When it comes to providing a director or client with a live feed out of the camera i have always rented from my local hire house, either with a wired, umbilical cord esque SDI or HDMI cable connected from the camera to the monitor or via a higher end (and expensive) wireless directors monitor transmitter & receiver system.
Having a live feed with minimal delay coming from the camera adds an enormous amount of value to a shoot in my opinion, it allows for greater collaboration, a more relaxed set with more people being able to see whats going on, it allows for a closer director – d.o.p relationship and in the end, less possible problems in the edit suite with more eyes on the image being captured, the less chance of mistakes.
A few months ago i had a number of TVC freelance d.o.p gigs in Adelaide that required a monitor for my director. I also landed a series gig directing Australia by Design so i thought it was time to bite the bullet and find a wireless directors monitor system for myself when directing as well as for clients and directors when i’m shooting.
IF you can afford the high end systems - go for it
I decided that for the time being, i was going to lean on the more budget friendly side instead of shelling out $3-$4k (AUD) for a high end purpose made transmitter & receiver system such as the Teradek.
The reason for this was a mix of the cost and being the Christmas period, i had a few quiet weeks with work so i had the time to research and build a DIY system. It’s important to note that, if you have the budget to buy a purpose built solution then go for it, the reliability, build and range of signal are why you pay the money and will be hard to match on a DIY system .
What i wanted the setup to be
When setting out to build the unit, there were a few key features i wanted to achieve:
- I didn’t want to be swapping batteries every hour or so – ideally i wanted to use one or two batteries for a full day of shooting
- Minimal cables hanging everywhere, i like neat!
- I shoot outdoors a lot so i wanted a good quality monitor that i could see under the bright Australian sun.
- I wanted to use as much equipment / hardware that i already own to keep the build costs down.
wireless transmitter / receiver research
After a bit of googling and youtube searching i found the Nyrius transmitter / receiver which basically plugs into the HDMI out port on your camera and transmits a HD picture to a receiver up to 100ft away. The receiver then plugs into your monitors HDMI-IN and just like that, you have a wireless HD live picture all from USB 5v power. Simple in theory!
I decided that this would be the solution i’d try out. I had a look on amazon and saw the Nyrius for sale for $150 USD, i’d seen it advertised on the Nyrius homepage for $249 so i thought it looked like a bargain and excitedly pressed the order button. It wasn’t until a few days later after receiving the ‘your order has shipped’ email that i noticed that i had accidentally bought the entry level model which only transmits up to 30ft… Grrrr! My bad.
This wasn’t going to be a strong enough signal, especially after putting it into a cage surrounded by aluminium. A few days later i saw someone was selling the Pro (100ft) version on Facebook marketplace for $300 AUD so i bought that with the intention of returning the 30ft version once it arrived.
“There are multiple ways of building this type of rig, the important part is to research enough so you can build a system that suits you and how you plan to use the kit. Once i decided whats important to me, it made the initial research easier.”
the monitor & cage research
There are many many options out there when it comes to monitors and each brand and model has it’s pro’s and con’s. For me, wanting a bright, outdoor viewable screen, i found a guy selling a second hand SmallHD 702 Bright field monitor which was perfect! I’d rented one for a job just a month before so i knew i liked them.
The monitor displays a sharp 1920 x 1080 picture, has SDI and HDMI in & out which was a bonus for me as i do plan on using the monitor as an on camera screen from time to time using SDI. The monitor also boasts a very decent 1000nits brightness level. I got in touch and purchased.
The cage was a fairly easy purchase coming from a recommendation from a mate of mine, the super cheap Neewer Directors Monitor Cage is a no frills, basic & fairly modular option, it’s a tad on the heavy side but will do fine for my needs.
batteries, cables & parts research
In my existing camera kit, i use 3 types of batteries:
- Sony L series (b-cam Sony FS700)
- Sony BP series (main cam Sony FS7)
- V-lock IDX (Sony FS700, Lupolux lights & light panel)
I was planning on selling my Sony FS700 so initially i thought i’d make the most of the L series by using them on this wireless directors monitor build. The problem with this is they are the large ones and will stick out the back of the monitor potentially not allowing space to fit the video signal receiver inside the cage. After summing up the pro’s and con’s i decided to go with using v-lock due to:
- Long life (i estimated a full day’s use using only one battery).
- I wasn’t using them much any more, only occasionally when needing portable lighting.
- They are sturdy and i could attach the battery to the back of the cage and use it as a little stand so the monitor can sit on a table and not fall over.
Building the DIY wireless directors video monitor
The Nyrius pro unit i bought second hand arrived in the mail the same day as the monitor so i opened it up to test it out straight away, plugging the transmitter into the HDMI out on the FS7 & the receiver into the HDMI in on the SmallHD. I powered the Nyrius Tx & Rx using various USB power points in had in the office, i turned on the unit to find…. Nothing! No image, just a black screen.
What followed was 3 hours of testing every scenario i could think off, i tested 3 different cameras, i tested using an old Nano flash from yesteryear, i changed HDMI cables, changed USB power sources thinking it could be something to do with Amperage yet still nothing. Eventually i called the guy who sold it to me to explain and luckily he was a decent person and offered full refund. So, i was back to square one! I had no choice but to wait until the Nyrius prime (30ft) range model arrived off Amazon, return that and then purchase a new Pro (100ft) version off Amazon.
3 weeks later...
When the ‘pro’ version arrived, i had all the wireless directors monitor parts i needed, the monitor, the cage, the tx & rx and all the cables and adaptors i needed so it was time to start the build.
I had a slim v-lock backing plate that i wasn’t really using anymore connected to an old westside AV fs700 rig i bought around 8 years ago. I decided to cut off the end and screw this onto the back of the cage which after a bit of messing around with screws fit quite well. The v-lock backing plate had two power outputs
- 7.3V D-tap output
- 12v – 16.8v D-tap output
Going back on my goal to power everything on the unit from one battery for as long as possible, i realised i could power the SmallHD monitor with a D-tap to Sony L series dummy battery, this would also free my actual L-series batteries up to use elsewhere on set.
To power the 5v 2A Nyrius receiver i found this D-tap to split female USB cable. This has 1 x 2A source and 1 x 1A source. Having this spare USB port on board while out on location has been great to charge my phone or the backup power bank i use to power the transmitter.
The D-tap connector luckily fit perfectly into the V-lock plate with less than a 1mm space between the plastic D-tap connector and the back of the cage itself… A happy coincidence!
fitting the receiver and cable management
This was a challenge! I tried a number of ways to do this but eventually settled on using one allen screw that i fitted onto the middle of the back of the cage on the inside. i screwed it in half way and then ‘snap hooked’ it into the base of the nyrius. This seemed to half hold it in place. I then fed a few cable ties through the ventilation gaps at the base of the receiver and fixed them to the cage. This worked great and the unit is now held tight to the cage. Few things to note:
- I had to completely open up the cage by removing a lot of screws to give me space to fit the receiver into the back and have enough room to rotate it to tighten the screw. I then re-screwed the cage back together.
- I positioned the receiver so that the part with the signal antenna on the inside has the most ‘breathing space’ away from the cage to increase signal strength (see image below)
The cable management was pretty simple, hide as much as i can inside the cage and cable tie them up so they aren’t loose and won’t get snagged on anything. The length of the USB cable coming from the D-tap to the receiver and spare 1A female USB is a little longer than what i need but it was the shortest i could find.
transmitter from camera to receiver
Setting up the transmitter was a lot easier and fairly simple. I had an old Rycote cold shoe extender in the cupboard doing very little so i put it to use. To rig this up to a camera op’s setup all i need is a spare cold shoe, it takes 30 seconds to attach. I am powering the unit via 1x 5,000mah power bank which lasts about 4-5 hours of shooting. I have a much smaller backup battery that i’ve had to use occasionally in the afternoon on a full day shoot.
The little package is held together via a very amateur set of colourful elastic bands. I will find a more aesthetically pleasing solution in the next few weeks!
One usb cable from the battery to the transmitter and then a HDMI cable for the feed out of the camera into the transmitter and thats pretty much it!
Real world use experience
Overall i’m pretty happy with how this has worked out. It’s been amazing on set as a producer / director to get a live feed from the camera op and collaborate in real time about what visual look we are going with.
I have been working outside during the Australian summer in January and have been able to see the screen without too much trouble, it’s very bright! The v-lock battery solution has been a good gamble, 2 weeks ago we flew to Perth, Western Australia for a 4 day shoot and i only had to take two v-lock batteries. 1 battery is powering the monitor and receiver for around 5-6 hours. I also charged my phone during lunch on one day via the spare USB output! It was useful and very satisfying!!
It’s worth noting that i have also been receiving an audio signal through the 3.5mm output on the small HD 702 monitor.
The unit itself is quite portable, i travel a lot on planes to locations and i’ve actually just been removing the battery and monitor to fit the wireless directors monitor into a carry on bag very comfortably.
The delay in video display is very minimal and am really impressed with this, it’s maybe 2-3 frames at most and does not distract me in anyway when conducting interviews / pieces to camera etc.
The signal! The signal can drop out occasionally even when i’m only 5m away from the camera op. This has not been a deal breaker though and usually comes back on if i step closer. There have been times when i’m 10-15m away and it’s been fine. Especially when the weather has been really good but i’m not sure if this has anything to do with it!
It’s also a tad heavy, i found an old DSLR camera strap from my A77 in the cupboard which i attached to the rig with cable ties, i wear the unit now over one shoulder like a satchel and it’s really comfortable for long periods.
The screw holding in the monitor can become loose after a days filming. I need to work out a better solution here.
Future upgrade ideas
How far do i want to go with this? I know there is an antenna hack i could look into to try and extend the signal of the video transmission. To be honest, for my needs, i haven’t needed to be further than a few meters away from the camera op / director. But this could be a nice upgrade in future.
I could look into a bluetooth audio option using the usb power port available on the cage.
For now though i am very happy with this solution.
Using as much of my existing equipment as possible in creating this piece of equipment has definitely reduced the cost, in particular not having to buy batteries and using my existing v-lock battery plate.
All up including the SmallHD 702 bright monitor, the Nyrius transmitter & receiver, the cage and various cables, the total came in a $1424 AUD.
A large part of this cost is made up of the monitor which was important to me as i want to make multiple uses out of it. You could significantly bring the budget cost down for this build by replacing the smallHD with a liliput or an Atomos Shinobi monitor. E.g the cost with a liliput monitor would come in at a total cost for the unit at around the $850 mark.
If you have any questions with this project, feel free to leave a comment below, i will reply asap.