Nine-Volt

The home of the DigiPlate laptop mounting system.

The Ultimate Client Monitor

When shooting tethered, you and everyone on set want to see what’s popping up on your capture computer. When it’s just you, an art director and maybe one client, huddling around your laptop is not a big deal. But as your productions get bigger and three people huddling turns into ten or twenty, then it starts to become a problem.

Enter the client monitor. Ideally you want it at least 100 feet from the camera—it’s just too many people around the camera and it gets crowded fast. You can wire an external monitor to your capture computer but that creates another wire on set to trip over, 100 feet for a wired connection is pushing it and sometimes you need more than 100 feet for other various reasons.

In the past, Nine Volt’s owner, photographer Dana Neibert, has used HDMI wireless transmitters to get the capture images over to the client monitor. But HDMI wireless transmitters are notoriously troublesome and unreliable. And they are very expensive. For many years Dana used the Teradek Bolt Pro 300 which is one of their most affordable options and runs about $2,000 for a transmitter and receiver. The Bolt Pro 300 is supposed to transmit 300 feet which we have never gotten it to do. It’s usually in the 50 foot range and sometimes even shorter if there’s other air wave competition. BTW, the $300 Gefen Wireless Extender works just as well as the five times as expensive Bolt Pro 300. There are units by Teradek and others that can go farther but those systems are $7,000+.

So, we came up with this idea of using Wi-Fi to get the job done. With the new AC Wi-Fi routers out there, you can definitely and easily get beyond 100 feet. With Wi-Fi there is the opportunity to use multiple routers to repeat the signal if you want to go a far distance. Also, if you shoot on a property like a hotel or resort with a large Wi-Fi system, you could put the video village just about anywhere you want.

Another request from Dana was to make the client monitor and all it’s parts a single unit so it can be popped in and out of a case without someone spending ten minutes finding and connecting cables, securing transmitters, etc. The picture below is the result and contains the monitor, a MacBook Air 11″ and a Wi-Fi router. The basic principle is your capture computer and the MacBook both connect to the WiFi Router. The MacBook is connected to the large monitor and using Apple Remote Desktop, observes everything your capture computer is doing.

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A bonus that we added to the system is the Wi-Fi  is battery powered and both of them, as a whole unit, can detach from the system. This can effectively double your range as you can now remove the Wi-Fi unit, place it on a stand and then move the client monitor another couple hundred feet. The battery is from Paul Buff (they make the Alien Bees), is Lithium (130wh) and easily lasts all day long. The other bonus of using a battery on the Wi-Fi is that when you move your location and unplug the monitor, the Wi-Fi stays powered up and you don’t have to wait for it to boot up when you plug the monitor back in.

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The monitor system up and running in normal mode.

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The monitor system with the Wi-Fi module removed to double your range.

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The WiFi module removed from the main system and mounted on a c-stand.

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The system in action. OK, we’re not pushing any limits here but you get the idea. The monitor could just as easily be placed up on the bridge or the other side of the track while getting a live feed from the capture computer which is next to the camera.

An alternative to the MacBook is to use an Apple TV to mirror your capture computer but every Apple TV we tested gives a softer picture than using the MacBook so that any images viewed can look slightly out of focus which may drive your clients mad. Using the MacBook there is no difference in image quality between the capture computer and the client monitor.

If you are interested in making something similar, here are the components we used:

  • Apple MacBook Air 11″ which you can usually get a better deal at B&H.
  • Monoprice 27″ IPS Monitor (BTW, this monitor has the same IPS panel that Apple puts in their iMacs and Cinema Displays.
  • TP-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi router. Very fast and great range for about $125 at B&H or Amazon.
  • DigiSystem MacBook Air Clamps which you can get from Inovativ.
  • DigiBase (you’ll need two—one for the whole system, one for the Wi-Fi module) also from Inovativ.
  • Li-Ion Battery from Paul Buff.
  • DC Converter to take the voltage from the battery from 16.4V to 12V for the Wi-Fi router.
  • Apple Remote Desktop software

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