There is no doubt that having a portable video tower will transform your game analysis, but it is a reasonably big investment at the end of the day. With more and more competition in portable video towers, it’s hard for coaches to know which one will be the best for their circumstances. After all, nobody wants to be stuck with an expensive mistake.
Here are the key things to look out for when researching your video tower purchase:
1. Ease of Transportation
How easy your video tower is to transport could make or break your relationship with it. You need to think about two factors here: there’s the challenge of fitting the tower into your car, and then there’s the walk from the car to wherever you locate the tower, so you need to pay attention to the transportability of the equipment. Ideally you want to be able to do this on your own and in one trip, so you are looking for well-designed carry bags or boxes.
Does the carry bag or box have wheels? If it does, this is a tell-tale sign that the tower is heavy and bulky and may not fit into a standard car. Many of the towers on the market were developed for American football, which tends to have plenty of money! Large carry boxes are no problem to these guys – they are simply loaded into the luggage compartment of the coach. Most of us don’t have the luxury of a coach to transport us from game to game, so be absolutely sure the tower will fit easily into your car before you buy. Also, if possible, see if you can pick it up and carry it yourself.
2. Pan and Tilt
Pan, tilt and zoom functionality are of course critical, but make sure you understand how the features are operated. Go for a mechanism that operates the pan, tilt and zoom by way of one lever arm. Why? Well, in my experience, it’s very useful to have a free hand for holding an umbrella or coding a game.
If the pan, tilt and zoom functions are operated by remote control, remember that you will also have a remote to operate the camera, so that means you won’t have any free hands. Aside from umbrella holding, it’s handy to have a free hand to tag events on your app as the match happens, or to take a phone call. Worse still is where the pan and tilt systems are separately operated, because you’ll need two hands just to operate those functions.
One last thing, be wary of the battery-operated pan and tilt heads. While inexpensive, sometimes the speed of the movement of the camera is just not up to fast-paced sports.
3. Set Up
This is such an important factor. How many times have you cursed the equipment, the weather and everything else as you struggle with cold fingers to assemble the tower? A good design in this regard is a deal-breaker. Avoid complicated winch and pully systems which can be fiddly to adjust and expensive to repair.
Do you really want to have to change your car to accommodate your new video tower? What height do you realistically need your video tower to extend to? Some towers extend to 31 feet but bear in mind that the higher the tower is, the heavier and bigger it is because it must be made more sturdy. For that reason, make sure you’re able to transport those larger towers. In my experience, anything between 15-18 feet is great, because it’s the right balance between portability and height.
You ideally want a low-maintenance piece of kit to minimise downtime due to repairs and of course to keep costs down. While ease of use is important, you have to weigh up the cost of maintaining complex and expensive parts. What’s the guarantee like, where are they located, how long will it take to ship parts, is it possible to purchase individual parts are all questions you should be asking.
The accessories that come with the tower can make a huge difference to your overall satisfaction with it. For example, in our rainy climate, well-fitting rain covers are a must. A sun visor for the screen is very useful to counteract the glare from bright days. The cabling and adapters used must be standard fittings otherwise they can be expensive to replace or you end up buying specific camera just to work with your tower.
You will see offers from time to time of a free camera with the tower. Do not be blinded by the freebie. In many cases the free camera will not have enough functionality to be useful. For example, a common freebie, the Sony CX405, that can be bought online for a little as €175. It is unlikely a camera at this price will meet the requirements of most serious analysts. Trust me; you’ll end up buying your own higher-spec camera anyway.
Though not a freebie as such, do pay attention to the monitor that is supplied with your tower. Some makes supply poor-quality monitors to keep costs down. Check the brand of monitor supplied prior to purchase and make sure it is a higher end brand or you may experience problems later. (NB: does it have an out feed if you want to live code?)
I hope those few pointers will help you make a good investment. My main advice is to get feedback from people you know who are using the different makes of tower to get the actual pros and cons. Make sure you talk to people who will be using the tower in a similar way to you – for example there’s no point in talking to someone whose tower never moves from the home ground if you will be lugging yours around and setting it up at a different ground every time. If you’re new to video towers, you will be bowled over by the transformation video analysis will make to your coaching and your team.