Computers in the field are becoming more and more important to me as I find myself searching to bring the WooFDriver experience to viewers as close to live as I can, as much as I can.
Other than just simple mobile phone apps like Facebook and in-phone cameras, my first real dive into field computing was creating a portable webcasting rig in the back of the SuperQuad. Many technical challenges were faced. First was to find a computer that could take the abuse of rolling down trails while in full use. Panasonic’s Toughbook was the only real option. Next we needed to mount it in such a way that it could be readily accessed by the back seat rider. We used a car mount system similar to what you find in a police car for this. We then mounted a Manfrotto monopod, with a fluidhead, next to the computer to hold the camera that would give it the video feed. Finally we used a Verizon MiFi mobile hotspot to give internet access. We selected UStream as the webcasting service because of its cost (free) and market penetration.
All in all the technical aspects of the system worked great. We did several runs. But we often lost mobile data connections out in the remote areas we roamed. This caused interruptions in our broadcast that lost the interest of our viewers.
As technology became smaller and more powerful, other options became available that made webcasting easier. Now we could just take a smart phone and do a webcast which was much easier to setup, albet with less features– no multi cameras, no music overlays, no ability to mix in pre-recorded video.
We can edit videos on site on iPhone’s and Android tablets, or even right on the back of our Android Cameras, and upload them directly with no wait. I have purchased a few different noteworthy mobile devices recently that have worked really well.
The Sony Xperia Z2 Android Tablet is a rugged, weatherproof 10″ tablet that allows me to edit videos and pictures in the field on a large screen and have some comfort in it lasting. Tablets of this size and power have been out for quite a while, but the slim size, durability, and IP58 rated specs make this tablet stand out. I still handle it with care, but hope than if it did take a spill, it would survive. I also use a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 in a Unicorn Beetle rugged case since it is not inherently rugged like the Sony. The case is tough, the built-in screen protector is clear and I am over-all happy with it. I also use a Samsung Note 2, protected by an Ottobox Defender, as a video capture device attached to my vechicles. This enables me to imeadiately post cool action shots.
As reviewed here, The Samsung Galaxy NX is an Android tablet built into the back of a DSLR. Having direct access to internet based apps from the back of the camera is very continent. Despite not being my first choice as a “camera”, because of it’s “computer” it has become one of my main go-to pieces of field equipment.
Another interesting technical challenge out in the field was the WooFHouse series. We had musicians on the back of the Double Decker four seater ADV. I drove, they played and sang, while the pit crew video recorded it. The video systems we had perfected by this time. But audio was the challenge. We found a decent multitrack audio mixer that was powered from AA batteries– the Zoom R16. We recorded the singer by an Sure WH20 headset microphone, leaving the singer’s hands free for their instrument. The R16 had microphone pre-amps on two ins, and a Hi-Z on another in for the guitar mic, which was a Seymour Woody sound hole pickup. This pickup was amazing. The entire sound rig worked out really well and gave us better recordings than you often find from live indoor shows!
When out in the field, while accessing mobile data from multiple devices using WiFi, battery drain has become a real issue. I found the need to create a road case to carry not only spare batteries for the devices I use the most, but also a USB battery pack that I can plug-in devices without interchangeable batteries. This supply of well protected batteries keeps me online and broadcasting for my entire adventure.