By Joshua Ausley, Cinematographer
When it comes to wireless video systems, Teradek has one huge advantage: name recognition. All you have to say is “I have a Teradek” and people know what you mean, much like saying “Kleenex” instead of “tissues.” But they’re not the only option out there, and recently a number of other companies have released some solid systems at a more economical price point. So, can you really have a solid, professional wireless video system for under $2000? Let’s take a look.
Full disclosure: I received a demo version of the Hollyland Cosmo 600 in exchange for an honest review. I’ll be comparing that against the Teradek 500 and the Trigyn Apex 5c1, which are all around the same price point and boast similar specs. For a video review of the Cosmo 600, see the attached Youtube video below. I’ve used Teradeks for years, and have owned the Trigyn since it came out, so I was interested to see how the Cosmo compares with these two.
The Hollyland Cosmo 600 is a 600-foot professional wireless video system that includes HDMI and SDI connectivity. The kit comes complete with a nice hard case and a lot of extras, which is really nice. The only thing you’ll really need to supply yourself are the SDI cables. Included in the kit are the transmitter and receiver, mounting hardware including an articulating arm, power supply for the receiver, p-tap cables to power the units, and multiple antennas. You get three standard antennas for the transmitter (one is an extra in case you lose one, a nice touch) and two mushroom shaped antennas that are intended for when the TX and RX are at different heights. More on that later.
Hollyland’s System seems well thought out. It has several features that its competitors don’t at this price point. One of them is an OLED screen that gives you all the information you need at a glance. It tells you your channel, signal strength and frame rate with large, bright blue numbers. The transmitter also offers a pass-through SDI, so you can connect out to a monitor if you don’t have enough available ports in your camera. It also offers many more mounting points than the others, including 3/8” and 1/4-20 screws ports. It seems like the Cosmo looked at its competitors and decided to try and offer more for around the same price.
The transmitter is made out of a composite material that feels just like the Trigyn. However the receiver body is made out of plastic, whereas the others are a more robust metal composite. It feels cheap and I feel like I have to be more careful setting up the Cosmo’s receiver because I wouldn’t want to drop it. Also while we’re on the subject of the build design, Hollyland also offers a 400 foot system whose design looks conspicuously identical to the Trigyn 5g1k. I’ll leave it up to you to consider how that might have occurred!
The Cosmo 600 is ready to plug and play right out of the box. Like it’s competitors, it’s incredibly easy to set up and get started. Just hook up the transmitter and receiver, make sure they’re on the same channel and they connect right up to each other.
So how is the performance?
Well, first of all let’s be clear that all wireless systems are going to be rated at their absolute maximum range under the most perfect, ideal working conditions. That means for 600 foot wireless system you’re going to be lucky if you’re ever in a situation where you’re going to get that, especially smoothly and with a good signal. There are way too many factors that determine whether you can get a good signal, including any kind of objects between the transmitter and receiver, atmospheric conditions, etc. A wall is going to seriously hamper your signal, but so will a car, rack of equipment or even a human body.
While I don’t doubt that they were able to get a signal at 600 feet under some sort of test conditions, I wasn’t able to replicate that in any of my tests. However, the cosmos 600 outperformed the other systems that I tested against.
When tested across an open field on a cloudy day, I found the signal to be usable at around 400 feet. On a suburban street with houses and cars it worked to around 300-400 feet. When going through a cinder block wall of the studio the system only worked at around 100-150 feet. A car to car scenario might get you 200-300 ft, though it depends on how many other cars might be in the way.
However, this is all comparable to other systems as well. The Teradek is only rated to 500 feet, so it’s already added this vantage in this category. The Trigyn perform similarly to the Cosmo, although in a test under the exact same conditions the Cosmo generally had a bit cleaner signal, fewer dropouts, and I was able to walk further away and still get a signal of some sort. The Trigyn’s actual distance rating is a bit hard to find, and I saw different numbers listed on various websites. The figures range from 600 to 1000 feet, but I would place it firmly in the 600-foot category beside the Cosmo. In car to car situations, I had around the same performance from the Tryigyn as a Teradek 1000, although both only worked to around 200 feet and the Teradek definitely had fewer dropouts. So all of this stuff is highly situational.
These systems all have many of the same limitations. You may have a good signal when facing the transmitter, but if you turn your back it will drop out. It seems your own body act to dampen the signal. All the systems will gradually start to become grainy or blocky and pixelated as you get further away, and the signal will go in and out. However, the Cosmo's interference looked more like noise and grainy snow, while the other systems tended to pixelate more and get image freeze. I would give the Cosmo the advantage then, because even when the image started to grade it was still possible to see what was going on in real time.
If you’re using the camera on a jib or somewhere with a significant difference in altitude or height, they include two mushroom-shaped antennas. These are supposed to give better reception than the standard antennas, although I did go upstairs with the regular ones without any problem at all. I ended up not testing the mushroom ones, although it’s definitely a nice bonus that they have thought of that and included them at no extra price.
All of the systems offer 128-bit encryption for security purposes. The Cosmo also offers time code through the SDI port, which is another cool professional feature to have.
One of the best reasons to own a wireless video system is that it’s going to pay for itself and then it’s going to make you money. People understand that wireless is an extra expense and you can almost always get a rental rate for it. Of course, you’re still going to want to get the best bang for your buck, and not everyone can shell out $3000 – $5000 for a decent Teradek.
The bottom line is that the Hollyland Cosmo 600 looks like the most cost-effective of any wireless video system that I’ve found so far. It definitely offers more features and specs than its competitors at this price point. The main disadvantage you may have if ordering this system is telling people the name. “It’s not a Teradek?” some may ask. Time will tell if all the new brands coming out will make a dent in Teradek’s market share, or hopefully help drive its prices down to a more affordable level.
However, as someone who is chosen camera work as a career and as a member of the union, I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention one thing. A lot of these new wireless systems, while meeting FCC requirements, haven’t been tested long-term in the field. Wireless radiation from a wireless video transmitter is something that the International cinematographers guild is concerned about. Camera operator safety is the main issue, and it is been recommended to avoid close proximity to any transmitter for an extended period of time. To that end the Teradek has been vetted far more than any other system and from talking with 1st ACs I’ve heard it is probably the safest out there. Many of these other systems haven’t really been vetted yet long-term so keep that in mind whenever you purchase something that gives off RF radiation.
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