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?
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
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:
- Download Teracentral from the Apple App Store. Currently only available for iPad (see more on this below).
- 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).
- 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).
- Open the Teracentral app.
- 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.”
- Select “Play” on the bottom Quickview section.
- 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
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.