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The Connected Camcorder: Pros and Cons of In-Camera Wireless Capabilities for Live Delivery

As we enter the "Internet of Things" era, when all sorts of "things" are directly reachable over the internet, it should come as no surprise professional camcorders are coming along for the ride. They are actually somewhat late to the game, with smartphones already providing the ability to send a video out over the internet from the same device that captured it for quite some time. But connected professional camcorders have a lot to offer users looking for a streamlined professional streaming solution that video-capable smartphones can't deliver.

Why Stream From a Camera?

As with anything that can be connected to the internet, actually connecting your Wi-Fi-ready camcorder isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. But the need for video to be seen and heard remotely has almost always been a given. The internal streaming capability provides a different method of distributing the A/V from the camcorder.

Take, for instance, the most obvious application: a newscast. A reporter on the scene can have a connected camcorder with a good zoom and a good handheld or lavalier microphone and be able to provide excellent quality video and audio back to the studio without needing any production truck at all. If need be, the newsroom can call the reporter on her cellphone and talk to her through her Bluetooth headset.

But other capabilities abound. For instance, if the processing delay (latency) of the stream is small enough, a streaming feed can be used for a remote camera as part of a multicamera production. Whether it’s located far away, or even right smack in the middle of the crowd, a camera with no wires connected to the internet gives a producer “go anywhere” mobility that wired cameras can’t match.

Cameras have used wireless feeds with external devices for many years. And there is nothing wrong with those systems. Most often, those high-end systems connect to studio cameras so the camera can be adjusted remotely for exposure, iris, and the like, with a return audio feed for both the camera operator and the on-camera talent transmitted wirelessly to the camera. But these systems are very costly and require expensive, high-end broadcast equipment at both ends.

As with all technology, this type of capability has migrated into other areas not originally considered, and now many prosumer camcorders have this capability baked into the cameras themselves. This not only lets someone stream from the camera to the world at large, but also to use that capability in other creative ways. For instance, he or she can stream within a room, via Wi-Fi, from the camera to the production switcher. So now the production camera can be in the audience providing a unique viewpoint instead of tied to a riser or restricted by cables.

Another use would be to provide a live feed to key personnel who are not able to be on set or at the event. A creative director, or even a client, could tune in to a private streaming channel and see what the camera sees and provide approval or recommendations to the on-set crew. This simple feature keeps everyone in the loop, and helps avoid costly reshoots when everyone’s vision is not entirely aligned.

Lastly, in terms of dramatically reducing the amount of streaming-specific gear you need to bring to a live event or other on-location shoot, a connected camcorder provides a multitude of services in one very compact unit. It offers cost savings, ease of use, and portability, but also a single point of failure. If the camera dies, you lose the video feed, recording, streaming, audio—everything. That situation is extremely rare, however, and a connected camcorder replaces a lot of separate gear for the simplest webcasting tasks.

Old and New

Just before writing this article, I finished a week’s worth of streaming for Bell Helicopter that included four separate webcasts in two locations, plus setup at each location on two different days. To facilitate this production, our crew used a Panasonic video mixer to handle one or two cameras, and input from a laptop for video playback. At one location we were also tied in to the massive projection screen to provide IMAG to more than 300 in-room attendees.

Audio came from the house because Bell was already going to be mixing the CEO’s lav as well as multiple handheld microphones. For one webcast, we integrated a call in from overseas. The house audio fed into a very compact audio mixer, which enabled me to quickly adjust the audio so the web feed was loud enough without clipping. The audio and video were both fed into an AJA Ki Pro Rack for recording the FullHD program. Two SDI outputs went to two Blackmagic Design capture devices and two laptops with Telestream Wirecast for uploading our A and B streams to our streaming service.

We normally have both a multiview monitor and a dedicated program monitor but in this production, as shown in Figure 3 (below), we were providing two different “programs.” The live camera would stay live for the webcast, since our interface shows the slides separately. The CEO wanted the slides to stay up in the room. Then when the video played, we’d switch to the video for both programs. So I used just the broadcast monitor to show the multiview and I used tape on the monitor to show that the preview bus was the webcast, while the program bus was live in the room.

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Figure 3. Broadcasting two different program feeds: one to web, the other to IMAG

Moreover, the facility was wired up for HDMI, so I had to use my HDMI port for program out instead of multiview. So I used the internal crosspoint router  to feed the multiview out one of the SDI ports to the professional monitor on my table.

We also used one of the laptops to make an additional video recording. This was a backup to the AJA Ki Pro and proved beneficial when the AJA Ki Pro had a media error and could not record. Lastly, there was one more laptop that utilized the presenter/producer interface so I could control the slide changes on the webcast as the CEO changed slides in the room (Figure 4, below). Make no mistake, he bounced around as he saw fit.

 

Figure 4. Tech-directing the Bell Helicopter CEO’s presentation

Add all the cabling and you can imagine how making all this come together (not to mention packing it onto a cart to carry it all from place to place) would be complex enough that it’d be worth it to simplify any part of it—streaming included. Enter the JVC GY-LS300 with its integrated streaming capabilities: certainly not solution for a multicamera switched stream, but one with interesting possibilities for other types of live streams.

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Free upgrade for all current GY-LS300, GY-HM200, and GY-HM170 owners adds log gamma setting and a unique Prime Zoom feature to the GY-LS300, as well as a histogram and new 70 Mbps 4K recording mode for all three camcorders
In Part 2 of this review we'll focus on image delivery, comparing the JVC LS300's HD and 4K image-making capabilities with the Panasonic DMC-GH4, focusing on its handling of deep shadows, bright backgrounds, variable sensor mapping, depth of field, sharpness, and aliasing.