Electronic Design

Video Gear Takes HD Streaming To A New, Cost-Effective Level

As a longtime fan of the New York Yankees, but one who had never witnessed the parade up Broadway after a World Series win, I thought seriously about going this year. After all, our offices are in Manhattan, so I figured I could sneak out for a couple of hours to view the festivities.

When I came into the office that morning, though, reality sank in. There was a last-minute meeting to attend and lots of other work to do. But I still wanted to see what was going on, even if not in person.

I don’t have a television in my office, so I tried logging on to the Yankees Web site. After poking around the site for a bit, I finally found a mention of the parade. I clicked on that and a video player popped up showing the parade in a very good facsimile of high-definition TV.

I was delighted. I use a dual-screen setup in my office, so I had the parade video on the right screen and was able to do my work on the left—great use of the Internet, I thought.

At the time, I didn’t think about the cost to stream live HDTV to the Internet in terms of equipment and manpower. This came to mind some weeks later when I was invited to attend a press conference given by a company called NewTek.

“NewTek TriCasts America Tour—HD Portable Live Production—TV Studio in a Mini Cooper,” the e-mail invitation’s subject line said. As you can see from the photo, it’s a nifty looking vehicle, and I thought it would make for a great episode for our sister property, EngineeringTV.

NewTek had outfitted this MiniCooper with two pieces of video equipment, a satellite antenna, and various other electronics. A guy from NewTek drove the vehicle from San Antonio, where NewTek is headquartered, to the West Coast and then back to the East Coast, stopping in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, and finally New York City—the last stop on the company’s Stream Or Die tour.

NewTek is not selling this setup. The Mini Cooper is simply a concept vehicle. But the company is selling the video equipment and the concept of a relatively inexpensive way to stream live high-definition video to the Internet. The key piece of gear is the TriCaster XD300, the latest member of NewTek’s TriCaster series and the first to make it possible to produce a live high-def video stream.

The other piece of video equipment squeezed into the small space at the rear of the car was the 3Play, a multi-channel, high-definition or standard-definition slow-motion replay system. Between the two of these, it’s possible to stream live HD video to the Internet and do replays, too.

I was curious about how these small but substantial pieces of equipment would be powered if a traditional electrical outlet wasn’t available. Company representatives said that the gear could be powered for up to three hours via a battery system with an inverter. I also asked about cooling in this small space, but they said that it wasn’t an issue, since they could turn on the car’s air conditioning, if needed.

The satellite dish on top of the car is not a NewTek product, but a turnkey system from a company called Todocast. In essence, you mount the dish on your vehicle, connect it to the video gear, and you’re set to stream live video over the Web.

Two keyboard consoles were attached to the backs of the front seats, with video monitors on hinges attached overhead. I sat in the back seat to give the system a try. It was a tight fit, but I could view the video on the monitor and control the various parts of the display with the console.

NewTek used three Canon XH G1S camcorders for the tour, since Canon was one of the sponsors. But the system works with other kinds of HD cameras too. One of the interesting capabilities of the TriCaster XD300 is that it can create multiple virtual inputs from a single camera source and switch between them. In one of the demonstrations, the console operator was able to zoom the virtual camera, while the actual camera remained untouched.

This type of equipment isn’t cheap. For example, the TriCaster XD300 sells for up to $17,995 on the NewTek site. But a company spokesperson compared this to costs into seven figures for comparable equipment used by major networks for broadcasting live events, not to mention the additional manpower needed to run these systems.

For more information on NewTek’s Stream Or Die tour, visit www.streamordie.com. To view the episode on EngineeringTV.

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