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Mark's Thoughts on SlingStudio

Professional multi-camera production and live video broadcasting made easy

In June 2015, Sling Media embarked on an ambitious goal: how to develop a completely new class of product that could disrupt the video production category. Well known since 2004 with its introduction of the award-winning line of Slingbox line of “placeshifting” solutions, Sling Media has a strong and enviable reputation for creating new technology categories as the Slingbox is the de facto solution for allowing consumers to enjoy their cable and satellite television content outside of the home in a “no compromise”, high quality and easy to use manner that consumers continue to enjoy daily.

But why the video production category? Sling extensively researched the category and its research findings intrigued the senior executive management team. Of particular interest is the explosion in User Generated Content (UGC) that began in earnest with the launch of YouTube in 2005 and other video content aggregation sites. In analyzing the video content trends on YouTube and other sites, one thing became quite apparent: the vast majority of the non-professional content on these sites (literally hundreds of millions of video clips) were shot in single-angle/single camera formats. This trend is not completely surprising as numerous interviews conducted by Sling Media with video “bloggers” and other users who frequently uploaded their video content to UGC-based sites revealed that they did not want to deal with the perceived complexities and burdens of shooting multi-camera video with existing solutions on the market: too costly, intricate, not sufficiently portable in use, resource-intensive (including manpower) and overly dependent on the use of cables.

The other related market place trend that caught the Sling team’s interest is the explosion of high quality camera technology that is embedded in the majority of smartphone today. No longer equipped with camera functionality that is only capable of producing low and medium resolution video, today’s smartphones, particularly the latest models offered from Apple, Samsung and Google, can effortlessly create HD-caliber videos that have begun to challenge those produced with Digital Single Reflex Len (DSLR) cameras and high end video camcorders. Consider this excerpt from a recent report on DazeInfo.com:

Smartphones have slowly been taking over almost every electronic gadget on the market today. At present, a high-end smartphone can replace most of the gadgets we used to rely on such as calculators, MP3 players, recording devices, digital cameras, and even televisions—causing a significant decline in the production and sales of many of these formerly indispensable electronics. Compact digital cameras and DSLR cameras are still considered essential by professional photographers and hardcore photography enthusiasts. A blog post in Adorama Learning Center notes that DSLRs allow people to experience photography at its best, making them the tool of choice for professional photographers worldwide. However, these cameras are not as in-demand as they once were. The digital camera market has been hit particularly hard in recent years following the rise of consumer interest in the far more versatile high-end smartphone.[1]

In addition to the trend of smartphones becoming “smarter” and more robust from a high quality camera functionality standpoint, the sheer numbers demonstrate the explosive growth of the smartphone category over the past few years. In fact, according to Flickr, the popular photo sharing site, if one considers a smartphone purchase as a conventional camera purchase, Apple remains the leading camera brand among its users, filling eight slots of its top ten most popular cameras. iPhones now account for 47% of its photographers, compared to 24% using Canon cameras and 18% using Nikon cameras.[2]

This is not to say that growth in usage of smartphones as a camera has completely negated the value proposition of DSLRs and camcorders for prosumers who have no-compromise requirements when shooting video. In particular, DSLRs (and some camcorders) excel in the following areas versus a typical smartphone:

  • Best in class image quality
  • Wide variety of zoom lenses that allow for shooting from a great distance
  • More options for shooting in all kinds of low-light situations
  • Quick shutter speeds for capturing photos and videos at rapid speed
  • High resolution images to help capture even the smallest details
  • Better color accuracy
  • Complete artistic control

Finally, one other non-deniable trend that is interesting to Sling has been the tsunami-like momentum embracing live video streaming. It is not an understatement that video streaming, as a means to deliver messaging on a real time basis, is becoming the new “email” as it becomes more robust and reliable. Once considered amateurish and compromise-ridden, live video streaming has exploded recently due to significant bandwidth improvements at the cellular carrier level (with more to come at 5G begins to hit its stride over the next few years), but even within homes, corporations, businesses and schools (just to name a few) as the 802.11ac wireless protocol has become more pervasive over the last several years.

What has been driving live video streaming? In addition to the technology elements described above that has made the delivery of live video streaming more reliable and robust, the integration of live video streaming capability in major social media platforms (e.g. Facebook Live and YouTube), combined with the strong rise in smartphone adoption, has given literally every user who owns a smartphone to ability to broadcast live video at a moment’s notice in easy to use and highly saleable manner. Variety reported the following in October 2016:

Facebook has gotten us all to share text posts and photos, and is seeing a lot of use of video. Now, it wants to turn is all into live streamers, and use advanced technology to aid our use of our phone cameras: That’s the gist of an outlook that Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox gave at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif. Tuesday. Cox said that Facebook has already seen 400 percent growth in live streaming since opening it up to all of its users in May. Not all of that is coming from users watching broadcasts of major media brands, he explained, adding that the number of small broadcasters —teenagers that stream to just a dozen of their friends — was a surprise even to Facebook itself.[3]

One of the sources that inspired the Sling product and marketing teams to create a solution for the video production category was the episode “Connection Lost” from the popular ABC comedy Modern Family. The extremely creative episode tells people a lot about themselves and the way they navigate through their digital lives. Filmed entirely from the point of view of Claire Dunphy on her Apple Macbook notebook while she’s stuck at the airport, viewers spent an entire episode watching her navigate through several family crises via text messaging, FaceTime, email, Web browsing and scanning Facebook. Her online conversations with her family and friends were suddenly there for us to scrutinize, and the audience experiences the ongoing hilarity seemingly in real-time.

What intrigued the Sling team about this episode was the possibility of developing a product could shoot and broadcast multi-angle video --- something only possible at the professional level --- easily and in high quality manner in a streaming or post-production manner. The possibilities could be endless given the explosive popularity of users broadcasting live on Facebook (just to name one social media app) using their smartphone.

Enter SlingStudio

Shooting multi-camera productions have been a staple of professional produced and broadcast films/videos/live events for years. Whether it's shooting a local music band, sports event, or religious service, customers usually want their events covered. The biggest challenge with using existing solutions, however, has been the labyrinth of cabling required for a live multi camera set-up, not to mention the work required to edit it properly in post-production. With SlingStudio, you can shoot and broadcast multi-cameras (including your smartphone) using your iPad as a “virtual” production studio.

SlingStudio addresses the cabling problem by functioning wirelessly, streaming 1080p30 or 60p video over WiFi back to the base “hub” (which looks like a conventional wireless router) that can then be controlled and wirelessly managed by an iPad. The iPad app, dubbed SlingStudio Console, allows you to not only monitor up to 10 feeds (with up to 4 active cameras). You can also edit, recording to SD card in the base station or an attached hard drive. The flexibility amazing, with both a cut sequence and independent video tracks (completely synchronized with audio) being recordable to the external hard drive. An available plug-in brings the synced video into Adobe Premiere.

There are already a lot of solutions out there for wirelessly dealing with the cabling situation, such as the market leader Teradek, but these solutions can cost upwards of $20,000 or more. SlingStudio crashes this price barrier with an initial price point of $999 for the base “hub” and affordably priced accessories.

Most importantly, SlingStudio works with both smartphones and conventional DSLR cameras. While the camera technology in the current generation of smartphones is very good from a video quality standpoint (and will continue to get better), Sling recognizes that many professional videographers would prefer to use their DSLR for the best possible video quality. SlingStudio accommodates the use of DSLRs as a wireless camera by using an optional accessory called CameraLink ($349) that plugs into the HDMI-Out port on the camera and facilitates the wireless transmission of video back to the SlingStudio hub.

Most users should experience the video signal from the SlingStudio to be strong up to 300 feet quite easily. Currently, broadcasts can be hosted on Facebook Live and YouTube, while Sling works on integrating other video broadcast platforms. And the whole time you're broadcasting, the Sling Studio is also saving all your video to the built-in SD card reader or on an external hard-drive via the USB-C port in back. Then, you can send all your footage over Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro using convenient plug-ins and SlingStudio will make sure you get every feed and a full cut of the live broadcast footage as well. In the back of the SlingStudio hub, there's additional ports for HDMI-In, HDMI-Out, USB-C, audio in and power. There’s also an optional battery available ($149) that turns SlingStudio into an outdoor live broadcast solution by providing 3 hours of battery power.

While this is Sling’s first offering in the video production category, it’s the Slingbox product technology heritage of wirelessly broadcasting high quality video from one point to another that pays huge dividends in creating a best in class but affordable “livestream” video solution that essentially democratizes the multi-camera production category. It’s a great easy to set up portable ecosystem for streaming live multi-camera video in a wireless manner without a significant amount of expertise or training needed. The bottom line: with SlingStudio, you can combine and stream up to 4 video sources (cameras or smartphones) in real time that makes you look a true professional.

For more product information, check out www.myslingstudio.com. B & H Photo Video, one of the world's premiere sources for camera solutions, is one of the exclusive retailers for SlingStudio and they are a great resources for questions that you might have (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/promotion/13047/bh-photo-video-sling-studio.html).

 

[1] Are High-End Smartphones Overtaking Professional DSLRs in Today’s Digital Camera Market? by Amit Misara (February 25, 2016) --- https://dazeinfo.com/2016/02/25/high-end-smartphones-overtaking-professional-dslr-analysis/)

[2] Smartphones Dominate Flickr Uploads in 2016, Apple Leads Device Makers by Matthew Roth (December 6, 2016) --- http://blog.flickr.net/en/2016/12/06/smartphones-dominate-flickr-in-2016-apple-leads/

[3] Facebook’s Next Big Bet Is Making Your Phone’s Camera Smarter by Janko Roettgers (October 25, 2016 --- http://variety.com/2016/digital/news/facebook-chris-cox-sheryl-sandberg-live-1201900331/

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