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Mobile Streaming Equipment walkthrough

P1290452While some might not consider this mobile video streaming kit ‘ultra’ mobile it’s a set of equipment that uses ultra mobile components and can run for up to 3 hours on battery alone. It’s flexible, Full HD capable, can stream to multiple platforms (and RTMP recievers) and includes lighting, a good camera, tripods and the all-important shotgun microphone. This is a set of kit I’ve put together for a new project in Bonn where I will be available to quickly respond to events. There’s an LTE modem (loan from 1und1 Germany) that allows me to connect wherever I am.

Video Streaming Equipment list.

The main components in the kit are:

  • Surface Pro 3
  • Canon Legria HF G25 + remote control
  • Elgato Game Capture HD
  • LTE router (1und1 Germany)
  • Audio Technica ATR 6550 shotgun mic (to about 3 meters from speaker.)
  • Aperture Amram H528W LED lamp with battery power and stand
  • Tripod with panning head (90)
  • Extras including spare mic, mini tripod, SD cards, web camera, PSU for Surface Pro 3

Total cost of the equipment is about 3000 Euro. I will be adding a Panasonic Lumix G7 as a second camera for post processing a multicam edit and for photography. It’s WiFi enabled and should be able to TX direct to the Surface Pro 3 or an Android phablet in order to provide social networking support to events. That Phablet will also give me Periscope ability. Total cost after adding this will be around 4000 Euros.

Elgato Game Capture – Low cost and flexible HDMI capture.

I’ve looked at various hardware solutions for multi-camera live switching but with a starting cost of around 1500 Euro it’s a big investment and, importantly, it’s extremely difficult to find something that will run without mains power. I took a chance with the Elgato Game Capture USB module (150 Euro) and it’s worked out really well so far. The software makes it very easy to connect with YouTube, Twitch or Ustream and it also supports RTMP servers. Streaming rates go up to Full HD 30 FPS and you can even add a webcam and overlays. Using the full features-set requires more CPU than the Surface Pro 3 has but if you’re just streaming a single video stream it uses Intel Quick Sync and runs at about 50% CPU. There are third-party software solutions that allow multicam preview, cross-fading and titling too so I suspect that a Quad Core laptop with a mid-range discreet GPU will be able to handle that for about an hour on battery power.

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Backpack-capable video streaming kit.

I can reduce the kit here into a small backpack if I leave out the tripods and spare equipment. Being able to go handheld for an hour or two is a great advantage. I tested it at a local event recently and it worked surprisingly well. I’ll be looking for a way to mount a smartphone together with the Canon so that I can also offer a simultaneous Periscope stream.

Problems streaming over LTE.

Although the 1und1 LTE router supports LTE you can’t rely on any cellular connection when you’re moving around and especially when you’re at an event so streaming rates have to be cut down to below 1Mbps to keep the stream reliable. 480p streaming rates might sound very limited but with good lighting the Canon camera provides a high-quality stabilised feed that can be recorded in full HD for offline editing. Audio quality can also be very good at these rates.

Mobile Streaming equipment walk-through.

You can get an overview of the streaming video equipment in this video.

Tips for better streaming.

I’m running tests on this equipment with the YouTube live streaming platform using the RTMP streaming capability and pre-organised YouTube events. One of the problems I’ve had is that when a stream stops it can give YouTube problems in recreating the stream. I’ve seen audio drop-outs, video without audio and, as was the case yesterday, the stream completely stopped and hasn’t yet been recovered by YouTube as a replay video. I suspect it is because I changed the streaming rates and resolution a short way into the stream so my big tip right now would be to choose a rate that you think you can support and stick with it.

Use fresh batteries and make sure all rechargeable batteries are full before starting.

Regularly monitor the video with headphones to get an idea of source quality. Make sure your camera has an on-screen audio meter. It will give you instant feedback if there’s a problem in the audio chain. I’ve had cases where inserting mains power into the camera has caused hum in the audio and only headphones can capture that.

Check the stream is live by using your phone. Don’t try checking the stream on your streaming device because you’ll affect the network connection speed.

The Elgato Software shows a preview of what’s being streamed. It takes a lot of CPU if you preview a stream with overlays. Keep it turned off as much as you can.

Provide break notifications. You can lose all your viewers if you suddenly go into a break without having any sort of notification. Don’t turn the stream off. An overlay graphic is obviously the best way to do this. Prepare some full HD PNG files beforehand because the Elgato capture software doesn’t have any text creation features.

Investigate XSplit software which can allow multicam scenes with preview (before fade-in.) It will need a high quality laptop with graphics card though. (Think gaming laptop.)

Keep it tight and bright. Make sure you have enough lighting and use all the features of your camera to make sure you have the best source stream. Zoom into subjects but not so far that you’re always having to pan when they move. Use a cameras remote control for hands-off zoom actions (the HF G25 has configurable zoom speeds for the remote control.) Keep the audio as clear as possible. Use an extension cable to get the shotgun mic near the speaker or, if you’re mobile with the mic mounted on the camera, get close to the subject. Start streaming when the event is ready to start and keep viewers informed via lower-thirds titles. You’ll need to prepare these beforehand on the Elgato Software or have a paint program (Paint.net is free and easy) ready to create titles on the fly.

Audience questions pose a problem for audio capture. Ideally you’ll have a second, wireless mic but it’s often not practical to pass it through an audience. A boom mic is better but if you’re in a small room a shotgun mic connected to the mic input of your laptop might be good enough. You can mix this in with the Elgato software. I sometimes mix the camera mics into the audio (a feature on the HF G25 camera) but that can’t be changed when a recording is running.

If you’ve got tips to share, especially if you’re using a mobile rig, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments section below.

iPad Pro 9.7 testing, UMPC style.

Like the time I tested my first UMPC in 2006 this iPad Pro 9.7 is giving me goosebumps. 682 grants of powerful tablet and keyboard with LTE and 256 GB of SSD. This setup costs about the same too. 1368 Euros after tax / $1178 in the USA. Holy cow it’s expensive, but because this is a loaner, I’m still smiling.

I’m still testing too so I can’t give you a definitive answer on whether it’s the best ultra mobile PC out there right now but I like the keyboard design, the camera (finally up there with smartphone quality) and the size. Portrait typing [this part] is easy due to the size and weight. The onscreen keyboard is great too, but you already knew that didn’t you!

Can I connect a USB drive and transfer files? No, because I don’t have the Lightning port adopter but then again I’ve just been testing the Samsung TabPro S and because I didn’t have a USB-C adapter I couldn’t do the same! The image below was transferred via iCloud Web on my PC.

The iPad Pro 9.7 is the first Apple product I’ve ever been interested in so I’m really looking forward to testing it over the next week. Battery life is going to be important and I’ll try and work out just how much of an ultra-mobile nut you need to be before it becomes ‘value.’ I’ll be installing Office apps, testing the LTE and enjoying the amazing camera.

I’m sure many of you out there have the iPad Pro already. If you’ve been using it on-the-go, let me know how the experience has been for you.

And finally. After just this short amount of time I’m into that keyboard and finding it amazing. You see, Steve Jobs, you can make a good ultra-mobile tablet product with a pen and keyboard.

Value phablet recommendation. Honor 5X.

Honor 5X price: $199 / €230. It’s a great phablet for very little money.

Fancy an LTE-equipped mobile internet device with octa-core CPU, full disk encryption, fingerprint reader, Microsoft Office apps, a good camera, GPS and full HD screen? Let’s throw in an electronic compass and a battery that will last over 10 hours while surfing or watching videos.

P1290428

I’ve used the Honor 5X Android phablet / smartphone on and off over the last few weeks and over the last three days it’s been my one-and-only. If you haven’t got a phablet in your mobile computing lineup, here’s your chance because this is a bargain. Let me put into perspective how good this package is.

The Honor 5X costs $199. It loads full desktop web sites, on average, just four seconds slower than a current Core m5 tablet that costs over $1000. It’s not that much slower to load web pages than a $730 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I’m surprised how powerful this mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 616 is in general usage although single-core tasks can take some time. The Sunspider 1.0.2 score is over 1400 ms.

P1290428 P1290429 P1290431 P1290432 P1290434 P1290435 P1290436 P1290438 P1290440

Think like a 15-25 year old. The Honor 5X runs Snapchat, Musical.ly and Pinterest and supports wearables and IoT devices. Instagram and Spotify have fully developed apps for this platform and when it comes to imaging fun, there’s no comparison between this and a PC.

Now think productively. The Honor 5X runs Chrome, Office Mobile, has a great daylight camera, a fingerprint reader. Evernote, One Note, Wunderlist and all your favorite local applications (newpapers, public transport service, event apps etc.) are available. Here Maps for offline navigation. Microsoft authenticator for easier two-stage authentication. There’s a great WordPress app. Google Analytics.  The full HD screen goes up to over 500 nits which is way, way more than your average 300 nit laptop.

$199 / €230

Yes I know it can’t run advanced video editing, photo and productivity apps. There’s zero chance for software developers and you can’t connect a keyboard, mouse and screen. But some of the features are beyond what you find on even a $1000 laptop. Why is a fingerprint reader and full disk encryption included in this crazy price and yet on a laptop these options cost $100 each?

FM radio. BT 4.1. IPS Full HD Screen. I can go on. Voice calling and dual-SIM support.

Phablets are old news, Chippy.

Yes, I know, but do you remember how much most of them are? The Galaxy Note 4 launched at 700 Euro and even now costs well over 400 Euro. The point is that phablets were expensive, but are now so cheap that if you haven’t got one you can now add it to your arsenal. The other point I want to make is that laptops in the consumer space clearly need a lot more integration and improvements in sensors and features. We don’t need to talk about the app-gap. There are now so many peripherals and products in the wearables, IoT and home automation space that don’t work on Windows that it’s just laughable. The Ultrabook and U-Series SoC did a lot for mobile PCs but more needs to be done.

Honor 5X overview review.

The Honor 5X is certainly not as fast as the Galaxy S7 Edge that I have here and the plastic screen looks like it will scratch easily but it would light the eyes of anyone buying it. It’s got features that were unthinkable in a $200 smartphone just a year ago. It’s value for money, and I love that. I enjoyed using it too. Watch the video below that shows the Honor 5X against the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

I can confirm that the battery life is great (1.5-2 days) and that the screen is bright. Apps work quickly and smoothly and web pages load acceptably well, even with a full ‘desktop’ site load.

The camera is great in daylight, a lot more fun than a mobile PC and I felt confident that battery life would really last all day, even after testing timelapse video for an hour.

The camera fast (1.5 seconds from locked,) fun and well-connected and that’s so, so important. It’s better than most people will need for sharing.

On the negative side the screen is plastic and difficult to keep clean. There’s no USB OTG or video-over-USB via MHL or Slimport. 2 GB RAM should be OK for most people but 3GB or more might be preferable if you’ve got a big set of apps you need to keep running. Low-light video and photography is terrible. Add the cost of a case, because it needs it.

You could, if you so wish, connect a Bluetooth keyboard and get some text down but there are more comfortable ways to do that. This isn’t an ‘ultra mobile PC.’

The UI was fast and smooth but not buttery smooth as you’ll find it on the Samsung Galaxy S7. I was disappointed not to have Android 6 – Marshmallow brings some good privacy and permission features.

$200 / 230 € is an amazing price for this phone, phablet and mini-tablet. The Galaxy S7 might bring you a faster UI, a top-end camera and bragging rights but the Honor 5X saves you tons of money.

Check out the Honor 5X review from my colleagues at Notebookcheck and let me know if you’ve also picked up a low-cost phablet recently.

6 months of smartwatch testing. NOW I can comment.

When it comes to ultra mobile PCs you can’t get more mobile than a smartwatch. I’ve tracked the technology for years and over the last six months I’ve given three very different smartwatches a long-term test. I’ve recently been using the Samsung Gear S2 Classic 3G eSIM model and it’s an impressive bit of kit. GPS, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth and an operating system that’s controlled with touch and voice. I’ve also been using a fitness-focused band from Medisana and the Basis Peak which sits somewhere in the middle between a smartwatch and a fitness band. I’ve learned about what I need, what people need and have now some thoughts about the future of smartwatches.

Medisana Vfit
Medisana.

The ViFit activity tracker is simple and low-cost. It’s part of a range of integrated ‘cloud connected’ health devices and does an interesting job at data gathering and data analysis. The battery life is relatively good at 4-5 days. Unfortunately you really need to be using the scales, blood pressure monitor and blood sugar level monitor to get the best out of it and interpreting the data is probably best left to a specialist. My wife, a business health adviser, would get more out of the system than I do and that’s why I don’t use it anymore, despite it costing under $50. [On loan from Medisana.]

basis peakBasis Peak.

The Basis Peak watch is a hybrid health and smartwatch. It gives you continuous pulse rate monitoring, automatic activity tracking (it works out when I’m sleeping, walking or cycling without me having to configure anything) and integrates over Bluetooth LE for smartphone-initiated notifications. Data analysis is presented, as on the Medisana ViFit, on a website and I found it to be easy to use. Battery life is 3-4 days and that is mainly because this isn’t a screen-focused device. It’s not expensive (around $130) and for me it really hits the right balance of features. I cycle and walk a fair bit so maybe that’s one of the reasons but battery life and simplicity play an important role too. The problem is that it’s incredibly ugly and that’s why I’m not wearing it a lot. [On loan from Intel.]

Gear S2 classicSamsung Gear S2 Classic 3G.

If you’re interested in electronic gadgets then there isn’t much more exciting than this. Like the Nokia Internet Tablet 770 of 2006 it stimulates one to think of different use cases and to think about what could happen in the future. It is useful too!

After you’ve taken the time to learn the UI and configure the notifications it’s an informative device. It looks good and feels good.

Battery life is pathetic. In some cases I’ve run out of battery before getting home from work and in every case apart from ‘airplane’ mode you’ll need to charge at night. It charges relatively quickly and the charging stand is easy to use but hey, once a fricking day? Please. Despite the battery life issue I’m wearing the Gear S2 most days and I don’t even use a compatible smartphone, don’t enable the WiFi and haven’t configured the eSIM 3G (phone) function.  [On loan from Vodafone Germany.]

My favorite smartwatch.

Three different devices with three different target markets. I’ve learned a lot from them and have taken on the Gear S2 3G as my buddy although note that it’s an expensive, cool, feature-rich and good-looking watch that I didn’t pay for. I have a big desire to learn more about the WiFi and 3G features and will start to carry an Android smartphone to get the best out of it. The ViFit is a tracker that’s part of a larger ecosystem and I’m personally not health-focused enough, nor am I forced, to get the best out of it.

The Basis Peak has the ‘just right’ feature set, battery life and simplicity that I need in a smartwatch. I don’t want to manage a set of 20 notification permissions and nor do I want to make calls with it or talk to it. I’m a little scared of the privacy issues an advanced smartphone too so the Basis Peak is perfect. The only problem is that it’s an ugly beast of a watch and I don’t want it on my wrist which is why I’m using the Gear S2 in a basis setup.

Your favorite smartwatch.

There’s no doubt that the Gear S2 Classic 3G is amazing and if you were given one to test you’d probably get excited about it. You probably won’t though so you’ll have to think about spending 370 Euro for it. Damn that’s a lot of money for a product that’s going to be out of date in 18 months. Unless you’re researching the smartwatch scene or have a particular use case that gives you justification then you’re not going to buy the Gear S2 Classic 3G. 300 Euro for the non 3G version is expensive too.

At $130 / 199 Euro (strangely expensive pricing in Europe) the Basis Peak has the right balance of features, data analysis, connectivity and price for most people but it’s ugly so you won’t buy it either.

None of the above phones suits many people.

Gear S2 classic stepsWhat I learnt about smartwatches.

This is the important part. I’ve briefly tested a few Android Wear watches over the last 6 months and these three watches got a good long-term test. Here’s what I know.

  • I get stimulated by the high-end feature-rich watches. But I wouldn’t commit to spending $300 on one.
  • $150 is my pain-point for a smartwatch.
  • I’m not good at managing notifications.
  • I don’t like charging a watch every night. 3-4 days gives me flexibility. I’d be happy with that.
  • Despite not liking once-per-day charging, one smartwatch was interesting enough for me to want to charge it ready for the next day.
  • I hate talking to watches (and phones) and I don’t like the privacy aspect of it.
  • I want continuous, automatic activity tracking.
  • I want GPS and height information on my activity tracking because I cycle a lot and live on a hill.
  • I want notifications, but only for calls, alarms, SMS and maybe WhatsApp. At least for now.
  • I want my watch to connect with my Windows laptop. It should be the ‘padlock’ device and should sync activity data to the cloud when it can. It should update weather, emails and news.
  • I want some style in my smartwatch. We all do. It’s a basic requirement.
  • I’m nowhere near using my watch as a wallet. (I live in Germany. It’s a slow process here.)

Remember the 20% rule.

In every year I’ve been tracking ultra mobile PCs the performance and battery life has gone up by 20%. Volume (total size) of the product falls by 20% as does the price. Features improve with every iteration. The same will apply to smartwatches.

At a 20% improvement rate the smart-watch market should meet my mainstream expectations in about 2 years and about a year after that (prices under $100) we’ll be talking about a mainstream smartwatch market.

Gear S2 Classic eSim

The Future of smartwatches.

Here’s a list of smartphone trends we’ll see over the next 5 years.

  • Improved voice control accuracy and usage
  • Standalone capabilities (WiFi, eSIM, unpaired with smartphone)
  • Miracast support for large screen usage and projection
  • Laptop integration for productivity with keyboard
  • Cellular data
  • Health data trust. (Share data with insurance companies for tailored insurance packages that will be marketed as discounts.)
  • Employee watches focused on health and security (Enjoy the ‘tracking’ discussion when this happens.)
  • Childrens watches focused on security
  • Camera integration
  • Much, much lower price
  • Huge ‘brand’ involvement
  • Large numbers of cheap, mostly useless products
  • Big push for home automation integration
  • Watches banned from school classrooms and exams.

Energy harvesting might start to play a part in helping smartwatches go for longer, without charging. Solar, heat, sound and movement energy harvesting is an exciting area for smartwatches and wearables. Intel thinks we’ll reach mW of harvested power which doesn’t sound much but could be enough to power voice response, BT LE sync and an e-ink display.

Finally there’s the subject of smartphone replacement. Smartphone manufacturers need to position themselves carefully here because within 5 years the smartwatch could do enough to keep most customers happy and connected. Young people with sharp eyes may accept small screens. Voice controlled messaging could bring new social networking experiences. I’ll be testing the Gear S2 Classic 3G in this very scenario soon. The battery life will be terrible but it will be an interesting test for someone who doesn’t use a phone for much more than news and messaging and it’s interesting to think of the role that an incredibly thin netbook-style 9-10 inch 2-in-1 could play here. Could a smartwatch and a powerful 10-inch tablet 2-in-1 be everything that mainstream users need?

Again, please note that all three test devices were provided for free as long-term loan devices.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S and Core i5 NUC incoming. (Your questions welcome in comments.)

Samsung TabPro S

I’ve got two PCs coming in for a full review over the next two weeks and I’m happy to take questions. The detachable Samsung Galaxy TabPro S will be with me in the next 24 hours and the Intel NUC kit with latest Core i5 and Iris Graphics is expected by the end of the week. Although these two PCs use the same CPU design, they are targeted at totally different use-cases.

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S

Surface Pro 4, Lenovo Miix 700, HP Spectre x2 even the iPad Pro. These tablets want to replace your laptop and I have no doubt that they can. You’ll need to make a few compromises over the laptop form factor but yes, they are powerful enough. Latest Core m5 and m7 CPUs are about where we were with Ultrabooks two generation ago so you’ll have no problem with most business-focused office work, basic video editing up to 1080p and the usual range of multitasking. I’ve tested all the above and I’m now about to test the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S which fits into this category.  [I haven’t fully tested a Huawei Matepad yet so can’t comment on that.]

Up until now the Lenovo Miix 700 has been my favorite in this class although the Surface Pro 4 certainly outdoes all of them when it comes to long-term load performance. The advantage of a 15W TDP Core i5 shows up quickly.

In preparation for a full and detailed review for Notebookcheck that will take me over a week to complete I’ve checked out some of the detailed specifications. The Super AMOLED display is likely to be the highlight with infiniate contrast and the potential to boost low white-coverage (low APL) brightness in high ambient light situations. This could be the best outdoor tablet ever.

Indoors, the lack of keyboard backlight might be an issue and the fixed screen angles aren’t going to be great for lapping.

My key question is value. Why are Core m based 2-in-1s so expensive? The strategy of combining ‘Core’ marketing with higher prices seems to be the same as was done with ‘Ultrabook’ and high prices. I know it can help manufacturers get over the initial cost issues of designing and selling a new form-factor but we’ve dealt with this form factor for 3 years now. It’s time to cut the cost of Core m devices because they aren’t barrier-free for your average all-day multi-tasker. The Core m3 version with 4 GB of RAM is a silly 950 Euros in Europe now.

Intel NUC6i5SYH

NUC6i5SYHThis Core i5 barebones kit also has a Skylake CPU inside but that’s about the only similarity to the TabPro S. The Intel Core i5-6260U comes with Intel Iris graphics and can be fitted with M.2 and 2.5 inch SATA storage and up to 32 GB of RAM. There’s a fan inside. This is a kit that has potential for gaming, video editing and all-day office working.

The main questions for many people with be ‘how noisy is it’ and ‘can it play games.’ Yes, you’ll be able to get some ‘low settings’ gaming done on this but where non-Iris graphics modules tend to support older and less graphics-intensive games the Iris versions can handle a little more. I’ll be doing some games testing so if you have any specific tests, let me know.

The NUC6i5SYH has already been through the Notebookcheck lab tests and it’s on its way to me now. Again the review will take about a week.

If you’ve got specific questions about either of these Skylake-based PCs, let me know in the comments below and I’ll take them into consideration.

 

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