Dish’s Sling Media Is Releasing a Cheap Tricaster Competitor for Facebook Live Streams

SlingStudio on scene with news crew
Courtesy of Sling Media

Sling Media, the Dish Network subsidiary that brought us the Slingbox, is back — with a product no one expected, but some will surely appreciate: SlingStudio, a portable video production system that’s optimized for live streaming to services like Facebook Live and YouTube, for a price that’s far below that of traditional setups.

The base price for SlingStudio, which will go on sale in May, is $999. For that, users will get a device that could pass as a somewhat bulky router, which is not actually that far from what it does: SlingStudio generates its own secure Wi-Fi network to wirelessly connect with up to 10 cameras. These can include smartphones as well as professional cameras, with the latter being networked via an optional $349 adapter dubbed CameraLink.

SlingStudio users can monitor up to four of those 10 feeds, which are automatically synchronized via an iPad app. That app not only makes it possible to switch among different cameras, but also add simple effects, including text overlays and lower thirds. The output can be written to a hard drive or SD card, and also live-streamed to Facebook Live and YouTube.

The idea for SlingStudio was to make multi-camera shoots more accessible, said Dish CTO Vivek Khemka during a recent interview with Variety: “Our goal was to democratize video production.” One part of that is the price point. A Tricaster setup, the industry standard for live video productions, easily can cost $10,000 or more.

But the goal was also to simplify the functionality, Khemka said, and allow users to get started without a big learning curve. That’s not to say that SlingStudio is cutting any corners. The device is capable of recording up to six different versions of the video simultaneously, including the raw footage of all four monitored feeds.

The CameraLink adapter automatically transcodes video on the fly to match up different source feeds. Users can also connect a video source directly to the device via an HDMI input, which for example makes it possible to add a desktop PC for Skype calls and the like. SlingStudio could theoretically be used for a video blogger’s home studio, but it’s more optimized for live and on-the-road use via an optional $149 battery pack.

There are some things that are missing. Action cams like GoPro for example aren’t natively supported, but must be connected with a CameraLink adapter — something Khemka blamed on the camera’s video quality over Wi-Fi. There’s also no streaming to Twitter’s Periscope at launch, but Sling Media promises to add more services down the road.

Khemka said that the company is looking to market the device to the long tail of content producers. The target customer base includes schools, churches, startups, companies looking to live-stream corporate events, as well as local TV stations that haven’t figured out how to produce good-looking Facebook Live streams.

All of that makes sense, and SlingStudio also worked effortlessly during a recent demo for Variety. Still, there was one question left: Why would a Dish subsidiary build such a product?

One answer: The original Slingbox, which gets hooked into cable boxes to make traditional TV programming viewable over the internet, has become a product without a real market. Consumers by and large don’t need such workarounds anymore to stream most of their programming, and Dish’s own Sling TV is among a growing number of services that offer live TV over the internet without the need for any boxes at all.

What’s more, Sling Media developed a lot of technology over the years that came in handy for building SlingStudio. “This is essentially a Slingbox,” said Sling Media SVP of product development Paddy Rao while pointing at the CameraLink adapter that wirelessly streams the output of a professional camera to the SlingStudio appliance.

Of course, one could also speculate that Dish may one day want to tap into the pool of SlingStudio users to license content for its own platforms, including Sling TV. Khemka declined to comment on this, but said that for now, the focus was to enable prosumers to producer better-looking broadcasts on platforms like Facebook Live. “We are just going where the market will go,” he said.