Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

In early 2018 I renewed my long relationship with streaming live video thanks to an encoder that for me revolutionised the process – the LiveU Solo, the sort of jobs I had been taking were growing from short corporate streams to day jobs, to festivals and ultimately to this.  The Solo is a reliable system, it’s easy to use with one touch streaming and super fast setup with little tech knowledge required.

But with any good story lets go right back to the beginning, in this case over 20 years ago to the 1990s where as a young chap I worked for a company called OpTex who had just bought a couple of satellite news gathering vehicles.  These vans were at the time cutting edge and I enthusiastically managed to get involved with a number of jobs they were booked on.  These jobs saw me travel as far as Monaco for the Grand Prix, to France for the World Cup and ultimately to Westminster on the eve and during the day of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. 

These satellite trucks ignited a spark, an interest that had been niggling me ever since.  Back in 2018 armed with cameras and my LiveU encoder I was streaming video live to platforms such as Facebook Live and Youtube.  The Solo is a great piece of kit and enables you to bond, i.e combine the data from a number of connections.  The Solo allows you to bond four connections, they are 2x USB modems for 4G SIM cards, 1x Ethernet and 1x Wifi connection.  By using mobile hotspots you can use SIM cards by ethernet and wifi also, giving you a mobile encoder that works on 4x mobile data 4G connections.

I live in Norfolk, it’s beautiful.  As I type I can hear cows in the field behind my garden, pheasants and rabbits wander free, deer eat my neighbours roses and my view is of trees and sky.  I live in a rural location and whilst it is very nice neither high speed internet or reliable mobile signals have made it the half mile from the village to my home.  I knew I wasn’t alone and this limited my ability to stream video locally.  I needed a solution…

It was on a hot and sunny summers afternoon that I pitched the idea to my wife whilst we were relaxing in the garden.  Our young sons played in their paddling pool and into the  conversation I dropped in true Blackadder style that I had a cunning plan.  My plan I explained to my long suffering wife was that I was going to build a satellite van with a difference, the difference being I don’t like vans and I was going to use the smallest car I could find.  Why?  Because it was quirky and fun.  At this stage and in the form of a disclaimer I should add that a Smart car is technically smaller but that was just not going to happen.  Later that afternoon after some convincing I headed off to my nearest Mini dealership to buy a used car.  

I had of course already done my homework and knew the Mini would be an ideal fit.  Road tax, fuel consumption, boot space and especially where I was going to drill holes through  the bodywork were already researched and planned.  As was the specification of the satellite system that was going to be fitted.  It was almost time to put it together.

Many other digital satellite trucks use the hardware system that I use, most commonly the BBC who have a number of vehicles built by the same company that modified and built the system into my Mini.  The satellite system in use is the KA-Sat system which provides a satellite internet connection across Europe, my contract gives me download speeds up to 50Mbs and upload of up to 10Mbs.  It’s a very simple system that works brilliantly.  My wish list for my satellite mini included:  Auto pointing dish, self powered for a number of days without a generator, wifi network, external waterproof CAT5 network port on the body of the vehicle and a router internally.  I can happily say all these specs were met.

Unlike other satellite trucks which have rows of monitors, audio and video mixers, recorders and more the diminutive Mini is setup for far simpler streaming jobs, the boot mounted rack can be fitted with and has been fitted with Blackmagic recorders and television studio mixer if the need arises.  At a recent festival I used a number of cameras to cover the stage, interviews and mixed on a Blackmagic Design desk which fed into my LiveU encoder before sending the stream down a CAT5 cable to the car, parked 50M away which transmitted live to Facebook.

The versatility, quirkiness and reliability of my setup led to the phone call that saw me offered the opportunity to spend three days stranded on an tidal island in the blackwater estuary with 450 female beauticians.  Naturally I said yes.  My job was to work with a video production company who I already knew to provide high speed satellite internet connections to allow them to stream a conference to multiple destinations.  Being on an island and despite the two windows to get on and off each day I knew I needed to be fully self sufficient and have a backup, backup plan.  Like a veritable Tardis I loaded the Mini with spare modems, dishes, other satellite system parts as well as my tent, sleeping bag and other necessary items.

In the end the job went like a dream with me providing satellite internet via the vehicle mounted dish, I also ran a manually setup flyaway dish that provided wifi access to the technical crew and was my backup incase of any technical issues – although it wasn’t needed.  

My satellite Mini is not only a great fit for jobs on islands or in remote locations around Norfolk but also provides a reliable connection in towns and cities where 4G mobile phone signals may be impacted by the number of users in the area, demonstrations, concerts, events etc.  By using the LiveU Solo I can combine 4G data and satellite data to offer a hybrid service where available and reduce satellite airtime costs.  

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Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

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