Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NewTek's new Tricaster 40: Right price point, wrong feature set

Earlier today, NewTek announced a new Tricaster, the 40, that offers HD video switching at a very competitive price. The Tricaster 40 has six live inputs and three internal video sources, including an internal hard drive that can store up to 20 hours of 1080i HD video. It also offers the same 24 virtual sets as NewTek's more expensive Tricasters, making it one of the least expensive ways to use professional virtual sets. The entire package weighs 19 pounds and is about the size of Shuttle's small form factor PCs. The Tricaster 40 lists for $4,995, and its optional dedicated control surface is $1,995.

The biggest problem that I have with the Tricaster 40 is that all of its inputs and outputs are analog, not HDMI or SDI. If you want digital inputs, you have to step up to the Tricaster 455 A La Carte model (without a control surface) for $15,995. Virtually every camera and camcorder that you'd want to use for HD production today has either a HDMI or SDI output, so with the Tricaster 40, you're stuck with a stack of converters and a rat's nest of cables. Blackmagic Design's ATEM 1 M/E, which has four HDMI and four SDI inputs, along with HDMI and SDI outputs, lists for $2,495. It seems to me that the decision by NewTek to leave professional digital video inputs and outputs off the 40 wasn't so much a cost-saving measure as it was a deliberate attempt to keep the 40 from cannibalizing the company's more expensive Tricasters. That might have worked when NewTek was the only game in town, but customers are now very aware that they have other choices.

At this point, the only reason that I'd recommend a Tricaster 40 over the ATEM 1 M/E is for the virtual set capability. If you want to use virtual sets, the Tricaster 40 is a steal. Also, if you want to use a dedicated control surface, you can save some money over an ATEM 1 M/E ($6,990 for the Tricaster 40 and control surface vs. $8,485 for the ATEM 1 M/E with control surface and HyperDeck Studio dual-slot disk recorder.) However, the best solution would be for NewTek to "bite the bullet" and put professional inputs and outputs on a device that's screaming for them.
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Gambit242 said...

I'm excited that you are showing interest in TriCaster and talking about it!

Our CTO, Dr. Andrew Cross addressed this very issue in a post on the NewTek discussion forums this morning. Rather than paraphrase, I'll just share his post!


This is my non official 2c's on inputs, connector types, life and the universe in general:

When you design a product you are faced with a myriad of decisions and problems to work out. Finding the correct type of connectors and connection types is a big one, and we spent a lot (and I really mean a LOT) of time looking into and talking to people about. We really looked at all of the options.

SDI is obviously great if you are in the professional space .... but we want this to work for bloggers, schools, churches; frankly a single SDI camera would set them back as much as we wanted to be able to sell this product for, much less 4 of them!

HDMI was a serious contender, but has some major drawbacks. First, HDMI connectors are non-locking, and almost seem designed to fall out. Second, cables cannot be run any real distance, and are still quite expensive. For even a medium-sized room, you cannot just run cables across the floor when setting up doing a 4 camera shoot. Typcially, you need to go around walls and over doors. Even a small conference room is going to need 50ft of cabling per camera at least and this is prohibitive for HDMI. HDMI also has HDCP issues that are almost impossible to work out for many users.

There are also a lot of cameras with HDMI output that do not work in live mode (providing only tape-playback), and there is no real way to look at their specifications and know whether a particular device works or not (go to Best Buy and enjoy the blank stares when you ask someone about this!). You can of course use HDMI extender boxes (e.g. through ethernet cables); but these are non-standard, require a box on both ends, or special cabling that might be hit and miss, along with introducing more inline connections - asking for trouble.
Analog. For most people currently entry level live production, this seems to be the best approach by far. Cabling is a non-issue both in terms of reliability, length and cost. Connectors are locking. All cameras we looked at (even the latest) continue to have component outputs. Even if you do have a particular need for HDMI, HDMI->Component converter boxes are less than $30 online, and only need a box on one end of the cable. Last and certainly not least, lots of people that we think want to produce video have older cameras they can use (even as secondary cameras). If we went HDMI or SDI we would be forcing them to buy all new cameras. This would be a real burden, actually impossible for many schools, churches, etc., to meet).

Our mission was to make a product that that just works for everyone wanting to make amazing looking video today, but who could not afford to until now. We strongly beleive that this is what we have achieved. This also explains why TriCaster is an integrated solution, not one requiring you to purchase your own computer, add working connectors to it, then forcing you to debug drive performance issues, DPC latency issues, etc., etc., etc.)

NewTek has always been about revolutionizing markets, and we strongly believe that TriCaster 40 does that.

Andrew Cross, Ph.D
CTO. NewTek


Let me know if there are any questions! I'm looking forward to visiting with you!

Philip Nelson
SVP - Artist & Media Relations
Philip AT NewTek DOT com

Unknown said...

Philip, thanks for your (or really, Andrew's) comment. His points are all well-taken, but they avoid a few facts:

1) Nothing he says argues against the fact that any camera or camcorder that you buy will have a HDMI connector. One cable for audio and video is much easier to deal with than multiple cables for audio and video for each input.

2) There are locking HDMI connectors available, negating much of the argument about HDMI cables coming out. And frankly, I'd rather deal with one connector for each input than lots of them.

3) Why introduce a new product that needs converter boxes out of the box? That's looking backward, not forward.

4) The very fact that he had to make this post on the same day that the Tricaster 40 was released indicates that there's been a lot of pushback against your decision to go with analog connections.

At the end of the day, in my opinion, his post is a lot of hand-waving to try to disguise a poor design decision. It's up to the market now to decide, but if I was a betting man, I'd expect a model with digital connections by NAB next year.

Unknown said...

One more point that I should have made in my response: It's not like HDMI just started appearing on cameras--it's been included as a standard connection on cameras and camcorders for several years. If a church, school, etc. is serious about upgrading to HD but they're using very old cameras, they should also upgrade their cameras or stick with SD. It certainly appears that the core use case for the Tricaster 40 is legacy customers with old equipment who are willing to pay $5,000+ for a new switcher but not a dime for new cameras.

Unknown said...

Even some high end corporate installs use component wiring because of HDCP issues. You would be very surprised.

Unknown said...

It's fairly common to see HDCP problems in consumer equipment, but a professional or prosumer camcorder shouldn't have HDCP turned on in live or playback modes, and a professional switcher should simply ignore it. So, if there are problems, it's most likely due to either a misconfiguration or a bad HDCP design in either the camcorder or switcher.

GreenGenes said...

Hi Len,

I'd have to agree with you. Even consumer cameras down to $300 have live HDMI out without HDCP issues. I know lots of people buying Canon Vixias if they don't have the immediate budget for "ProSumer" cameras.

If you're going to talk about fiddly connectors, most of the consumer cameras have proprietary component adaptors or sometimes MiniD. At least HDMI is standard and available at most office supply stores or electronic stores like Staples or Radio Shack and BestBuy. In fact, he doesn't stress portability as they do with other Tricasters, as this is probably not something you want to move around a lot (and lose those adaptors while setting up on location).

BTW Livestream just announced an "all in one" box using Blackmagic Quad and Studio cards which can give you 4 or 5 HD-SDI ins depending on how you setup the output. They've also announced a software version that will be cross platform and not locked to Liveestream (paid version of the software).

Really it comes down to Newtek offering an entry level product with their nice software vs where Livestream is heading.

Otherwise one get an Wirecast, which is excellent in my opinion, and build the computer you need and upgrade inputs as you grow.