Video / Hands-on Review

VisLink HEROCast: What is it Good For?

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To some, VisLink’s HEROCast product might be a bit confusing. At its heart, it’s a wireless transmission system and interface between a GoPro HERO camera and professional broadcast equipment. Some might still ask about consumer devices that perform similar tasks for a lesser cost, so let’s delve into what makes the HEROCast special, and how it is designed to be implemented.

The qualities that separate consumer and professional solutions in video equipment are usually obvious. Professionals require the utmost in quality and reliability. In most cases, many of these robust solutions involve large pieces of equipment, not only to fit all the recording, timecode, genlock, wireless, power, and other technical goodies inside, but also for ergonomics and familiarity. Occasionally, however, a disruptive technology will come along to rock the industry, piquing the interest of consumers and seasoned pros alike.

Why the GoPro HERO?

The GoPro camera was one such product. Being small, impact-resistant, and even waterproof, these relatively miniscule cameras didn’t only gain popularity with extreme sports enthusiasts, but with professional DPs that needed crash cameras or required special angles that could only be captured with a small and light camera. The relatively miniscule replacement cost was also another plus. With earlier GoPro camera models, the video quality could suffice for quick cuts on HD episodic TV or for playback on broadcast TV, though, not really up to snuff for serious screen time.

Advancements and miniaturizations of technology allowed GoPro cameras to be used as part of mainstream productions. With the advent of the HERO3 and HERO4 generations that could record in 1080 and higher resolutions, there was no longer as much of a significant quality compromise. Sports productions could attach HERO cameras on players’ and referees’ helmets. Musical performance productions could use footage from GoPros mounted on the drum kit, a guitar headstock, or even high above the stage. Reality television could use a few as hidden cameras for extra angles. The video quality was adequate for professional use in these special cases; however, some practical limitations remained.

Sure, operations that didn’t need the HERO for the live component of their production were perfectly fine with using these tiny cameras as they were. With the introduction of the HEROCast system from VisLink, a fully professional live solution became not only viable, but practical, as well. VisLink’s aim was to create a professional solution that allows the HERO camera to remain small and unobtrusive, yet transmit H.264-encoded 720p or 1080i HD video. The receiver can then output the video over SDI, while adding accurate timecode into the SDI signal and providing a genlock interface.

Hands-On

I had an opportunity to test the HEROCast system here at the B&H offices. It felt rather strange carrying two large hard cases just to use a single HERO camera wirelessly. The HEROCast being professional equipment and all, it made sense. I took out the transmitter and handheld receiver from their respective cases and assembled them in no time at all. I had the standard wireless transmission kit, which attaches to the HERO via an HDMI cable. A BacPac kit is available, as well, for those looking for a fully integrated solution. Productions that don’t require the handheld receiver can use the standard PROceiver, which has similar functionality in a more tabletop-friendly format.

Once set to the same frequency, the transmitter and receiver linked up just fine. Settings on the receiver are adjusted using the built-in keys and OSD, many advanced settings are available to those that require them. The transmitter, on the other hand, has no OSD to check settings. Using the software provided on a USB stick, I could connect the transmitter via USB and dive into the available settings. Of note were the settings for the transmission frequency (many of which are available in blocks that need to be licensed to gain access), and transmission strength. At the minimum transmission strength of 10mW I could reliably receive transmission from around 40 feet away, through several walls. Logically speaking, higher transmission strengths will achieve better results, though will require more power.

Power for both the transmitter and receiver are required. To keep the size down, power can be supplied to the transmitter by a standard BacPac battery or with a BacPac DC coupler. The portable receiver can be powered via the built-in V-mount or Gold mount battery plate or its internal battery. The non-handheld PROceiver includes a power supply for connecting to mains power. The relatively small size of the transmitter unit is one of the most important aspects of the HEROCast system. In the case of the HDMI-tethered transmitter I had, the camera could be placed on a helmet and the transmitter on a belt clip out of the way.

Use Cases

So, who can take advantage of such a system? After getting hands-on with the technology, I have a few ideas.

One of the most publicized uses of the HEROCast system that I recall was at the 2015 NHL All-Star game. Players and referees were wired up to provide previously unachieved POV shots in a live broadcast production. The durability of the GoPro system, combined with the reliability and quality of the HEROCast’s transmission and connection, was the point of consideration for using the VisLink product. Other sporting events that have used the HEROCast system include the PGA TOUR and Basketball at “Ole Miss.” These have been covered on Explora in this article by my colleague, Justin Dise, so please check out that article for technical details on those specific productions.

Sports is a fairly well documented application for this wireless tech. But what other productions can the HEROCast fit? Live reality TV is definitely one area that comes to mind. In an era where live broadcasting over YouTube, Facebook, Twitch, and other sites is really building up steam, exceptional gear can definitely be leveraged to help set your production apart from the norm. For example, setting up some wireless GoPro HERO cameras takes almost no time at all. The entire back end of your production, the switcher, audio mixer, monitors, and streaming hardware can all be set up in a small vehicle, transforming it into a mini OB van! Setup time is minimal, and the connection will continue to be reliable, as the frequency blocks used by the HEROCast won’t conflict with Wi-Fi or cellular traffic. The cameras can be mounted nearly anywhere, so getting coverage in crowded situations is not difficult. Based on my brief hands-on trial with the system, the HEROCast is an essential tool for the mobile broadcast studio. Need to get coverage in space-constrained or covert conditions without laying SDI and Timecode cables? A HERO camera and HEROCast wireless system will get the job done reliably.

Conclusion

Think you know any other cool applications for this pro-grade wireless equipment? Leave us a comment, below. If you want to know more about the HEROCast and other VisLink products, feel free to contact the Studio at B&H for product information, pricing, and demonstrations.

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