Cut The Wire

Let’s start with a caveat: This is not, for want of a better phrase, a technology article. Learning about the emerging age of HD wireless transmission primarily is about artistic freedom: to go anywhere, shoot anything in HD and not be encumbered by wires and cables.

A second caveat: This is not about "TV." Now that HD digital video technology is in every facet of entertainment and visual production—motion pictures, TV programming, live events, sports, arena video, casino monitoring, medicine, trade shows, national security… Have I forgotten anything?—HD wireless has a place in any discussion where shooting HD images and capturing them wirelessly for recording, monitoring or airing live is a consideration. No system is perfect, but proponents of the technology argue that the freedom that wireless gives to creatives is well worth any downside.

For the most part, the wireless systems used most in production have lightweight transmitters attached to stationary or portable cameras. Most transmit back to a base station that’s sold with the unit, although there are some options.

While several companies offer this technology, the systems offered by Link Research Limited (www.linkres.co.uk), Nucomm (www.nucomm.com) and IDX (www.idxtek.com) seem to be the most widely used. Each takes a different approach to the technology and is available at different price points: Link and Nucomm in the $80,000 to $100,000 range; IDX for about $6,000. The Link and Nucomm systems use leased wireless frequencies, which allow shooting wirelessly over long distances. IDX uses the public 5.0 frequency, which at best has a 150-foot range. Link uses a proprietary version of MPEG-2; IDX provides essentially uncompressed signals; Nucomm offers MPEG-2. And advocates for each system have different takes on the latency issue and how it affects—or doesn’t affect—motion-picture and television production.

Is one system better suited for a particular medium? Advocates for a given system will tell you so, but an overview of this emerging technology makes it clear that creative engineering and, of course, budgets are the best determinants of what system will best work for any production need.

HD WIRELESS GOES TO THE MOVIE

Some may find the idea of using HD data recorded on tape with an MPEG-2-based wireless system a somewhat dubious source for material that winds up on the silver screen, but Greg Johnson, president of RF Film, Inc., in Los Angeles (www.rffilm.com) lives to tell the tale. "While the MPEG-2 recording is generally a reference recording," he says, "in some things we’ve done, we transferred data to stationary tape machines, then filmed it out."

RF Film caters to the motion-picture industry, supplying productions with long-range, video-reference wireless systems from virtually any film camera, and more recently, from HD cameras, including the Panavision Genesis and Sony CineAlta HDW-F900 systems. In 2008, Johnson’s company supplied wireless systems to roughly 25 film productions, with setups ranging from mobile and aerial ones to Steadicam, handheld and multicamera shoots.

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