Generally, filmmakers call on RF Film’s wireless expertise for reference setups, allowing directors, DPs, etc., to watch action footage being shot live from film cameras rolling at a distance. The wireless reference copy is received as an MPEG-2 compressed stream and recorded on a discrete HD video recorder.
Johnson’s current wireless system of choice is the Nucomm CamPac2. Priced in the $80,000 range, the system uses MPEG-2 compression and QPSK modulation; it’s used with leased spectrum. While the CamPac2 is equally at home in live TV and sports production, Johnson’s company concentrates on its use in the motion-picture industry. RF provided wireless reference technology to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, which was shot in the wilds of Mexico, and helped Gibson and DP Dean Semler, ACS, ASC, monitor action sequences that would have been difficult, if not impossible, without wireless monitoring.
THE LATENCY ISSUE
It was on the Apocalypto shoot that the production came to terms with one of the issues that plagues some filmmakers when they consider using wireless HD in shooting motion pictures: the latency issue. The mantra is generally, "Shoot it live, see it live, allow no delay." If there’s delay—any significant latency—then the system won’t be acceptable.
Johnson shrugs that off. In Apocalypto, for example, the filmmakers knew that they would have to deal with the latency issue. "They had frame delay up to three to four frames," explains Johnson. "They needed remote control, and they understood there would be frame delay in communicating wirelessly to the camera units, but there was no other way to do it. We made it happen. You see a shot where an actor goes over a waterfall. It was shot with a Spidercam, panning and tilting the camera with a Libra head. Everyone understood there would be a latency in the controls and they lived with it." (On that shoot, an MB encoder was used; this was RF Film’s first attempt at wireless.)
The CamPac2 has roughly a half-frame delay. Adds Johnson, "It hasn’t been an issue as long as we understand what has to be and we work around it."
While Johnson is an advocate of the Nucomm system, he also recognizes that MPEG-2 eats up considerable bandwidth. He’s currently working on an H.264 system (not from Nucomm) that will deliver an HD stream at roughly 8 MHz-wide RF carriers instead of the 16 MHz channels in the Nucomm system that will deliver high-quality wireless video without the bandwidth overhead.
AND THE WINNER IS…
At this year’s Academy Awards®, "up-close and personal" reaction shots in HD were far more prevalent, thanks to the use of two Steadicam rigs and two handhelds equipped with Link HD wireless systems from Burbank-based Aerial Video Systems (AVS) (www.aerialvideo.com). This first use of HD wireless at the global show let the director deploy the cameras untethered, allowing them to go wherever he wanted in Hollywood’s Kodak Theater without the usual limitation of long cable runs.
According to AVS president Randy Hermes, Link has done some dramatic TV production, but the bulk of its work is in live or live-on-tape network television. In addition to the Oscars®, AVS provides equipment for Monday Night Football, Dancing with the Stars, the NBA All-Star Extravaganza, and countless network baseball and football games, golf matches and more. He estimates he provided HD wireless units to roughly 250 network and cable shows in 2008.