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7 Rules for Mobile Multicam Success

As mobile devices have become more powerful and deliver higher-quality stills and video, it was inevitable that companies would emerge that leveraged these new technologies to produce multicam live-switched media production. So let's establish some ground rules for mobile multicam media production success.

The Features

There are three core apps and one additional app that currently offer what I call complete mobile production. By “complete,” I expect several features to be built in and not require additional external hardware to be able to do the following:

  • Connect with multiple external sources, usually phones, or hardware interfaces
  • Present a live preview of each of the sources before you select a source to record
  • Hold and play back internal video and still media
  • Switch between sources, cut, dissolve, PiP, and multiple sources
  • Record the main program internally
  • Overlay the video with titles, like lower-thirds, corner logos, full-screen graphics, or animated graphics
  • Compress and send the main program to a CDN

(Note that when I say these devices do not require external hardware to be able to connect with multiple external cameras, I need to clarify this. One thing mobile devices are not great at is Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is at the core of eliminating the wires and dramatically reducing the amount of gear that a person needs to bring. Circle back to Rule #1 for more on this.)

Additional features that further increase the convenience factor, and often the production value, include being able to perform these tasks as well:

  • Provide audio-level control of the main source, playback clips, and remote cameras
  • Chromakey internally and replace a background with still or video
  • Remotely change camera ISO, white balance, focus, and even zoom/sensor crop
  • Remotely control a motion head to PTZ camera(s)
  • Receive social media comments in the app and be able to incorporate them into the program
  • Save “scenes” with multiview PiP and overlays already set up
  • Save “projects” with media and settings for different clients and destinations
  • Offer scoreboards for those who produce sports
  • Use a keyboard as a control surface
  • Pull in an additional screen, laptop, or mobile device over the network

When you get comfortable producing, it seems so easy and convenient to someone looking over your shoulder as you live-switch a seven-camera show with video playback, titles, and more. All they ask is, “What app is that?” They don’t realize the skill and time re-quired not just to master running the show, but to make sure all the pieces you use work together perfectly. Being confident in your work and your skills— no matter the tools—is the key.

For a current (as of November 2019) comparison of the features in these apps, scroll down to the tables in this article.

A key standout difference among the apps is that Cinamaker (Figure 6, below) is the only one that records all of the feeds to the iPad in real time. You can go in and edit your show seconds after finishing the recording. Teradek records only the switched program on the iPad. Switcher Studio records the main program on the iPad with an option, called Director Mode, to collect camera recordings off the phones and then rebuild the show with the higher-quality ISO recordings. There is no in-app editing in Switcher Studio or Live:Air Action.

Figure 6. The Cinamaker user interface

Both Switcher Studio and Cinamaker also have the ability to hand over the content and live-switching information to other editing apps, such as Luma Touch, Apple Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere Pro. Check the app’s website for more details if this is important to you.

Pricing for the listed apps varies as well. Teradek Live:Air Solo is free. Teradek Live:Air Action (Figure 7, below) is available as a free app, with multiple in-app purchases. However, the Live:Air Action Bundle app is more economical, with a single $149 purchase price for all of the options at this time.

Figure 7. The Teradek Live:Air Action iPad app

Switcher Studio has discontinued its free, basic Go app, leaving only its subscription services. It has also recently adjusted the features available on different subscription tiers. The Essentials plan goes for $31 per month or $374 per year. The Standard plan is $49 per month or $588 per year.

The Cinamaker app is free to use with two devices, like Teradek. Upgrading to the Studio Package is $19 per month or $199 per year. You may see some mention of a Pro Package in various places. That tier was eliminated some time ago. It’s just free or Studio at this point.

One important Apple update from the 2018 article (go2sm.com/broadcaster) is the upgraded iPad Pro, which now offers USB-C. Whereas Apple’s Lightning connector could communicate with only one dongle, offering one solution (USB, HDMI, DVI), now the USB-C connector enables a single iPad Pro to use one USB-C dock for HDMI out, Ethernet in, USB audio, connected storage media, power, analog audio out, and more. This is a huge improvement.

Coupling this with the recently released iPad OS and the ability to move files around more directly, use multiple apps at the same time, and more means that these mobile tools are continuing to evolve and handle even more complex tasks. They are quite nearly desktop-like, while leveraging specialized hardware that makes media production easy.

Even iPhones now offer increased capability, with the new OS finally enabling app makers to address the different cameras in-dividually. Now, depending on the app, you can select other cameras in the same handset. The biggest payoff is using the 2x camera, with an external 2x lens, and then adding a 2x sensor crop for an effective 8x compared to the “normal” camera. For anyone needing longer reach, this is a fantastic new capability.

These apps and devices will continue to evolve, putting more capabilities and power in the hands of mobile multicam media streaming production pros.

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