Review: NewTek TriCaster 410

When Dan Parker, an events technical specialist with NewTek, pulled the TriCaster 410 out of its shipping box to set up for our demo session, I was sort of underwhelmed. The backplane on this one-rack-unit (1RU) device was rather spartan. With only four 3G SDI inputs, capable of offering either quad SDI or HD-SDI inputs, by all appearance it seemed a bit limited for the $9,995 price.

An hour later, though, after Dan and I had put the unit through its paces, my sense of the TriCaster 410’s power and abilities had completely reversed itself. This TriCaster represents the next generation of affordable--if not fully portable--TriCaster units, with a number of features and capabilities that had only been part of the much more expensive TriCaster units. In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised, having covered the news of the TriCaster 410’s launch around the time of the 2013 IBC show.

"We're bringing many functionalities from our $39,995 unit down to our $9,995 unit," said Carter Holland, NewTek's chief marketing officer, in an interview at the time, "so that someone just getting started has the same level of capability on a limited number of inputs and within a more limited budget."

Seeing is believing, and in this case, what I saw was impressive.

Inputs

To best understand the power of the TriCaster 410, one needs to think beyond physical inputs. While it is true that there are only four 3G-SDI input connectors on the backplane (Figure 1, below), there are a number of virtual inputs that more than double the input possibilities.

Figure 1. The TC410 backplane. Click the image to see it at full size.

Included among these inputs are the network sources, which allow connection to live network IP cameras. The TriCaster 410 provides input of either RTSP or MPEG-2 Transport Streams (M2TS), which covers a wide variety of cameras and unencrypted network broadcast feeds.

Two possible scenarios for IP cameras would be either traditional close-circuit television (CCTV) and security cameras or the possibility of a social media or instant messaging camera, which allows remote subject matter experts (SMEs) to “dial in” in a way similar to the way that SMEs are brought into a traditional videoconference or remote broadcast feed.

Another live input workflow scenario to consider with these network-based feeds is the ability to receive the output stream from another TriCaster across the local network (LAN). In this scenario, content could be transmitted across the LAN, perhaps in a virtual-LAN (VLAN) overlay network, meaning that an additional BNC- or coaxial-based network need not be rolled out for use in temporary venues that would require two separate live streaming and broadcast workflows.

I asked NewTek about receiving MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 streams via the network inputs, and here's what I found out: "We have an option for this under the Output Configuration panel to turn on the Network output for a TriCaster, easily allowing another TriCaster on the same network (or any compatible media software) to view that TriCaster's network output. These network inputs extend their capabilities with this by allowing numerous other software inputs, whether it's off a GoPro Hero 3, JVC 650, a Flash stream, or even a hosted H.264 video online (whereupon it is effectively VOD when pulled in)."

I also asked Parker about the use of HDMI inputs, to see whether the company had shifted from its feeling that HDMI was not a good input connection option.

“Since we expect the TriCaster 410 to be rackmounted,” said Parker, “we feel that HDMI is better suited for an output connector than an input connector. It doesn’t have a locking connector, so it would be prone to being pulled out of an input connector.”

This is similar to the reason that NewTek chose to forego the HDMI connector on its analog-only TriCaster 40 model, noting that the company feels that even component analog is much better than HDMI in terms of cable length and other issues that those who are doing a live show with legacy equipment might encounter.

Another set of inputs, while not live per se, is the idea of accessing on-demand video content from the cloud. In much the same way that digital disc recorder (DDR) works on a “traditional” TriCaster, the ability to access video from the cloud is a nice touch.

Outputs

The output side has two physical 3G-SDI outputs, which function in much the same way as the older TriCaster 450 and 850/855 models functioned.

However, one scenario in which the TriCaster 410 differs—a feature shared by the more expensive TriCaster 460 and 860 models—is the ability to do what’s called a “macro-based auxiliary out" for more flexible outputs. We will come back to macros in a few paragraphs.

"Customers consistently tell us that they are concerned about the number of simultaneous outputs," said Holland, "including social media and the like. That option is now available on the 410."

The output side, like the input side, offers a variety of stream options, ranging from the traditional M2TS MPEG-2 broadcast standard and one-click direct links to a variety of popular content delivery networks (CDN) and online video platforms (OVP) used by a few key vertical markets: enterprise, houses of worship, and media and entertainment.

Other Features

Two other key features that we tested were automation and virtual sets.

Automation/Macros

Even though this is considered the entry-level professional model, NewTek has added control and automation functions from its upper-end TriCaster line.

From an automation standpoint, this allows users to program control surface keys and even MIDI commands to automate everything from a studio’s lighting to a venue’s public-address audio installations. In essence, while the TriCaster doesn’t take the place of a Crestron, Extron, or Lutron automation system for lighting and sound reinforcement, the TriCaster can be tied into these systems to gain control of particular functions necessary for shaping environmental lighting and sound in a way that eliminates the need for human intervention.

This leads to one of the most powerful features of the TriCaster 410, in my mind: macro setup. Thinking beyond environmental control, this is the use of automation to trigger things within TriCaster itself, from button presses to full automation of content playback at key times.

The macro concept is powerful enough that Dan Parker and I joked that I could fill a review or three just explaining the possible workflow scenarios. I may still do that, but for now, I will describe briefly what I can of the concept using one example.

In our example, a solo newscaster sits at a desk with two tripod-mounted static cameras trained on her, and an additional overhead camera perpendicular to the desk at which she sits.

The two cameras facing her, at eye level, can be set for a wide shot and a close-up shot, allowing her to be positioned in the virtual sets. So far so good, but nothing earth-shattering to see here.

The third camera, however, becomes a virtual control surface: When pointed down at the desk, various hot spot areas of the frame are assigned a specific macro. Each of these macros can be assigned a particular task, which the newscaster will trigger by moving her hand into that portion of the frame.

While the audience may never see the image of this overhead camera appear on screen, the macros assigned to each hot spot are set to trigger various functions: Two could be assigned to play back key pre-recorded packages, complete with a transition from one of the two eye-level cameras to a full-screen view of the package playback, or even an over-the-shoulder playback in a virtual set. Two others could be used to transition to commercial breaks, and the additional four could be used to bring up key graphics, at the time of the newscaster’s choosing.

Those readers familiar with our history of reviews on StreamingMedia.com and the older EventDV.net may remember coverage of similar technology more than a decade ago, but this is the first time we’ve seen this level of macro automation in an all-in-one streaming and video mixing package. It’s of enough interest that we’ll drill down into the details of macros after an upcoming on-site visit with NewTek at their San Antonio headquarters.

Virtual Sets

TriCaster 410 adds a number of virtual set enhancements (Figure 2, below)--a trickle-down from the highest-end 855/860 model--with the additional graphics and general-purpose processing (GPU and CPU, respectively) providing extra oomph (a highly technical term) to allow a number of smooth virtual camera moves.

Figure 2. The TriCaster UI, including new virtual set enhancements. Click the image to see it at full size.

The result in our testing was a much more polished experience than we’d see in the TriCaster 40 review, especially when attempting what we’d call complex virtual camera moves, in which we had several live images virtually scaled and added to live titling.

In other words, the extra money is worth it if you’re looking to do professional virtual sets and camera moves. In fact, the virtual set engine is the same one used in the highest-end TriCaster 860.

"We're bringing many functionalities from our $39,995 unit down to our $9,995 unit," said Holland, "so that someone just getting started has the same level of functionality at a more limited number of inputs."

 

Source - Tim Siglin