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Review: NewTek TriCaster Mini--Small Package, Big Potential

Company's newest TriCaster fits in a backpack, assembles quickly

When I met up with Philip Nelson, NewTek’s Chief Relationship Officer, late last year for a demonstration of the NewTek TriCaster Mini, it was in a nondescript space in the company’s headquarters, a sort of break room/gathering area that’s used sporadically for intra-company events. Not exactly the glitzy training room NewTek uses to demonstrate its upper-end TriCasters, which can run in to the multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

But that was sort of the point. The TriCaster Mini is a return to the roots for a company that made its bank on being able to provide a video mixing product at a price point that other video mixing or video switcher companies wouldn’t even consider high enough for an accessory add-on to their much more expensive solutions.

In this nondescript space, sitting a folding table, Nelson made a promise: that I would be impressed by how fast the TriCaster Mini, his two cameras, a USB-based external monitor, and even a green screen—all of which fit into a semi-luggable backpack—would be set up and ready for production.

Less than five minutes later, according to the timer run by NewTek PR head Scott Carroll, I was convinced. Philip was ready to begin recording, complete with two small lights and a tripod for one camera—the other camera was mounted on the tabletop, next to the TriCaster mini and the external USB monitor. It was like watching a future version of the run-and-gun production techniques many of us use, but complete with lower-thirds graphics and even a virtual set.

By now, as we approach next month’s National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) tradeshow, you’ve probably read a review or two of the TriCaster Mini, touting its outsized capabilities for such a diminutive device.

My review is going to be a bit different, as I focus on the small touches that make the Mini worth considering, both from functional and workflow standpoints.

Form Factor

No review of the TriCaster Mini would be complete without a mention of the form factor. For a computer with an integrated screen, plus four HDMI video inputs and two HDMI video outputs, the unit is less than a quarter of the size of previous all-in-one video mixing devices like the MediaSite rich media recorders or even the older all-in-one Viewcast Niagara or Pinnacle briefcase-sized all-in-one video mixers.

To demonstrate just how small the unit is, look at the image below, which compares all the products in the shipping case to the size on an iPhone 4s (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. The size of the TriCaster Mini’s components compared to an iPhone 4s.

In fact, the largest thing in the shipping case was a keyboard, which is not pictured in Figure 1. If you’re thinking about going fully portable, I’d suggest foregoing the wired keyboard and mouse, and carrying a small Bluetooth USB dongle, which would then allow use of a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

In my personal business travels, whether to India or Istanbul or just to Iowa, I travel with an Elleven-labeled backpack that includes a mini server, along with a laptop, a few changes of clothes, and other essentials. In the backpack I carry the same Bluetooth combo dongle-keyboard-mouse mentioned above, plus an Apple TV and two HDMI cables. It’s tight but it works.

If I were to switch out the Intel NUC server for the TriCaster Mini, it would probably require pulling out about one-third of my clothing choices, and would make carrying it on my back, rather than just slinging one strap over my shoulder, essential. But it would definitely be doable, if cameras, microphones, lights, and tripods were already on premise at the venue at which I planned to shoot.

Said another way, if you threw the TriCaster Mini into a backpack not stuffed full of video gear, but complete with power supply, a few cables, and the Bluetooth combo mentioned above, there would be room to spare. I tried it, and the backpack felt a bit empty, an odd feeling when you understand just how much production and streaming power is sitting at the bottom of the backpack.

To show how compact the TriCaster Mini is, here’s one more shot, out of the shipping case and alongside the same iPhone 4s (Figure 2).

Figure 2. The TriCaster Mini out of the shipping case, again compared to the iPhone 4s.

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