The good folks at NewTek were nice enough to send Duke’s Office of Information Technology a demo unit of their new Connect Spark. The Connect Spark is a difficult device to explain to someone that has never produced or recorded a multi-camera live event. In the past, you’d need to run at least one cable from each camera to feed video and audio to the switcher before capturing and streaming that content out. Those cables had length limitations (~15 meters for HDMI and ~100 meters for SDI), not to mention being rather inconvenient. With the Connect Spark, instead of running AV cables throughout the event space, this unit leverages the local wired or wireless network to stream content either directly to a computer or an NDI capable video switcher (more on that in a bit).
Out of the box, the device is rather simple to setup and configure from the perspective of an AV professional with reasonable networking chops. I downloaded the accompanying app and was communicating with the device within minutes, able to make adjustments and confirm settings as needed. I was then able to stream that content to a local computer for importing into Telestream Wirecast (and a number of other streaming applications). Beyond that, the device could also be streamed to a Network Device Interface (NDI) capable video switcher.
In academic environments, this device could easily be deployed in large event spaces to simplify the cabling necessary to support a large multi-camera event. Also, due to the flexible/modular nature of the hardware, this same equipment could quickly be redeployed in a different location with different cameras and minimal technician involvement. Beyond that, it frees up the production team to work anywhere with a connection to the network backbone. So, in theory, you could have videographers in one building filming an event, and the director and production team in another building working their magic.
Network Device Interface (NDI)
I mentioned NDI above. NDI is a royalty-free standard developed by NewTek to enable video-compatible products to communicate, deliver, and receive broadcast quality video in a high quality, low latency manner that is frame-accurate and suitable for switching in a live production environment, or so says Wikipedia. So, this device works wonderfully with NewTek’s very popular TriCaster… but it also works with other NDI switchers such as Panasonic’s new switchers or web based virtual switches.
It wouldn’t be a DDMC article if it was all positive. Most, if not all, of the “gotchas” with the NewTek are outside of NewTek’s control. First, if you have a complicated network topology, you may experience issues. For example, in some situations, I wasn’t able to communicate with the device as it was on a different subnet or vlan. Again, not a problem if you understand your network… but for a technician that has no idea what a subnet or vlan is… it could be a show stopper. I was quickly able to quickly work around this issue, but you may need to work with your networking folks to get this all to work seamlessly. Second, if you don’t have a robust network, you may experience dropout issues, specifically when using somewhat inexpensive switches. While the device worked perfectly on our enterprise network, I experienced minor issues with my (admittedly old) home network. Infrequently, I’d see a dropped frame or hesitation. Again, I don’t blame this on the Connect Spark, but be aware that you may want to upgrade to a more modern router/switch if you are on older equipment.
Overall, I really enjoyed the device, and it underlines the coming “AV on IP” reality for AV folks.