Video / Hands-on Review

In the Field with the SlingStudio

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If you’ve ever dreamed of having a television station of your own to produce live video content, perhaps to go along with your YouTube channel, you might have figured out that high-quality solutions that expand beyond a simple webcam are costly in that they require some seriously expensive equipment and advanced setup skills to match. Sling Media (already well known for its other streaming products like the “Slingbox”) is out to change that, in bringing out its all-in-one switching, streaming, and recording device, the SlingStudio. Sling Media graciously lent me its complete line of SlingStudio products to give them a test drive. Having had some experience with traditional studio gear in the past, I have a means of comparison to my experiences with the Sling Studio.

Overview

The main SlingStudio hub is a monolithic device that handles all the video, audio, and control connections. It also acts as a storage interface, with an SD card slot and a USB-C port. The unit embraces function as well as form, with its white façade only broken up by the storage connections, HDMI in and out ports, a power button, and a cool blue status-light strip across the top, which indicates power and operating status. Video sources can be connected in one of two ways. The simplest way is to connect via the HDMI port on the SlingStudio itself. This full-sized (Type A) port is great for connecting media players or a stationary camera. Roving cameras can be connected wirelessly using CameraLinks. I mounted the CameraLink to the cold shoe on my Sony PXW-Z150, and its light weight didn’t really upset the balance of the camera when tripod-mounted or handheld. The CameraLink has a non-replaceable battery built in that should last the duration of most productions.

I was also provided with the battery option for the SlingStudio. This lithium-ion rechargeable battery is compact and slots seamlessly into the base of the SlingStudio. The battery uses the existing power connection on the SlingStudio for recharging, so no need to deal with extra power adapters or chargers. This way, you can charge the SlingStudio when you’re not going to remote locations. I would argue that the fact the battery eliminates cable clutter and allows for more flexible positioning of the SlingStudio is reason enough in itself to purchase the battery.

In Use

Unboxing the SlingStudio and the accessories offered a modern experience. Everything was packed nicely in its own box, like the way many high-end consumer electronics are packaged. While the unboxing process is not often included in many of the reviews that I write, this was notable for the fact that it is different than the professional gear I usually get my hands on. While the product presentation of most professional gear involves ho-hum corrugated cardboard boxes, the SlingStudio unpacking experience made me want to use it right away. So, I did.

Something to note, regarding the operation of the Sling Studio, possession of an iPad (specifically an iPad Air 2 or newer) is imperative. I had a 12.9" iPad Pro on hand for the purposes of the review. After installing and opening a beta version of the Sling Console app, I was greeted with step-by-step instructions on how to set up the SlingStudio and create my first project. In general, the user interface is extremely intuitive, and requires little to no manual-diving to understand essential functionality.

After the initial setup of the SlingStudio, I started to connect different sources. Up to four sources can be monitored live (out of a maximum of 10 connected sources). All sources can be wireless, or one source can be connected directly via HDMI, with up to three other wireless sources. My test involved a computer connected to the HDMI input, a camcorder connected to a CameraLink, and an iPhone 6s running a beta version of Sling Media’s Capture app (an Android version of the app is also available). The wireless feeds were easily paired and set up within the app. Within 20 minutes I could connect all my video sources and begin to set up live-to-tape multi-camera recording to a USB-C hard drive. If you’re using a USB 3.0 hard drive with Type-A connection (the standard rectangular one), they can be connected using the available USB Expander.

On the iPad end, all four simultaneous video feeds are displayed in real time. There is a perceptible delay of about 2 seconds (doing everything over Wi-Fi does have limitations), but all transitions and cuts made by tapping the preview windows and take buttons happen immediately. Using an iPad instead of a traditional switcher with buttons and a T-bar renders any muscle memory you may have had with studio gear moot. However, the fact that nearly anyone can pick up the iPad and figure out how to operate the switching functionality is more than enough to make up for that. Audio mixing is also done within the Console app. Open up the audio mixer menu and the preview window is replaced by a touchscreen audio mixer for the camera audio and a dedicated line input on the SlingStudio. I didn’t get to test the line input, but it can come in handy for outputs from a mixing board if broadcasting a musical act, for instance.

Now, here’s something cool. If you’re recording to a hard drive or SD card, based on the recording bit-rate you select, and what type of recording you’re making, the Console app automatically updates itself to notify you how much recording time you have on that drive. If you need more recording time, free up some space before you record, choose a lower bit-rate for your project, or just use a different hard drive. The recording options themselves are comprehensive. You have the option of recording the final switched output and/or isolated video streams, plus a quad-view of all the video sources. Obviously, choosing to record all three options takes up the largest amount of hard drive space, but it could be worthwhile in post-production.

One thing I wanted to test was the reliability of the wireless connection of the CameraLink. My first test was done in ideal conditions. Line of sight was maintained, and the test itself was carried out in a relatively remote location with little wireless interference. I found that in these conditions, I could go about 200 feet from the SlingStudio before frames started to drop. A quick note; Sling Media informed me that the wireless unit that I had for testing was in beta, and that users of the final production hardware can expect clean transmissions up to 300-foot distances. The Console app has handy signal-strength bar indicators for real-time feedback. Don’t expect to get a reliable signal through walls, though. At home, I found that approximately 30 feet with a couple of walls in between were enough to basically stop transmission. Both tests were done using the “Video Pro” 1080p30 setting, transmitting at 16 Mbps. Reducing the transmission bit-rate can improve wireless distances in many cases, though for the full-quality HD transmission, I found the distance limitations quite reasonable.

Another main function of the SlingStudio is live-streaming to the Web. This part of the process wasn’t as intuitive—but once I got through the setup and started streaming, I could easily do it again. One thing that really surprised me about the streaming was the quality. A 1080p30 stream at 4 Mbps looked very good on YouTube with minimal compression artifacts, even with tough subject matter like trees and grass moving in the wind. Overall I would say the streaming quality was better than many live-streams that I’ve seen from novices and professionals alike. Streaming to Facebook Live is another option and RTMP, as well as other streaming services, will be available in the future.

Post-Production

What happens after you stream or record your event? Bring it in to post-production. If you have Adobe Premiere or Apple Final Cut Pro X, you’re in luck. If you decided to record ISO files from each source, SlingStudio has a free plug-in that can read the recorded files and immediately assemble a multi-camera timeline based on the cuts made to the ISO recording. This way, you can clean up any late cuts or choose better angles for a more polished end product.

Because of bit-rate limitations of the wireless technology, I found that the video I recorded directly to the SlingStudio to be of inferior quality compared to the HD video I recorded in-camera. While the files recorded by the SlingStudio themselves are adequate in terms of quality, you will benefit from recording in-camera, if possible. This way, you can use the files from the SlingStudio as proxy files to make your edit, and then replace them with the higher-quality files from your camera.

Analysis and Conclusion

I had a lot of fun with the SlingStudio. It’s an easy-to-understand and intuitive product that can be used by a wide range of consumers. I can see schools, universities, houses of worship, web-content channels, and even concert venues break into live streaming with this product. It works with most gear available to consumers. I tried my Sony a7S and PXW-Z150 with the CameraLink, both with success. However, if it was connected through the SDI-HDMI converter built into my SmallHD 702 Bright monitor, the audio was not detected. This is something that could be fixed in a future firmware update, but the issue was resolved by plugging the CameraLink directly into my camera’s HDMI port, rather than using the monitor’s output.

Aside from some very minor issues, there’s very little to nitpick. Most of the issues I had with the system were with the beta version of the Console app and, as per Sling Media, they were resolved by closing and reopening the app. In my opinion, the CameraLink would benefit from having a larger HDMI connection, though Sling Media thoughtfully includes a full-size to HDMI Type D adapter cable in the box. If your camera uses a smaller connection, be prepared to buy an additional cable.

Nitpicks aside, for a first-of-its kind product, Sling Media really did a great job with the SlingStudio. Anyone getting into live streaming can be sure that they will be getting a one-two punch setup with excellent streaming quality (pending upload speed) with the ability to edit their material after the fact, in a timely manner. What’s more is the price consideration. At the time of writing, a fully featured SlingStudio system will still come in at a significantly lower price than an existing similarly featured solution. And for this, I really must hand it to Sling Media for creating a fantastic product that is accessible not only for its ease of use, but for its price-to-performance ratio in the current live-switching and streaming market.

8 Comments

necesito conocer si la latencia en video es significativa, requiero transmitir en vivo el evento por las pantallas y un retraso de 2 segundos seria catastrofico y mas para un concierto, hay alguna manera de evitar este retraso en la salida de video en vivo?

I have the same question about using an external power source for all sling studio devices. I cover live high school sports and whether it's a football game or double header hoops match up, I definitely go longer than 2 hours at a shot. Overall, it looks like it would be ideal for my purposes.

Thanks for the review!  I was really excited about this product when I saw it NAB.  I film live events - mainly weddings - and this product can possibly save me hours in post-production, with the additional option (and up-sale) for live streaming.  I have two questions:

1) While recording on the SlingStudio Hub will it trigger my camera via hdmi timecode to record simultaneously?  This will help if I want to use the Hub's video files as proxies.   

2) Is there a way I can power the slingstuido hub and cameralink with a third-party battery (i.e. V-mount, anton Bauer or USB battery bank)?  I am concerned the internal battery in the camera link and the Hub's battery pack will not give me enough power for the longer events?  

Hello and thanks for the review  ..

i was waiting for some hands on review and here it is .. 

you said you can use the recorded videos as a proxy then confirm it to the camera recorded files ,,

but how you will get the exact files on both locations ? i mean you will confirm them based on what  ? 

is there any way to share some recorded footage just to know if it is usable or not .

last Q is will i get better quality video if i recorded only the PGM output on the hub .. or you will get the same quality videos 

regardless how many sources you record

once again thank you .. this is the 1st hands on review for this product on the internet .. 

Hi Fcp, and thanks for reading!

In post-production it is possible to replace the video tracks created by the SlingStudio, though I suppose it would depend on which NLE you are using (I used Adobe Premiere during this review) though the workflow is not as simple as a normal proxy workflow, as the file names initially won't match up between your cameras and the files recorded by the SlingStudio. Since the workflows I tried to make up are somewhat convoluted and need refinement I didn't publish them; for the sake of brevity and the aformentioned lack of refinement. Though the experiment that granted the highest rate of success involved converting the camera-recorded video to Pro-Res and changing the file name to match (still not totally perfected). If I can compose a foolproof proxy workflow, it may become a subject of a separate future article, but I can't make any promises at this time. I apologize if that doesn't clear up anything.

As for footage, I will try to get some footage together. Unfortunately, the time between having a fully operating kit and the deadline for this review was rather short, and assembling something worth presenting proved to be impossible in the end.

To answer your final question (and to end on a high note, I suppose), the video quality will remain consistent, regarless of how many inputs you record (if I am understanding your question correctly). The most video you can record simultaneously is your four video inputs, your program output, and a quad-view. Choosing to activate additional recordings or streaming while recording has no bearing on quality, Any recording made will be encoded at the bit-rate selected in the app (the internet stream is encoded separately, usually at a much lower bit-rate depending on your connection). The video quality of any of the recordings themselves is by no means bad. The ISO recorded video will be higher quality than streaming video due to the higher bit-rate, though in my experience it did fall slightly short of higher bit-rate in-camera recordings. Your mileage may vary, and if the video recorded inside the SlingStudio is adequate for your purposes, it definitely simplifies the workflow. In my opinion the convenience in workflow may be enough of a compromise to offset any qualms that I had with the internal recording.

I hope I answered your questions sufficiently, and as more people get their hands on this product, answers will definitely be more readily available. All the best!

Hi David 

thanks for your clear and detailed answers , i think it will be a perfect cloice for multicam online streaming but not for the full hd multicam recording ..

once again Thank you so much ..

all the best

Hi,

I just want to add that ISO recordings on Slingstudio are H.264 compressed and can be recorded upto 1080p60 resolutions at upto 30Mbps bit rate. This quality would suffice for number of use cases. If your requirement is ProRes or Raw quality or higher, native camera recordings would be better option and in this case, Slingstudio ISO recordings can be used as proxy to drop in native camera recordings in post. 

necesito conocer si la latencia en video es grande, requiero transmitir en vivo el evento por las pantallas y un retraso de 2 segundos seris catastrofico y mas para un concierto, hay alguna manera de evitar este retraso en la salida de video en vivo?

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