Eventually, as my streaming activities grew more demanding, I started to move onto hardware solutions; first to a hardware switcher, in the shape of a BMD ATEM TV Studio HD, and eventually I started looking at hardware encoders.
I spent some time researching potential solutions, followed by a considerable amount of toing and froing between the Teradek VidiU Pro and its closest rival the LiveU Solo. Both of these devices are marketed at a similar price point. Both encoders offer Ethernet, WiFi and 4G streaming, the latter via USB modem/s. Both are very portable. Both offer bonding of all of their possible connections via an additional, paid for, cloud service; potentially offering improved bandwidth and a degree of redundancy during streaming.
While there are quite a few plusses and minuses on both sides, which are covered in an excellent comparison from Michael Kammes in his article and video for 5 Things: https://5thingsseries.com/liveu-solo-vs-teradek-vidiu-pro/ I don’t intend this review to turn into a shoot-out between the two devices. Suffice it to say that I finally settled upon the VidiU Pro, mainly because (at the time of writing), LiveU devices are still a relative rarity in the UK and therefore potentially a little bit more of a problem if things go wrong. Also, LiveU’s bonding service is by monthly subscription only, while Teradeck offer a PAYG scheme, which is better suited to my activities. In addition, the VidiU offers limited, but potentially very useful onboard recording to SD card.
My initial setup and tests were all carried out over Ethernet. Once connected to a switch on my home network, the VidiU started its boot sequence and established an IP address via DHCP. Next step, as with any new device, was to check and, if necessary, update the firmware to the latest version (3.0.7 in this case), which was a straightforward task. From there, all I needed to do was connect to a live stream event that I’d setup on YouTube and press go.
Generally, I found that setting up the VidiU Pro for streaming was very simple. In fact, the only time I really needed to refer to the manual was to learn how to set a password, which I’d need in order to access the VidiU via the on-device web server or from the free iOS VidiU app.
Working from the VidiU’s onboard webserver is straightforward enough: simply connect to the same network, type in the VidiU’s IP address, which can be found in the device menu under Network,and then hit return. Next, you’re asked to login with the device’s password and voila! After this the entire device menu is available to you. If using the iOS app, once launched, it searches for VidiU devices on the same network and then you can log into your chosen device. Alternatively, you can add a device manually by inputting its IP address.
Once inside either the app, or the built-in web server interface, setting stream resolution, then inputting your YouTube stream URL and key manually is really very easy. However, if you prefer, there are pre-set patches for a number of CDNs built in. The web interface and app are both fairly self-explanatory and functioned well in most respects during my tests. In addition to setting up the VidiU, they enable you to start and stop both streaming and recording, rather than using the VidiU’s physical buttons. Recording and streaming can be started either simultaneously or separately from each other. The app also provides a post-encoder preview of the programme that is being streamed, along with real time data on stream health.
I do have a couple of bug bears with the iOS app, however: Firstly, the app needs to remain open at all times, otherwise it logs you out from the VidiU rather than continuing in the background, making it necessary to sign in each time the app is reopened. Secondly, the app is full vertical screen only and doesn’t allow you to use split screen and open it alongside another app. You can open a very tall thin Safari window over the top of the VidiU app, but now you have only a postage stamp sized view of your live stream. These add up to become quite annoying when you also want to use the same iPad for other things. Additionally, the iOS app will only display preview video when the broadcast quality is set to 720p or lower, so if you want to broadcast at 1080p, you can’t monitor the post encoder video from within the VidiU app. Sorry folks, this needs work.
Over the course of a week, I tested the VidiU on 8 separate streams. Two of the streams were run at a different location, which has a far more complex network architecture than my humble home network. I also ran two of the streams over WiFi and two of the streams over 3’s 4G cellular network using a USB modem.
I was initially looking for frequent unexplained dropouts, as these were reported by several others in early tests, including the 5 Things video above. My worst fears seemed to be confirmed during very first use, when the stream stopped inexplicably, 40 minutes in with the device then resetting itself and requiring that the stream be restarted manually. To this day I’m unsure what happened during that first test, as I’ve been unable to recreate the problem in the seven tests I’ve carried out since. During one test I deliberately disconnected the power supply from the unit, as Teradek have reported glitches when the PSU is reconnected, but once again I encountered no issue. I also tried temporarily disconnecting the video input mid-stream, just for the hell of it, without any adverse results. The device has remained rock solid throughout, so it seems likely that Teradek have sorted out previous stability problems and my initial glitch was more of a rogue occurrence.
I wanted to see how the VidiU held up when streaming over a more challenging network environment, with multiple network switches, a bizarre double proxy server firewall and upwards of 400 active clients at any given time. As anticipated, the YouTube stream varied in health massively over the course of the test streams I set up, which I surmised might affect the VidiU’s stability and potentially provoke another reset. Suffice it to say nothing untoward happened during these two test streams, one of which remained active for 6 hours.
WiFi tests were also fine, though these were carried out over a fairly low traffic home network. My final tests were conducted over 4G, using a Huawei 8372 USB modem on 3’s 4G network and both ran for over two hours each, without issue.
The VidiU Pro produces a very respectable stream, provided of course that you have the bandwidth to support it. It encodes to H.264 and tops out at a maximum 1080p/30 with a 5Mb/s max bit rate. For my purposes at least, this offers more than enough scope for streaming webinars, conferences, etc, along with a degree of future proofing, as most of my streams currently run at 720p/25 at 2.1Mb/s. If I was covering sports, I’d probably want something that could offer 60fps encoding, but most of my subjects aren’t anywhere near fast moving enough moving to require this.
I was a little disappointed to read that the maximum SD card size supported by the VidiU is 32GB. This was until I realised that the the data it records is post encoder (approximately 1GB/hour at 720p), which equates to many hours of footage. Cards have to be formatted either FAT32 or preferably ExFAT. Cards any larger than 32GB simply aren’t recognised, regardless of format. Recording quality was exactly as expected.
One of the most obvious shortcomings of the VidiU Pro is the pitifully short battery life, considering that in all other respects it is such a marvellously portable unit. Physically, at only 190 grams, the VidiU could happily sit on a camera cage all day, which would be fantastic for event streaming at trade shows and the like. Unfortunately, you have about an hour, following a full charge, before the battery dies. There’s an external L series battery plate available for around £100 https://teradek.com/products/nibl_635?variant=29318729421 but no facility to run the unit from a USB power bank. So, without forking out an additional £100, plus the cost of an L series battery, VidiU Pro users will have very limited streaming time away from a mains supply. Had I intended to do a great deal of camera top streaming this would definitely have been a deal breaker. As it is, the vast majority of my work with the VidiU will be carried out within easy reach of a mains socket, so it’s not something that overly concerns me. That said, if there’s a VidiU Pro II in the pipeline, I hope that this is something that Teradek have paid serious attention to.
There are undoubtedly more capable and versatile streaming encoders available, but at considerably higher cost. For my needs, the benefits offered by the VidiU Pro more than justify the £750 price tag, and first impressions inspire confidence that it will serve me very well. I now have a small, light device that fits snuggly into a back pack with all of my other converters, cables and gadgets and that frees up my laptop for a host of other purposes, including being left at home. I have the flexibility of streaming over 4G if I end up in an environment where the in-house internet connection isn’t really up to the job. Or, I can use the bonding facilities offered by Teradek to ensure I’ve always got adequate bandwidth for a stable stream, along with some redundancy. If I ever want to stream straight from my camera, while moving around, I also have that option, albeit somewhat restricted by such a short internal battery life
I am not connected in any way with Teradek, and I have not received any form of remuneration or other consideration from them for this review.