NDI 4K and NDI-HX. Full NDI is lower latency and higher bandwidth.

That said, you need to make sure your network is ready to handle the throughput. For instance, if you have five PTZ cameras on gigabit ethernet, and you want to do 4K from all of them, you can't do five 4K feeds on a gigabit network. Each camera is going to need close to 300Mbps.

If you want to do 4K, you’ll need to count your bits when you’re making your purchase, or just set all your cameras to HD and make them 100Mbps each. I'll show you how to do that when we go through the menu system.


Next to the RS-232 port is an 1/8” headphone jack, which is not needed for a PTZ camera, but if you're mounting the Flex on top of a camera, that headphone jack with BirdDog hardware will serve as your comms. Plug in a BirdDog headset and you’ll have microphone and headphones. You're able to communicate through BirdDog Comms when you buy any BirdDog device because it comes with Comms Lite and NDI Central Lite.

BirdDog includes the lite versions of these apps with the Flex. The pro versions of the software are available for an optional purchase. BirdDog says they plan to make Audinate Dante available for AV-over-IP on these devices as well for an additional $69. That way you can use the "audio in" to put Dante on an NDI network, and take Dante off the NDI network through BirdDog’s little converter boxes.

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