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Review: Paladin flypack

Smaller and smaller is the direction of mobile video production, and now video mixer, playback, recording, and streaming services are all being crammed into ever-smaller cases. Today I take a look at the Paladin Flypack, a Windows-based, portable production system by Paladin Innovators.

I saw the Paladin, in its distinct hot pink paint, at Streaming Media West in 2013. I decided to put it through its paces at Streaming Media West 2014. I produce a series of "Almost Live" vendor spotlight interviews on the show floor during the conference. Previously, I used two separate cameras, which takes a bit of editing to put them together, cut it down into a multicamera-switched program, and then add the graphics for a finished video.

This year, I decided to streamline my production a bit by using the Paladin so that I could do a three-camera live swicth on the show floor. The Paladin would allow me to do several key things: switch between three cameras live, record the shows internally on the Paladin, and mix the audio so I could see and hear the results as I was doing the production.

The Paladin leverages Wirecast 6 Pro, which is 3rd-party software from Telestream that can be used on most any computer that is powerful enough. The advantage of the Paladin is that it is a small-form-factor PC and it includes the Blackmagic Design Decklink Quad HD-SDI video card inside of the already-compact enclosure. In addition, Paladin offers a flypack that includes a monitor and packages everything into a nice small portable case.

At Streaming Media West 2013, Paladin was demonstrating their flypack with some very small "cube" cameras that offered full HD out over SDI. I asked to try these out as well. I also wanted see how my DSLR would work as part of the mix so I had Paladin send me an HDMI-to-SDI converter as part of the total kit.

In Use

Setting everything up was fairly easy because the Paladin came with the one-week-old Wirecast 6 pre-installed. This version was new to me--I had used only some older versions, and I primarily use hardware video mixers in my regular streaming and production work. In fact, I gave a lecture on video mixers for production during Streaming Media West 2013 and 2014. I have been in broadcast television for over 25 years, primarily using hardware video mixers. So doing everything in software, with a keyboard and a mouse, is still a bit new to me.

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Wirecast recognized each of the cameras with no issue, even when I went into the menus of the cameras and changed the settings so that they both output 1080p30 (there was no 24p option). Wirecast had no issue with the signals the cameras were supplying. I tried as best I could to match the color settings of each camera.

The little box cameras are CS mount, so they're designed to handle different lenses. One camera came with a prime lens, the other a zoom. For best flexibility, I removed the prime lens and added a zoom lens to the second camera. 

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The biggest challenge was getting the tiny sensor in the box cameras to look at least a little bit like the large sensor in my Panasonic DMC-GH4 DSLR. The settings in my DSLR are a little easier to navigate, and more comprehensive, so I endeavored to make my DSLR look like the two little cameras. Getting a good white balance once the production lights were set up was the biggest help. But I also had to adjust my DSLR's in-camera contrast, pedestal, and color. Even then, the difference in the quality of the chip, and the size of the sensor ensured that they would never look identical.

From the planning stage, I intended to use the DSLR as my wide two-shot, and each of the box cameras would be mounted either side of the center camera, on the poles of the two light stands, so they'd provide a single-person view more along the eye-line of the interviewer and interviewee. This worked out just as I expected it to. I would have liked to get a little more zoom out of the CS-mount lenses so I would have had closer individual shots. But for this review, it was certainly good enough.

Alternatively, I could have added two separate stands for each of the box cameras, but they were already zoomed in all the way and only about five feet from the talent, so I didn't want to clutter the area with two more stands that would be considerably closer. It would make the area more challenging for 13 guests to navigate through during the two-day shoot.

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