Teradek ACE 500 Review – Affordable and Quick Setup Wireless Video

The Ace 500 HDMI wireless video transmitter and receiver set is the newest entry level wireless kit from Teradek. Priced at $900, the manufacturer promises a 500 foot (152 meter) range with this set for nearly $500 less than the nearest Bolt 500 LT HDMI pair (priced at $1,350). Who is the ACE 500 for and what do you give up in exchange for several hundred dollars in savings over their base Bolt 500 HDMI kit? Let’s find out. 

Teradek ACE 500. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon

Over the course of 14 consecutive shoot days in California and North Carolina, I put the ACE 500 duo through its paces. For monitoring, I used both the Bolt 703 and the newer FOCUS Bolt 500 RX monitor. Any of the integrated Bolt monitors and Bolt 500 XT/LT  series also work with the ACE 500.

Initial Impressions

When you hold the ACE 500 HDMI TX/RX, its weight will reveal immediately that the chassis is not built from the milled aluminum you would recognize from the Bolt LT/XT series. It feels plasticky to the touch. As a longtime Bolt user myself I don’t think the ACE 500 would hold up over years of use in a rental environment. For high volume rentals, you’ll want the more rugged Bolt series. If you’re a careful owner/op though, then you’ll find the build quality of the ACE 500 adequate for longterm use.

Like most of you, I’m not a fan of HDMI in general. It just isn’t as robust as SDI/BNC connectors, but we live in a world where nearly every camera includes HDMI output, so it seems for now we’re stuck with it. I will say the included HDMI cable is sturdy.  It fits snugly and securely in its input. It would be nice to see an HDMI lock accessory in the future from either Teradek or a 3rd party for the ACE 500 (and for everything they make with an HDMI port).

Pairing the ACE 500 with any integrated bolt monitor is absurdly fast and user-friendly. It took me roughly 3-min to pair. Manual? What manual? Once you’re paired, you shouldn’t need to do it again, even after its batteries die or moving the transmitter to other cameras. For example, if you have to swap the battery on the monitor, simply power the monitor back up and the wireless connection will automatically re-establish after perhaps 15 seconds. You’ll still need a paperclip to start pairing the transmitter, but I’m hoping Teradek will eventually integrate bluetooth based pairing across the board like in their upcoming Bolt 4K system. Fingers crossed there.

The ACE 500 HDMI TX/RX Kit ships with the following:

  • Ace 500 Transmitter
  • 18″ Ultra Thin HDMI Cable
  • D-Tap Power Cable
  • Ace 500 Receiver
  • Mini-USB to USB Cable
  • 18″ Ultra Thin HDMI Cable
  • AC Power Cable

Ace 500 transmitting to the Bolt 703 monitor (pictured). Image Credit: Graham Sheldon.

Range

I tested the promised 500 foot (line of sight) range while filming with the Canon C300 and the FOCUS Bolt 500 RX.  The advertised 500-foot range seems pretty spot on. The monitor image starts to slowly break up well before you lose the signal or experience delay (at around 500 feet ), so you have ample visual warning and the signal won’t just drop out on you. Most of the Teradek products these days are billed as being “zero delay,” and I can attest that you can absolutely pull wireless focus with this setup.  However,  you may find a full 1920 x1 080 7″ monitor easier on your eyes in that particular situation. More on this later.

When filming interiors, we also never experienced any signal dropout, despite the transmitter and monitor leaving line-of-sight on multiple occasions. Castles and historic homes may be different, but the range should be fine for most applications on a soundstage or in a modern suburban home.

We also did a quick test in a hot air balloon (pictured above with the Bolt 703 on the receiving end), and I’m happy to stamp the ACE 500 “hot air balloon approved.” In case that was the one thing you were holding out for…

Power

Personally, I tend to use D-Tap cables for powering all on-camera accessories, but you can also power the transmitter or receiver with optional Sony L-Series, BP-U, BP-9 or Canon LP-E6 plates. The D-Tap option requires a D-Tap on one end to 1 x barrel (7 to 17 VDC) cable on the other, but the barrel connector isn’t quite as robust as a locking lemo connector. My guess is the lemo connection was likely cut to save on overall production costs. Generally, just pay attention to your cable management, anything and you shouldn’t have any problems.

On the Canon C300 I found myself most often mounting the ACE 500 directly to the gold mount battery plate. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon

FOCUS Bolt 500 RX

The FOCUS Bolt 500 RX monitor (pictured bottom left) deserves a dedicated review, but it works so well with the ACE 500 system I wanted to include a few thoughts on the monitor itself here. From an investment perspective, the FOCUS Bolt 500 RX/ACE 500 combination makes a lot of sense. If you buy an ACE 500 transmitter for $494.00 and a FOCUS Bolt 500 RX kit for $1,499.00, then you’ll have a contained wireless video package for around $2,000 with shipping/tax. (I wish something like this had existed when I was first starting out.)

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this monitor. It’s 5 inches and sports the same great director handles as the larger Bolt 703, but it tops out at 720p resolution and 800 nits. For comparison, the Bolt 703 monitor is full HD and features a whopping 3000 nit panel. That brightness comes at a premium price tag though, and the Bolt 703 is twice the price of the FOCUS Bolt 500 RX.

The 5″ FOCUS is just so darn handy to have on set though. I found myself carrying it around and tweaking light levels, and I even handed it to the boom operator at one point, so he could keep an eye on frame line for the boom. It weighs about a pound with the L battery mounted and it’s perfect for directors on run & gun shoots, who want to verify their coverage.

One drawback of the FOCUS Bolt 500 RX for me is the L battery requirement. I’m sure many out there have a wide range of L batteries laying around, but as a predominantly Canon C series user myself, I would personally love a BP or LP-E6 option, but this is a small quibble. Of course, both the Cine 7 RX and the Bolt 703 have V-mount and gold mount power plates if you’re looking for integrated bolt monitors with larger battery capacity.

Obviously, this wouldn’t be the monitor you’d use for pulling focus or to reference a DP’s final visual word before you roll.  For that, you’ll want the full HD resolution, brightness, and screen size of the Bolt 703 or a Cine 7.

As part of the Creative Solutions umbrella, Teradek and SmallHD are creating really impressive product collaborations. I’m starting to get a bit of an Apple vibe from the whole thing, which extends to their packaging with Indiana Jones quotes. One benefit of the Apple ecosystem is the seamless intercommunication in all of the company’s hardware, and I would be delighted if more of my camera-related technology took on that challenge.

Final Thoughts

If you’re just getting into the world of wireless video, then you should be well served with the ACE 500 kit. The whole system really shines when you add any of the integrated bolt SmallHD monitors to the equation and the price point makes it especially appealing to owner/operators.

Size comparison between the Bolt 500 LT (SDI/LT) and the HDMI ACE 500. Please note the antenna are not attached on the Bolt 500 LT.

Pros:

  • Price – A few hundred dollars cheaper than the Bolt 500 LT HDMI only version
  • It works – I’m able to get a 500ft line of site wireless video
  • Power – Tons of power options beyond D-Tap
  • Compatibility – Works with integrated Bolt 500, XT, and LT, as well as SmallHD monitors with integrated Bolt wireless technology

Cons: 

  • Build Quality – Doesn’t have the same bulletproof feel of the more expensive Bolt 500 LT
  • Lack of Lemo Connector

What do you think? Will you be adding the ACE 500 to your kit? Comment below!

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For less than the $2000 you’re talking about, you can spend $1600 to get this transmitter/receiver pair and a Ninja V… giving you a brighter screen and recording capability (with ProRes Raw, potentially).

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