June 26, 2019

How Teradek and SmallHD Made Their On-Set Monitoring System Affordable

SmallHD and Teradek have worked together to make our favorite on-set monitoring solution now affordable even on independent budgets.

Hands down our favorite review last year was the 703 Bolt. If you have worked on a modern set, you are familiar with the rigged together monstrosity that is the directors monitor, with a battery plate and a wireless video receiver all mounted on a plate system to a monitor. 

It worked, and we loved being able to wander freely and see our shot, but man, it was never ideal. First hinted at NAB 2017, we got the 703 Bolt in the summer of 2018, which combined the video receiver and the monitor into one cohesive unit that you could mount the battery straight to and then put on some arms, maybe a neck strap, and wander to your heart's content. Simple, slick, clean, it led to us really calling the theme of NAB 2018 "integrations".

We got to spend a few weeks with it shooting Salty Pirate, and while I won't say that the crew fought over it, I will say that if it was put down for a second we would look up and it would be in the hands of the gaffer or the production designer. Being able to be out, on the set, making tweaks and seeing an accurate image was just too good to give up.  Having that without cables dangling everywhere was even better. We had our old directors monitor on set as well, and nobody was trying to put it to use.

Of course, that 703 Bolt unit was over $3000, and that's out of the budget for most of us. SmallHD fixed that this year with their more affordable Focus 7 Bolt which pair perfectly with Teradek's new Ace transmitters. Now, for around $2K (a little under for 5", a little more for 7") you could have both a transmitter to put on your camera, and a receiver with a monitor combo, which is sort of insane considering how zero-delay wireless video wasn't even an option on most sets.

First, we should talk about the Focus 7. Of course, at a lower price point, you have to give up something, and SmallHD made two sacrifices that feel completely acceptable as a trade-off to hit the price point but should be considered. 

The first is giving up buttons, making it an entirely touchscreen interface. Considering the strength of the OS that runs on SmallHD monitors, this isn't a huge problem, and most users will likely get so used to doing everything by touch. However, if you have a few really "favorite" button functions (scrolling through brightness modes, or in and out of false color), that will be a touchscreen menu change, not a hot button.

The bigger sacrifice, and the one to be conscious of, is brightness. The 703 Bolt was BRIGHT. You could easily wander around outside on a sunny day at high noon and see whatever you wanted to see. 3000 nits of peak brightness was and is a wonderful feature. The Focus 7 has 1000 nits peak brightness. Is this still amazingly useful? Yes. You can see things outside, but will occasionally need to shade a bit, especially in direct sun.

If you are a full-time car cinematographer frequently working in hot desert environments through the hottest part of the day, and you need your wireless monitor to help you operate a remote head and can't lose a second's image to passing glare, you'll want to spend more for the 703 Bolt. For most users, the Focus 7 will provide enough brightness for so many situations that you won't have an issue.  

The other unit to think about is the other half of the pairing, the new Ace 500. Again, to hit the price point, Teradek had to make some sacrifices, and the two big ones to be aware of here are that it's HDMI only and that it uses a different type of power connector than other Bolt products. HDMI will only be a drawback with certain high-end camera packages (notably the ARRI Alexa line), but you won't have an issue when working with basically any DSLR or mid-range digital cinema camera. Even almost every RED body has HDMI output.  

The other change is moving to a normal old barrel connector for power, while the rest of the Bolt line uses the more robust Lemo style connector. While the Lemo connector offers a lot of wonderful perks (it's never going to accidentally fall out, for instance), it is expensive. It's actually the physical barrel itself that is so expensive that even alternative vendors for cables are still expensive. 

The Ace line switches to a normal old 7-17V barrel connector. This is the type of connector you've seen on countless units in your workflow, including some hard drives, some lower end lights, some chargers. It's very common and very affordable. Lose your power cable and you might just have one hanging around the office. Just be sure to double/triple check the power ratings; even if the barrel is a match, if the plug puts out too much power you can fry a unit.

The benefit of this is a lower price, not just for purchasing the Ace itself but also every time you need a new power cable or a battery adapter plate. It's great. The drawback is that the barrel adapter can be pulled out accidentally. Do we think it's going to happen? It seems pretty unlikely to us, and if it does get snagged, you just plug it back in and keep working. While we understand the beauty of a Lemo connection, in this case, barrel battery is kind of a dream. Honestly, if there was an SDI Ace with a barrel connector we might be into it just to rig it up to the back of a video village monitor since the wall plug would be so cheap.

We had the chance to spend a few weeks with the units and found ourselves shocked at just the level of usability for the price point. Best of all, it works with other Teradek gear, and Teradek is currently the market leader here. So if you've got a Bolt system already, you can add the Focus 7 to that as another receiver (a single transmitter can connect to four receivers). If you're a director, you can purchase a Focus 7 and be reasonably assured that most sets you roll up to will be running Teradek.  

You can of course get a pair of Ace TX/RX to work with whatever monitor you have, and the Focus7 and Focus5 Receiver units work with any Teradek Bolt, but the price/benefit combo of the Focus7 and the Ace TX really hits a sweet spot.

Tech Specs: Teradek Ace TX

  • Supports up to 1080p60 Resolution
  • Compatible with Ace, Bolt 500, XT, LT RX
  • Transmit up to 500' Line of Sight
  • HDMI Type A Input
  • Transmits to up to Four Receivers
  • 5 GHz Frequency, <1 ms Delay
  • AES-128 Encryption
  • 1/4"-20 and 4-40 Mounting Holes

Tech Specs: SmallHD Focus7 RX

  • 7" 1920 x 1200 Touchscreen Display
  • Built-In Teradek Wireless Video Receiver
  • Transmits up to 1080p60 Video
  • Up to 500' Wireless Working Distance
  • Waveform / RGB Parade / Vectorscope
  • 1000 cd/m² 10-Bit IPS LCD Panel
  • Daylight-Viewable Display
  • Dual, Hot-Swap L-Series Battery Plate
  • 160° Viewing Angle
  • 1 x Full-Size HDMI Input

The combo kit is available now.     

Your Comment

2 Comments

I buy a lot of stuff from these guys, so I feel the right to pick: seeing as the Ace is exactly the same casing, etc., as the Paralinx Ace (bought by you and then abandoned), it would be nice if you offered some sort of trade-in or something to change the frequency or whatever to make it Teradek Ace Bolt compatible.

June 26, 2019 at 2:55PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.

Yeah, the barrel adapter is something that you’ll need to be very cautious about, in terms of power ratings. Very useful to point that out.

June 30, 2019 at 12:39PM

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Craig Mieritz
Color, Light and Camera Geek