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Got Mandolin Shred?

A brief review of the Mandolin.com service as experienced during a Punch Brothers show. Top marks to Mandolin. Apple and Google got muddy.

This Sunday, I watched a Punch Brother’s live show. Yes watched Punch Brothers live streaming an hour-twenty or so of non-stop live music. Just five guys and a Neumann U-87 performing Oprey style like they always do on stage. Lots of tuning as keys changed. But tight and moved.

Punch Brothers engaged Mandolin.com a start up streaming production company to produce the show. Mandolin handled the lighting, video production, stream production, and content distribution and ticketing. The band prepared and practiced like they would for any live gig. Mandolin boffins and roadies handled all the tech for the show.

Publicity for the show. A Punch Brothers tweet, a Chris Thile retweet. Don’t know how big the crowd was. Dismal Manor was a sudden sailor for $25. Calvin needs shoes, what can I say?

Revisions

  • 2020-11-17 Added on demand bit.

References

  1. https://www.mandolin.com/about-us

Why Mandolin?

Mandolin was founded to provide a near live show experience for performing arts audiences. Artists looking for more than a Facebook Live or YouTube live stream experience with lossy encoding and stalls. They offer a rich HD broadcast quality video and lossless audio live streamed without fuss to Safari and Chrome browsers.

Mandolin works with the company and the house to handle all of the details of load in, production, and load out. In effect, they are the artist’s touring company on hire by the gig. Mandolin boffins and roadies handle all the details of ticket sales, session access control, audio and video production for the stream, stage lighting, camera operation, everything pretty much turn-key.

Noam Pikelny gave the road team top marks for professionalism and working relationships with the band. Everything preproduction went smoothly and as a top tier touring act would expect.

Viewer Experience

Once the tech was sorted, the viewer experience was akin to viewing a Live from Here livestream. Except the sound was better. No Google lossy compression. We started the show on Chromecast but were forced to move to AirPlay. Here’s what happened.

Chromecast Experience

I set up the Chromecast from Google Chrome from my Mac to the nVidia Shield (Mk 1 Shield) about 2 hours before showtime. It brilliantly showed the countdown clock. When Mandolin boffins switched from the in-house countdown to the video live stream from the venue (carefully time limited as they were leasing a channel from the local carrier), Chromecast stopped working and could not be revived. I even restarted the Shield. Would not come back up.

AirPlay Experience

I shifted to the Apple TV and AirPlay from my Mac to the Apple TV. The Apple TV had not recently been connected to an in house source so ATV really wanted me to enter a 4 digit passcode on the Mac. The catch was that the passcode time to live was shorter than the walk to my study. The code would be rejected. And to make it fun, I had to type the code in the blind as a standard MacOS password text box was provided. Come on Apple. Twenty-five minutes to enter a damned 4 digit passcode. This is completely unacceptable.

Constant Bit Rate Audio and Video?

As I was catching up on the E-mail and revising this post, I replayed the concert in the Mac browser with audio sent via AirPlay to a HiFiBerry Digi+ streamer serving a Schiit Audio Modi 3 and Mani headphone amp. Surprise. Audio and video were in sync! This suggests both are constant bit rate streams. Like real ATSC television.

Mandolin’s End

Once all of the local issues were sorted, it was the typical Apple TV experience. I have an older ATV pre 4K and HDR. It was ok on the 10 year old Panasonic plasma TV that I insist on keeping. Everything went smoothly with Mandolin. Login happened. Stream credential was good. Screen credential could be copied and pasted from Chrome to Safari. Show came up. Video was good. Audio was good. Not Punch Brothers record quality but five guys around a Neumann good. Mandolin came through with flying colors. Can’t say the same for Google and Apple.

Do you doze off? Mandolin has you covered!

Once the show finishes airing, the title is available for on-demand viewing for a period agreed to by Mandolin and the Artist. Chris mercifully allowed a couple of days of on-demand viewing of the 11/15 show.

The On-Demand experience proved to be seamless.

  1. Sign in at watch.mandolin.com
  2. Navigate to “My Shows”
  3. Select from the available shows.
  4. Click the link
  5. AirPlay or ChromeCast to a streaming endpoint.

The Punch Brothers on demand stream looked really good. I got to see the opening material that I missed while sorting tech during the show.

Oh, and there is chat

Chat is both a blessing and a curse. I found I liked having chat available while waiting for the curtain to go up. Live from Here audience members checked in from all over the world. Which was impressive for a US radio show. Apparently, there is a significant expatriate following and local residents within reach of Armed Forces Radio had taken up the show also. For the concert, I closed the chat pane to remove the distraction. Its a small screen only thing that is unreadable when Telly is across the room.

Mandolin, Artists, and Venues

Mandolin is openly courting artists and venues wanting to resume performances for their audiences and patrons. Although the service is specifically designed to produce live shows under pandemic restrictions, live streaming can be used to broaden the audience after the pandemic restrictions have been lifted.

Mandolin offers a turn key operation working with the artist and venue to handle all of the logistics needed to make a live stream happen. Circuits, Internet service, load in, lighting, broadcast video, broadcast audio, content distribution, ticket sales, artist cut, venue cut. Mandolin Roadies are capable and pleasant production partners. Mandolin boffins make things happen correctly. Mandolin requires no browser add-ins or proprietary software on the viewer’s terminal. To watch on the big screen, use the OS and browser native capabilities appropriate to the endpoint device connected to display and audio systems.