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Here Come the Gadgets!

Look at the bigger picture when the wave of amazing gadgets hits. It's already on the way. You can see it coming. Is that item worth the possibility that it fails? Who stands behind it if it does? We're all looking for the next "game changer." That's natural. There are now a lot of companies, half a planet away, trying to be the next NewTek with cutting-edge technologies. Watch your fingers.

The news arrived in September is that the NewTek brand is no more.

NewTek essentially rewrote how production was done—way back in 1990, more than 30 years ago. Founder Tim Jenison, Engineer Brad Carvey, and programmer Steve Kell made a video mixer in a $2,400 Amiga 2000 computer, as opposed to a dedicated $50,000 Sony video mixer. To say this was a game changer is insufficient. It was a whole new game-making live video mixing attainable to so many more.

NewTek’s Video Toaster, and then TriCaster solutions used common computing hardware, with a few video I/O bits, to do what formerly could be done only by dedicated hardware—that never improved over time. Software, however, could load new capabilities and features every year, as they were developed.

NewTek changed the industry again in 2015 by releasing NDI—a standard that put broadcast video onto an existing, low-cost ethernet TCP/IP network. Packetized video that could travel long distances over existing networking infrastructure as opposed to being limited point-to-point on specialized cabling. This again opened the door to HD and greater production to so many more.

NewTek was acquired by graphic powerhouse Vizrt a few years ago and in September, Vizrt chose to announce that the name NewTek was fading into the history books. But these days, innovation and new solutions abound.

In 2010, Blackmagic Design acquired Echolab—one of those big, expensive video mixer companies and re-released their video mixers for a fraction of the previous pricing. Then in 2019, they introduced the new ATEM Mini line of video mixers, putting four HD input switching, with internal scaling and retiming of each input, in the palm of your hand for just a few hundred bucks.

While they looked like very simple hardware video mixers, there was far more power "under the hood" that as accessible using a companion app to manage all the additional capabilities.

In 2015 Roland introduced the diminutive V-1HD mixing powerhouse, a small hardware mixer, again with additional capabilities accessible via software.

In 2017, YoloLiv kickstarted an Android tablet with physical HDMI inputs, again some hardware I/O leveraging the increased computing power of tablet-based chips. This essentially crossed over the hardware/software boundary line by starting with a software-based product and adding hardware to it.

Today, there is coming an onslaught of very small, but wildly capable video mixer/recorder/streamer solutions. All of them look to be the next great solution, like the TriCaster. From Spiro Link, Magewell, RGB Link, GoStream Deck, and more. Some products are designed to look like devices already on the market, others like something new. Each tries to offer different feature sets than existing solutions in order to stand out. Different strengths also means different weaknesses.

Some of these products are coming direct from manufacturing OEMs and the devices don't even have a "brand" name on them. I see them in my Facebook feed—like the Network Video Switcher-8. What is it? It's an NDI only (Network) 8-input Video Switcher from... I have no idea. There's no name on top. It looks like a very innovative product, but...

The ability of engineers and manufacturers to create something and ready access to worldwide shipping to deliver it direct from the factory themselves means you can end up with hardware that seems incredibly powerful. It does a lot. Cost so little. But when you have problems, there’s literally no one to tell.

This may sound like my recent column, Bulletproof Needs to Be a Standard Feature for Production Gear. But it’s really more of a cautionary tale. Having a company in between you and the factory means you have someone to turn to if you get a bad unit. The role of this in-between company is to ensure the manufacturing is up to specification. Hold the factory accountable to specifications, and to also be there for the end user. Of course, this adds cost, and complexity.

With this company in between, you have someone to report bugs to, and you have a hope that those bugs are addressed and fixed. Maybe new features get added over time, although companies need to balance themselves against spending too much additional engineering on product that’s already been sold and not generating any additional revenue. So don’t expect features that weren't listed on the box when you bought it.

These days, anyone can source nearly anything from AliExpress/Alibaba. Because of worldwide shipping regulations, it costs them less to ship it across Asia, across the entire Pacific Ocean, and across the USA, than it would for me to mail it to the next city. When your only recourse for a bad unit is to “return” it to the manufacturer in China. Shipping can easily cost more than the item itself costs you, so you don’t get it fixed and you end up absorbing the loss with no way out of it.

Look at the bigger picture when the wave of amazing gadgets hits. It’s already on the way. You can see it coming. Is that item worth the possibility that it fails? Who stands behind it if it does? We’re all looking for the next “game changer.” That’s natural. There are now a lot of companies, half a planet away, trying to be the next NewTek with cutting-edge technologies. Watch your fingers.

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