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Review: Wirecast Gear 420

In 4 days of testing with multiple severalhour productions, the Wirecast Gear 420 proved stable and responsive even when pushed to the edge.

Project 1: Distance Learning

The first project was a distance-learning scenario, where I combined a PowerPoint presentation with a shot of the instructor and audio. To produce this, I sent the PowerPoint slides from a Mac on the same network as the Gear system using Wirecast Desktop Presenter, a free Telestream application that is available for Mac and Windows computers.

To operate Desktop Presenter, you run it on the system hosting the application that you want to share (in this case, the Mac). Then you add the screen into the Wirecast project by typing its IP address into Wirecast. Telestream makes this simple by displaying the IP address in the Presenter app on the remote system. According to my Telestream contact, Desktop Presenter must be on the same LAN to work out of the box. While advanced routing from external networks may be possible, it’s not a workflow Telestream officially supports.

Figure 5 (below) shows Wirecast on the upper left, with a tiny preview window in the middle and the larger Live screen on the right. I’m sending the stream to YouTube Live, which is shown on the upper right. Performance Monitor on the lower left shows CPU utilization at around 10%, despite sending a 4Mbps stream to YouTube.

Figure 5. My first project, online education. Click the image to see it at full size.

For those unfamiliar with Wirecast, I built the shot used in the video in the Shot Layers dialog shown on the upper left. There, you see three layers: the white background layer on the bottom, the black Desktop Presenter window coming in from the Mac, and the live video coming in through HD-SDI input 1. Wirecast provides resizing, positioning, and cropping tools to build the composite shot, along with color correction, rotation, and other adjustments.

Overall, this is a pretty simple project, and Gear handled it with aplomb. Note that when producing this product, the Gear fans remained pretty quiet, though this changed for more demanding projects.

Project 2: Remote Interviews

In the second project, I put Wirecast’s remote production capabilities to the test, building a three-person interview that I streamed to Facebook Live and storing a 10Mbps 1080p version to disk.

As before, you see the layers on the upper left in Figure 6 (below). The bottom layer is a video background for the interview that I downloaded from YouTube. The image on the left is the local video from input 1. The center image came from my iPhone via Telestream Wirecast Go, a free app you can use to transmit audio and video from an iPhone to Wirecast. There is no Android version, though there are likely other ways to accomplish this, including NDI. The image on the right came in via Wirecast’s Rendevous feature and should work with any browser-based system.

Figure 6. A slightly tougher project with two remote inputs

While broadcasting and storing the program stream to disk, CPU operation came in at around 30%, which was surprisingly high for me. I also noticed substantial fan noise for the first time, which may disqualify Gear for use in a close-in quiet environment. It’s not blaring and would work fine from the back of the room at a training session, seminar, speech, or concert, but if you’re looking for a system to use in a small conference room, it might be a problem.

In Performance Monitor (in the lower left in Figure 6), you see the CPU utilization drop from around 30 to under 20 at around 2:14:45. That occurred when I stopped the video playing on the bottom layer of the background video. CPU utilization wasn’t a problem with this project, but if you have an otherwise CPUheavy production, you may want to use a static background or at least make sure the video is in a production-friendly format like Motion JPEG-encoded QuickTime as opposed to an H.264-encoded MP4 file.

I asked Telestream about fan noise and was told, “We had the new generation of Gear thermal tested by a third party, which resulted in custom air-ducting internally to both baffle sounds and optimize the airflow pathways. This extends the unit’s operating temperature range so it can be used outdoors at sporting events, as well as indoors in climate-controlled environments. Compared to an Apple laptop or other PC, the fans of those machines at idle are a little more quiet. Under load, they are loud enough to be picked up by a quality microphone as well.”

The bottom line is that CPU utilization generates heat, and desktop or rackmounted units are much easier to cool than notebooks with minimal fan noise because they are easier to ventilate. More complex projects will probably generate noise on any PC-based system.