Bodelin Technologies ProPrompter HDi Review
One item of video gear that's eluded me in my years of video production and product reviewing has been a teleprompterin part because they're expensive, but also because I produce only three or four productions a year that require one; most of my projects are live events. In my penurious view, it's better to memorize the script and run through multiple takes than to spend low four figures on a device I may not use for another season or two.
Then I signed up to produce multiple case studies that require a prompter, and coincidentally bought an iPad. Around NAB-time, I saw an article on the Bodelin Technologies ProPrompter HDi, which uses the Apple iPad to display the text into the reflective mirror, and reduces the buy-in price to the high three figures ($995 retail, but the street price should range into the lower $800s). I called Bodelin and asked for a review unit that, after spending a few days with the product, will probably turn into a purchase.
At a high level, the product has three components: the hardware, the iPad application ($9.99), and a free website for uploading scripts to sync with the iPad app. Let's start with the hardware.
The hardware itself comes in a military-grade case and has five primary components: the HD mirror box, a camera mount, the iPad bracket, and two hoods. First you connect the pistol grip camera mount to the mirror box, then the pistol grip to your tripod. Then you mount the camera on the camera bar, inserting the lens into the 85mm step-down ring on the back of the mirror box.
After removing the hood, the lens of my Sony HDR-FX1 HDV camcorder fit snugly into the 85mm step-down ring, though Bodelin offers an extensive range of adapters for other camcorders. If you purchase the ProPrompter HDi, you should check this page and buy the necessary adapter to ensure a frustration-free assembly.
Next, you attach the iPad bracket to the pistol grip mount, then the antireflection hood beneath the mirror, and the lens hood between your camera and the back of the mirror. The final step is inserting the iPad into the bracket and rotating the bracket arms around the iPad.
This proved the only snag of the 5-minute assembly process, since the bracket nudged aside the thin, antiscratch screen protector I had applied before giving the iPad to my grimy-fingered girlies. No big deal; the thin film didn't rip, and I smoothed it back down with no ill effect. With a touch of care, I moved the brackets into place over the film. If you have a protective cover, remember to do the same and you'll be fine.
With the HDR-FX1 in place, the rig felt surprising secure and stable; perhaps the "heavy-grade aircraft aluminum" the company uses in its product videos isn't just marketing speak. The camera mount attachment on my tripod extended less than 1/2in. into the pistol grip, which looked scary, but was actually very solid in operation, though obviously you should avoid torquing the grip on the tripod stand. If you're the cautious type, or use a larger camcorder, note that Bodelin will be releasing a rails-based system by the end of June.
Once I assembled the hardware, the next step was getting my script into the iPad. To accomplish this, I first downloaded the ProPrompter app from the app store. This comes with a free account to ProPrompter Producer, a site that lets you upload scripts and then sync them with the app on your iPad. To upload the script, it has to be in text-only format, which is easy enough, then you upload the file, add a title and description, then click the magic sync button. If your iPad is connected, the script will appear thereupon in a matter of moments.
Once the script is on your iPad, you can change the font, font size and color, and background color, though the default settings were visible to me about 10ft. from the device. The only control I found myself wanting were leading settings, to increase the space between the lines, though clearly a "nice to have" rather than necessity.
Beyond the text controls, you can operate the iPad in either landscape or portrait mode, loop the script for repetitive takes, and control the scroll speed via numeric controls. You can also remotely control scroll speed via a separate iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, and even sync multiple iDevices for a multiple-camera shoot, though I didn't test either of these functions. If you're operating solo, you can also set the script to autostart after a specified countdown, which is the approach I used in my testing.
I further tested by shooting video with and without the prompter installed to see if the mirror left any visual residue, but saw none. Overall, once assembled and up and running, the prompter worked as advertised.
Bodelin has had an iPhone version of the ProPrompter hardware and software up and running since January 2009, so you have to like the company's pedigree and experience. I'm sure there will be some inexpensive iPad-based competitors entering the market; before buying, make sure that you feel comfortable with the sturdiness of the hardware, but also that you understand the mechanics of getting your scripts onto the iPad, and options for controlling and sharing the script once it's been uploaded. These latter two categories may be the special sauce that differentiates Bodelin from any competition.