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How to Purchase an Instant Replay System Within Budget

How to Purchase an Instant Replay System Within Budget

Oct 27 2016

Instant replay is an essential part of high-quality sports broadcasting. Recently, various brands have been competing to launch low-budget solutions to provide instant replay for smaller venues and schools, adding more entertainment value to small-scale productions while increasing visibility and professionalism.

The prices of cameras, lenses, and switchers have significantly decreased compared to instant replay systems in recent years. One of my early projects in sports broadcasting was a professional field hockey game shot ten years ago. At that time, a new $10,000 camera I purchased at the beginning of the season replaced the old $30,000 camera. Additionally, a new VDR instant replay system for live broadcasting required an investment of over $50,000, with the entire system upgrade costing over $100,000.


Nowadays, setting up an instant replay system is more affordable. The exact cost depends on your video production needs and the number of angles you want to capture. Which type of system is best suited for you and your budget?

Independent Filmmakers and Schools — Under $10,000

Instant replay systems consist of two main elements: equipment, specifically hard disk drives for recording and playing back instant replay clips, and a device to control the instant replay system. The controller can be a computer with a keyboard, but ideally, it is a professional control interface with keys and a T-bar for easy and intuitive operation.


The vMix Replay offers the most budget-friendly instant replay system, with a price of only $1,200 for the software. This software adds to the vMix live production software and hardware package. The cost varies based on the number and type of input interfaces you need, ranging from a custom PC configuration starting at $4,000 to the vMix Go complete solution starting at $9,000.


The vMix hardware and software components can record and instantly replay content on up to four channels. The controller for the vMix system can only use the Contour ShuttlePro V2 controller, a product that has been on the market for five years but is designed for post-production and other applications. While there may be better professional solutions, if you already use vMix for live production, vMix Replay is a cost-effective option.





Datavideo has recently introduced several modular instant replay system combinations, offering various modular options. All Datavideo instant replay systems come equipped with the professional Datavideo RMC-400 slow-motion replay controller, which can control up to four Datavideo HDR-10 slow-motion replay recorders. These combinations range from a single-channel recording and replay system at $1,799 to a four-channel system at $6,695.


The RMC-400 offers many features, such as slow-motion, fast-motion, reverse replay, and frame-by-frame review. Users control the replay speed with a T-bar or a jog wheel. Datavideo provides both options to meet the needs of different users. The Datavideo HDR-10 slow-motion replay recorder, the main operating product in the Datavideo instant replay system, uses a 30-second buffer system for capturing and replaying uncompressed images. It stores high-quality MOV files on its internal SSD drive for later replay. Other instant replay systems in this price range typically capture and replay MPEG 2 or H.264 compressed images, which can lead to inconsistencies with the original footage and affect the real-time viewing experience for viewers during frame-by-frame reviews. Datavideo's uncompressed image capture solves this problem, but the replay buffer is limited to capturing or playing back only once for each HDR-10.

Datavideo's modular purchasing approach is unique. You can purchase a single Datavideo HDR-10 slow-motion replay recorder and RMC-400 slow-motion replay controller for under $2,000, making it possible to integrate slow-motion replay into any existing production workflow. Additionally, you can add an HDR-10 for each camera that requires recording and replay.


Newtek introduced low-budget instant replay solutions a few years ago with their 3Play Instant Replay series. The initial low-cost instant replay system was around $20,000, and now their latest 3Play 425 and 3Play Mini instant replay systems have an MSRP of under $10,000. Both options offer four-camera capture and two video transmission channels, built on the Windows platform like TriCaster.


The 3Play 425 uses HD-SDI inputs, making it bulkier than the 3Play Mini, which only has HDMI inputs. Both systems provide 30 to 40 hours of video recording, allowing for ISOs from up to four cameras. The 3Play Mini can create replay transition graphics and animations.


For its lower-tier 3Play systems, Newtek provides an instant replay controller starting at $2,300. While it offers many of the same features as more expensive controllers, it may be considered crowded due to the abundance of dedicated buttons. The 3Plays offer ample hard drive storage and image management, with the 3Play 425 capturing MPEG-2 compressed images and the 3Play Mini capturing compressed QuickTime files. The quality of compressed images is noticeably lower than uncompressed files, particularly during slow-motion replays. Still, it may be less apparent when broadcasting live on television or streaming on platforms like YouTube.

Newtek offers a comprehensive system for 3Play, supporting up to four channels with overlay graphics and basic editing functionality. The professional control interface adds over $12,000 to the total cost, but if it fits within your budget, Newtek has two good options.

Broadcast Television — $40,000 to Over $100,000

Newtek also offers the 3Play 4800 as a multi-camera live sports replay system capable of recording and capturing up to eight channels. It provides slow motion, instant replay, match highlights, and social media streaming.


The Newtek 3Play can broadcast up to eight video sources simultaneously, with outstanding image management provided by multiple hard drives, all in compressed HQ Quicktime format with resolutions up to 1080P. It also features up to four SATA III removable drive bays, supporting hot-swappable storage and backup.


The 3Play 4800 controller offers many replay options, from simple slow-motion replays to high-speed replays. The T-bar-controlled playback speed ranges from -200% to 200%, meeting the demands of avid fans and professionals.

Focusing on the flagship 3Play 4800, Newtek targets broadcast television and higher-end video production with a pricing structure around $40,000 for the 3Play 4800 and 4800 controller.

Braided Safety Cable Media Systems — Starting from $45,000

Starting at $45,000, the new ZEPLAY pricing eliminates the burden for budget-constrained customers while still providing a professional, reliable, and feature-rich instant replay system.


ZEPLAY records the action from eight angles and plays it back through four dedicated HD/SD SDI video outputs. Compared to other controllers we've discussed, the ZEPLAY control interface may seem outdated and require more time to get familiar with. However, ZEPLAY targets experienced professionals, potentially reducing the learning curve for operation. Nevertheless, with a system costing over $50,000, including servers and consoles, we can expect more from ZEPLAY.



On its website, Tight Rope Media Systems states: "Designed for speed, the 42-key controller empowers your fingertips. T-handle, jog wheel control, built-in crossfade switcher, and independent angle control."

Similar to Newtek and vMix systems, ZEPLAY records and plays compressed images. ZEPLAY records and replays MPEG-2 images at 100mbps (HD) and 4:2:2 color space, using only I-Frame. Slow motion is acceptable under this compression, but MPEG-2 is not the best format. However, the system has a highlighting editor that allows image editing and clipping on the same timeline, switching angles, changing speeds, and using dissolve transitions between image clips for seamless playback. You can export clips and sequences during a match, while ZEPLAY still uses the original MPEG-2 I-Frame format or DVCPROHD or ProRes (LT) formats for replay. If ProRes LT or Proxy is the default recording format, ZEPLAY will have a more significant advantage over competitors, but currently, this is not the case.

Considering all factors, ZEPLAY offers a solution to bring more expensive feature systems to universities and the professional sports market. If you have a budget of $50,000 to purchase an instant replay system and need advanced capture and playback features with servers, ZEPLAY provides a decent system.

The Latest Technology

Recently, with Intel and its newly acquired Replay Technologies' technology, instant replay has entered the realm of 360. The applications of this new technology are expected to expand into live events and entertainment. Still, some analysts see live sports broadcasting as a high-tech gimmick reminiscent of the failed FoxTrax hockey system used in the NHL 20 years ago. Generally, production teams are willing to open up more possibilities to embrace new technologies in technology and entertainment. All the hype about 360 and 3D is affecting the price drop of the 2D instant replay mode used for over a decade.

The broadcasting industry now has more high-quality options for directing operations. Anyone looking to implement an instant replay system in their production must determine their overall expectations, system requirements, and the budget for investing in a new system.

Why Does Video Production Need Instant Replay?

Even with Datavideo's complete professional solution, a 1-channel instant replay costs only $1,799 USD. Instant replay is still expensive for some production teams, but it is a worthwhile investment. Instant replay is a crucial part of sports live production for audiences, professionals, players, and coaches. In my teens, I volunteered to record high school football and later recorded at a minor league hockey rink. The cameras' quality and the cameramen's technical level were similar. Still, the instant replay system at the minor league hockey venue provided a more broadcast, professional feel. High school football games are just as fun and competitive as little league hockey games, but instant replay made a massive difference in the presentation of images. It is decisive in reaching a wider audience or presenting game highlights on network or local cable broadcasts.

When you turn on the TV and watch a live sports event, you often see instant replay footage; it is one of the most needed features in professional and collegiate sports production. Choosing not to watch a major league game is primarily due to the need for instant replay-rich image scenes and program content. Almost any production can join an instant replay system with the above options.


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