[ Updated 10/24/15 with new pricing, 10/29 and 12/19 with firewall compatibility issues.]
Because we’ve been using it longer than anyone outside of Microsoft, I wanted to share our experiences with you.
NOTE: Megan Paulos contributed to this report. She is our production supervisor and responsible for installing, maintaining and running this unit every week.
Scroll below Larry’s comments to read new information on firewall compatibility, which directly affects image quality.
The NewTek TalkShow VS-100 is “a studio-grade video calling production system built exclusively for delivering Skype calls in live, broadcast-ready HD.” (NewTek website)
This 1 RU rack-mounted unit allows connecting Skype audio and video into a video switcher. Though designed for the NewTek TriCaster, we are using it with a Blackmagic Design ATEM switcher. In addition to the TalkShow, you will also need a monitor, mouse and keyboard.
The TalkShow provides a pro version of Skype, along with all the connectivity necessary to integrate it into a live production environment.
NOTE: Michael Kammes, of KeyCode Media, provided a Tech Talk covering the TalkShow for The Buzz last week. You can watch his five minute video here.
Personally, I’m of two minds about the TalkShow:
My biggest concern, aside from the price which should be about 50% less, is that it is single channel. If you want to have a conversation between an in-studio host and two guests, you need two boxes. For the price, it should be at least dual channel.
From an image quality point of view, it isn’t that great. We originate at 720p. In almost all cases, the images it provides are grainy, somewhat stuttery and subject to compression artifacting (single-color rectangular blocks floating through the image).
I’m also not impressed with the TalkShow’s ability to scale an image to fill a 720p frame; and it would only be worse going to 1080p. All too often we are looking at fuzzy images. (Both of these issues are fixed with the firewall update below.)
Keep in mind that, even when the unit is working perfectly, image quality is still dependent upon the remote computer’s camera, bandwidth and, most importantly, lighting. Also, if the remote site is using a Dell SonicWall firewall, image quality will suffer.
We have also had a variety of echo problems which may be a problem with the TalkShow or could be due to how we place mics in the studio. We are still working on this.
Whatever you do, get professional help installing and configuring this box from someone who has installed these before. Setup is not trivial, nor intuitive. We are still finding audio issues that we need to correct through improved routing in the box as well as our studio operations.
However, there are several good things about the unit:
Another point that I didn’t mind initially but is increasingly driving me nuts is the HUGE Skype logo in the top left corner. It is impossible to get this logo to disappear.
One other note, the TalkShow is really noisy. Yes, its designed to be rack-mounted in the machine room, but, still, there’s no reason for the fan to be as noisy as it is. In our rack, filled with 22 other electronic devices, the TalkShow is louder than the rest of them put together.
Overall, the unit is OK, but for the price it should be a LOT better.
UPDATE 1: On Oct. 22, 2015, NewTek lowered the price of the TalkShow to $2,999.
FIREWALL UPDATE #2 – Dec. 19, 2015
After this report was published, we discovered that many of the image quality issues were caused by a non-compatible Firewall/router. In a further surprise, when talking with NewTek, we discovered that they don’t test for Firewall compability.
Prior to discovering this issue, we were connecting the TalkShow to the web via a Dell SonicWall firewall. Even with all ports set correctly, the SonicWall did not support UDP Relay, which is essential for TalkShow to display any image larger than 320 x 240. In this case, the TalkShow scaled a 320 x 180 image to 1280 x 720. As you can image, it looked pretty awful.
Thanks to additional research by Unitee and Stephen Yeoh, our IT consultants, we obtained a loaner Fortinet 92D firewall. Since installing it in place of the SonicWall, the image quality of the TalkShow is consistently very good and our past image quality issues seem to be resolved.
The journey with the Talk Show as been a learning process to say the least. It ranges wildly, creating phenomenally good to horrible quality interviews.
LARRY’S SUMMARY – Updated 12/19/15
There are two options to putting Skype calls on the air:
In either case, Skype has the potential to deliver excellent quality. But, all too often, you are at the mercy of the guest’s bandwidth, lighting, camera and audio. We also discovered that image quality can be severely damaged if you use an incompatible router/firewall on your network. It is essential you test your firewall for support prior to putting this unit online.
NewTek has responded to our concerns about the high price, by reducing the price $1,000, which is an excellent step!
My wish list for the next generation Talkshow includes:
The NewTek TalkShow is a good product, but it needs work and doesn’t perform miracles. With the new price and figuring out the firewall issue, I’d give the unit a 7.5 out of ten.
Final Cut Pro X 10.4
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