Wireless camera connectivity penetrates production

With the proliferation of “smart” cell phones, PDAs and laptop computers now ubiquitous among professionals in the production community, a number of new wireless applications are becoming available that relieve once tedious processes, thereby streamlining workflows. From remote logging to metadata insertion, camera control and clip preview, camera manufacturers are now saying “there’s an app for that.”

All of the 2.4GHz band wireless applications are now in various forms of prototype but will be available to the general public this fall. Initial field tests have shown that signal interference is not a big issue, unless you are operating in an RF-intensive environment, such as a sports stadium or between concrete walls in an indoor venue. The freedom wireless connections bring can have a significant impact on a production.

At the upcoming IBC convention in Amsterdam, Ikegami Electronics will show (as it did in April at NAB) new software for its GF series production equipment that allows users with a laptop in the field or a workstation in a studio to see thumbnails of clips captured with the company’s GFCam HDS-V10 camcorder — part of the GFSeries tapeless Flash RAM HD production system — and attach metadata and other production notes via a Bluetooth wireless connection.

Bluetooth technology is now available in three classes, with different transmission specifications: Bluetooth Class 3 is designed for short-range transmissions at 1mW for a distance of about 3ft; Bluetooth Class 2, a consumer grade found on most laptops and cell phones, with transmission level of 2.5mW and a range of about 30ft; and Bluetooth Class 1, which is more of a professional grade (at 100mW), where the data rate is the same (54Mb/s) but the range is increased to about 300ft, making it more suitable to production sets. In its first phase, the Ikegami GFCam software uses the Bluetooth Type 1 scheme.

Within the spec, Bluetooth technology also provides many profiles for different applications. For example, most cell phones employ the HFP (Hands-Free Profile) for connecting Bluetooth-compatible headsets. For professionals, cellular phones or PDAs must support the Serial Port Profile (SPP), File Transfer Profile (FTP) and Object Push Profile (OPP) in order to transfer metadata files wirelessly. All of these profiles are currently supported on desktop PCs with Bluetooth capability.

(Note: A Class 1 transponder in the GFCam camera can communicate with a PC or mobile phone using a Class 2 system and function properly, but will only be useable to the 30ft range limit.)

“The move towards consumer-related wireless technologies in the professional space is prompted by people’s familiarity with cell phones and laptops and how they work wirelessly,” said Bob Molczan, engineering specialist for tapeless products at Ikegami. “Whether someone wants to use Bluetooth type 1 or 2 depends on the transponders that are installed in the camera and in the PC running specialized software. We, of course, recommend Type 1 for the added benefits it provides.”

The complete wireless logging system includes software for a laptop and a USB transponder (dongle) that is inserted into the GFCam camera for Type 1 Bluetooth connectivity. Most laptops offer Type 2 Bluetooth technology, so a special Type 1 dongle will be needed. Each camera requires its own laptop and transponder. For multicamera productions, there is no solution to allow a single laptop to access several cameras. Ikegami is working on a solution for multicamera applications that will be introduced in 2010.

Using the Ikegami Bluetooth software on a PC or laptop, users can see a thumbnail of every clip, with time code, that’s been recorded onto the GFPak Flash RAM cartridges (manufactured by Toshiba), and then access those clips to add notes and other metadata about the scene. They can also download a low-resolution “proxy,” complete with audio and time code, of the entire clip to the laptop for preview. And this can all be done without affecting the camera operator, who can continue to shoot as the clips are being accessed.

Those using the Bluetooth application can also view a live, low-res stream of what’s currently being shot with the GFCam. Notes can be prepared during clip recording, and then entered immediately once the “stop” button is pushed on the camera. Again, this saves time and effort.

The new Bluetooth feature is ideal for ENG crews as well as for EFP environments.

“The demand for on-the-spot metadata and script logging is increasing as new technologies like Ikegami Bluetooth become available to them,” he said, adding that the software application will soon also include an MXF viewer to allow users to watch clips in high resolution. “Basically, if a new feature saves time while increasing productivity, it will be used. We feel ENG crews will embrace our Bluetooth capability and put it to use as frequently as production crews do.”

“This technology eliminates the need for someone to sit there with a clipboard and pen logging time code numbers,” he said. “It also enables that logger to be located up to 150ft away, as opposed to having to sit right next to the camera operator on set. It brings a new freedom to the staff that they really appreciate. The idea is to save time and streamline the production process.”

Grass Valley also offers a Bluetooth application for camera control and onsite workflow designed for newsgathering. When the LCP 400 wireless local control panel (LCP) software is paired with the Infinity series digital media camcorder, the support crew can control camera menus and settings as well as individual clip metadata, separate from the camera operator. The software can reliably communicate with the camcorder from 65ft away (and across the world via the Internet and a WiFi connection).

Users can enter and read metadata associated with content before, during and after a shoot. They can even preload elements such as assignments, shot lists and scripts. Updates can then be e-mailed easily to an editor working on location. Users can also prepare metadata on a PDA or smart phone (running the Microsoft Windows Mobile 5 or 6 operating system) with the camera switched off. When the camera is back online, the devices synchronize automatically. The LCP 400 also synchronizes with newsroom computer systems.

Panasonic will soon offer its P2 wireless metadata management software, which uses the 802.11g WiFi standard, to allow wireless connectivity between its larger cameras (like the AJ-HPX3700 and 2700 P2 HD VariCam) and a laptop. Distances of 120ft indoors and 300ft outdoors are typical.

The software resides on a full-size Panasonic P2 camera and gives it its own unique IP address via a USB WiFi connector. This gives the camera its own built-in Web browser that can be recognized on any network or on a single laptop computer. Users see thumbnails of clips on the P2 cards, but the software also displays current battery and P2 card capacity. There’s also access to metadata, which can be attached to a clip before, during or after the clip has been recorded. The software features a one-touch memory button to make metadata tagging fast and easy.

“We’re finding a lot of interest in WiFi technology because it has adequate data throughput and two-way communication for audio and video and it offers this ability to log clips and add metadata as you’re shooting,” said Steve Cooperman, product line business manager for P2 Systems, who added that Panasonic is considering other wireless technologies as well. “The only question now is who wants to use it first, whether it’s news, or long-form production or even sports. I personally think it’s going to be a big hit with the majority of the long-form production market.”

Indeed, Panasonic is initially targeting its wireless connectivity software at the long-form production market, as opposed to daily newsgathering. The technology is not suited for news because camera operators are shooting shorter pieces that do not require exhaustive logging.

“This technology has the potential to make productions much more efficient because it allows a script supervisor or logging person to have access to all of the metadata on set and do it live,” said Panasonic’s Cooperman. “People also want to be able to view proxies from the camera and we’re giving that to them wirelessly.”

Like with any wireless connection, there is always the chance that that signal can be interfered with (or dropped), and problematic production situations, such as sports stadiums and indoor environments where reception is problematic could pose challenges to secure connections. However, both the Bluetooth and WiFi standards include signal-processing schemes that reduce the chance of signal interruption. Basically, however, Bluetooth Type 1 connections are a bit more secure than WiFi.

“The main thing about this technology is that we’re trying not to involve any dedicated hardware to facilitate this wireless connectivity,” Cooperman said. “We’re using technology that the average consumer is familiar with, which can only be good for the professional production community.”

Religious broadcaster KGEB-TV, located on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, is using the Ikegami GFCam camcorder and recognizes the value of wireless connectivity for its studio productions. It is also using the GFCam in the field.

“We are excited about the prospective capabilities of the GFCam’s Bluetooth interface,” said Charmaine Lee, director of creative services. “It will completely change the logging of metadata files. It will be a wonderful thing to sit there with your laptop and input shot information as you’re rolling. Having the metadata all ready from the field when you come back will add a level of convenience.”

Ikegami is also planning to offer a small remote control device that, via Bluetooth, allows remote access to the GFCam’s recording functions.