January 23, 2014

6 Features That Make the Teradek Cube an Amazing Camera Accessory

Camera technology is not the only reason it's an exciting time to be a filmmaker. Manufacturers such as AJA, Atomos, Blackmagic Design, Convergent Design and others offer increasingly inexpensive solutions for bolstering and customizing camera workflow -- especially when it comes to external media recording and monitoring. Some of these devices provide functionality shooters have long sought after, and still others bring capabilities some of us may never have even dreamed of. The Teradek Cube is one such device, and here is the first part of my full review.

Teradek is a manufacturer of next-gen wireless video technologies, a notably different mission than the aforementioned companies. Some of Teradek's offerings include the Bolt, for zero-latency HD-SDI transmission, and the Bond, for video streaming over cellular network. This post concerns the Cube, for real-time encoding and streaming of H.264 video. The Cube 155 HD-SDI encoder can transmit over 2.5/5 GHz WiFi or ethernet via LAN or even the internet. Its stream can be received by computer, iOS device, and Cube 355 HD-SDI decoder or 455 HDMI decoder. Its HDMI encoding brethren, the Cube 255, can do the same. The following points mainly concern the 155 HD-SDI encoder, but may, to lesser extents, also apply to the HDMI model and either of the decoders.

In exploration of the Teradek Cube and its capabilities, the phrase which comes most strongly to mind is 'power through versatility.' By virtue of its design the Cube can do borderline revolutionary things, some of which it can do at the same time, all the while able to be powered and controlled in multiple ways at once. As such, the operational flexibility it offers is rather astounding, providing myriad potential deployments -- to the point where my expectations for any camera-related piece of gear have been irrevocably raised. At the risk of hardly scratching the surface of what the device can do, the following points are those, I believe, which best sum up the powerful versatility of the Teradek Cube.

1. WiFi Means Cable-Free Camera Feeds with No Boundaries

teradek_cube_wireless_high_defintion_hd_h264_video_transmitter_stream_wifi_monitoring_ipad_mac_red_arri-2Though it my seem obvious given the Cube's job description, there's a lot to be said for wireless video monitoring. "Cut the cable" is, after all, Teradek's catch phrase. Now, you wouldn't necessarily want to use the Cube in lieu of the more purpose-built Bolt for mission-critical applications such as monitoring for wireless focus pulling -- but in dire circumstances you could make do. With a Cube already in play, the option to do so is there. Conversely, an iPad can easily fill in as a director's eyes on frenetic run-and gun shots. Since iOS streams don't carry audio, a laptop with VLC presents a low-budget solution for Cube decoding when remote performance monitoring, sound included, is needed.

If both audio and high-mobility are necessary, a battery-powered SmallHD with Cube decoder and headphones splits the difference between the prior two configurations. If a larger monitor village is a must-have but a long HD-SDI tether is impractical or prohibitive, the decoder again comes in handy. Even at relatively low (i.e., 2.5 Mbps) bitrates, Cube outputs a very reasonable 1080p in either the native framerate or a more NTSC-friendly time base, cross-converted in real-time, by a 355 or 455 decoder. Depending on the number of clients the network is serving, the bitrate can be pushed higher. Again, if it isn't up to quality standards, a more traditional solution may have to suffice -- but the Cube gives you the option.

teradek_cube_wireless_high_defintion_hd_h264_video_transmitter_stream_wifi_monitoring_ipad_mac_red_arri-3Perhaps the most significant thing about the WiFi aspect of the device in particular is the implication of the Cube's 'infrastructure' mode. Though the little guy can easily create its own ad-hoc wireless local area network, it can, much more importantly, tie into a WiFi infrastructure of your own design. This means that unlike it's direct-linked cousin the Bolt, the Cube is not limited by its own point-to-point signal range. Instead, its throw need only be limited by the reach of the network you have put in place, which is theoretically infinitely expandable. The Teradek Case is a slim Pelican-bound Mac Mini Server with Apple Airport Extreme Base Station designed exactly for this purpose. (Photos of Teradek Cube & Case, above & at right, courtesy Talamas Sales and Rentals).

2. WiFi Also Means Hands-Free, Remote Control & Configuration

There is another convenient and greatly significant by-product of the Cube's WiFi nativity -- remote control. The Cube can be extensively configured using the few basic button/stick controls on its face, but once it's hooked into WiFi infrastructure everything can be set-up remotely. This occurs via TeraCentral (free) on either a computer connected to the same WiFi network, or an iPad connected to that Network, or both. Given the Cube's MO this seems totally obvious, but it's huge -- count one less camera peripheral that needs to be hovered over by a crew or camera team-member for set-up, and you have one less crowded camera.

Given both WiFi-based monitoring and control (not to mention remote recording, see below), you have a device with very few peers -- off the top of my head, the original Ki Pro is one outboard recorder with available WiFi control, and GoPro offers the niftiness of both monitoring and control. In many circumstances, a pre-config of any device may be enough to alleviate most concerns of complicating a camera set-up. But when that simply isn't enough to easily troubleshoot in the field with a multitasking team, dedicated/remote iPad or laptop control could be a godsend. Or not: just as it can stream over ethernet in lieu of WiFi, the Cube's web UI can also be accessed over wired network connection if preferred or necessary.

3. Real-Time Cross-Conversion

The Cube isn't picky when it comes to the flavor of video, either. It can accept basically any resolution and frame-rate combination you throw at it, up to 1080i60, 1080p30, and 720p60 -- integer and non-integer. It also readily accepts/recognizes 24PsF, and has an active deinterlacer, which can be disabled if you need to do so for some reason. Between two stages of settings in the encoder (i.e., input: 1080PsF24; stream: 720p24) and the output of the decoder, you can up, down, and cross-convert both resolution and frame rate, in real-time, to your heart's content.

In both the input and output/stream settings, running the 155 encoder in 'automatic' should be all that you need in most circumstances. Of course, it depends on the camera output, but these things are at least standardized enough for the Cube to work with you on pretty much any terms. Even the mighty Ki Pro (much beloved by myself), which is quite flexible in terms of input specs, will in-convert resolution-wise and not frame rate-wise. Such features, once again, highlight the down-and-dirtiness of the Cube.

4. Cube is an External Recorder -- With 3 Media Destination Options

The Cube can also play double-duty as an on-camera recording unit. Built as it is upon everything above, this isn't to be disregarded. No matter what settings you choose, you're talking H.264 of varying resolution, frame rate, and bitrate. But, much more importantly, the Cube doesn't care what storage it's recording to -- which is not something many other external recorders can claim. The Cube can record to Micro SD card, hooked-in flash drive, or, most significantly, remote NFS server. In practice, any folder on a remotely connected computer can be configured as an NFS server, essentially allow the Cube to beam recorded files onto your desktop machine as they're happening. This option unlocks one of the true latent powers of the unit.

Like many other recorders, the Cube 155 can capture SDI-embedded audio and be configured to trigger recording via time code (rec-run) or SDI metadata. In the case of RED, metadata such as file name, time code, and start/stop flags are read by the Cube, producing identical H.264 versions of camera-original RAW files. Similarly, in the case of Alexa, Cube reads start/stop and TC to create variable container (.mp4, .mov, etc.) H.264 versions of takes. In other words: this feature, combined with remote WiFI recording to computer folders, equals instant dailies. If you were wondering how Light Iron's Live Play & Todailies apps can provide iPad access to freshly recorded takes as insta-dailies -- the Cube is the part of the key.

This feature allows playback to be decentralized from the primary camera unit and becomes independently distributed among anyone with iPad access to Live Play. The camera team is freed to keep on trucking, not having to stop for reviewing takes. Functionally, this is similar to how film in the magazine only goes one direction, while video tap footage can be wound back for review -- except now, everyone has random access to any specific point they need to play back. And, in an indie environment where H.264 proxies are good enough to start offline editing, the Cube could even take the place of a more robust ProRes or DNxHD-type recorder.

5. On-Board Power Redundancy & Flexibility

Just as the Cube is fairly unique in its recording media agnosticism, it also doesn't care how it's juiced. The 155 provides both a 2-pin Lemo DC connection, easily adaptable to P-Tap or 4-pin XLR, or a micro-USB link. Between those ports and the accessories Teradek provides for a disgusting array of battery types -- Panasonic CGA-D54, Panasonic VW-VBG6 or CGA-E/625 BatterySony B Series, Sony L Series, Sony M Series, & Canon BP-970G, all for the 2-pin Lemo connection -- you can find a way to power the unit.

More importantly, the 155 unit contains a Lithium-Ion battery. You wouldn't want to operate indefinitely on the internal power, but it provides redundancy for when both camera and outboard devices need to brick-swap. For any device -- particularly the Cube, which operates on a mostly non-mission-critical basis and does in fact boot rather slowly -- this is important because it means no downtime. Outboard recorders such as the Ki Pro siblings, HyperDeck Shuttle, Ninja-2, and others require full-time external DC power to operate. Not that this is a deal-breaker for any of these devices, but self-provided power can mean one less thing to worry about.

6. Size & Mountability

Finally, the most obvious attribute of the Cube's small footprint is its physical size. At 2.5 x 3.5 x .9 inches, the Cube is rather tiny, and at 8 ounces, very light-weight. It wouldn't quite be fair to compare it to other recorders in this regard, as the other devices mentioned capture much greater-fidelity media than the Cube. However, if you are using the Cube as your only external recorder, it's certainly not going to weigh your rig down or obstruct you much by its physical presence. And with its ability to be mounted by either direct 1/4"-20 or hot shoe, you won't have too hard a time affixing the unit.

Wireless Video & Recording, 'Cubed'

The Teradek Cube does not necessarily replace any traditional extra-camera device -- nor does it really set out to -- aside from older analog solutions for wireless video transmission. What it does do is pretty much up to you. The Cube provides some fairly simple services, specialized as they may be, and leaves their implications up to a given application to harness them. To hear of experiences both good and bad with an earlier iteration of the Cube, check out Evan Luzi's writeup in the links below.

As a device, it definitely has its own learning curve and set of quirks. For your purposes the Cube may even constitute a superfluous piece of gear -- especially with its price starting at around $1,000 going up to a few thousand (depending on the model and encoder/decoder options), making it more of a rental for people who don't need its capabilities very often (rentals would likely be a few hundred or less). At the same time, it creates opportunities that have previously been impossible to shooters, and a variety of ways to approach them. I appreciate the "well, why not" design principle at the heart of the Teradek Cube and its unrestrictive openness of operation. Flexibility increases the value of any device, as adaptability allows for new uses instead of obsoletion. In short: it's always nice to have the option.

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Your Comment

18 Comments

Anyone know if it is a possible solution to work with the movi freefly?

January 23, 2014 at 10:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Colin

There's no reason why it shouldn't work, I'm pretty sure I've seen a rig like that before.

January 23, 2014 at 11:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

The small latency given by the cube is extremely frustrating if you try to frame from the signal. You will always be one step behind the action. Use the bolt, CMR's (camera motion research) radian or the parralink arrow. The cube is not the best tool for operation monitoring.

January 23, 2014 at 2:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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asa

On my test shoot with the Movi, I tired the Teradek and it was awful. Not only does it lag, which makes it impossible not to work in Majestic mode, it also keeps losing connection with the monitor whenever you move behind pillars or other obstacles (Which you will probably do with the Movi).

January 23, 2014 at 3:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Were you using the Cube or the Bolt? Bolt is typically used with MoVIs and has less than 1ms of latency. It is a line of sight transmitter just like the Paralinx Arrow so if you try to go through too many concrete walls then yes, it might break up more easily.

The Cube is good for non-essential monitoring since it has about 4 to 5 frames of latency (common with any H.264 based transmitters). This means your clients can pull up the feed in near-realtime on their iPads or iPhones without having to bother anyone on set. Cube is not a replacement for zero delay transmitters, its a tool that can provide a number of novel features most other devices do not offer.

January 23, 2014 at 3:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jeff

Is this compatible while recording RAW with the magic lantern on the 5D mark III? Just as a preview monitor anyways, or even for external recording. I doubt it can do any of the real time encoding to the DNG sequences.

January 23, 2014 at 11:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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This particular model we are reviewing is the HD-SDI version, but the HDMI Cube should be able to take the HDMI output from any camera, including the Mark III shooting RAW. You are correct in assuming that it would not be able to record any RAW DNG sequences, because that is something that can only be done onto the cards.

January 23, 2014 at 12:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Thanks for posting this!

January 23, 2014 at 12:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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With it's internal storage options, can it overcome the 4GB or other time limits that the Atomos line has been able to overcome?

January 23, 2014 at 12:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Antony Alvarez

Believe it creates multiple files and continues recording.

January 28, 2014 at 1:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Terran Baylor

I dont feel it is fair for posts to be removed, that was a serious question. Is this an advert?

January 23, 2014 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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jon apple

Jon, I work for Teradek and we had no idea this was coming out. I found it on Twitter after I saw a couple of people retweet Ryan's tweet about it.

January 23, 2014 at 7:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mike

Thanks for the response mike, I was serious as it as a very pro teradek review.

a note to NO FILMSCHOOL it would be nice to see you compare products rather then just talk about one as there are other options. A broader post about wireless monitoring solutions maybe?

As a side note, I dude use this product quiet a bit and it works very well. Not the most exciting tool in the world but very helpful for sure.

January 24, 2014 at 7:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Jon Apple

Can this do live wireless streaming like Cerevo LiveShell?

January 23, 2014 at 9:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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moebius22

Yes, Cube does live streaming. LiveShell is strictly lower resolution non-HD content - albeit probably an easier setup. Have used LiveShell and Livestream devices as well. All of them stream, but Cube offers a more robust and greater input compatibility.

January 28, 2014 at 1:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Terran Baylor

Can anyone point me in the direction of some information on video over ip? Streaming 101, Multicast/Unicast. I've been working with VBrick encoders and just want to start from the beginning and get a fresh start with all this technology.

January 24, 2014 at 8:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe

looks like it would be great for live events.. especially one you want to upload quickly.

January 24, 2014 at 3:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brenton

The Cube was and still is my only option. My goal was to live stream in HD from a small town in Japan. The multiple options for streaming services was great (livestream, ustream, etc), but in order to get a solid stream you need bandwidth! Researching other options pointed to extremely costly rentals or really high cost modem rental. The cube can stream to secondary Teradek "Bond" or "Link" to use multiple USB modems (up to 6). Connections to live-streaming services can only come from singe IP address which means the video chunks are split between the modems and combined on a middle-tier server, which Teradek provides (can install into Amazon EC2 cloud services). If you do the cost/benefit - this was about $5k solution compared with $20k monthly rental (nearest option). I might be a bit techie, but really just followed instructions and figured it out. Did contact their support for help a couple times and they helped check everything out. While I know this is really pushing the technology - it does perform as expected. Lag time with this setup was about 5 seconds, which for me was amazing considering double transmission and long distance transmissions. With Amazon EC2, I have a "Sputnik" server in Oregon and Tokyo, and cost was $100 for a couple weeks. Nothing was more gratifying than seeing sustained 4mbps on the Link, in a barely 3G cell service area!

January 28, 2014 at 1:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Terran Baylor