The more people on set who can monitor the image the better, and with the new Mars 400S from Hollyland, you can work with both a pro monitor and multiple phones at once.
If you've been on a production, you probably are aware of the traditional monitoring setup that has a transmitter that attaches to a camera, and along with that transmitter is a receiver that attaches to a monitor. This allows those on set to view what the camera is seeing from a distance.
Here is where Hollyland's Mars 400S steps in and gets interesting. Not only can you create that traditional workflow, but you can also pair that same transmitter with up to 3 mobile iOS or Android devices over Wi-Fi to allow more people to monitor the signal from the camera.
Now of course this type of technology isn't new. There are solutions that do both of these things individually. For instance, the Teradek Serv Pro is a popular option for connecting up to 10 mobile devices to monitor your image in realtime while you work. That device received a new firmware upgrade for remote monitoring to boot. In fact, my default setup these days is a Bolt from the camera to video village, then a Teradek Serv Pro in video village for more folks to have access to the video signal. By integrating both features into a single unit, Hollyland makes the setup easier. One device to get a signal to, one device to power up, and one device to bring to set.
The trade-off is a smaller number of attached receivers. You can pair the transmitter with up to 2 receivers to plug into professional monitors and up to 3 phone units. For the price of the unit, 2 dedicated receivers is a very reasonable number and will cover the needs of many small productions well. By giving the director a handheld monitor with the full-sized receiver, or attaching it to a reference broadcast monitor and having other crew members attached to the cell phone signal, you allow even small teams to have a level of monitoring flexibility that used to only be possible on larger budgeted projects.
It goes without saying that this is especially useful under current social distancing set protocols. While it used to be nice to get a few people around video village, we should be standing at least 6 feet apart on set. Now with a single setup, more people can monitor the signal from the camera without having to stand directly next to each other.
While the Mars 400S is a budget-friendly option, it's not without key features. It has both SDI and HDMI connections on both the transmitter and the receiver, and it cross-converts between the 2 signals. If you plug in an SDI camera, a signal still comes out from the HDMI port on the receiver. It features transmission modes that either prioritize image quality or speed, and most filmmakers will likely stick to the speed setting, especially if you are considering pulling focus wirelessly through the unit. It functions at up to 1080 60p, and best of all, it will transmit to both the normal receiver and an Android or iOS app.
The app itself is pretty bare-bones, but it does the job. While not nearly as slick as the competition, it is fully functional and does the job that it needs to do quite well. In addition to seeing the image, you have a full menu of items like false color, waveform, and histogram to help make exposure decisions. There are 3D LUTs you can apply, and it comes pre-loaded with common Canon and Sony LUTs. Hopefully, you can add in your own in the future.
Filmmaking is a world of smaller companies without robust dev teams and we frequently run into apps that just don't work. While the app isn't perfect, for example, even when it's set to English, the pop-ups still appear in Mandarin, it's functionality far outweighs the drawbacks.
In fact, there is a nice feature where you can grab either a still or video capture, draw on it, and send it to messaging straight from the app. This kind of thing is incredibly useful when you want to communicate precise points to team members. It shows that this product is built by folks who also use the gear themselves, or at least are talking frequently to people who do use it. While most phones have this built-in to some app or another, it's nice to keep it in-app and be able to get back to the video signal as quickly as possible.
Pairing between the app and the transmitter is available via QR code found on the unit, or by attaching directly to Wi-Fi and entering a password. I wasn't able to get the QR code working on my iPhone 11 Pro, but going to the Wi-Fi network and entering the password worked immediately. You can, of course, change the Wi-Fi password so that random folks near the set can't log in and see what you are shooting without your permission on their phones.
The same isn't true for the hardware receiver. The big deal breaker for some will be the lack of encryption. This means that while you are broadcasting someone else with another Hollyland receiver could listen in. While it seems unlikely, if you were working on a set with celebrities, someone might see your Hollyland Mars in the background of a press photo and decide to hang out in the parking lot with a Hollyland receiver to see if they can catch something. For most of the jobs I do, that isn't going to be a big deal, and the price/performance ratio makes it largely a non-issue. You won't see these on Jurassic World: Dominion, but Hollyland isn't aiming at that market.
Where they are aiming is the smaller shoots that want more tools to help filmmakers stay further apart. With this setup, you can have up to two RX units, so you could have one monitor for the director, then you could have another monitor for the DP or producer. Then the gaffer, production designer, or other key creatives could all fire up the HollyView app on their phone for image review without crowding around the monitor.
It's a cost-effective method for getting more monitors and thus fewer clusters on set. For smaller, to even mid-sized shoots, where encryption isn't vital, this is a real option to consider, and combining both traditional wireless and app wireless into a single unit is a real game-changer. The units are available with built-in Sony NP battery mounts that make them incredibly simple to set up on your rig, even if your rig doesn't have external power ports.
Remember that the 400 feet referred to in the 400 product name refers to "line of sight," so it will pass signal 400 feet on an outdoor football field. This is a great unit for working on a contained set, but the signal likely won't go too far, especially when contending with walls. If you have a chance to test at a location or tech scout, it's best to do so to be on the safe side.
The Hollyland Mars 400S starts around $650 and is available now.