Teradek Bolt: The Good, the Background, and The Ugly Choices Out There

created on Sat, Nov 24, 2012

As a global innovator in wireless video systems, we've been closely following the new generation of zero delay wireless video solutions since it's introduction. They come in several shapes and sizes, each with their own pros and cons. One technology player in particular showed an early technical lead: Amimon. We came very close to building a product based on their WHDI technology in late 2010 when a Chinese OEM offered a design to us. However, despite its excellent latency, its range, resilience, and video quality was unacceptable for the professional market. Having shipped more than 10,000 Cubes into all kinds of challenging environments, we know how tough it can be to do wireless video and how important it is to do it right. Two years later, after working very closely with Amimon, the Teradek Bolt was born; a new device based on the Amimon Pro chipset, which is a spin-off from their WHDI technology.  

Amimon Pro differs in some key ways from it's WHDI predecessor: It has more antennas (which provide better multi-path rejection), it is capable of using more frequency bands (making it less susceptible to interference), it uses an updated MIMO / OFDM modulation (providing longer range and better video quality), and it supports far more video standards and multicast capabilities.  We also worked with Amimon to create custom firmware to improve the product further.

We felt our job was more than just finding, rebranding, and raising the price on what was meant to be an OEM reference design for consumer applications. If you didn't know, many of these units and their lookalikes are based on modules designed and manufactured by an OEM in China.

But a product is not defined just by the modules it uses, but also how they are used.  For example, Nokia, Samsung and Apple smartphones use Broadcom radios, but they are very different devices. PCs and Macs use Intel CPUs and SSDs, but they are also quite different from each other. 

We wanted to add value to what is clearly great technology by properly adapting it to professionals’ needs and by making it compatible with our existing products. First, we used the 3G-SDI drivers from our award winning Cube, allowing hassle free integration with professional cameras and video switchers. We added a 3G-SDI loop on both RX and TX to allow Bolts, Cubes and monitors to all be used together, giving you zero delay to monitors and streaming to iPads with minimum gear required.

Second, we designed a new power stage that allows you to power Bolt directly from any professional 14V battery (even when fully charged to 17V) all the way down to a DSLR battery. It even has reverse polarity protection built in. Then, we added a Li-Ion battery and charging circuit so that Bolt can be used with cameras or other video gear without external power. Later, we added an embedded CPU to manage everything inside, and then enclosed it all in a machined aluminum chassis with an ABS cap for the antennas. As always, we added the industry standard Lemo connectors for their built in strain relief and captive connection. The two sets of Lemos alone cost almost as much as consumer WHDI products.

But we weren't done. In beta testing, we found that the units had temperature issues when used outside in hot weather. No doubt our additional circuitry compounded this problem. So we went back to the enclosure design to add more cooling. Initial attempts of adding more holes was almost good enough, but not quite, so we opted for a very quiet but efficient forced air cooling design. This involved changes to the molds, the BOM, and the electronics, which caused the delay in shipping Bolt.

We then found substantial software stability issues when using the new multicast feature. Units would spontaneously disconnect for seemingly no reason! For this, we had to work with Amimon on a daily basis for several weeks, which included running around with TX & RX units inside and out with measuring wheels, laser range finders and signal analyzers. Our engineers regularly shared their results with Amimon’s team; at one point allocating more than 1/2 of each company’s engineering teams to working on the issue. As a result of our combined effort, we fixed the bug and made Bolt work flawlessly! We hate delay as much as you do, but our commitment to our customers is illustrated in this continued search for perfection, while others settle for the status quo.  

This is just a beginning. There are plenty of features we still want to add, limitations we want to overcome, and improvements we still need to make. There will be bugs. But, just as we steadfastly overcame all of the obstacles we faced over the last 5 years (remember the 10 secs iPad delay, or the 5D resolution switch when recording?), we will continue to invest R&D into the Bolt product line to address everything you ask for. This is the first of many models, with many features.

We are excited to be on the road to wireless video nirvana with you. Thank you for your continued support.