Video, television and filmmaking are a collaborative endeavor. For those of us who make a living shooting video, often our clients, director, producer and many other members of the crew can do their jobs better when they can monitor what we’re shooting and how we’re shooting it. If you’ve been in the business for a while, you’re doubtless familiar with the industry standard in wireless video monitoring. Made by Teradek, their wireless video monitoring technology has basically become the defacto standard in mid- to high-level TV and film production. A top-of-the-line Teradek transmitter receiver set can run $10,000 to $15,000 and more when you add more receivers.
As in all things in our business, there are tradeoffs. With Teradek, what you gain for parting with such a large sum of money is range, reliability, flexibility, signal quality and, most importantly, zero or very low latency. Latency is the proper term for “delay.” If you think about it, when an actor does something in front of a camera’s lens, that camera sometimes can add some (DSP—digital signal processing) latency to the signal, especially when monitoring the camera’s HDMI output. Generally, HDMI has more internal processing latency than SDI, but the amount of latency varies from camera model to camera model.
What Separates Expensive From Inexpensive
If the wireless video transmitter receives its input from the camera’s HDMI or SDI output, it then encodes and compresses each frame of video, which also adds a small amount of latency. It then transmits that signal wirelessly to the system’s receiver, which is usually output to a monitor. Transmitting the signal wirelessly through the air can also add latency. The downside of all of this cumulative latency is that the image on the viewer’s end is delayed from the live action. Sometimes by a little when you use an expensive, state of the art system like a Teradek, but sometimes by a lot, typically when using a lower-cost wireless video monitoring system. Where this mostly counts is if the person viewing the transmission is trying to do something that requires precise timing, such as pulling focus for the camera op, as ACs do. The whole equation is generally pretty straightforward. Spend a lot of money and you’ll have little to no perceptible latency on the monitor end or spend little money and you’ll generally have very perceptible latency.
Now that we have the background out of the way, let’s talk cost. For most users who are not working on high-end sets but more often on low-budget sets, their entire camera rig may cost significantly less than the $10,000 for a mid-level Teradek system. It’s not fiscally possible for the majority of the market to spend that kind of money on an accessory for their camera. Up until about three years ago, there really weren’t too many truly low-cost wireless video monitoring systems. Even low-end systems cost at least $1,200 and often a slightly better system could still cost $3,000 and up. Not as expensive as the best, but not exactly inexpensive either. A few years ago, Accsoon introduced the CineEye. What made it exciting was it was inexpensive, but it actually seemed to be able to deliver a usable wireless video monitoring system for under $200. I was skeptical but thought I’d try one out on a BTS shoot I was planning on for a commercial for Tubi, a new online streamer. While the production had $10,000 Teradeks on the two main production cameras, I didn’t have anything for my on-set producer to see what I was shooting on set as I had to be very mobile and many of the setups were in small rooms in a home where there literally was only room for me to be on set.
Regular wireless systems usually have a receiver on the receiving end and you hook up the output to a video monitor. What made the CineEye so much more affordable was that it had no receiver. It was designed to broadcast the camera signal using 5Ghz WiFi. This means that instead of one receiver feeding a single monitor on the receiving end, in the case of the CineEye, up to four viewers can download the Accsoon Go App on their phone or iPad and all four can monitor your camera’s signal at once. Pretty slick, huh?
Putting The CineEye 2S To Work
I bought the original CineEye back in 2019 shortly after it began shipping. It worked and the signal was surprisingly good. I used it on several shoots with great success and my producers and directors liked being able to see what my camera saw on their phones and I provided an iPad with a large external battery and bracket to mount it to a light stand. Not all was perfect—there were some downsides to the Original CineEye, as one would expect for a $200 device.
The Not So Great
- Battery consumption was fairly high – The CineEye had an internal battery that seemed to last about two hours. Not great when you’re shooting 10- to 12-hour days. Fortunately, I discovered that I could Velcro a small Anker Lithium battery pack to the back of the CineEye and it would keep the CineEye charged up all day. It added weight and another cable, but it worked.
- Latency – My primary camera has some internal HDMI processing latency. Adding that to the CineEye’s own latency of about 60ms and there was a decent amount of lag in the signal. For how I was using it, it wasn’t a problem as it was a director’s monitor, but for those who’ll inevitably ask, no, you cannot use the CineEye for pulling focus. Too much latency. Other than these two issues, I was fairly happy with the CineEye. When you consider you can get usable, decent quality wireless video monitoring for $200, that’s pretty amazing in my book.
I recently had a chance to try out the updated version, the CineEye 2S. The key features of the unit are as follows:
- 1080p60 with audio to four mobile devices.
- 492-foot transmission distance, 60ms latency.
- SDI and HDMI inputs.
- iOS/Android app with False Color and more.
- Start/stop camera control.
- LUT support.
- L-Series battery support.
- 1/4″-20 mounting thread.
- Shoe-mount adapter included.
I borrowed an evaluation unit from a colleague who had just purchased it. I put it to work on another BTS shoot for a new TV series that I shot on for a week. The main differences between my original and this new 2S variant are the operating distance has been increased from 328 feet from camera to viewing device to 492 feet. Keep in mind that these distance ratings are line of sight. Putting a few walls in between you and the viewer cuts down on the range considerably. The latency seemed to be about the same, so they weren’t able to improve that. Most importantly to many users is that the 2S has both HDMI and SDI inputs. Many professional cameras don’t have HDMI out, but almost all of them have SDI out, so the ability to accept either is an improvement. The other big improvement is that the 2S also transmits audio, while my original CineEye only transmits images but no audio.
The 2S also adds start/stop camera control for certain models of mirrorless cameras with an accessory cable and implements LUTs for those of you who shoot log and would like for your viewers to be able to view with your LUT of choice. To me, the biggest improvement is the new ability to use Sony L series batteries to power the 2S. This is a much cleaner and more streamlined approach than my Velcro and battery bank solution for my CineEye. Overall, I found using the CineEye 2S to be pretty much similar to using my original CineEye but with lots of nice operational improvements. On the shoot, my sound mixer had put a wireless Lectrosonics receiver on my camera so I could record production’s sound, and I had a shotgun mounted on my camera for recording ambient from crew and people off stage who weren’t miked by production. It was very helpful for my producer, who was viewing from my iPad, to be able to hear what was happening on set from my camera to the iPad off set.
Overall, I was impressed enough by the CineEye 2S that I recently ordered one. Keep in mind that if you need a wireless video system for your AC to pull focus, this system isn’t for you; you’re going to have to spend a lot more money to make that work. However, I find the CineEye is immensely helpful not only for your director or producer to see what your camera is shooting, but production sound, your gaffer, hair and makeup and wardrobe can all benefit from being able to take a look at what your camera sees. All they need is the free app on their phone or tablet and only four viewers total can view it at any one time, but it can be a very handy thing to offer your colleagues and collaborators where you may not have the budget and resources for a true video village. Apart from just viewing the camera feed, the CineEye 2S can even stream to audiences or remote clients using YouTube and other content delivery networks via RTMP.
If you never thought you could afford a decent wireless video system, the Accsoon CineEye 2S is surprisingly capable for a retail of about $330. If your camera doesn’t have SDI outputs (hello Canon C70 and mirrorless shooters!) you can buy the CineEye 2 for about $250, which is identical, it just doesn’t have the SDI input. I find wireless video can be a great help on set and the Accsoon CineEye lineup to be surprisingly good for very little money. I put my money where my mouth is and will soon own both the original and the new 2S.
Check the current price and availability of the Accsoon CineEye 2S at B&H.