How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro

Outline of the Reeltime Pro playback system setup

Video Playback is Inevitable

An essential function of the creative process in digital filmmaking is to immediately review each take. Therefore, it’s important to have fast and reliable video playback on set. Everyone benefits from video playback systems, but the demands may differ between the departments. Meeting all the various needs on set requires an experienced video playback operator and a handy toolbox to perform all the necessary steps efficiently.

Depending on the production requirements, your toolbox may look different from one project to the next. Start by evaluating what information each creative department needs to see in addition to the video stream. For example, the director might be only interested in a low-latency live feed, while the script department may be more interested in metadata overlays. At the same time, the continuity supervisor may be asking for a composite view, while hair and makeup are requesting a wireless video stream to their mobile devices. The combined needs of all departments will determine which equipment you should consider for your specific video playback system.

In this article, we will provide you with everything you need to know about how to create your own customized Reeltime Pro video playback system, including real-world use cases to help you better understand the different scenarios. Furthermore, we want to show you how to evaluate your setup regarding performance, flexibility, and ease of use. The checklist at the end of the article will ensure you’ve got everything you need to build your own perfect video playback system.

Collecting our Tools

Before we start evaluating different use cases for film production, let’s briefly take a look at the hardware components that are involved:

  • Cameras / microphones (AV source)
  • Video I/O devices (by AJA and Blackmagic Design)
  • Sound I/O devices (compatible with MacOS)
  • Monitors / headphones (AV output)
  • Mac-based workstation with Pomfort Reeltime Pro software
  • Video routers (by AJA and Blackmagic Design, optional)
  • iPhone or iPad (optional for wireless streams)
  • Elgato Stream Deck control panel (optional)
  • LUT boxes (optional setup with Livegrade Pro / Studio)

Reeltime Pro receives audio and video signals using the connected I/O devices (also called capture devices), which convert the signals so the application can read them. Reeltime Pro processes the signals and returns them through the I/O devices to the dedicated output devices (e.g., the video monitors and headphones). The application does not have any restrictions for combining video I/O devices. Using the same device multiple times (e.g., two AJA Kona 5 devices) or combining Blackmagic Design with AJA capture devices is feasible. Optional video routers are like crossroads, giving you more flexibility with where you want to go and how fast you reach your destination.

The signal chain looks like this:

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
Video and audio signal chain

Video Signals in Detail

SDI is a common signal that connects all cameras on a film set, often by cable with a BNC connector. SDI is capable of transferring uncompressed video, audio, timecode, and additional metadata like clip names. The video signal is transmitted via 1.5G / 3G / 6G / 12G-SDI (depending on resolution and frame rate), so ensure that the devices support the desired data rate1.

Every camera or device using an SDI signal can be connected to Reeltime Pro through an AJA or Blackmagic Design video I/O device.

AJA capture devices also transfer horizontal ancillary data (HANC) which is embedded in the SDI signal. This data contains a record flag that enables the auto-record feature in Reeltime Pro for supported cameras from ARRI, RED, or Sony. For that feature the record flag is used to trigger parallel recording in Reeltime Pro, thus starting a new recording in the software each time the camera records.

Reeltime Pro allows mixing different frame rates and resolutions within the same project. Working in a multi-camera environment, this becomes very beneficial as one camera might be rolling with higher frame rates to shoot in slow motion or the production relies on drone shots that sometimes cause mixed frame rates, etc.

Receiving Audio Signals

The audio connection works similarly to video: external sound is recorded through an attached sound device with a Thunderbolt/USB connection. Receiving audio signals via the camera’s SDI interface is also possible. Therefore, you can receive multiple audio signals and record all signals as a dual mono mixdown. The volume of these audio channels can be set individually for each channel in the settings. An additional audio delay setting in Reeltime Pro allows you to offset the audio signal from the video signal since audio is often received a bit earlier than the video signal.

External Control Panels

Reeltime Pro is designed for the immediate moments on film sets. Sometimes, triggering one of the software’s actions with a physical button is better for quick reactions and enhanced control capabilities. Reeltime Pro supports the Elgato Stream Deck, a commonly used control panel of physical buttons with an illuminated mini-display on each button. The plugin can be installed from within the application and comes with a predefined profile that contains all important commands. Of course, you can also create custom profiles with almost no limitations regarding design, layouts, and actions.

Setting up a Video Playback System

The following hardware setups are designed for real-world use cases, and give examples of how you can deploy Reeltime Pro on set. Reeltime Pro and the equipment are not limited to these scenarios.

Getting Started

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
Combining cable-based SDI streams with wireless connections

Let’s start with an easy setup to get a feeling of how things work together. For now, we use one audio and video source and want to display the stream on one video monitor for the director or client. The camera and video monitor are connected to the workstation by cable with Blackmagic Design 3G recorder / monitor devices, allowing HD resolution with a maximum frame rate of 60 and without the need for an additional power supply. The external audio (usually delivered by the sound department) will be recorded via the attached audio interface. Inside Reeltime Pro we configure the input slot to use the Blackmagic Design 3G recorder, the output slot to transmit through the Blackmagic Design 3G monitor and lastly select the proper video format. Done!

Our first cable-based video stream for SDI-based monitoring, recording, and playback is ready. Now, let’s add some more screens. We can easily extend our video playback system without leaving our workstation by using the film crew’s mobile devices for monitoring.

Flexibility Using Wireless Streams

With the free companion app for iOS and iPadOS, “Reeltime Viewer,” every iPhone or iPad can be used as a mobile monitor for the crew on set. The QR code in the Reeltime Pro settings allows you to quickly download the app from the Apple app store. In Reeltime Pro we generally refer to wireless connections as “Local Streams.” They offer the same features as any other output slot and can be quickly configured in the slot manager. The slot manager also contains settings for the target bitrate of the individual local stream. Of course, it is possible to configure multiple local streams with one instance of Reeltime Pro. If multiple Reeltime Pro workstations share the same network, the clients can choose the workstation from which they want to receive the local stream. Connecting to the low-latency feeds shared on Reeltime Pro’s local network is straightforward. The distributed streams are protected using industry-standard encryption to comply with most production security guidelines.

Regarding the overall performance, the hardware requirements for the workstation are lightweight since Reeltime Pro only needs to process a few input and output signals in this setup. Please note that it is not possible to use the auto-record feature with the mentioned Blackmagic Design capture device.

Two-Camera Setup

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
Two-camera setup with one video I/O device

Now, let’s increase the complexity and add another camera. This is typically the case on film sets since it allows for much more creative control in the film production process. Instead of using the previous recorder / monitor devices, we’ll switch to one AJA Io 4k Plus or Io X3. The AJA Io 4k Plus has four bi-directional SDI ports, which makes it possible to attach two cameras and two video monitors at the same time. The AJA device needs a separate power supply but requires only one Thunderbolt 3 port. We open the slot manager again to quickly allocate the cameras on two input / output slots.

Due to the AJA device, we do not have to manually select the video format any longer since it is automatically detected. By having two video monitors it’s possible to see each camera’s live feed on a separate screen or to configure one monitoring device per viewer, so each viewer has a personal screen with views tailored to their individual needs. For example, one video monitor could have a composite view of both cameras while the other one shows the main camera in full frame.

Using two cameras introduces the necessity to sync the cameras with timecode. Reeltime Pro uses the original camera timecode as a default, so you need to jam-sync both cameras. Another option is to use the current time of Reeltime Pro to generate a timecode. As we are now working with an AJA device, we can take advantage of the HANC record flag for the auto-record feature of the application.

As mentioned earlier, Reeltime Pro allows you to record the signal of all armed slots, so you can use the record flag from one camera to trigger the recording for all attached cameras. This is useful if you have just one camera that is capable of sending a record flag via SDI. You only need to equip that specific camera with a capture device from AJA, allowing you to use Blackmagic Design devices for all the other cameras. As a result, one camera can start and stop the recording for all cameras in the entire recording group.

Utilizing Video Routers

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
The video router allows to temporarily bypass the workstation

While video routers are not necessary, they offer great flexibility regarding the connectivity of your equipment. Moreover, they can also enhance the general performance of your playback system. Generally speaking, every signal running through Reeltime Pro needs to be processed, eventually adding some latency. For live signals, we want to avoid the latency as much as possible. We can do that by routing unprocessed signals from the camera directly to a screen or recorder and thus bypassing the workstation. For playback, Reeltime Pro can automatically switch back the routing to show the software’s playback output. This procedure guarantees the best possible performance, low-latency during monitoring, and is particularly interesting for the director who needs to see the image in sync with the acoustically heard live sound from the actors’ original action.

We add the video router between the signal chain of cameras and video I/O devices, so all gear with SDI signal will be attached first to the router and then to the video I/O devices. Reeltime Pro supports video routers by Blackmagic Design and AJA. They are connected via Ethernet and can be easily managed inside Reeltime Pro with the interactive video routing options:

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
Video routing screenshot of Reeltime Pro

Furthermore, video routers also allow you to duplicate SDI signals and route them from the source to other destinations, as shown in the screenshot. The “Automation Manager,” another Reeltime Pro feature, complements video routers very well. It associates events with actions, helping you automate specific tasks. An event can be any activity that occurs, like the start of a recording or switching from playback to live mode. The specified action will be performed as soon as the event takes place. You can configure the automation manager to route an unprocessed live signal from the camera through the video router to the director’s monitor as soon as the live mode is activated. Pretty neat, right?

High-End Video Playback in Combination With Livegrade

Let’s take our previous setup and push it a little further. We are now talking about a big production scale, like a feature film or high-end commercial. Your playback system will be accompanied by a DIT from the camera department, using a separate workstation with Livegrade Pro or Livegrade Studio to interactively color grade the unprocessed signals with LUT boxes. All LUT boxes will be attached directly after the camera. If you have not worked with Livegrade before, do not worry. In a nutshell, the application allows the DIT to grade a video signal from a camera in real-time and control the LUT boxes via Ethernet. In theory, you could also use Reeltime Pro and Livegrade on the same machine, but be aware that the applications cannot share the video I/O devices simultaneously. The recommended workflow for this case is using Reeltime Pro to manage the complete signal chain and Livegrade to remotely control the LUT boxes. The processing of a LUT box is executed by hardware, requiring almost no extra computing capacity on your system. One side note: It is possible to loop through the graded signal from a LUT box through a video monitor to the video router if you have a monitor with an input and output SDI port.

Let’s also assume that you are in the middle of a production and you’ve been using the two-camera setup so far. During the shoot, the need for a third camera arises. What do you do?

Since Reeltime Pro can handle various devices from different vendors concurrently, you can get another Blackmagic Design recorder (or any other video I/O device) and extend your playback system. It’s as easy as that!

How to Build a Video Playback System With Reeltime Pro
LUT boxes color the unprocessed signal

Now we’re handling three cameras, so organizing the slots or cameras into a group may be necessary. In Reeltime Pro, we call this concept arming (the slots). Arming two input slots out of three will result in only recording those armed slots when the record all button is pushed or the auto-record feature with groups is enabled in the settings. This is useful if the third camera on set is only needed occasionally for recording.

Now, let’s address one last time the strength of Reeltime Pro for this scenario regarding the simultaneous handling of various resolutions and frame rates. Reeltime Pro runs very stable in this regard, giving you the creative freedom to produce the stunning movies you are looking for, without having to worry about technical constraints. Reeltime Pro is almost only bound by the limitation of the equipment used and the maximum channel configuration of your product license.

Checklist: Essential Steps

We’ve discussed the required hardware for Reeltime Pro video playback systems, evaluated different scenarios on set, and looked at several real-world examples. Now, you should have a good insight into Reeltime Pro’s flexibility towards integrating any number of industry-standard devices and adjusting to the needs of any sized setup. The universe of video playback becomes pretty exciting as you tackle the first obstacles. Hopefully, we’ve helped you identify some of these hurdles and inspired you to create your own tailored video playback system. The following checklist is a short recap of what we’ve covered, to help you set up your first project with Reeltime Pro:

  • Consider the departments that need your playback system.
  • Do you only need video or also external sound? Ensure you will receive the audio signal from the sound department in the most efficient way.
  • How many cameras will be used? Do you need the Reeltime Pro 3-channel option or the 6-channel option?
  • How many monitors will need a signal? Note that you will need one output slot per destination. Reeltime Pro’s 3-channel option supports up to 6 output slots, and Reeltime Pro’s 6-channel option supports up to 9 output slots. Also, consider local streams as a cost-effective alternative.
  • Do you need a video router to distribute one outgoing signal to multiple monitors on set?
  • Does the director or anyone else on set need to see the live signal with no latency? You will then need a video router as well.
  • Do you need the auto-record feature? Consider using AJA devices and check if the cameras support them.
  • What about metadata from the cameras? Do you also work with wireless transmitters? Note that some transmitters may strip clip names and the HANC record flag.
  • Last but not least: Testing the setup ahead of time is essential.

Our journey with Reeltime Pro just started, but we are excited about all the new features that lie ahead as much as we look forward to hearing about your experiences with Reeltime Pro. To share your story, email us at contact@pomfort.com.

  1. We recommend working with HD resolutions for now since UHD / 4k is currently in the beta phase. ↩︎
About the Author
Elwin is a product manager for the media asset management product family. His extensive understanding of post-production combined with on-set experience allows him to delve into technical topics and continuously develop media workflows.