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Review: Panasonic LiveCTRL Multicamera Live-Switching PTZ iOS App

LiveCTRL makes the most of the broadcast-level video the Panasonic PTZ cameras deliver, in a simple, clean, and very easy-to-carry iPad interface.

When it comes to multicamera live production, there’s any number of broadcast-level companies willing to fulfill your needs. From Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Hitachi, to all the companies making video mixers, recorders, and streaming appliances. There’s no shortage of solutions to fill a trailer.

There are also several companies making integrated solutions, like NewTek Tricaster, and other software-based video mixing solutions like vMix, Wirecast, OBS, mimoLive, and others. These seek to integrate mixing, titles, video playback, graphics, recording, and streaming into one compact device.

The latest iteration of this are the iOS-based live video production solutions that I’ve written about: Switcher Studio, Teradek Live:Air Action, and Cinamaker. These offer many of the same integrated production features in an iPad Pro-based solution. But now, there's one more: Panasonic LiveCTRL (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Panasonic LiveCRTL

Panasonic itself has released an iOS app to produce multi-camera live production on an iPad. Now, this isn't an entirely new solution. It's based upon the core components of Cinamaker (Figure 2, below), and you need a Cinamaker license to add additional sources to the app, but Panasonic LiveCTRL does what no other iOS-based solution does: it directly interfaces with Panasonic's broadcast-level Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) cameras.

Figure 2. Cinamaker

This is a huge differentiation compared to solutions that are using cell phones as sources. While there's nothing inherently wrong with cell phones, they produce very good images, they are limited by their fixed focal length lenses, and the very deep focus that tiny sensors deliver. Put side by side with a prosumer camcorder, DSLR, or PTZ camera, the difference is immediately clear.

Panasonic’s LiveCTRL

Panasonic's LiveCTRL is written to interface with Panasonic's own Pan/Tilt/Zoom cameras, naturally. These cameras deliver broadcast level optics and capability: up to 30x optical zoom, real iris control, manual control of gain, internal recording, and robust I/O on the PTZ head, including full-size HDMI or SDI, Ethernet with the capability for Power over Ethernet (PoE) that means you can run one cable to the PTZ head and it powers the head, delivers positioning commands, and delivers the video back to the mixing device. This is very convenient for quick and easy deployment.

I had an opportunity to test the LiveCTRL software with Panasonic’s HE40HW PTZ head (Figure 3, below), which has a street price of about $2,200 for the HDMI version. This costs a lot more than an iPhone. But, as I said in my iOS App Quality Comparison article, the quality of the video you deliver is directly related to the quality of the camera you use. Using a broadcast-level camera delivers better video than a cell phone, period. No question.

Figure 3. Panasonic HE40HW PTZ

Moreover, using LiveCTRL to manage several PTZ cameras lets you use one camera for a wide shot, medium shot, close up, and five different audience reaction shots, etc. (Figure 4, below). It’s not just the one shot a cell phone is limited to. I used one PTZ in the middle of a stage to deliver multiple audience shots, multiple “over the shoulder” shots of the minister and the audience, 2 different choir shots, 2 different shots of the piano player, and close-up shots of a guest mic in the audience. A single PTZ delivers all this.

Figure 4. Working with the LiveCTRL app

For my test, I was loaned the Panasonic HE40 to do the review and was using a fully enabled version of LiveCTRL on a 2017 iPad Pro I already use for my other iOS-based productions. This is not the latest iPad Pros with the USB-C connector. I took the lightning port of my iPad to Apple's Lighting-to-HDMI adapter so I could capture the screen with a HDMI hardware interface from Cinamaker.

My network consisted of a single WiFi router/access point, which was the bridge between the wired connection to the HDMI interface, and the PTZ head, as well as the wireless connection to the iPhone and the iPad. The HE400 was powered with its external power adapter. I did stream it from the iPad, and recorded it internally on the iPad.

I used an iPhone to show the aspects of the app that I can’t demonstrate while the app produces a show. These other features include the ability to start a new session, or resume an existing session, with all the presets and media left in place from where you last used them. These "Sessions" are like Project files. This ability is pretty unique to the iOS space when it comes to live production apps.

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