The NewTek Connect Spark is a simple tool that does a whole heck of a lot. Not only will it transmit an HDMI or SDI signal wirelessly over existing network infrastructure to an NDI enabled switcher, but it will also loop record to an SD card or USB hard drive.
Network Device Interface, or NDI, is an open standard that enables products to communicate, deliver and receive broadcast quality video with low latency and frame-accuracy for switching in a live production. What kind of video you transmit is up to you — the applications are near endless.
Using NDI, it delivers video at up to 60 frames per second (fps) in HD over Wi-Fi or ethernet.
This evaluation is of the HDMI version, but the SDI option is no different outside of the input and loop connectors and its cost.
With its two USB ports, it will capture video to an external storage or to a micro SD card. It will either capture in loop record mode — always recording and deleting the oldest video when full — or it can be set up to stop when storage is full. Moreover, you don’t even need a storage device to be physically connected to the Spark. You can record the signal from any NDI enabled system you have connected to it.
As you’re getting set up, you’ll need to make sure the device has the newest firmware. Our review unit needed an update, so we downloaded it from NewTek’s website and installed it. The directions were easy to follow, and the process took less than 10 minutes.
To start setting up the Connect Spark, we first plugged it in and powered it on. This is when we discovered that, if you turn on the device before it’s connected to the network, it will assign an IP address automatically. This is a default and might not be what you want depending on how your network is setup. It makes setup easier on simple networks, but it ends up being much more complicated than it needs to be on more advanced networks.
If you don’t want to use the IP address assigned by default, connect the device to the network via an ethernet cable before you power it on. This way, it will get assigned an IP from your network so it works the first time. Just make sure it’s on the same subnet as your switcher or recording device. This allows communication between a computer or switcher system and the Spark.
To confirm that the Connect Spark was transmitting over NDI, we had to use the NDI Studio Monitor, a free tool from NewTek. This program allows any computer on the same network to access the video feed. Additionally, you can access the device’s web-based interface to view and adjust all of its setting controls.
Once we verified video transmission, it was time to set up the Connect Spark to the wireless network. Within the device web interface, we told it which wireless network to connect to and gave it the login information. After that, we turned Spark off, unplugged the power and took out the ethernet cable. After plugging the power back in, there was only one last thing to do: flip the power switch! When we were finished, the Spark was connected to our wireless network.
We have run into many small issues with NewTek products that have left us scratching our heads. However, their online chat was very helpful and each time resulted in a resolution to the problem. Even more so, when they didn’t have an answer they would research it and promptly get back to us. When we were reading customer reviews on B&H and Amazon, we saw a few comments on their customer support. Although their FAQ isn’t terribly helpful and mostly full of other customers helping each other, when we reached out to live support for help with our setup, it was stellar.
The use of the Connect Spark isn’t terribly exciting, unless you like the idea of leaving cables behind. However, add in the recording capabilities and tally lights indicating when the unit is being used for either program or preview, and it becomes a much more dynamic addition.
One thing we would have liked to see is the inclusion of D-tap power cable and at least one mounting point. A D-tap cable allows you to power something from a D-tap power source like a battery with a D-tap output. In combination with a D-tap power option, a mounting point would allow for wireless use on a roaming camera or any other need for complete detachment from the wired world. There is a third party that offers a mounting plate and D-tap cable, but it seems easy enough for NewTek to include for a big benefit to the user.
The NewTek Connect Spark is a new solution to an old problem: how do you wirelessly transmit a video signal for use in a multi camera production? Before NDI, the answer was either to use a transmitter and receiver for up to 300 feet of transmission, working much the same way a wireless mic would. The other option was using cellphone transmission over cellular data networks. With NDI, there is now a third option. It provides a great solution but is best suited for use in a single location, like an event venue, because installation can be time-consuming and problematic.
The NewTek Connect Spark is a new solution to an old problem: how do you wirelessly transmit a video signal for use in a multi camera production?
If a non-NDI option is of interest to you, take a look at the IDX System Technology CW-1 Wireless HDMI Video Transmission System for $800. It plugs directly into your camera’s HDMI port and then has a receiver that you set up on the other end. This would be best suited for those who are not consistently shooting in the same place or don’t have the support of network infrastructure.
Cellular data transmission is a much more robust option, but because it’s best for long distances, it’s unlikely to be considered at the same time as the Connect Spark. Add in that you’d need multiple products at a minimum of double the cost, this solution is better suited to a TV station where mile long transmissions are required.
Another NDI encoder very similar to the connect spark is the BirdDog Mini HDMI to NDI Encoder. If you are choosing a NDI system that isn’t from NewTek, the BirdDog should be considered. However, because it’s $100 more at $595, a NewTek user should pause before buying something outside of a NewTek system.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
Connecting an NDI product is not a an easy process. However, it’s not terribly hard either. The big thing to consider when shopping is if you can accept a setup that would be more difficult to install when compared to a simple transmitter and receiver system. The fact is that it works great, gives you wireless transmission along with onboard capture and, if you use an NDI system, you will kick yourself for not thinking about going wireless when you’re running long cables and trying to hide them.
- Able to both record and transmit video
- Eliminates long Ethernet cable runs for NDI
- No mounting locations
- No battery powered option
If you do live switching and are sick of long cables, the NewTek Connect Spark is an innovative solution. It can wirelessly transmit an HD video signal over a network to a NDI enabled video switcher.
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Online Video Production
Loop Output : HDMI
- 3.5 mm line Level
Ethernet: RJ-45 port for 10/100M Ethernet networking
Wireless Functionality: Built-in Wi-Fi radio 2 x 5 dB 2.4 G / 5.8 G dual-band antennas
IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n
Interface: Web-based user interface for configuration and monitoring
Tally: Tally support via NDI, with built-in program/preview tally lights
- 1080p at 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98 fps
- 720p at 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98 fps
Standards: HDMI: 0.8 Vpp
Recording Video: MPEG-TS
- 2 x USB 2.0 Type-A
- 1 x USB 2.0 mini-USB
Power: 12 VDC, 1 A adapter included; 4 W power consumption (max)
Dimensions: 5 x 3.5 x 1.1″ (13 x 9 x 3 cm)
Weight: Approx. 8 oz (227 g)
Chris Monlux washes his car too often. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.