For Small Productions Navigating the Pandemic, Wireless Video is More Important Than Ever
Updated: Jul 12, 2020
Wireless video transmission is nothing new on set. Industry leaders like Teradek make excellent, long range, low latency transmitters and receivers that reduce cable runs and free up fast-moving and mobile setups. Handheld rigs, Steadicam, gimbals, jibs, and even larger drones often rely on these products. They're excellent, reliable, and simple to use. But like all nice things in the filmmaking world, they're also outlandishly expensive.
Hollyland is an interesting new competitor offering a lineup of comparably low-cost wireless HDMI and SDI wireless transmitters that do a really simple thing very well: They send a video feed from the camera to another viewing monitor far away. We recently purchased a set for our own productions, the Hollyland Mars 400s. They work with everything from the HDMI outputs on small DSLR and mirrorless cameras, to the more rugged, lower latency SDI outputs on more robust cinema cameras. In our experience, the Mars 400s is reliable, very easy to use, and are built to last in a durable aluminum housing. In short, it does a critically important job essentially as well as the industry standard units that cost significantly more to rent or own. That alone would make them worth a recommendation. But there's one feature they have that their much more expensive competitors do not: With their free Hollyview app, you can view your footage in real time with a tablet or smartphone and send it to multiple other iOS and Android devices at the same time. With or without the receiver being connected to another monitor.
Okay, great. But what does that have to do with Covid-19 you click-bait spewing goon?
We're getting there. Here in Los Angeles and other large urban areas, one of the very last things that will open up and regain anything close to a sense of normalcy in our economy is film, video, and commercial production. Rightfully so, we aren't as important as grocery stores and doctors offices. And even the overwhelming majority of people in this famously narcissistic profession would be the first ones to tell you that. But as productions dip their toe in the water and try to figure out the safest way to resume working, there will be a few common themes. Facemasks, testing, smaller crews, and anything that minimizes our proximity and exposure to each other while still being able do our jobs. So back to the Mars 400s, it likely doesn't reinvent the wheel for larger productions. But for the smaller ones, the ones that maybe don't have the budget to rent a ton of teradeks and separate viewing monitors: They're the ones who really have something to gain here.
Imagine the typical low-budget shoot situation of the director hovered over the DP's shoulder watching the shot, or crowded around a larger field monitor. The second option is better, for sure. But it still likely puts them next to a producer, client, AD, or anyone else who needs to see the take as it's happening. Over the course of an 8-14 hour set day, that's a lot of prolonged exposure. (Shoots often go longer, but let's stop pretending that's safe, ethical, or acceptable by normalizing it)
The alternative for small productions could go something like this. Download the free Hollyview app on your phone and scan a QR code on the transmitter to connect to their own WIFI network. That's it, you're in. You've hacked the mainframe. Rinse and repeat for up to three other people on your shoot. Now, your director can watch on their own monitor, the 1st AC can pull focus on her iPad, your client can watch in another room. Your producer can watch while they step outside to put out several figurative or actual fires. And your on screen talent or potentially camera-shy interview subject can pull out their own phone at their leisure and see what you're seeing. Saving time, reassuring them that you are in fact making them look good, and possibly avoiding the "Let me describe the few inches you need to move forward, to your left, now turn your head and look up at your eyeline" dance before every new setup.
More importantly for the current times, everyone can now do that at a safe distance from each other. There, that's the covid link. Told you it would happen. Let's not pretend this is some cure all elixir to the very genuine concerns cast and crew have about returning to work. But, especially in the too often wild west world of low-budget productions, this product has the potential to be one more small improvement. One more thing that makes sets a little safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective. That's about the most you could reasonably ask in a filmmaking tool. For our productions, the Hollyland Mars 400s delivers.
For a more in-depth technical review than I care to write: