Building a DIY wireless directors monitor

Wireless_client_monitor_Smallhd

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 .

Teradek ACE 500 wireless directors Monitor

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.
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 (above) it made the initial research easier.

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 Nyrius Aeries Pro (100ft) & Prime (30ft)

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.

 

The SmallHD 702 bright was a great option for this project. 7" bright HD image with SDI & HDMI ports.

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:

  1. Long life (i estimated a full day’s use using only one battery).
  2. I wasn’t using them much any more, only occasionally when needing portable lighting.
  3. 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.
I ordered a bunch of different cables to connect the unit up which i’ll cover further down as well as some black cable ties & a set of SmallRIG Allen key screws so i can tighten all the connections easily with an allen key. It’s also easier to take an allen key with me when flying with carry on luggage only. 
D-tap_power_wireless_directors_monitor
The idea is to put a v-lock battery on the back of the rig, the receiver in the middle and the monitor at the front.

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

  1. 7.3V D-tap output
  2. 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.

Dummy_battery_small_HD_702
Using this thin dummy battery kept the unit slim and compact whilst freeing up my actual L-series batteries for other equipment

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.

USB_power_for_nyrius_receiver
On location, this spare USB port will definitely come in handy!

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!  

Nyrius_wireless_client_monitor
In the centre of the image you can see how tight it was between the D-tap connector and the screw at the back of the cage

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)
At the bottom of the image you can see the 90 degree elbow adapter coming out of the HDMI out of the receiver, wrapping around the outside of the cage (which was unavoidable) and then feeding into the HDMI in on the monitor. 
V-lock_battery_plate_smallhd_monitor
Nyrius receiver with cable tied through the vents & antenna side sticking out for better signal

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.

Nyrius_HDMI_video_cage
Plenty of black cable ties and cable wrapping. Having the receiver sit flush with the back of the cage means there is space to press the on / off button even when the monitor is attached. It also meant there was about 3cm of space between the back of the monitor and the receiver which reduces overheating and increases signal strength.
Cable_management_HDMI_monitor
The USB connector in the middle of the screen is the D-tap to 2A female powering the male USB to Nyrius receiver

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!

Wireless_video_transmitter_battery
The transmitter unit is fairly simple.

Real world use experience


Pros:

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.

Using the wireless directors monitor while working on Habitus House of the Year


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!!

Viewing the screen in full sun during summer was possible.

 

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.

Cons

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.

Studio_video_production_wireless_monitor

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.

Total cost

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.

Hire Paulfor your next video project

Paul and his team of trusted video crew are available for day rate hire or project rate hire in Adelaide at local rate, Australia wide or Global at very competitive rates.
Camera kits can be built for custom jobs. See full kit list here 
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Sony Fs7 real world camera review

This Sony FS7 review is intended to provide my initial thoughts on what it’s like to shoot out on location in a fast paced production environment. It is a not a scientific test. 

When i get my hands on a new camera for paid work i always like to have at least a few weeks in advance to have a play around with it in the real world or at least do a quick simple shoot in order to get a feel for it and how it works. 

Unfortunately, with this Sony FS7, i received delivery of the camera 5 days before setting off on an 8 day shoot in Singapore & Thailand to DOP on series 1 of “Habitus House of the Year” for MWC / Channel 7 here in Australia. Along with a new microphone setup (Sony dual channel UWD), it was safe to say i didn’t know the equipment as well as i liked to before boarding the plane.

I paid a visit to one of my Adelaide based DP mates, Dave Gregan who does some work at a camera hire house. He gave me a quick run down on the settings and his normal operating setup which proved to be extremely helpful once the first frame started to roll, more on that later.

My previous workhorse - the sony fs700

Over the past few years, the Sony FS700 has been my workhorse camera paired with an Odyssey 7Q when 4k / Pro-res etc was required. 

Apart from creating beautiful pictures, this setup was an absolute nightmare when I wasn’t shooting structured, tripod setups and doing a bit more movement / off the shoulder work. The rig weighed quite a bit and was just not very enjoyable to use for extended periods of time. 

Here is a short video I produced with the FS700 & Odyssey

Sony fs700 with Odyssey
The Sony FS700 paired with an Odyssey 7Q - great pictures but a challenging form factor. Image: Paul Moses

fs7 Form factor and ergonomics

 

The moment i started using the Sony FS7, i knew i was going to like the form factor and knew that i wouldn’t need to build a huge rig with loads of add-ons to make this camera work the way i like – minimal, light with not much fuss. 

The camera felt comfortable on my shoulder when doing a bit of run and gun around Bangkok City, I do suffer from a bit of elbow & shoulder pain sometimes on heavy setups but on this shoot – i was not uncomfortable at all – this made me very happy!

Overall verdict on the form factor is great, i’m very happy with how it feels, the weight and how comfortable it feels on the shoulder.

viewfinder & hand grip

 

In my opinion, the viewfinder felt about 1 inch too long, i had the viewfinder extended forward on the rod as far as it would go and still needed to tilt my had back a tad in order to position my eye correctly down the viewfinder. These types of Sony loupe’s have been around for 6-7 years now and it would have been nice if Sony released an updated version that would allow me to adjust the length without needing to pull the whole thing apart.

It’s great to have a dedicated peaking button on the viewfinder, in enables me to check focus quickly by pressing the focus zoom button on the handgrip with me right hand and toggle peaking on an off if i wish with my left hand. It makes checking critical focus super quick and reliable.

The only extras i have purchased for the camera is the shape arm extender which allows me to extend and ‘collapse’ the arm without the need for any tools. The extender is well build and solid. There were however, two occasions during the 8 day shoot when the handle ‘slipped’ out of its grip without me releasing it on purpose. At this stage i’m not 100% sure if this is a fault by myself or a slight weak point in the extended arm.

 

“The moment i started using the Sony FS7, i knew i was going to like the form factor and knew that i wouldn’t need to build a huge rig with loads of add-ons to make this camera work the way i like – minimal, light with not much fuss.”

The Sony FS7 paired with the Shape Arm made for a comfortable shoot in Bangkok. Image: Steve Sweet

batteries

 

For the shoot days which were quite long with the camera being on and recording for up to 6 hours a day the batteries held up well. I took 2 of the large Sony BPU-60 batteries and 1 of the smaller BPU-30 ones.

In reflection, i ideally would have taken an extra small one to get me through without needing to stress about the possibility of running out of batteries. It didn’t happen but there were 2 or 3 days when i was down to my last battery for the last scenes of the day and it’s not a position i like to be in.

I should mention that i was running the microphone receiver off the camera battery (i loved the fact i wasn’t burning through AA batteries, both for my pocket and for the planet). The receiver was taking in two wireless feeds so i can imagine it was quite hungry for power from the battery. On longer days i was running the receiver off AA’s to lengthen the battery life.

I was also using mainly prime lens’ which were not taking any battery power for servo zooms etc.

media

Nothing much to say about the media, I took 384Gb worth of cards and there was only one day i used more than one 128Gb card (shooting in HD XAVC-I 25p)

shooting with the camera

 

As with the nature of filming  series on architecture, we filmed indoors in a lot in magnificent houses with huge windows, skylights, pool lights, basements, and garden canopies. 

We decided it was best to shoot the series in Sony’s s-log3 gamma curve for the added dynamic range to help soften the difference between inside and outside while capturing these houses.

The first thing i learned was when shooting in CINE EI S-LOG3, was that i couldn’t do a colour balance when arriving in a new scene / light setup. 

I was restricted to 3 pre defined settings on the camera (3200, 4700 & 5600k) initially i was a tad worried about this but having since seen the images in post, very little harsh colour correction was needed. They were a little warm for my liking when on 5600k but i could just pull the temperature down slightly in Premiere.

I enabled a LUT in the viewfinder and basically kept a keen eye on my waveform monitor while using the HI/LOW key that Dave had setup on one of the custom buttons to monitor hi-lights and low-lights. I thought this feature was great! It really enabled me to quickly see how much i was capturing in the extreme lighting ends of the picture and to make sure i wasn’t clipping. 

I missed the ability to be able to assign a custom button to quickly turn the LUT in the viewfinder on & off (As far as i know this cannot be done? Maybe i have missed this as i’m still new to this camera, please comment below if it’s possible to do this). My work around to check the s-log picture being recorded to the media was to turn on S&Q motion which disables the LUT before pressing record just to check. 

PLEASE NOTE: If you try to do this, make sure your S&Q frame rate is the same as the frame rate that you’re shooting in, i got caught with this once and ended up over exposing the shot because when i checked the slog picture the shutter speed was increased due to the slow motion frame rate so the log picture i saw was dark so i adjusted my aperture to compensate. 

When i exited out of the Log view (S&Q motion) the shutter speed went back to 50 for the 25p setting and i didn’t quite notice that the LUT was showing slightly clipping highlights. Learnt my lesson there!

If anyone has a better way to quickly check the s-log picture being recorded while a LUT is enabled on the monitor please let me know in the comments.

The controls and buttons on the camera seem like second nature to me having used Sony camera’s for the past 13 years, things seemed natural and it’s a well designed camera for usability.

The Sony FS7 was a fast and nimble camera on the go. Image: Steve Sweet
Shooting a scene in Bangkok with the Sony FS7. Image: Steve Sweet

SONY S-LOG before and after grading

 

Below are a few raw screen grabs from the camera before grading and after i have done a bit of playing around in Premiere. The S-LOG certainly has given us a lot more freedom in the range of light gathered before the picture breaks down.

I tried to expose most of the images about 1 stop over to allow us to crush down slightly in the grade to remove the small about of noise generated by the native 2000ISO

Audio

As the saying goes, audio is 50% of the picture. There is nothing like having a dedicated sound recordist on projects like these. But as we all know with some budgets, it’s not always possible.

Since 2013 i have been using a pair of sennheiser G3 wireless lapel microphone packs. They have served me very well and have rarely let me down. Recently, I have noticed that the range was going on them and i was getting a lot of static spikes in the audio. 

After speaking to the techs at sennheiser support it was deduced that the antenna’s on the transmitters were on the way out. They need repairing but i didn’t have time so i decided to buy a pair of Sony’s wireless transmitters and a dual channel receiver. 

After shooting with them for 8 days i have to say i’m very impressed with them. The range was fantastic and usability was simple and straightforward. I could do a quick scan once arriving at a new location in about 20 seconds and the ability to run the receiver off the camera batteries will save me around $200 a year in AA batteries*. 

The first time i used the microphones was in fairly central Singapore on day 1 and i did have trouble finding a free channel and was getting a bit of static. My immediate thought was “these are terrible, what a waste of $2k and i want my money back!” But i later realised it was most probably a result of so many radio frequencies being used in the tiny country that is Singapore. 

In Thailand and in Australia i haven’t had a single blip. Overall very happy with these and will probably fix the sennheiser’s and then sell them in the near future.

In summary

All in all my initial thoughts on the Sony FS7 is thats it’s a well designed TV production / online content camera that is perfectly usable straight out of the box. 

I would recommend getting the shape arm or similar, it just makes using the camera a lot easier on the go, it also enables me to quickly fold the arm backwards on itself to fit into the camera bag without needing to pull it apart – thats a big plus for me!

It produced beautiful looking pictures even in HD. If this show gets picked up for a second series i will most likely shoot in 4k which i’m sure will look amazing coupled with the locations and the amazing houses.

 

* The reason i use AA’s instead of rechargeable ones is i already have 4 cameras and numerous other batteries for portable lights etc that i need to charge nightly after a shoot day, i don’t want to think about charging AA batteries every night as well.

Hire Paulfor your next video project

Paul and his team of trusted video crew are available for day rate hire or project rate hire in Adelaide at local rate, Australia wide or Global at very competitive rates.
Camera kits can be built for custom jobs. See full kit list here 
Get in touch for availability and rates