EDIT: Do not build your own 12 volt USB power adapter for the GoPro. The power requirements are 5 volts, 500-1000 milliamps which is what almost all cell phone chargers put out. If you send 12 volts to a GoPro it will do damage!
GoPro Heros. Amazing little cameras. For under $300 you get a tiny wide angle 16:9 1080p camera that is also a self contained video camcorder. The GoPro records picture and sound to built in SD cards as mp4 files. You can put GoPros anywhere (and yea, they are even waterproof in the included case). And now GoPro has released a Hero2 new model that has sharper optics, an easy to navigate menu, better light sensitivity and more recording options. If you follow my blog or others like it, you probably already know all this. But many of you may not know that these little cameras can output analog and HD signals that can be fed into a live production truck. This blog post will tell you how to do it and why most attempts to get these to work as live POVs prove to be an epic failure.
I have been experimenting with these cameras on college basketball games with CBS Sports Network. CBS have been shipping these GoPro cameras (old model Hero1 currently) around in Pelican cases to games all over the United States. The idea is to compliment the very expensive broadcast cameras used to televise the games with points of view (POVs) that are rarely seen in sports.
Specialty cameras delivering “sports from a different perspective” is what broadcast tv networks are currently renting, Robo-cams from Fletcher Chicago. These robotic cameras use a motorized pan/tilt head, full zoom/focus capability to get a shot in a place you could never put a manned camera. These are expensive professional cameras, with full control over iris, color and data. The robos are expensive to rent and operate, but you CANNOT compare/replace a GoPro with a Fletcher camera. The GoPro is fixed, dull, uncontrollable and potentially unreliable at times. A scary proposition when you MUST have the camera working the entire game and match the other cameras on the show!
CBS mostly uses the GoPros as non-essential slam cams mounted to the backboard, wide beauty shots high in the nose bleed section or as creative angles court side. On the broadcasts I have been on, the director mostly used these cameras as an alternate angle to post graphics, score and stats over. These cameras were almost never switched on the air during live action. However, the occasional free-throw behind the backboard cut in live to show the ball going in could work.
Sometimes, the producers would ask a replay operator to punch the GoPro into a tape/disk machine. When there is limited personal or decks, these tiny cameras steal replays from a hard working hand held camera operator under the basket. I would hate to be a cameraman busting my back to cover the action, only to see a fixed lock-down shot mounted high behind me get replayed over and over on the broadcast.
So how do they look? Pretty good for a $300 camera. I was surprised that in ideal conditions the GoPro Hero1 cut quite well with broadcast rigs worth $100,000.00. But certain steps must be followed exactly to keep GoPros powered up and get pictures back to the truck.
To help you visualize the setup with Hero1 cameras, please watch the twitvid below from a college hockey game.
I will break this blog down and try to explain to you how to get either a GoPro Hero1 or Hero2 working properly. If you have further questions, please post them at the bottom of this page.
SETTING UP THE CAMERA:
It is important to understand that these little cameras are format, frame rate and field of view switchable. You may want a super wide fisheye shot from behind a hockey goal or a less-distorted wide shot of a basketball court. The original Hero1 camera has a complicated menu system requiring the operation manual close by that I will only touch upon in this blog. You can download the manual for the Hero1 and Hero2 below. The Hero2 is much more user friendly with a detailed LCD panel showing you exactly what format you are in.
GoPro Operations Manual Downloads (.PDF Files)
Be sure to clean the lens on the naked GoPro and inside/outside the case. The GoPro case could have dust inside the lens area and this will show up on screen because the lens is very wide.
SETTING UP HERO1:
First, plug the usb cell phone charger into the GoPro camera and make sure the red light on the front lights up. Keep the camera powered off for now. Charge the battery for about 20 minutes before moving forward. This is very important. I use the 2 USB connector 5 volt, 2 AMP (1 AMP on each USB connector) ExtremeMac IPU-ICH-11 10 Watt chargers. These put out enough power to charge the GoPros and even keep 2 cameras powered all day off the same a/c adapter. CBS is using 5 volt .5 amp Motorola cell phone chargers and sometimes, these are not strong enough to keep these camera running. Do not use or built custom 12 volt USB chargers, these will fry the GoPro. I will talk more about these chargers as a/c adapters later in this article.
After charging the battery for a bit, unplug the charger and set up the camera on battery power. Press and hold down the button on the front face (next to lens) of GoPro. Wait for a beep and see the LCD screen to power up.
Next, press the same button a few times until you see the “wrench” settings icon. Press the button on the top of the GoPro. Move through the menu and set up the resolution on the camera. There are only two buttons on the camera. Think of the top button as the “execute” button pressed quickly and the front facing button as the “power” button when pressed and held and the “shuttle through menu items” button when pressed quickly.
The two “R” setting you will use is “r2” and “r5”. These are the resolutions. “r2” is very wide fish-eye distorted 720p and “r5” is normal wide 1080p. I recommend “r5” for most applications. Try not to mess with the other settings in the camera unless you completely understand the operations manual.
Finally, get out of setting menu and select the camera mode. This mode has a little “camera” icon. You are now ready to mount this camera, plug in ac cell phone charger for power and set up the rest of the gear to get the pictures back to the truck.
SETTING UP HERO2:
The new camera is much easier to use. The GoPro2 still has only 2 buttons that function as “execute” and “shuttle through”, but the LCD screen has much more information on it. The menu structure is much more intuitive. Instead of “R” setting, it actually tells you “1080p” and “wide”.
CONNECTING TO A LIVE TRUCK
Almost all professional television trucks require the incoming HD video signal to be HDSDI. This digital signal is carried on coaxial 4.5 GHZ high definition rated video cable with BNC connectors. That being said, the GoPros put out component HD or HDMI. This is not compatible and a converter box is required to change the cameras output to HDSDI. I will go into detail about these boxes a bit later in this blog.
The biggest difference (as far of connections go) between the Hero1 and Hero2 is the HD output. The Hero1 uses a special mini-plug to output component HD. The Hero2 uses a mini-hdmi connection to output the HD signal. The Hero1 camera includes the break out cable, the Hero2 only comes with an analog cable, you need to buy a mini-HDMI to HDMI cable.
The original GoPro Hero1 camera uses a mini plug (like 1/8inch jack) that carries HD. You plug the supplied component HD cable into the hole marked “HD” on the side of the GoPro. The cable then breaks out into three RCA connectors, a green, blue and red. These represent Y, PB, PR and the three parts that make up the HD signal. You plug these into the component hd to HDSDI converter box to get the signal you need. You will need three RCA to BNC adapters to attach the breakout cable to the converter box. These are easy to find and very cheap.
There is also an analog RCA video and stereo audio cable to pull standard definition out of the Hero1. The hole is the same size as the HD one, but it is marked as “TV”. You would only use this analog connection and output if you had a standard definition show.
The new improved GoPro Hero2 camera has a mini-HDMI connector on the side of it. The small hole marked “HD” is gone. Using an inexpensive (sold separately) mini-HDMI to HDMI cable, you connect the GoPro Hero2 to a HDMI to HDSDI converter box. This converter box is just like the one mentioned above, but takes HDMI instead of component HD. No adapters are needed at the converter box for HDMI.
The Hero2 also has the analog mini hole and breakout cable to get standard definition RCA video into the truck if you want the 480p signal instead of HD.
IMPORTANT NOTICE ON CABLE LENGTHS FOR SIGNAL:
Talking to CBS Sports tech managers from cities all over the US, the biggest problem with these GoPros working is getting pictures back to the truck. You can only send HDSDI signals over approved coaxial cable. The cable must be rated 3.5-4.5 GHZ for serial high definition. Do not use old coax cable. Just because it passes SD analog video, does not mean it will work with HD. The cable run must be under 300 feet or you will need re-clocking repeaters to push the signal along.
If you are working in a sports arena that is older than 3-5 years, there is a good chance that the cable run in the conduit is regular coax and will not pass HDSDI. This means you cannot use GoPros on house cable unless approved digital cable is run. Plus, keep in mind that the total run back to the truck can only be 300 feet. Using GoPros in this senerio is out of the question because just the run from the converter box to the I/O panel in the building could be 100 feet alone. The cable in the walls to the truck could be well over 200 feet. Plus there is about 50 feet of HDSDI cable to travel through the racks in the truck! Even if the cable is 4.5 GHZ, that length is way to long to pass video.
USE OF EXPENSIVE RE-CLOCKERS/TBC:
I spoke with a truck engineer and video technician about what needs to be done to get the weak HDSDI signal from the GoPro into the truck switcher. Many trucks use Evertz re-clockers/time base correctors to bring the signal to life. The HD output from the GoPro is dark, soft and not properly color balanced. The Evertz is vital to crank the detail, bring up the exposure and match the colors of the cheap GoPro to match the other cameras on the show. This piece of machinery is expensive and most trucks only have a small number of inputs that can be dedicated to GoPros. You must have a skilled video tech to get these cameras dialed in. Keep this in mind.
FIBER MAY BE YOUR ONLY OPTION:
One option in a building with house fiber cable is to use technology from TELECAST. The Rattler. These little adapters use single mode fiber in a venue (if it is available) to convert HDSDI signals to light. The signal can now travel 30km without a repeater. The light down to the truck is changed back to HDSDI using the second half of the rattler adapter and brought into the truck with very little loss. But these rattlers are expensive, you need a building with free single mode fiber and you have now made a $300 locked-down camera cost much more.
HOW TO POWER A GOPRO AND KEEP IT ON ALL DAY:
As I type this blog, GoPro does not have an AC power supply for this camera on its website for sale. This camera was designed to only power itself off the replaceable Li-Ion internal battery. The company expects you to use your computer’s 5 volt .5 amp USB connector or an optional GoPro cigarette adapter USB charger to charge the battery.
The folks at CBS are thing outside the box and trying to power the camera using third party (Motorola branded) cell phone chargers. They are sticking the mini-USB plug on the charger into the GoPro and plugging the other end directly into the wall. This bypasses the battery and keeps the power flowing indefinitely. But… there are a few things I figured out. Read closely…
After speaking to many who have failed keeping the camera running off wall power, I did a few experiments. I tried several different power supplies and noticed that only certain ones worked properly. I discovered that you must use cell phone chargers that are rated at 5 volt / 500-1000 milliamps or .5 to 1 AMPs. This gives the camera the power it needs to stay powered up. You can find this information on the power supply transformer in small print. I recommend slightly higher than .5 amps if possible and closer to 1 full amp to keep the camera going.
Another thing I figured out after trial and error is that you must charge the GoPro battery to about 25 percent before you use it off AC power. For some unknown reason, using a dead battery and the power supply results in failure after a few minutes of ac power.
Also, be sure to power the camera up first, on the battery, wait a second, then plug in the mini-usb cell phone charger to bypass the battery and run off wall power. Another good habit to get into is to properly stain-relieve all connections and tape them up. These are cheap connectors and cables, if you pull on them, the camera will cut out… or worse you will do permanent damage.
There are a few options on the market today for portable converters that will change the component HD output of the Hero1 and/or the HDMI output of the Hero2 to the usable HDSDI bnc video feed. CBS is using the $400 Black Magic Mini Converter. These are the cheapest and work well. Black Magic also makes a heavy duty version of the same box, great for field use. These boxes do require power to work, as do the GoPros.
AJA also makes small converter boxes. These are a bit more expensive and do the same thing as the Black Magic units, simply convert one type of HD signal to another.
If you own GoPros, you know they come with water tight plastic cases. If you want, you could drill through the side of the case to clear a path for the connection cables. Or, you can purchase a separate pre-cut “skeleton case” for the GoPro. This has all the holes needed in the case to keep the GoPro protected and get the wires connected. I do not recommend running the GoPro naked with out protection.
MOUNTING THE CAMERA:
The GoPro company makes a bunch of accessories for mounting these little cameras on almost anything. The Hero cameras have a standard two prong receiver mount on the bottom of all their cases. This point of attachment lets you place suction cup mounts, bar mounts, ect directly to the housing. I recommend a 1/4 20 tripod mount attachment and the use of a Bogen Magic Arm to attach the GoPro to hockey glass, railings, or the basketball backboard supports. The arm is super strong and can articulate to almost any position for proper framing.
FRAMING THE CAMERA USING THE BACPAC MONITOR:
When you buy a GoPro, it does not come with a viewfinder. I have got pretty good at just pointing the camera and guessing the frame from experience. If you “eye-ball it”, be sure your horizon is right. You can use a small level or bubble app on an iPhone to get it near-perfect.
Another option is the GoPro LCD BacPac screen. This little $80 accessory attaches directly to the back of the GoPro camera and gives you a tiny monitor to frame the camera. This screen adds a third button to the camera and this button provides an on/off for the LCD. Be sure to only use this BacPac screen on battery power. It seems to mess up the camera when on cell phone charger power. It also does not turn on, in most cases, unless just firing off the battery. Be sure to turn the LCD screen off, after positioning and framing the camera, then plug in the ac usb power. This should keep the camera powered the entire show.
GoPro is working on WiFi BacPac for the Hero2. This new attachment will allow you to frame and control the camera wireless with a smart phone. I do not have any other information on this at the moment. Check out gopro.com for more.
Got it? If you follow these guidelines exactly, these camera will stay powered up and passing video all day long. If you have serious problems, power cycle the camera by removing the battery for one full minute. I have mostly worked with Hero1 cameras with CBS, but the theory of converter boxes, HDSDI cable lengths, power supplies, protective cases and use of Evertz is the same with Hero2 cameras using HDMI out.
I own four GoPro Hero2 cameras. I highly recommend you purchase one of these and keep it with you. As a DP, these are an excellent way to add another hard to get angle of the subject you are shooting and the story you are telling.