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The 2017 RoadCast Video Kit Inventory

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On our RoadCast series where we tour around the country and record informative videos for our audience with exciting enterprise IT companies, we get questions very often about the contents of our video kit. It’s a unique beast because we have some special requirements.

On our RoadCast tours, we’ll usually schedule 4-5 different stops per team, per day. At each stop we shoot 2-3 videos. So our video kit needs to be highly portable, but beyond that, it needs to set and up and tear down extremely quickly. If it takes 10 minutes each direction and we make 5 stops that day, close to two hours of the day is wasted just to set up and tear down!

In order to meet our needs, we built the kit that follows and iterate on the inventory each trip to make it just a little bit better. This article will serve as the always-up-to-date guide to the ActualTech Media RoadCast Video Kit; anyone who’s interested in replicating something similar should be able to get a nice head start by leveraging the testing we’ve done to get to this point. Enjoy!

IMPORTANT NOTE: In order to display nice pictures and links to the gear and make it easy to keep updated, I’m using Amazon Associates codes generated by Amazon. These are technically advertisements, so your ad blocking extensions will block these pictures! If you’d like to see pictures and get links to the exact gear we’re using, you may need to pause your ad blocker while you read this article. We don’t advertise on this site, so you won’t be bothered by pausing it 🙂 

Protection/Organization

It all starts with the case. This thing needs to fly around the country and keep our expensive equipment safe. Pelican is the gold standard for stuff like this, so we went with a Pelican 1650 case. We’d love to be able to fit the kit in a 1510 someday, and if the kit were entirely torn down, we could do it today. But in order to maximize set up and tear down efficiency, some parts need to stay put together. In order to accommodate that, we use the larger 1650.

We carry lots of little pieces, both as active parts of the kit and as spares. We use the 1659 Lid Organizer to keep all the little cables and adapters organized.

Lastly, we’ve found that over time the pluckable foam doesn’t hold up very well. We’ll soon be replacing the foam with the more durable 1655 Padded Divider Set so that the kit can take more abuse on the road.

Tripods/Stands/Clamps

In this kit, we have two camera angles as well as two lights. In order to minimize both weight and volume, the cameras and lights share a stand as opposed to being on their own stands. This isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s a sacrifice that we make to keep the kit portable.

For stands, we like the Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod. It’s one of the shortest tripods I could find when it’s collapsed, which is critical because in certain cases we will actually collapse a subset this kit into a backpack!

To mount the lights to the same stand the camera is using, we use these handy brackets that form a “C” shape. The camera is mounted near the bottom and then the light is mounted to the top. This bracket is also a mounting point for power, as we need to bring in power to keep both the camera and the light powered all day.

Sometimes, we need to hang extra things off the stand as well. In the past, I’ve hung an external battery pack off the stand so that we could operate where we didn’t have AC power. Also, in many mobile scenarios I’ve attached our audio recorder to one of the stands to make moving easy. To accomplish this, each kit has one or two Smallrig Clamp Mounts. It basically clamps on to anything and then gives you a 1/4″-20 attachment point.

Cameras

The first RoadCast where we brought our own gear, we used DSLR’s. The quality was quite good, but packing the camera bodies, lenses, batters, cleaning equipment, and so on got to be a bit cumbersome as we continued to increase the pace of the tours. We needed to find a better option that was much more portable.

After some testing for quality and finding an acceptable workflow, we decided to replace the DSLRs in our kit with iPhone 6 SEs. (All the camera geeks let out a collective sigh of despair!) As it turns out, iPhones in this generation come with a 12 megapixel rear camera that will shoot 4K video at 30 fps. That’s more than enough for some rough videos that are going to end up on YouTube. In fact, we don’t even use all of the horsepower that the phone cameras are capable of. Because of our editing workflow, which I’ll get to shortly, we only use 1080p resolutions; the difference in file size for 1080p vs 4k doesn’t at all justify the small perceptible increase in quality.

The iPhones also have an internal battery, internal lens, can be charged while in use, have nice small dimensions (4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 inches), and weigh in at 4 ounces. This is exactly the kind of camera we need when we’re hauling this equipment from office to office multiple times each day. Yes, it’s absolutely not equal in quality to the video we sometimes shoot with DSLRs. But the compromise allows us to increase the post-production speed (that means our interviewees wait less time to see the final product), and it allows us to create a higher total volume of helpful videos for our audience.

Amazon won’t allow me to link to the iPhones, but I’m sure the folks at your friendly neighborhood Apple Store will be happy to get you fixed up. We use the models with the largest storage capacity since we’re storing lots of videos.

Amazon won’t let me post a direct link to an iPhone, so here’s a link to the search page.

Lighting

With good but relatively simple cameras, good lighting becomes even more important. We’re often shooting the interview in a conference room or lobby where the lighting is mediocre at best. After some experimentation with different lights for this kit, we’ve settled on some lights that have just enough features to do what we need, but are still cheap and easy to replace. Let’s just say that airlines seem to know which bags have lighting gear in them and give them an extra hard toss onto the luggage cart 😉 These lights are cheap enough that it’s easy to have spares and replace them right away if anything goes wrong.

We’re currently using the VILTROX LT116T. It’s a super slim LED panel with 116 LEDs. The temperature is adjustable from 3300K to 5600K which allows us to compensate for whatever office lighting is already present. And they’re reasonably bright for their size at 810 Lux. They’re also dimmable so that we don’t get too much harsh light on the subject. Lastly, the accept the ubiquitous NP-Fxxx series of rechargeable batteries light you might use for a camcorder or a field monitor. An NP-F960 will last quite a while powering one of these lights.

A couple of NP-F960’s is one option. But an interesting tip from the field is that sometimes a handful of AA batteries is easier to come by than 6 hours to sit at a wall outlet and charge. So our kits contain these Neewer battery sleds that allow us to use 6 AA batteries instead of a closed-case NP-F960. This gives us a bit more flexibility in a pinch.

The lights don’t come with a power adapter, but we do use them on AC power in most cases, and the adapters are cheap and easy to come by.

Audio

It’s important to know that bad video is much more tolerable to a viewer than bad audio. Getting good audio is critical, which is why we didn’t skimp on audio quality here. The setup could be a fair bit simpler if we allowed some compromise in audio quality, but in my mind anyway, there’s no room to compromise here. A great audio track covers a multitude of video sins (in the sort of videos we’re shooting, that is).

The foundation of our system is the Zoom H6 Portable Recorder. It doubles as either a field recorder (saving multi-track audio files to an SD card for us) or as a USB audio interface (providing multi-track audio to another recording source). Depending on the scenario, we use it both ways. The H6 is light, runs on 4 AA batteries all day, or USB power if the batteries run low, and has really nice sounding microphone preamplifiers (for what we’re using them for).

If the H6 is the foundation, the Sennheiser AVX series microphone gear is the building. This gear makes our life WAY easier because of the size and portability of the receivers. Normal wireless microphone receiver units are 1/2 RU and we’re usually using two. Therefore, we’d need at least 1RU of space for the receivers.

Instead, the AVX receivers are minuscule – maybe 3 inches x 1 inch – and are mounted directly to a male XLR plug. So rather than setting up two receivers and running and XLR cable from each of them to the H6, each of our two transmitters plug directly into the H6 and take up VERY little room. We’ve been using this kit for more than a year now and I still can’t get over how awesome these guys are. You do pay a premium compared to comparable sounding wireless systems for the portability, but we’ve found it to be more than worth it.

We purchased two sets for each video kit – one that’s just a lav and a receiver and then a second set that includes a lav, a handheld mic, and the receiver. This way, each video kit has two receivers (for an interviewer and an interviewee) and two lavalieres + 1 handheld. Sometimes the handheld gets used when we need 2+ interviewees on camera; they just pass the handheld microphone around.

There are two standard microphone options for the lavalieres – either the ME2 or the MKE2. To date, we’ve been using the cheaper of the two (the ME2) and have been quite happy with the results. For our purposes, there’s probably no need for the MKE2 version.

Lastly, just in case we have a problem with either transmitter, receiver, or microphone, we carry a Shure MX185 cardiod condenser wired lavaliere mic as a spare.

Capture Software

Because we do so many of these, we need a repeatable process. The gear in the kit is color-coded with various colors of tape and it is almost impossible to mess up the set up and tear down. This is necessary on your 18th time setting it up in a given week. Beyond that, the capture needs to be easily repeatable. For this purpose, we turn to an amazingly cheap little iOS app called MultiCam from RecoLive. They produce an awesome live video switcher for streaming to YouTube Live and Facebook Live. For what it is, it’s modestly priced (at a few hundred bucks, if I remember right). But they offer the same exact switching/recording interface without the ability to stream live for FIVE DOLLARS on the App Store.

MultiCam allows us to control both iPhones from a single switcher which comes in handy in a few ways:

  • The recordings start and stop at exactly the same time. This little thing has come in handy once or twice during post-production.
  • Starting and stopping recording doesn’t require the camera operator to run back and forth between both cameras in what is often a crowded conference room. Instead, they just start and stop recording from the switcher.
  • Using the Preview and Live panes on the switch (which we’re using an iPad for), the camera operator can show the talent how they’re framed, help them adjust where they’re sitting/standing, etc. Without being able to see the screen of the iPhone, this would be impossible; but with the switcher (iPad), it’s easy to do.
  • In the event our timeline is SUPER compressed, we can actually switch angles during the capture. As soon as we stop recording, a final composition is completed and a final video is ready for upload to YouTube. (We don’t usually do this because we add lower thirds and an intro bumper in post.) But at VMworld 2016 we used this technique to upload the final interview within a couple of hours of the recording session even though we were still out on the show floor recording, too.

Now, as you might imagine, both iPhones (cameras) and the switcher (iPad) need to be able to communicate. And they do this over WiFi. Since wireless APs at a conference may be secured such that clients can’t communicate with other clients, and performance is reliably terrible, we bring our own. We do the same thing at offices; we don’t have an extra 10 minutes to get connected to each new guest network. We’ve tried 1) a very small AP to keep weight and volume down, 2) a normal sized consumer-grade AP with more features. Although both worked, we’ve found that having a high-powered AP that provides 802.11AC speeds is handy for transferring videos around. Either of the below options can work well, however.

Finally, we may want to record in the middle of a field. I don’t believe it’s happened yet, but just know that we could if we wanted to 😉 Therefore, we not only bring our own AP, but we bring a giant battery to power it all day. We have enough juice sitting in various batteries in the Pelican case to run the entire kit of an entire day of shooting without ever having access to AC power.

Power

The big boy power bank is the ChargeTech 27,000 mAh pack that has an included AC outlet. This powers the access point, and there’s two other 2.4A USB charging ports that we can juice up the iPhones with if we need to.

We have some smaller stuff that might need to charge too, and for that, there’s the Anker 20,100 mAh pack. It’s got two more 2.4A USB charging ports and is pretty light and small for the amount of juice it can hold.

With all the electronics in the kit, there’s LOTS of gear to charge every night. To accommodate all the charging that has to happen, each kit has a DBPOWER strip that has 6 outlets + 6 USB ports, two if which deliver 2.4A and the other four deliver 1A. I’ve been extremely happy with this power strip, and even bought a few for home after using them in the video kits.

Conclusion

Of course, there is a pile of other trinkets that go into the kit to keep everything organized, have spares and backups on hand, and make the process go smoothly. It’s not all interesting enough to include here.

As a parting word, here’s a few pictures of what the kit looks like in various states:

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Two full kits + a teleprompter and some accessories. I was able to take this to the airport and fly to California with it by myself, and the team collectively shot around 100 videos with it over the course of a week. Good results in a small package!

The main components of the kit (sans all the cables, accessories, etc)

The main components of the kit (sans all the cables, accessories, etc)

David interviewing Sunny Dua on the VMware campus in Palo Alto using one of the kits

David interviewing Sunny Dua on the VMware campus in Palo Alto using one of the kits

If you’re trying to create something similar, I hope this has been helpful to you. We’ve iterated a number of times to get to this point, and will continue iterating on future trips as our requirements dictate. I’ll keep this article up to date as the state of our video kits changes. If you need more advice on putting something like this together, I’ll be happy to help! Reach out to me on Twitter (link in the Author box below).

James Green
james@actualtechmedia.com

James is a Partner at ActualTech Media and writes, speaks, and consults on Enterprise IT. He has worked in the IT industry as an administrator, architect, and consultant, and has also published numerous articles, whitepapers, and books. James is a 2014 - 2016 vExpert and VCAP-DCD/DCA. Follow James on Twitter

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