AVIWest DMNG Pro180 and Studio: Hands On Review
Another day, another cellmux! Actually, to be honest there has admittedly been a little time lag between the production of the Streaming Media Producer Video on the Move Field Guide and this next hands-on-review following on from my inaugural cellmjux “benchmark” of the Mobile Viewpoint WMT system some time ago.
In the background I have been speaking to more and more vendors about many new products and lining up a whole load of benchmarking days. Now that I have a little more systemization in place for the benchmarking process, the time has come to put the different vendors’ units through their paces. Next up: The AVIWest DMNG Pro180.
First let me make a quick note on the tests as they evolve: My intention with these tests is to look at the quality of the end-to-end transport, and while it is inevitable that moving will at times bring some degradation of the video encoding quality, the core investigation of these tests is focused more on the overall system—how well the cellular link aggregation and demux channel bonding process can work together with (optimized) video compression to give a continuous video link from a moving vehicle using cellular and radio—than it is on the image quality.
My focus in these benchmarks is on the continuity of signal as an IP stream over the cellular or even mixed with Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks. This is about the applicability to use these cellmuxes for increasingly high SLA “mission critical” ad-hoc backhaul or contribution feed links for broadcasters, videographers, and webcasters.
Since the inaugural Mobile Viewpoint benchmark, I have decided to make a small change to the route we drive for the test: Ultimately in dense urban environments, such as at the start of the previous test, the buildings affect the signal, however the over-provision of cellular data services in urban areas usually compensates. This leg of the journey added considerable time to the route and gave us little extra insight. Accordingly we shortened the test route as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. The new and improved testing route
So with that change to the route noted let’s finally look at the next product: the AVIWest DMNG Pro180.
The unit was shipped ahead of the demo by the business team, and so I had an opportunity to unbox it exactly as if I was a client. Excited like a small kid at Christmas, I opened everything up and was immediately struck by the build quality. The purpose-made backpack holder was clearly of good construction and felt sturdy as I laid it to one side to retrieve the main unit (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The “chocolate box” sized AVIWest DMNG Pro180 (All photos 2013 by Michael O’Rourke, www.lightwhispererphoto.com)
I call these units “chocolate boxes.” While they are easily carried in the backpack, they are also wearable in a shoulder bag, and have the same sort of footprint of a laptop or small set-top box. The case was sturdy with two “heat-sink”-like extensions on each end; I discovered these are the compact high gain antennae.
Vaguely panicked as I noted “all BNC” connectors on the backplane (I don’t keep SDI camera or video sources to hand in my office), I was pleased to note that the BNC could handle Composite, so I quickly hooked up my testing camera (a basic Sony Handycam).
When it came to powering up, a slight shipping error (including only a European mains terminated cable) meant that later I had to dig into my own kit to get a UK terminated mains lead. This often happens with many technology vendors; being pragmatic it is just something quickest to fix by having your own supply, to be honest. For now, though, I clipped a battery into the standard V-lock and pressed on.
With the system on and active in about 30 seconds, I instantly liked the UI. While it was only about the size of half a credit card (Figure 3) I found it was intuitive and responsive—even with large fingers. All you need.
Figure 3. Though small, the DMNG Pro180 UI is intuitive and easy to use.
As with most of these devices it is possible to use in an “advanced mode” for type A lab geeks and a “just turn it on and get on with filming” mode for type A cameramen.
At around this point in the testing my colleague, photographer, and fellow cellmux aficionado Michael O’Rourke arrived along with Déborah Gillet, who looks after sales and business development for AVIWest, and Paul Shepard from Sematron, the DMNG distributor in the UK.
Getting Online with the DMNG Pro180
Paul arrived carrying the SIM cards, so the first thing we set about doing, after a brisk coffee, was to get it online.
In advance I had provided the team with the planned route and Sensorly.com maps which show the coverage of various mobile and cellular network operators along the test route. My logic is that most cellmux users will be able to do exactly this forward planning when preparing their system for an event and select their SIM cards accordingly. This type of preparation for my testing is acceptable, if not unavoidable, for this series of tests as they evolve since vendors expect to follow my established test route.
For the 3G cards (no 4G on my test route at all) we had to update the SIM settings with the APNs from the devices built-in (and auto-updated) library—a simple but great feature. It took only moments before the SIMs were up and running and simply all showing a range of “connected” and “connecting” statuses; my office is in a marginal signal area, which adds to the rigor of this instant-on test.
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