The incredible camera power available in a smartphone today — professional grade still images and ultra high definition 4K movies including slow motion — has disrupted the business of broadcast video as nothing else in the last 50 years. And the option of live streaming via YouTube, Facebook or WhatsApp, has made each one of us, into potential newscasters, able to compete with the best and brightest — if we are in the right place at the right time.
There was one small element that separated amateur broadcasters from hardcore professionals: a studio where the output from multiple cameras, some indoors, others anywhere in the world, are captured, edited and broadcast, complete with subtitles, banners, crawling text and graphics. Now, in a feat of significant innovation, engineers at the Indian end of US-based Internet TV solutions provider, Sling Media, have shrunk a TV production platform to fit into a backpack.
The core of the system is the SlingStudio, a 1.5 kg table-top, battery-operated unit that can wirelessly connect up to 7 recording sources: full function video cameras, handy-cams or even smartphones. It connects these devices with an app called Studio Console runs on an Apple device, typically an iPad. The app allows you to edit and mix the video streams, add in-line audio and running text, display the output as quad windows or picture-in-picture — and broadcast live to your own channel or to YouTube or any messaging app which adheres to what is known as RTMP or Real Time Messaging Protocol.
You can also store the live video and edit it later, using tools like Adobe Premiere Pro or Apple Final Cut Pro...... all this on 4K-quality TV. The most useful feature is that any compatible smartphone ( all Apple phones and select Android phones) can serve as cameras that wirelessly connect to the Sling Studio console. If you have older handy-cams or movie cameras that don't come with wireless, you can either wire them using a mini HDMI port or insert a very useful CameraLink device, the size of a small remote, provided by Sling, to create a wireless connection.
In the US and Canada where SlingStudio is currently marketed, it has seen big usage with Shaadi-ka-video providers, for corporate in-house TV channels and for lay users like students to broadcast sports events from multiple angles. While the SlingStudio main unit sells for under $ 1000, a full starter pack with a battery, Camera Link unit and extra USB expanders all in a backpack costs $ 1745. Sheer word-of-mouth excitement among TV professionals has led to the availability of the system in India at sites like Amazon at prices upward of Rs 2 lakhs. But a word of caution: There is currently no support in this country. You need iOS devices — iPad and iPhone — to be sure it works, though some made for US Android phones may meet the required standard.
But you can't keep a great idea down. At the Bangalore Centre of Sling Media, I got to try my hand at using SlingStudio in a broadcasting scenario and experiencing its intuitive ease of deployment.
A floor full of engineers are supporting the US market — and as Country Head Vineet Govil explained to me, multiple teams are already innovating to widen the scope and reach of the world's handiest coolest TV studio in a bag.