Wireless video has become the latest must-have?
Not sure if you’ve felt that distant or perhaps not-so-distant call yet, the siren song of wireless video? What exactly do we mean when we say wireless video? It’s a somewhat amorphous term in the production world but generally, wireless video transmission is used by either:
A. Assistant Camera operators to pull focus, iris and/or zoom or DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) who’ll also monitor picture, tweaking the camera settings as the shoot progresses.
B. Directors, to see what the camera operator is shooting
Of course, there’s also video village, which if you’ve never been on a larger production set, you may not be familiar with the term. Video village is usually one or more video monitors that are set up and receiving the video feed from one or more cameras on multiple camera shoots. Depending on the production and the size of it, video village could just be the director and possibly producer, all the way up to good-sized video villages that may be occupied by a script supervisor, producers, writers, ad agency people on commercial shoots, along with clients and possibly the DP on larger shoots where the DP may not be operating a camera. Outdoors, video village is often placed under a pop-up tent and may have walls of curtains or Duvetyne to make the environment inside conducive to viewing the monitor(s) in ideal lighting.
This is all on the receiving end, but what about on the camera end—how do you send your video signal to the various people on set who may need or want to view what your camera is shooting? Just a few short years ago, wireless video systems were pretty costly and were really the exclusive domain of higher-budget Hollywood shoots. Since then, like every other form of technology, the costs for wireless video systems have steadily fallen while the quality and features have just as steadily climbed. Wireless video systems have become the cool thing to have on the many different types of sets.
Who Can Benefit From Wireless Video Transmission?
Even on small documentary shoots, for instance, if you’re a camera operator working in close quarters with a sound mixer, it can actually improve the sound that the sound mixer is capturing. How does wireless video improve sound? It’s simple, if your boom operator has a small monitor they can view as they boom, they can carefully ride the frame line, placing the microphone as close to the edge of frame as possible, making sure using the monitor that they can see when their boom mic intrudes into the shot. The closer the mic can be located to talent, the better the signal to noise ratio, which can give you better sound.
Hair and makeup artists, production designers, wardrobe and countless others can all benefit from an occasional look at what the camera is seeing as well. But there isn’t usually room for the entire production team to hover around a monitor in video village. Now that we’ve established how wireless video can actually improve the end product on set as projects are shot, let’s take a look at:
The Newest Way To Get Into Wireless Video With Little Budget
I recently shot BTS footage on a series of commercials. I was shooting on closed sets where space was at a premium. As the camera operator, I was able to carve out a tiny space, underneath some grip gear on set to shoot BTS footage of the commercial being shot. Unfortunately, the space on set was so tight; there literally was no place for my producer to be on set, so she had to wait outside the set. I realized that it would be valuable if my producer could at least see the shots I was shooting on set to offer her feedback and notes and to give me direction on other potential shots she wanted me to shoot.
I did a lot of quick research for this article and realized that even for the lower-end option, I was looking at probably over $3,000 to get set up with a wireless transmitter, receiver, monitor, battery system for all, cases, cables, sun shades, etc. Unlike on some higher-end projects we shoot, I didn’t think the client for this project would be willing to pay additionally for wireless video. If you can’t bill out the wireless system as a line item, you aren’t paying it off and eventually gaining profit from renting it to your clients, it’s just an expense. Sure, if we were shooting the commercials themselves, the client would pay for things like wireless video systems because the spots have higher budgets. But for BTS coverage, based upon our experience, the client would probably not want to pay for wireless video.
It seemed that wireless would help my producer do a better job and would ensure that I was shooting all of the shots she wanted and would make the end product closer to the producer’s vision for the shots she wanted. After doing some digging, I discovered that an interesting product that was shown at IBC 2019 was finally shipping, the Accsoon WIT08 Cineeye. I immediately ordered it to try it out to see if it would solve my issue.
There were two things that made the Cineeye extremely interesting to me, the first being that it was inexpensive. Perhaps too inexpensive, I bought it from B&H Photo Video for a mere $219. The second thing was that the Cineeye has no receiver because it uses wireless internet video instead of HDMI or SDI output, which is plugged into a video monitor. To view the output of the Cineeye, you merely download an app to your phone or tablet; select the Wi-Fi signal that the Cineeye is transmitting and you have live video in the palm of your hand. Amazing. And the app is no slouch as it has lots of different viewing tools and options, and you can even download LUTs into it to view LUT corrected output.
I ordered the Cineeye after the first day shooting when I discovered it might be helpful on set. It arrived before the day two and three commercial shoots the following week. The packaging was nice, the unit came with a ¼” 20 female socket on the bottom that would provide easy mounting points. The unit came with a variety of cables to adapt full-sized, mini and micro HDMI output to the full-sized HDMI input on the unit. The internal battery on the unit is rated to last around 3 to 4 hours, but the good news is the unit can be used as it charges. I first ran the Accsoon Cineeye with the D-Tap from my V-Mount battery powering my camera, but on the next shoot, I instead mounted a small Lithium-Ion candy bar battery to the rear panel of the Cineeye to save space and stretch the run time for the unit to all day.
I happened to have an iPad laying around that I used to use with our drone but replaced it with a Crystal Sky Monitor for the drone, so I decided to turn the iPad into a dedicated client monitor. I even happened to have a Hoodman for it and a ¼” 20 mount so it could be mounted to a light stand, allowing the iPad to be used in direct sunlight with the sunshade.
I put the Cineeye to work over the next two days of the commercial shoot and then the following week on a live event with three cameras so the other two camera operators could see my shot to make sure their shots were significantly different and editable against my shot. I attached one of my inexpensive Anker batteries to the back of the iPad holder so that the iPad could also operate for long periods of time. On both shoots, the clients were happy and impressed that I was able to provide them with a wireless video feed, quickly and painlessly.
If you mostly work in higher-end production, wireless video has almost become a given. But for BTS, EPK and documentary shooting that I often work on with lower budgets and leaner resources and crews, wireless video often has remained out of reach as many of these types of clients actually need wireless video for their shoots but haven’t yet become conditioned to budgeting for wireless video transmission. This will evolve. Once clients have used wireless video, they’ll want it and will value it.
The Cineeye is far from perfect. It uses a decent amount of battery power to run. The app isn’t great yet, but it’s very functional and usable. The transmitter is one more thing you have to hang off of your camera rig and one more source that you need to power. When you turn your camera and the Cineeye off to save battery, you sometimes have to reboot the app to see the live feed again. The Cineeye only accepts HDMI video, not SDI, so luckily our A camera has both types of outputs, but this does mean one more cable on your rig as well.
The range of the Cineeye is limited, around a 300-foot line of sight, but considerably less if there are walls between you shooting and your viewing audience on their phones and/or tablets. Speaking of which, the Cineeye supports being viewed by up to three devices at once. The app is available for iPhones, iPads and Android, although from what we’ve read, the performance on Apple devices is better. The picture is surprisingly good, but the Cineeye only transmits video, not audio, so your viewers will be able to see what you’re shooting but won’t be able to hear what your camera is recording.
The way I look at it, it was a very handy, easy, simple and inexpensive way to dip my toes into the wireless video experience. If it begins to pay off, it could be time to invest in a higher-end, more capable system, but if it doesn’t pay off, it’s still one nicer feature/service we can offer with our day rate that can be incredibly helpful in certain situations. I suggest picking one up and trying the wireless video thing, if you never have. It’s quite handy.