Streaming Wireless Video to an iPad with a Teradek Cube

At this time last week, I was standing in front of a RED Epic camera watching myself watch myself on an iPad. That meta-moment was made possible by the Teradek Cube, a device enabling a video stream from the Epic to appear on the iPad in my hands with a latency of mere frames.

The future has arrived. It’s true.

Want to know how I know?

Because at this time last week, I was standing in front of a RED Epic camera watching myself watch myself on an iPad. That meta-moment was made possible by the Teradek Cube, a device enabling a video stream from the Epic to appear on the iPad in my hands with a latency of mere frames.

It was truly a “wow” moment, even if wireless video has been around for ages.

But the Teradek Cube isn’t perfect, even if it is pretty damn good.

And to make iPad streaming possible, we had to make sure everything was set up the right way. So today, I want to share with you how we did it, what limitations the Cube has, and how you can expect to apply the technology to your future shoots.

So What Exactly is the Teradek Cube?

Teradek Cube for Wireless Video iPad Streaming
The short answer: a small box (think deck of cards) that enables you to stream video wirelessly.

The longer answer: the Teradek Cube is a small device that can stream video to an iPad, a computer, or to a recorder somewhere off-set to, say, record video dailies or editing proxies. It can also transmit over cellular networks and using Internet protocols to provide live streams.

It’s designed to provide simple, end-to-end wireless video support for a number of applications.

According to Teradek themselves, “when combined with a Teradek decoder, Cube will transmit live video to any location with a data connection. Whether your video feed is being sent back to a studio, into a video switcher, or displayed on a large screen, Cube’s point to point streaming solution can bring your content to audiences worldwide.”

Well, in our case, worldwide was a little ambitious. We were going for a smaller audience made of clients, directors, and producers who wanted a wireless monitoring solution.

So, we turned to the iPad — a device increasingly cementing its usefulness on film sets.

Testing the Teradek Cube’s Abilities

So many things could have gone wrong with the Teradek Cube. In my experience, anything happening over wireless can end up in a big, invisible mess (Have you ever tried using a wireless printer?).

So, heading into the camera prep, I was completely prepared to scrap the whole idea of using the Teradek. If it even showed a modicum of being undependable, it wasn’t going to be reliable enough on set where we’d have limited time to troubleshoot anything that didn’t directly affect the image.

With that mindset, I powered up the iPad, plugged-in the cube, and was ready to declare it DOA.

And then the stream showed up.

After 5 seconds, I snapped my fingers in front of the camera and was amazed the sound of the snap was very nearly in sync with the image I saw on the iPad — the latency was incredibly fast. Not perfect, but really impressive. To the point where, unless you were watching the action happen in front of the camera and on the iPad, you wouldn’t notice a delay at all.

That was my major takeaway from using the Teradek Cube: it did exactly what I expected it to.

How to Stream Wireless Video Using an iPad and the Teradek Cube

Teradek Cube on Camera (Photo by Ryland Jones)

photo by: Ryland Jones

The potential for this process to be painful was huge, but streaming to an iPad from a Teradek cube is actually incredibly simple. In fact, this may be the shortest “how to” I’ve ever written for this site.

Let’s take it step-by-step:

  1. Download Teracentral from the Apple App Store. Currently only available for iPad (see more on this below).
  2. Turn on and feed a signal to the Teradek Cube. When powered on and receiving signal, the lights on the cube should illuminate green indicating that it’s powered, producing a WiFi Ad-Hoc network, and receiving an active video signal (like in the picture above).
  3. Access the Wi-Fi network. On the iPad, navigate to SETTINGS -> WIFI and select the network for your Cube (the name will start with “Cube” and end with a series of numbers).
  4. Open the Teracentral app.
  5. Find the “Quickview” stream. After a few moments, two boxes with previews of the stream should appear. The top one is an HD stream while the bottom one is a Low-Res (480p) stream called “Quickview.”
  6. Select “Play” on the bottom Quickview section.
  7. Watch, monitor, and enjoy!

It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Even those seven steps above can be whittled down to only a few steps: join the WiFi network, open Teracentral, select the right stream and press “play.”

It was easy enough that all the producers, directors, and anyone else who wanted to tap into the stream were able to do so after watching me go through the process only once. That may not sound like a big deal, but it saved me a lot of time not having to worry about configuring iPads every new setup.

Limitations of Teradek Cube Wireless iPad Streaming

Viewing Teradek Cube Wireless Video Stream on iPad (Photo by Ryland Jones)

photo by: Ryland Jones

Of course, technology like that within the Teradek Cube doesn’t come without its caveats. Most of these are minor issues, but some will and do change your monitoring workflow depending on your setup.

And while all of these limitations have reasonable work-arounds, it’s important to be aware of them before you decide to use the Teradek Cube and also while you’re shooting with it.

You Have to Use a Low-Res Stream

In order to stream to an iPad with close to real-time latency (7 or 8 frames), you have to use a low-res 480p stream. Technically, you can stream HD, but it will give you an unbearable delay (close to 30 seconds in some reports).

This means that streaming to an iPad is great for monitoring, but will not be practical for a host of other applications: namely pulling focus from an iPad.

Still, the good news is the low-res stream, though in 480p, will maintain the correct aspect ratio of the camera and will translate everything over to the iPad including framelines, lookaround, lens data, etc.

No HD-SDI Pass-Through

The most frustrating limitation of the Teradek Cube is its lack of an HD-SDI pass-through (there is also an HDMI version of the cube, but you only get HD-SDI or HDMI). On a camera like the RED Epic where there is only one HD-SDI output, this can make using the Cube difficult.

On our Epic shoot, we wanted to have the Cube streaming to iPads for clients while having a production monitor specifically for the director. So, we had to run a hard line BNC cable to the monitor and use the pass-through built into that monitor to stream from the Teradek.

In some cases, we opted to only go for iPad monitoring when we wanted to keep our footprint small.

No Built in Battery — Though There Are Options

There is no built in battery system on the Teradek Cube — no 9 volts, no LiON Batteries, just a Lemo power port.

In most cases, I suspect Teradek expects you to mount the Cube onto the camera and run juice from the camera’s power source. That’s a reasonable expectation, but isn’t always perfect. For instance, with our RED Epic setup, we only had the one HD-SDI output, so we couldn’t mount the Cube to the camera and run a hard-line to our 17 inch Panasonic production monitor.

So to be able to mount the Cube near the monitor (which was running on batteries), we needed the Cube to run on batteries as well. It was important to have everything battery powered because we didn’t always have AC power at each location

Basically, the power issue combined with no HD-SDI pass-through was a big puzzle we had to solve for our monitor workflow.

Luckily, Teradek does provide a battery add-on and the rental house we worked with provided this solution. It used Sony camcorder batteries and worked flawlessly. We squeezed about 6 – 8 hours of juice per battery.

It is possible to run the Teradek Cube off of batteries, but make sure you request that ability and don’t assume it’s built in.

Teracentral is Available Only for the iPad

When I was researching how to stream to iOS with the Teradek cube, I read a lot of outdated articles (like this one) which showed a fairly complex workflow of setup screens, app screens, and fine-tuning things just right to get the stream to work.

I was worried that these complexities would slow us down throughout the day or prevent the Cube from being useful at all.

So I was estatic to find that Teradek have streamlined this quite a bit recently with an update to their free Teracentral iPad app — the only problem is that it’s available only for iPad.

This is a minor issue, but it would be useful to be able to use iPhones and iPods to view the wireless stream as well. Almost everyone on a set has an iPhone, but few bring their iPads along.

The possibilities for using the Teradek Cube in creative ways can be expanded greatly if the smaller iPhone/iPod is allowed to tap into the stream. Clients could show up and just “tap in” or, as told to me via Twitter, a boom op could check their frame lines using their iPhone.

Of course, there are still ways to stream to an iPhone without the Teracentral app, but it’s a much more messy and complex process — one that I didn’t have the time to fully explore in the chaos of production.

The Stream is Always Active and Kills Battery Life

On Day 1 of using the Cube, I made sure the iPad 2 we were using was 100% charged. According to Apple, that should give it a solid 8 – 10 hours of life — and that’s if you’re using it the whole time. I figured there would be definite moments of downtime where we would save battery life.

Well, around lunchtime, I was proven wrong — the iPad had gone through 80% of its charge in about half the day.

What I found out at that time was the stream from the Teradek Cube is always active even if the cube itself is turned off. The iPad handles the stream as a Quicktime Video and leaves the screen always on. The director, being busy, would set down the iPad and walk away from it without actively turning off the screen. This killed us on battery life.

On the second day, I was a bit more controlling about making sure the iPad had its screen off between long setups or at lunchtime. And I also had a charger nearby to give it a few extra minutes of power whenever I could.

So while this limitation is more user error than anything, it is something you want to be aware of.

No Issues, No Problems, No Sweat

I’ll be honest — I was very worried about the Teradek Cube.

I thought the wireless iPad streaming was too good to be true. It seemed like such a simple solution. Too simple. Simple solutions almost always require the most complex troubleshooting.

But after using it for two 15 hour days, I was impressed with its capabilities. It has its limitations, but when you’re aware of them and able to anticipate or plan around them, the Teradek Cube is a very powerful piece of hardware.

Not to mention that it had a “Cool! Wow!” factor for anyone who saw it in action. Even I felt a moment of “were in the future” as a stand-in in front of the camera watching myself on the iPad (iPadception?).

Streaming wireless video to an iPad isn’t going to be perfect in every situation on every shoot — indeed there are times where having high definition resolution is important or the dependency of a hard-wired BNC connection is necessary — but, used correctly, it can be leveraged in a very powerful way.

For our shoot, it did exactly what we needed it to do and what we wanted it to do.

And that, my friends, is a blessing on a film set where so many other things can go wrong.

  • http://www.trialbyfireproductions.com Karl Stelter

    Ah finally! That’s awesome – I’ve been waiting for someone to figure out how to stream to the iPad. It’s just too useful of a device NOT to figure out how to do it, and from the sounds of it, Teradek did a pretty bang up job. Thanks so much for the in depth run down of both the pro’s and cons, I feel pretty confident just by reading your review of it that I could pick it up use it knowledgeably. Rock!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Teradek cube has been around for a good while, but I never had experience with it until now. I agree that the iPad (being just a big screen) is perfect for it. Unfortunately, you have to play within Apple’s environments which can be too big a hurdle for some manufacturers.

  • Brian

    I work on a big reality show and these would be great for throwing onto our f-800s i have a few questions though.  How fast is it to switch between feeds? Say you were on a reality show and had multiple Teradecks out on cameras.  Would it be fast to switch between the networks to see the different feeds? would that even work? or would the two similar wireless networks disrupt each other?

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Good questions Brian!

      We only had one cube, so I can’t comment on switching between feeds with experience, but I’d say the delay would probably be less than a minute. You’d have to switch Wi-Fi networks, and re-open Teracentral. It would be smarter to just have multiple iPads in video village.

      As for the networks disrupting each other, I don’t think that’d be a problem. Each Cube generates its own Ad-Hoc network and I get the impression Teradek would not have looked over the possibility of multiple Cubes being used in the same area.

      Again, this isn’t from experience using multiple Cubes, just from what I gathered reading through all their documentation.

      • Brian

        Yeah multiple iPads would be ideal but we dont have a video village on the show.  The director just stands next to whichever camera he wants and calls out the show so if he had an ipad he could just switch between cameras it would be awesome for him.

  • ADAM OUELLETTE

    I actually used this on a short a few months ago. I was 1st AC and honestly we had nothing but problems with the setup.

    We were running it just like you talk about here ,except the feed was coming from a GH2 out to the ipad. I felt like we wasted more time trying to get it to work then it was good for. You can’t pull focus with this….can’t even think about doing  that.

    The good thing about it was that we were able to send a feed to the director, sound mixer, and AD all at the same time. But that was also the downside…I’d hear someone from the sound table yell after every take “Is my feed live?”

    I personally don’t think this is stable enough yet to use in a real production environment let alone an indie short. It was really cool the first few shoots, but on day 4 when I realized one whole hour had been wasted that day trying to get the feeds running around 7 times….it became annoying.                 

    Just my personal experience with it. I feel like we could have shaved off 3 hours of the entire production and got another setup in if that was not around. If we had someone on set dedicated just to running it, it probably would have been a help instead.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Adam — thanks for sharing your experience. It’s important to get an idea not just of the good experiences (like mine), but what happens when it’s a bad experience as well.

      I get the impression that firmware updates and app updates have helped the cube tremendously. This is the word I hear from others who have used it. Or maybe I was just lucky with the particular one we worked with.

      Either way, your situation is what I feared what might happen. And it underlines the importance of testing as much as you can before the shoot and then having a back up plan if things go wrong.

      Someone dedicated to running it definitely would’ve helped. I know if the Cube had given me problems that I would’ve just stopped using it. When you’re the 1st AC (or the only AC), frankly, monitoring is low on the list of your priorities.

      Sorry it gave you such troubles, but thanks again for sharing the story with us — it helps paint a realistic portrait.

      • ADAM OUELLETTE

        I don’t mean to be a downer, I really wish it had worked as well as you are describing it did for you, that would have been amazing. 

        Yeah, it was mostly because it was such a small crew. There were still about 12 of us, but everyone had things to do. 

        Just wanted to throw in, thanks for running such a great blog. Its the only one of its kind and I read every post! 

  • http://teradek.com/ Nicol

    Thanks for the detailed write-up, and all the feedback.  Over the last 2 years we learned a lot about how people are using the Cube, including hiccups they sometimes run into.  For this reason, we updated the family with new members, the Cube 155 and 255, just announced at NAB this week.  It adds an LCD for easier config, changes the WiFi to a full blown access point for much better streaming to an iPad, and last but not least, adds a built in Li-Ion battery.  Hopefully all of this will improve experience for workflows like Adam’s.  For more info, see our blog post here : http://teradek.tumblr.com/  Finally, if you have any problems or feedback, please contact us at support@teradek.com.  We stand by our product, and will make it work for you no matter what.  Even though we have come a long long way, there is still a bit of a learning curve, and do’s and don’ts, but it really does work when used right.  Your feedback will help us continue to improve it further.  Thanks ! Nicol

    • ADAM OUELLETTE

      Awesome Nicol! Thanks!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thank you Nicol for taking time to come over here and share your perspective! I did see your new Cubes announced at NAB this year and wish I had had one of them on the shoot I was on.

      Needless to say, my positive experience with the last Cube will push me towards giving the new one a try which seems to solve a lot of the issues I brought up in this post.

      A company that takes feedback and improves their product is a company that will become the friend of many filmmakers :)

  • Tim

    I’m coming to this dicussion 10 months late, but hopefully someone is still looking at this! We’ve been using the Teradek Cube 550 mounted on-camera with an iPad to view for a while and it works well. Set-up each time is very simple, out-of-the-box and up and running in a few minutes.

    The main drawback is that like most people we shoot widescreen (16:9) and because there is no way to change the Teradek’s “Quickview” aspect ration, the iPad plays the video 4:3 which means the picture is stretched to fill the screen.

    Interestly, although the TeraCentral app is available for the iPhone now, and it works on the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 (although the picture sometimes only half appears), the iPhone 4 we tried refused to pick up the WiFi signal from the device and therefore wouldn’t work.

    If anyone has any comments on this (or help!) then please let me know.

    • Gerhard

      My experience is that the iphone 4 isn’t able to log into a 5 GHz network, maybe the Cube was configured to 5 GHz instead of 2,4 GHz. Check that with the TeraCentral App in the Wireless Network setting. Cheers, Gerhard

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