Let me preface this by saying that I’m in no way sponsored by Teradek, but simply blown away by how impressive this new tool is. The Serv Pro gave allows my entire crew to monitor the shot from their iPhones and iPads, which is absolutely phenomenal for every production! But let me explain why this is particularly important for us.
There’s no denying that reliable monitoring on set is pretty critical to a better finished product.
All the pros and high-profile DP’s bring some sort of wired or wireless system to a shoot that makes life way easier than peeping over camera ops’ shoulders or rolling replay after replay. But if there’s one factor that deters indie filmmakers like me from having a good monitoring system on set, it’s the cost.
As an independent filmmaker, I work on projects with wide ranges of budgets – most of the time, they’re on the lower side. If we manage to get our hands on a monitoring system – which are usually on the costlier side – pigs must be flying somewhere. And even then, the video feed goes straight to a monitor in video village, which translates to overcrowding and that exhausting movement back-and-forth from set to monitor after every take.
That’s why when I first saw Teradek’s Serv Pro at NAB 2017, it instantly caught my attention. Teradek is renowned for their wireless, on-set monitoring device Bolt which many of my friends in the industry rave about. I thought this would just be another iteration of that – a wireless system that goes straight to a monitor somewhere. Boy, was I wrong. And good thing I was, because this little box has completely changed how we do things on set! Let’s look at the different features and what it does for us in productions, both low-end and high-end:
The main reason crew members have to share a monitor on set is simply because it’s too expensive to purchase receivers and monitors for everyone. When I work on products with tight budgets, monitoring is one of those luxury solutions that never quite makes it to set.
Teradek’s Serv Pro solves that problem. With the Serv Pro, everyone on my team can connect their iPhones to the shiny blue box and have their very own personal monitor to look at. All they have to do is download the free Serv Pro companion app, VUER, connect to the Serv Pro’s Wifi network and the feed comes up instantly.
It might sound like a small feature to some readers, but this was exceptional for us. Instead of securing receivers & monitors for every single member of our team, having the Serv Pro meant we could just take out our phones, download a free app and get the same result. And because the it allows 10 devices to connect simultaneously, no one on set is ever left out again.
Ease of Setup
Our motto on set is: less is better. The last thing we want is another system to worry about, especially on small setups where space is limited and we’re constantly manoeuvring.
The Serv Pro doesn’t have any of those problems. In terms of setup. all we had to do was mount the unit to the camera, connect a HDMI or SDI cable, turn it on and it was ready to go. No extra configurations or steps needed. Funnily, it probably took longer to download the app than to finish setting up the unit.
Small form factor and footprint are pretty crucial too. I’m working on shoots where there’s a ton of movement going on – camera op is moving around, I’m jumping between directing to lighting, etc. So what I do is I have the Serv Pro equipped with a battery and mounted on a SmallHD 702 monitor (getting an SDI feed from camera). No need for any other tethering to camera or power source; just set it and forget it. That low-maintenance factor is indispensable.
Features and More Features
The Serv Pro comes with the VUER app that you have to download to your iPhone or iPad in order to start monitoring. It provides access to a ton of features that hardware monitors usually carry like histogram, waveform, focus assist, false color, focus peaking and much more. These features allow each person to customize his/her view of the shot to better suit their own roles, like how the script supervisor can take full advantage of the built-in script viewing option.
Each iPhone or iPad can view upto 4 cameras (if you had 4 Serv Pros), but I noticed that even with a single camera, you can have that feed occupy all 4 spaces on the control surface and customize each window with different monitoring tools. If I wanted to distort one feed while using waveform in another, VUER gives me the option to do it.
Probably the best trait about the Serv Pro is that it improves my team’s morale and collaboration on set. Often times on low-budget productions, the team can be plagued by low energy and negativity because they’re underpaid, underfed and/or overworked. It also doesn’t help that they have to make that repetitive trip to Video Village after every take and back to their positions again and again all day long.
But with the Serv Pro, team morale is much higher on set because everyone is included in the shot. You have your lighting person who can monitor from his position as well as makeup who can watch from outside or farther away from set. When they have that knowledge, they know exactly how to adjust their roles accordingly, and don’t have to cram around the camera for replays after each take.
Where’s the Android love?
Of course, the biggest limitation with this system right now is that it’s designed for compatibility with Apple products only. There were times where we had to lend our iPhones around for our Android phone users so they could monitor the shot as well. Luckily, the majority of my crew have iPhones so implementation was easy. But for production crews with Android users, the only workaround at the moment would be to distribute iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch and iPods) to everyone. The good thing is this method still ends up more affordable than traditional wireless monitoring equipment.
It’s Not Cheap
My other gripe with the Serv Pro is its accessibility to the people that can benefit from this product the most. At the price point of $1799, it’s going to be difficult for young, 20-something filmmakers to save up the funds to afford this system. But it turns out that a smaller version ofthe Serv Pro is in the works, which would make it much more affordable for young cinematographers.
As someone who took the plunge and invested in a unit, I can confidently say that its exceeded all of my expectations and made a huge improvement to our production. When my team can monitor from their phones, we’re saving tons of time on set from excessive adjustments, which allows usto focus our attention on the most important thing about being on set: filmmaking.
For teams with small crews like indie or commercial productions, Teradek’s Serv Pro is a priceless tool to easily uplift the team and improve efficiency on set. It’s significantly more affordable than traditional wireless monitoring systems (which can be in the tens of thousands) and lets everyone monitor the shot from devices they already have in their pockets and are familiar with.
Hisonni Johnson is a writer, director and independent filmmaker based inLas Vegas, NV.