Streaming on the go

Over the past several months/years, I’ve been accumulating various pieces of gear that, when put together, give me a solid kit to take on the road for doing onsite streaming or demonstration events. It currently consists of:

I still probably should add an SDI Distribution Amp to the kit, but I haven’t had need for it… yet.

The Canon and GoPro each have their own Pelican 1200 cases, and don’t travel with me unless I need to provide cameras (usually I’m getting a feed from video world and streaming it from there). The SD cards travel in a Pelican 0915 case, which is along with the rest of the gear in a Pelican 1510.

I love the Pelican 1510 – It’s legal carry-on size, so when traveling, all that expensive gear is never out of reach, never at the whims of a sticky-fingered TSA agent or baggage handler inside the bowels of the luggage system where nobody can see them. When flying, I’ll take the Pelican and my laptop bag with me, my clothes go as checked luggage (yay for airlines that give me free checked bags!). I modified the 1510 to include a mesh organizer in the lid instead of the egg-crate foam that it normally comes with, which lets me keep track of the various small bits that go with all that gear.

(because the foam inserts are removable, the 1510 along with a borrowed 1610 came in very handy this past summer when I was on vacation and traveling on a float plane – in case my luggage got dunked in the drink, the cases would float and my clothes would stay nice and dry. Pelican also makes a luggage version of the 1510. I love Pelican cases.)

Lots of Wall WartsHere’s the problem with all that gear though: Except for 1 or 2 devices, every single one of them requires a “wall wart” power adapter. There’s no room in that case for the several power strips that I’d need to do this in a self-contained manner, where all I need from the venue is an outlet and (optionally) an ethernet drop. Additionally, all those adapters in the lid make for a huge jumbled mess on the TSA’s x-ray machines, so more often than not, they want to take a look inside, and swab it for residues. I got to looking at the gear and realized that every single piece of it that used external power would accept a 12VDC input, and they all even shared the same polarity.

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Another thing I discovered along the way is that manufacturers rarely specify the details of the DC connector beyond the voltage and only occasionally the current draw. Trying to get connector information from vendor specs is a pain in the rear. This sucks if you have to order a replacement power supply because yours broke or got lost. With the help of a pair of calipers and some trial and error, I was able to figure out what each one was.

I started hunting around for 2 items: A distribution bus, and a compact 6A (or bigger) DC power supply.

The DC bus proved to be problematic, until I hit upon the right combination of keywords that revealed what I needed on Amazon: an 8-way fanout meant for use on security cameras, which had the 5.5×2.1mm connector that I’m discovering is nearly ubiquitous. Bonus: I didn’t have to make my own splitter.

On the power supply front, I found several meant for A/V use, but all of them were large and not well suited to portability. I found my solution on eBay: There is an endless variety of  OEM laptop power supplies that put out 12V and 6A. Many of them are sold as an “LED Power Supply”, and run about 10-15 bucks. I found one that had the same 5.5×2.1mm connector that all my gear needed. Due to difficulties in getting the calipers down inside the connectors, I initially thought the BMD converters were 5.5×2.1mm, but they’re 5.5×2.5mm, and the center pin is too fat – but 5.5×2.5mm female connectors will also accommodate the smaller 2.1mm pins just fine. I should have ordered a 5.5×2.5mm fanout instead. Lesson learned. In order to adapt the 5.5×2.1mm splitter to the various devices, I dug around amazon to find the various adapters I’d need. The only problem is the Lemo connector used by the Teradek Cube: Those locking connectors are $100 each. Ouch.

By a happy coincidence, my wife has a battery booster pack in her van that is float-charged by a 12V connection, which also happens to be 5.5mmx2.1mm. I recently had to order a replacement CLA adapter for it, and picked up an extra one, which would allow me to run this whole streaming rig from automotive, solar or battery power if needed. The whole setup draws about 70W at full load if all of it is running.

I also ordered (but haven’t yet received) a female 5.5×2.1mm to CLA socket, so that I can pop in a CLA USB charger to power my iPad, charge the GoPro, and other USB devices so I don’t eat up a port on the computer just for power, as I’ve only got two.

(As a side note, Ruckus/XClaim and AirTight access points also use 12V 5.5×2.5mm connectors as an alternative to PoE, but if I need wifi the AeroHive unit will do the job. Aruba APs use a smaller connector, whose dimensions I am presently unsure of)

Now my whole rig can be run off two AC outlets (plus a third until I can somehow find a cheaper Lemo connector!). I think the next step is to find some sort of way of putting a battery inline, effectively giving me a UPS for the whole stack (although the laptop , iPad, and the Teradek units all have internal batteries as well) Edit : I since acquired an Anker Astro Pro2 External Battery which has not only the ever-convenient 5.5×2.1mm 12V input socket, but also a DC output (which includes an adapter that goes from the battery pack to a 5.5×2.1mm output plug) that effectively turns this into a 12V UPS which can deliver up to 22W on the USB ports and 18W on the DC port (which is selectable between 9V and 12V), meaning a 10 hour runtime at full load. The unit is only slightly bigger than a small tablet. I can’t run ALL the gear on it at once, but I can at least put the really critical stuff on it. The 1st-generation model of that charger has a beefier 48W DC output that can go to 16V and 19V to power laptops.

The completed kit, with much fewer wall warts!

The completed kit, with much fewer wall warts!

Here’s the DC parts list, with links to Amazon: