When I was first approached about doing a product review for SlingStudio (owned by DISH), I was pretty skeptical. What would a huge company known for delivery content know about creating content? But I digress. I come from the traditional sit behind the switcher in the truck produce and punch the show or game. You get it. Big setups, lots of presets and time. Then it dawned on me that multicamera (multi-source) is mostly the same however you approach it. It's really all about scaling your production plan to the scale of the production and what is it that you want your audience to see and experience.
The second part and third part of that large thought is how do you teach multicamera production and then execute that plan in a real-world setting. Oh yeah, add in also with without going broke doing it. No small task indeed. But after all that was said and done, I was all in and needless to say pretty impressed with SlingStudio and what it could do well beyond the obvious.
The SlingStudio System (Hub)
It all starts with this cool SlingStudio System. For the sake of understanding, this product will refer to the SlingStudio System as the (“Hub”). The “hub” which has a very cool design including an optional attachable battery so if you don't have AC you just click it easily on the bottom of the hub. I just left the battery on to lend stability to the hub and so that I wouldn’t forget it somewhere. Not that I’ve ever done that kind of thing...
From this one location, all signals from the cameras are sent back wirelessly — although you can run a simple HDMI cable back to the hub if you wish. The cameras can connect also with a small optional camera link, if needed. For testing purposes, we had three cameras (more on that shortly) one wired (HDMI), one with the camera link and one wireless smartphone via the Sling Capture App. Although I would say to really set this up most of the time, I likely would go totally wireless but having the option of connecting via more camera links up to 10 sources if needed was a handy option.
Other really cool features on the hub include an SD card and USB to run off to a larger hard drive. This gave us tremendous flexibility to record our sessions for later playback all the while streaming live. You can record directly to the hub, or feed that external drive one can immediately start the editing process without having to rearrange the universe. I also like the fact that the hub had indicators that you could see from across the room indicating a solid connection and power. The hub itself was very compact, smaller than most kitchen appliances but packing quite a punch.
The hub and the adapters were well built and rather sturdy. I found this to be almost reassuring given the fact that the crew (my teenage son and friends) had no prior production experience.
Setting SlingStudio Up (The hub and cameras)
Like many of you, I am used to coming in for remote truck productions either a few days before (especially for a new location) or at minimum an early call for a night game. The SlingStudio eliminates all that heavy lifting. I am not saying that you still don’t have to scout out for power, a place to switch the show and camera locations, etc. That part never changes nor should any of the rest of good pre-production planning. But, when one can essentially carry most of the hardware for the production in a backpack, well that does change the dynamic.
Overall, the set up for the hub and cameras physically took maybe 40 minutes and that was only because we were setting up for the first time. I placed the hub in the back of a large borrowed atrium in a fairly comfortable space to simulate a concert or performance situation. I'm just as sure I could have set up in the projection booth if needed. I could have used the battery pack (rated at 3 hours) but found some convenient AC so no big deal. From there we got our locations for our “cameras” Here is one of the amazing parts (at least for me) This was the camera line up:
- Camera One Sony Camcorder
- Camera iPhone
- Camera Four Samsung Note 4
You can also use other cameras like DSLRs, or even DJi drones.
Isn’t that amazing? It didn’t matter one lick that we had different “cameras” from different makers. They all “locked” on and we switched just as though it was a live show hard and fast. No delay, no glitches or hiccups. The SlingStudio performed as advertised. Yes it was a controlled environment but based on the initial set up I have no reason to believe the SlingStudio wouldn’t deliver in a not so controlled setting.
SlingStudio Console App
This is the part it took me a few minutes in my head to figure out. So great, we have “cameras” and the new version of the production truck, but now how the heck do we “switch” the show? Sling Studio Console App that's how. After I loaded the app on my Ipad there it was, the entire switcher complete with graphics, I could preview cameras and then take sources hot (live) right to program. But it wasn’t just a switcher, but as stated a total control console. I could switch cameras, and sources, record and save shows all from an iPad. Chuck out my old GV? No, but this certainly changes the equation. Very intuitive and not intimidating at all. Check out some of my thoughts and features of the SlingStudio Console App.
I downloaded the SlingStudio Console app on my iPad Air 2. To me, it was mad crazy but it all worked so well together. So there I was much to my surprise “punching” a show on an iPad. Simply amazing. I could execute the following functions although as a disclaimer I did not edit.
- Monitoring of all connected input sources
- Recording of all connected input sources, program stream, and composite quad view stream
- Switching between different sources to create a live-cut/program stream
- Broadcasting the program stream to YouTube/Facebook
- Lower third overlay
- Text overlay
- Multiple compositions (split view, PIP)
- Audio mixing
- Mutes/unmutes audio to program mix
- Supports always on audio (ON) or audio follows video (AFV) for all video input sources
- Mixes analog audio line-in input with all other inputs
- Includes volume fader control
- Meters audio
- Monitors audio of inputs and program mix
- Dashboard(Ok being a control freak I loved these important confidence features the most)
- Single location to see the Wi-Fi status of the SlingStudio system and the Wi-Fi connectivity health for each connected device, with real-time suggestions and troubleshooting options to set up your SlingStudio system anywhere.
- Information on current project settings and status (video production mode, storage left for recording, Internet upload speeds, battery life left for each source and the SlingStudio Battery)
- HDMI output switching between quad-view input monitoring and program monitoring
- Playback of recordings
So if those are not quite enough features for you here is the coup de grace The Console app is available for free from the Apple App Store. Yep, I said it. FREE. Imagine not being tied down to a traditional switcher in a truck or control room. Heck, since you are wireless you could walk out to different cameras locations or other spots (which I did) on the venue floor and then even move your “cameras” to vantage points of your choice.
Recording Your Show and Taking It All to Post
Recording was a pretty straightforward affair. You can get set up to 7 recordings with each production, although I only did one. This includes individual feeds, the program recording, a quad view and line-in audio. Although I did not have the opportunity to edit, Sling says, just export your footage from a single storage device to Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Apple Final Cut Pro X, which automatically time-aligns your files so you can begin editing. You can also create a new program recording in 4K, in higher bit rates, or with higher quality video codecs using the SlingStudio plug-ins, with all edits preserved. Slick. Very slick indeed.
The SlingStudio is, if used in the right situation, a very powerful production tool that could be an affordable answer for those trying to break into multicamera production. Is it the end all be all of multicam production? No. As I said at the beginning there is the production need, and that need including budget, time and location will dictate what is the best fit for that production.
I also am still kind of old-school where bigger is better and that sometimes the idea of going wireless still sets back my thinking. That said, in my professional opinion SlingStudio has a ton of positives going for it. It also is a powerful teaching tool in the art of multicamera production. I can see a real need in the future for the right tool set that might include SlingStudio to teach young production professionals the concept of multicam production.
I can also see it being used as a preproduction tool to previz camera locations and see how things may look as they are cut together. Lastly, I can see the use of SlingStudio as a discreet tool for recording performance events in small, intimate settings (think jazz club) that may not have the room for a more traditional setup. So for $999 (base), one can become the provider of a very professional looking multicamera production. How cool is that?
Shortly after I completed my initial review, SlingStudio sent me some more product information some of which was already mentioned. But it was so cool I thought it might be worth mentioning again.
4K video upgrade for post-production
Create a new program recording in 4K, in higher bit rates, or with higher quality video codecs using the SlingStudio plug-ins for Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Apple Final Cut Pro X. The higher-quality program recording is automatically created by aligning the audio between the SlingStudio input recordings and the native camera recordings. Additionally, all of your graphics and cuts are automatically applied – saving you hours of hand- tuning and re-editing.
Video import for live production
Use pre-recorded video as a source for pre-roll, post-roll, ads, bumpers, etc. – Add prerecorded videos to your live production by importing MP4 and MOV files from supported SD cards and USB drives. This feature conveniently lets you use prerecorded video as a source from within the Console app without using up one of SlingStudio's four switchable video sources.
Adjustable audio delay
Synchronize your audio and video - Manually delay line-in audio up to 330 milliseconds to sync it with its corresponding video. This feature is helpful when using an HDMI-connected camera that has a built-in delay.
Improved workflow for graphic import
Choose to save imported graphics internally. When adding a graphic to a project from external storage, graphics are no longer copied automatically to the SlingStudio Hub's internal storage — you can now choose to do so within your project.
About the Author
Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is an award-winning producer and director and the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB.com. He is on a mission to provide the best in new equipment reviews, along with exclusive analysis and interviews with the best, the brightest and most creative minds in the entertainment and production business.