When we think of a wireless director’s or producer’s monitor, we imagine a busy movie set with a video village in a neighboring room.
It’s dark in this room, and there are 18 people huddled over the monitor. The scene is quiet, yet bursting with unspoken tension between the actors. We’re about to get to the line of the century, the one that will win awards, the handful of memorable words that will be dramatically impersonated by actor types for years to come.
And just at that moment, the wireless feed cuts out. 18 jaws drop. The director calls cut, walks over to the video village, opens the door, smiles and asks, “Well, what does everybody think?”
This is why Teradek dominates the wireless monitoring industry, and they can charge whatever they want for their Bolt wireless systems.
On set, a wireless monitor just needs to work, all the time, without skipping a beat.
Doesn’t matter what it costs.
But second to Teradek is Paralinx, which makes more affordable, consumer friendly wireless monitoring solutions.
Teradek’s parent company, Vitec Group, actually acquired Paralinx a couple years ago, so the two companies are more or less reaching different markets, rather than competing with each other.
It’s not just low budget narrative filmmakers that are in the market for a Paralinx wireless monitor solution like the Paralinx Ace. It’s event shooters sending feeds to a master switcher, it’s drone pilots who build their own custom UAVs, it’s gimbal or steadicam operators with assistants wirelessly monitoring and controlling the camera settings and focus.
And then there’s the new Paralinx Dart. It’s small, ultralight, rugged, and made for monitoring fast paced action from a GoPro.
That’s cool, and we can definitely see the benefit of wirelessly monitoring a GoPro. Until now, we’ve all had to settle for using our GoPros blindly, and then biting our nails while checking the footage back on a computer for the first time, praying that a rain droplet didn’t ruin the whole shot.
But what really excites us about the Dart is not GoPro monitoring. We see the Dart becoming an essential piece of gear for everyday videographers, documentary filmmakers, corporate video producers, and even news crews.
TL;DR - Paired with a small monitor and a simple carrying solution, the Paralinx Dart enables camera operators to share what they’re shooting with their crew and clients, without having to deal with bodies hovering over their camera.
Paralinx Dart Wireless hdmi transmitter
The Paralinx Dart system comes with both a tiny transmitter and a pretty small receiver. The transmitter is about 2 and a half inches long, or about the same size as a GoPro, times about 2 inches wide and an inch deep. It weighs a few ounces.
Of course, the antenna extends the footprint of the transmitter, but it’s not that big of a deal. It takes a common Canon LP-E6 battery (or knockoff), which can power the transmitter for 2 hours. It can also be powered via a USB battery, which is a nice feature, not only because we all have USB batteries laying around, but also because you can vary the size of the battery depending on your needs.
For example, we like to take long video clips in place of timelapses, partly because we always have a video camera along, whereas we don’t always have a DSLR or mirrorless camera on hand. But partly because it’s just really simple to take a long capture, especially when we only need a couple hours to show some movement.
Anyway, for those times, it’s nice to leave the camera running unattended while we’re elsewhere nearby, and being able to check on the shot remotely would be really nice, just to make sure everything is recording and going well. And for those times, being able to plug a big USB battery to ensure the transmitter doesn’t run out of juice would be quite handy.
If you’re using a GoPro to shoot your timelapse, you can actually power both the Dart and your GoPro from the same battery, thanks to the Dart’s micro-USB power-output option. Yes, there are large USB batteries that have dual outputs, which could power both the Dart and GoPro, but this gives you another life saver that you won’t appreciate until you need it.
The transmitter has a 1/4-20” thread on the side, making it easy to rig up somewhere on your camera where it’s out of the way. Instead of using an accessory mount or arm, we placed a male to male 1/4-20” coupler between the Dart and a Wooden Camera top plate for our C300 mkII, and on our C100 we set the Dart right on top of the handle.
You can’t control at what angle the Dart comes to a tight stop, so to fix that we placed a couple small washers over the bolt. Now it tightens perfectly in an upright position where we can see the on/off button.
The transmitter uses a micro-HDMI plug input, and the Dart package does come with a couple Micro-HDMI to Micro-HDMI cables. But if you’re like us and your camera uses full size HDMI for output, you would need to use either an adapter cable, or get something like this Atomos Micro-HDMI to HDMI coiled cable. It really is the perfect cable for this particular use. You may want to also get a 90 degree HDMI adapter, but that’s optional.
That’s about it for the transmitter. It’s a very well designed little thing, and we really like how it fits onto our camera without taking a lot of space, or calling attention to itself. The battery plate is rigid and you can be sure nothing is going to fly off, which makes sense since it’s designed to be used alongside a GoPro during action sequences.
Paralinx Dart Wireless Video Receiver
In the world of wireless anything, the transmitter can be sleek, sexy, and pocket-sized, but the receiver is often a bulky afterthought.
For example, the new, extremely small Zaxcom ZMT3 wireless audio transmitter and recorder, which is about the size of a matchbox. Unfortunately, the receivers are massive.
We get it, there’s a lot of tech that needs to fit into the receiver, much more than a transmitter, but still. Does the Dart fit the trend?
Thankfully, the Dart receiver is fairly small, lightweight, and sleek. It’s 3.5 x 4.5 inches, half an inch deep, and weighs 12 ounces.
The antennas do add some bulk, but it’s not that bad. Overall, it feels like a very solid piece of equipment.
Keep in mind that when ordering the Dart, you can choose a receiver that outputs SDI or HDMI. For our demo, we chose HDMI, to use with our SmallHD Focus. The SDI version is slightly more expensive.
The Dart receiver accepts up to 1080p at 30fps, or 60i, and that’s uncompressed video/audio, which could be handy if you want to record the feed (more on that later).
Most importantly, the range of the transmitter/receiver is 1000 feet. That’s really impressive, and similar to the specs on the Teradek Bolt 1000, which is three times the cost of the Paralinx Dart.
When you turn on both the transmitter and receiver, the units automatically search for the best frequency range to connect. And then as you move around, the receiver will tell you if your link signal is getting weak.
You can power the Dart receiver with an AC adapter of course, but if you want to use it out in the field, you’ll need to figure out a battery solution. Which brings us to the trifecta that makes up every director’s monitor: the wireless receiver, the monitor, and the power brick.
The Director’s Monitor
The three components to a director’s monitor are all fairly thin, lightweight, and portable, but together they create a problem. How do you combine them together into one solid unit?
There are a few commercial solutions out there, most popularly the Wooden Camera Director’s Monitor Cage (and now in its upgraded version 2). It’s a modular piece of gear built specifically to tackle the vast variety of monitors, batteries, and wireless receivers out there. But at its core, it’s a couple cheese plates and two handles.
We would have liked to test out the Wooden Camera Director’s Monitor for this Dart review, but we couldn’t secure a demo in time. Nonetheless, it looks like a pretty solid solution if you need a director’s monitor. In our case, however, we had to get a little creative, and what we came up with is actually pretty good.
The problem with the standard director’s monitor cage is that it’s a very intricate system of tightening the components in a carefully arranged manner, using the available 1/4-20” threads on each of the three pieces of gear. If all goes well, the receiver, monitor, and battery will sit flush with each other. But even then, the cables and connection points will be exposed and possibly prone to snagging.
If you can get away with attaching the components to the cage with only a few screws, you can keep the director’s monitor relativey light, at least not much heavier than the components themselves. But if you need to start using accessory arms or various mounts to get there, the overall weight and complexity starts growing. And with three pieces of gear connected via screws to a cage, you'll have three points that can come loose and may need retightening throughout the day.
What if we take a cue from sound recordists, who carry around a lot of equipment with various cables and power sources? The audio field bag exists to make it all very manegable, without forcing the components to be connected to each other in an intricate way.
So we looked through our box of miscellaneous junk, threw together a basic rig that holds a monitor, and placed the rest of the pieces in a Domke 945 pouch.
The handles and rods are from an old shoulder rig, along with a few 15mm accessory adapters we had lying around. We’re using our favorite accessory arm, the Cinevate Universal Accessory Mount, to secure the monitor, a SmallHD Focus.
When everything is placed inside, the bag does rotate independently of the handles, which is not ideal. So we attached another short rod in the center of the unit, to keep everything aligned with the bag.
As a first stab at a DIY director’s monitor field bag, we’re pretty happy with how it turned out. You may have different miscellaneous pieces lying around that could make this bag better, and we’d love to see other takes on the system. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll see a commercially made director’s monitor bag? Maybe Digital Filmmaker will produce it?
Powering the Paralinx Dart in the Director’s Monitor
There are a couple other benefits of this bag system. First, you can use any monitor, of any size. The only thing that may need adjustment is a longer 15mm rod to accomodate a bigger monitor, and maybe a bigger bag. Second, all the wires and power sources stay inside the bag, away from potentially wet weather (or coffee spills).
Third, the battery solution is always the most ignored part of any lightweight piece of gear, mostly because batteries are big and heavy, and that takes away from the whole marketing image of "small and light." With a cage, you’ll have to carefully select a battery that fits the overall dimensions and size of the monitor system - you';; want something that balances well with the monitor and wireless receiver.
The Paralinx Dart can be powered by D-Tap via a Lemo 2-pin connector. (If you don’t already have a cable, it would be wise to get this one from Paralinx, to make sure the polarities match.) So you have your choice of just about any battery with a D-tap out.
If you want the smallest, lightest battery out there, Core SWX makes some powerful V-mount batteries in small packages. They are coming out with the Hypercore HC9 Mini this month, which will have a capacity of 98Wh but weighing only 1.4 lbs, and it’s sized almost identically to the Paralinx Dart receiver, about 3.5 x 4.5 inches. We think that will be a perfect companion to the Dart and wish it was available at the time of our review, but timing didn’t work out.
So in our case, we had either a standard 160Wh V-mount battery from Rolux - one of the better knockoff V-mounts out there - which worked, but was a little on the heavy side for what we’re after. In its place, we took an ILED Sony NP to V-mount adapter, and placed a couple standard Sony NP batteries in it. We use this adapter to power some LED lights on the go, but sometimes the fuse trips if we try to use it on a high draw piece of equipment. Luckily, it works fine with the Dart.
The main benefit of the Sony NP battery adapter is that we all have a variety of Sony NP batteries laying around, and they’re fairly cheap compared to V-mounts. Plus, their chargers are small (this Watson dual charger is our favorite and worth every penny), compared to the bulky V-mount chargers. And best of all, you can use any size of battery you want, depending on how lightweight you want your monitor unit to be, versus how often you’re willing to change batteries.
And in the world of having a bag for your director’s monitor system, you can carry spare Sony NP batteries inside the bag. Another win. The spares can be used to replace the ones in the adapter when they are drained, or if your monitor happens to use Sony NP batteries too, you can use the spares to power the monitor too.
Finally, one of the unexpected benefits to using this battery adapter is there’s a gap between the two NP batteries, which is a perfect place for our center rod, which keeps the bag, components, and handles connected in one solid piece.
Director's or Producer's monitor in client hands
Now that we got most of the geeky tech stuff out of the way, what we love about the Paralinx Dart and our director’s monitor bag system is it feels very simple and friendly.
For us that’s a really big deal, because we’re always concerned with keeping our clients and subjects focused on the video story and not getting tripped up on the gear. And a director’s monitor cage with a bunch of cables and a big monitor is an intimidating thing to hold for someone who has never held one before.
The (Patent Pending) Digital Filmmaker Director’s Monitor Field Bag is not intimidating at all. Well, at least we don’t think so. The only way to find out for sure is to test it out in the field. Luckily, we had a multi day docu-style commercial shoot in a remote Alaska fishing town coming up. And the client wanted to be around for the shoots. Perfect.
To be honest, up until now we’ve never really been interested in wireless monitoring for either our documentary or corporate shoots. It seems like a lot of hassle: more gear to rig to the camera, more technical problems that can go wrong, more batteries to worry about.
And do we really want a client following along the shoot, every step of the way? Do we want them to see what we’re shooting? Our clients are not experienced at video production - that’s why they hire us - so why would we want them to watch our sloppy shooting and potentially judge our performance, before they saw the edit?
The simple answer is, we’re not that interested in giving clients a window into our shoot. Our clients are incredibly happy when they see our final videos, so there’s no reason to muddy it up by walking them through the process of how the sausage is made.
If clients want to watch us run around holding funny looking gimbals, that’s fine. But we don’t need to prove to them at the time that what we’re shooting will look rad. The editing is where the magic happens, and the majority of our invoices come from the hours of editing work that make the magic happen.
It might be different for videographers who are mostly camera operators, people who derive their income from shooting day rates rather than pre and post production. For those guys, you may very well want to let your clients in on the magic during the shoot, so they can see the wonderful work that you’re doing and make a mental point to hire you back for the next shoot.
Anyway, for us, no monitor for clients during general production. However, it’s a different story during the interview portion of a shoot.
It’s often assumed that it’s better if multiple people sit in on the interview, such as the client, crewmembers, maybe even the subject’s friend or partner. That way, everyone can pitch together to ensure the subject does a good job and touches on the target messaging points that are essential for the video. Right?
Actually, just about the worst thing you can do for a subject is add more pressure to their interview. That’s especially true for subjects who aren’t accustomed to being in front of the camera - and those are the most authentic subjects you’ll find.
They’re already uncomfortable standing in front of bright lights, with multiple microphones attached to them and hanging from a boom pole above their head, and maybe there’s multiple cameras, perhaps one on a motorized slider that’s really hard to ignore.
We’ve interviewed hundreds of subjects in the past few years, and what works time and time again is to have as little distractions as possible.
For us, we prefer the subject to look into the camera, so whoever is operating the camera is standing behind the camera and conducting the interview. Everyone else has to leave the room. Period.
If one of us or a client really needs to be present, we force any additional people to sit or stand behind the camera, behind the camera operator. That’s the only way to avoid the subject from shifting eye contact or becoming overly conscious about other people in the room. Alternatively, we have additional people sit quietly somewhere off set where they can still hear the interview, but are out of sight.
The best case scenario, however, is for everybody to leave the room completely. And better yet, it’s best to leave the house or building, because microphones can pickup people chatting or walking around the house. So 99% of the time during an interview, one of us is conducting the interview and operating the camera, while the other one of us takes the client out for a walk or drive. If the client has work they could be doing, then that’s even better, so that whoever is not interviewing can be walking around collecting B-roll outside the interview location, of signage, nature, close up inserts, etc.
It’s a good system of maximizing the quality of the interview, while utilizing everyone’s time wisely. If you are a crew of two or more videographers, being able to tackle multiple tasks at a given time, while staying out of each other’s way, is a big plus. If you’re a solo shooter, then it’s even easier to ensure there aren’t any more people in the interview room then necessary.
If you prefer the director or client to conduct the interview, off axis from the camera, then maybe you don’t need to send anyone out of the room. But for our style of production, we direct and conduct the interview to get what we need to get, and kindly ask the client to stay out of the way.
It may sound a little overly confident - after all, doesn’t the client know what they want in a corporate video? They might, but we’re the video professionals who know how to subtly ask questions in a way that elicit the best responses. Clients may know what kind of response they want, but they usually don’t know how to get there.
This is where the Paralinx Dart as a Director’s Monitor becomes a very useful corporate production tool for us. We can ask the client to leave the room, but still allow them to listen in on the interview, in a place where they won’t distract the subject. This is a great way to keep the client engaged in the shoot, but focused on the story part, rather than the complexity of B-roll shooting. Additionally, during the interview they can take notes, pointing out parts of the interview they really liked, or even offering some follow-up questions for the subject before we wrap the interview.
We used this system in our Alaska shoot and it worked marvelously. The monitor we brought along - a SmallHD Focus - was nice to have because it was bright enough to watch the interview both in a nearby room or outside. But there are many monitors out there would do the job -back at home we tested an old Atomos Ninja Blade and found that both the audio and video feed worked quite well.
And because the Paralinx Dart sends a 1080p signal uncompressed, you could actually use a monitor/recorder like the Ninja Blade (or some of the newer Atomos models) and create an additional, backup recording of the interview. Of course, if there are any signal interruptions, the recorder will record them, so you’ll want to make sure you’re in a place that has a good signal link. And also make sure your camera is not outputting OSD - the on-screen display info.
If you’re a documentary or corporate videographer and all you did with the Paralinx Dart is use it as a wireless monitor during interviews, it would be worth the total cost of the Dart, a monitor, and battery solution. But there’s also another component to the Dart that really interests us, and we think might make it an indispensible tool for many video producers.
Wireless HDMI monitor for VIDEOGRAPHY teams
One man band shooters often wish they had an assistant or a partner to help them shoot. It certainly helps for setup, breakdown, transportation, and logistical emergencies like getting coffee. But when you’re both a part of the production - whether that’s two camera operators, or one person on dedicated audio capture - it becomes more difficult to work as a team, while ensuring you get what you need for the edit.
Part of the issue is trusting that the other person got the shot. Let’s say you’re shooting with only one camera, which means one camera operator. The other person is on audio duty, or overall production, or possibly manning a static B-cam from the back. Let’s also say you’re equally adept at cinematography as your partner.
What sometimes happens is each person takes turns shooting the scene. Whether that’s with the same rig, or using a different focal length, or taking on a specialty shot with a gimbal, slider, jib, etc. “How’s it looking?” You ask, and try to peak over the camera. “Here, you take a stab at it.”
More often, you have one person dedicated to camera operation, and the other person - even if they’re equally adept at cinematography - has taken on the producer role. Here too, there’s an intense desire to see what the camera operator is capturing. Not necessarily to correct them, or to offer advice, but just to know for sure that they’re getting a great shot. Sometimes the person behind the camera has their face buried in the viewfinder and doesn’t see the bigger picture.
On our recent shoot in Alaska, we shot mostly with our Canon C300 mkII, as well as a Canon C100 on a Letus Helix Jr. gimbal. It was a treat to be able to see what was being shot on the primary camera, without having to hover over the other Digital Filmmaker.
More importantly, there were times when we were shooting two cameras and needed to stay out of each other’s way. At one point, we were seperated as we went out on two boats, a father and son who were both fishermen. We had the Paralinx Dart in one boat, so we could see what the A cam was shooting, and to know when the B cam operator had to get out of the way and duck under the window to avoid being seen in the shot.
All in all, the Dart makes shooting as a two person crew a lot better. Each of us knows what is being shot, and we can both provide input on framing, lens choice, camera movement, exposure, and focus, without both of us hovering over the camera.
producer and camera operator team
The multi person camera crew can definitely benefit from wireless monitoring, but honestly we think the more common scenario out there is the producer / camera operator lineup. You see this on documentary shoots, corporate productions, and especially news crews where one camera is capturing everything.
In these situations, the operator is doing his or her best to capture the action in front of the camera, while the producer or director is the one in charge of telling a story with the captured footage. So, it’s essential that the producer knows what is being captured, even if they don’t necessarily have suggestions for changes. It’s the only way to begin to piece together the story as its happening, which helps shape the interviews, the written story, the voice over, and the next day’s schedule.
But if you’ve ever been in either the camera operator’s position, or if you’ve played the produce role, you know how frustrating it can be to hover over the operator trying to get a look at the screen. When it’s sunny outside, you may even have to take turns looking insde the EVF. It’s not efficient or helpful to either operator or producer.
That’s why the Paralinx Dart wireless monitoring solution can really impact the operator / producer team in a big way. It’s not that wireless monitoring tools haven’t existed already, it’s that they’ve been marketed for narrative filmmakers working on sets. They’ve been too bulky and complicated for a news producer to carry along next to the camera operator.
But when you combine the small Dart with a simple director’s monitor bag, you get something that could actually be used by the majority of people out there, even if they’re not gear experts.
We’ve conducted a lot of trainings at broadcast stations before, and there is definitely such a thing as gear intimidation when it comes to non-technical story producers.
And the more gear the operator throws at the producer, the more intimidating it feels.
So it’s essential that this director’s monitor has to be simple to put together, easy to turn on, replace batteries, carry around, troubleshoot, and put away when the shoot is done.
In our view, the Dart combined with an affordable daylight-viewable monitor, a lightweight battery, and a simple carrying solution has the potential to become part of many videographer’s gear bags.
Wireless HDMI monitors are not particularly new to the gear market. But they have been fairly expensive, so many videographers have not paid much attention to wireless monitoring solutions. And for filmmakers who have needed wireless director’s monitors, cost is not nearly as big of a priority as dependability, so there hasn’t been much of a need for manufacturers like Teradek to create more affordable solutions.
But when Paralinx came out with their less expensive wireless systems, a different market began to think about director’s monitors. Low budget indie filmmakers, hobbyists, corporate videographers, and most notably, event shooters, were now considering wireless feeds as a possible upgrade for their productions.
Event shooters specifically were paying attention to the cost of Paralinx wireless systems, because for many live productions, they would need to purchase multiple transmitter sets. Suddenly event video producers could deploy an army of camera operators on the show floor, or concert, or business seminar, and receive each camera’s feed to a main switcher. There, they could project the edited feed live to the audience, or broadcast it live on TV or the web, or record a rough edit of a program, before going back for a detailed edit using the individual camera recordings.
And all that, without running lengthy SDI cables. Or requiring shoulder rig camera operators to have assistants behind them, managing the cables.
In the meantime, there were a few consumer driven wireless HDMI systems that were coming out, which reportedly used similar technology as the Paralinx system. Nyrius Aries Pro promised up to 100 feet of HDMI video and audio wireless streaming, at only a few hundred dollars. A few early bird filmmakers purchased them to see if they could be hacked together into director’s monitors, using USB batteries and lots of velcro.
We ended up getting a Nyrius Aries Pro ourselves, to use for training purposes. When we teach video production to digital media producers, we like to be able to roam around the room and frame shots to illustrate what we’re teaching, with the video feed being shown on a large TV or projection screen.
And then when it’s the students turn to interview each other, for example, the rest of the class gets to see a blown up version of the interview in progress. It’s a good way to quickly push students past their comfort zone where only they can see their framed image.
But the Nyrius is exactly what a consumer product should be. It’s cheap, plastic, and works most of the time in a controlled home setting. But it’s not dependable, doesn’t have any frequency settings to adjust, and when it drops out it takes a while to link the signal back up again. You would never use it on a professional shoot.
So Paralinx hit a very important market of small videography business owners who could see an exciting future for themselves using wireless video and audio feeds, without spending a small fortune. But then a few years later Paralinx was swept up by Vitec Group, which also owns Teradek (among many other gear companies). Overnight it seemed like the corporate giant was squelching the start-up competition.
But as it turns out, Vitec Group has a pretty good handle on acquiring companies that target different sectors of the market. Think Vinten, O’Conner, Sachtler, Gitzo, and Manfrotto - that pretty much spans the gamut of tripod markets from top end to mass consumer. In the wireless market, Teradek and Paralinx now work in conjunction to serve both high end productions, and the rest of us. The two companies share exhibitor space at NAB, which is telling.
Fast forward a few years, and Paralinx has a few wireless systems out, including the Ace, on the lower end, and the Tomahawk2 on the high end. The Ace is affordable, but the transmitter might be a little big for some cameras, and the range is only 300ft. The Tomahawk2 looks incredibly dependable, with a range of 2000 feet at under 1ms latency, but it’s not cheap. It’s more in line with the Teradek Bolt, and in fact it is compatible with the Bolt system, which is great if you’ve already invested in one.
But the Paralinx Dart fits nicely in a price range, size, and signal range that many of us would be happy with. It’s why we’re reviewing the Dart, whereas the bigger systems would probably not make it into our documentary or corporate gear bags. We’re glad that wireless video and audio monitoring has reached our market, and we’re hoping companies will continue to come out with gear that is made for the professional documentary/corporate video producer.
For example, a director’s monitor field bag. Something that’s not so DIY. Now that would be a welcome addition to our kit.
Questions or comments? Email us! Thanks and happy shooting!
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