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Deity Microphones TC-SL1 Smart Timecode Slate Review

November 4th, 2022 Jump to Comment Section 6
Deity Microphones TC-SL1 Smart Timecode Slate Review

Deity Microphones, partner audio brand to lighting manufacturer Aputure, has been known as a budget-friendly alternative in an audio world dominated by brands like Rode, Zaxcom, Denecke, Zoom, Tascam, Tentacle, Sony, and others. Deity, for short, makes a variety of lavalier-based wireless systems, boom mics, and now, for the first time, a smart slate. Hop below for a look at the TC-SL1 Smart Slate.

First, can we all agree that, in general, the Smart Slate or the Slate was due for an update?

The slate, timecode and why we still need it

You may recall that a slate is a device designed for syncing audio and video on a film, television, or commercial production. A “dummy” slate, sometimes called a “clapper,” displays valuable information for post-production like the scene heading, take number, production title, name of director and cinematographer, and so on. A “smart” slate takes things a step further with the introduction of timecode synchronization through a small external timecode box mounted to the slate, the camera, and the audio mixing device.

From there, the timecode synchronizes wirelessly or by physically connected cables. Sync’d timecode allows the post team to automatically (or, depending on your software, with the pressing of a few buttons) match video files with audio files. The benefit is that on larger productions, dozens of cameras and multiple teams may be capturing audio at the same time. On multi-camera projects especially, timecode is 100% necessary at every step of the production to avoid potentially expensive cost overruns in the editing bay.

As an aside, sometimes a dummy slate might be “owned” by the camera department, and the audio department might be the keeper of the smart slate, but not always.

Ok, refresher over! Now on to the Deity TC-SL1 Smart Slate.

Film slates – the competition

Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

While there might be many brands in the general audio space, the smart slate market shrinks when we consider only those products which can compete with the new TL-SL1. Those would be smart slate devices by Ambient Recording and Denecke, which retail between $1600 and $2000. Did I miss any other competitors? Let us know in the comments below!

The drawback with those devices is that they rely on disposable and expensive AA batteries or on the need to attach a separate external timecode device — making things bulkier and less streamlined. If you need to attach a separate device, then the smart slate is acting as more of a display (stretching the definition of “smart”).

The Deity TC-SL1 is designed to work alongside (in a 2.4 GHz radio ecosystem) the competitively priced $199 TC-1 Timecode generators, and you can read more about those HERE. However, you can use the 1/4″ TRS and 5-pin LEMO timecode ports to hardline into other common LTC-compatible timecode devices. Therefore, you aren’t entirely locked into the Deity ecosystem if you’ve already invested elsewhere with other systems.

Oddly, there seems to be a lack of Bluetooth adoption amongst the competition, while the TC-SL1 allows for ease of control up to 250′ through the Sidus Audio app. More on that in a moment.

First impressions

Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

The $999 list price felt like a steal when I first removed the stylish milled aluminum Deity Microphones TC-SL1 slate from its semi-rigid gray case that also includes a dry erase marker (thanks!), two NP-F550 batteries, USB C Cable, 1/4″ TRS to 5-pin LEMO cable, all covered by a limited 2-year warranty. There’s a net in the case that could hold additional batteries and cables, or you could even fit a few TC-1 timecode generators in there.

The slate is built out of a single piece of aluminum and feels great to the touch, with just enough traction to make it less likely to be dropped.

Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

A little ridge at the back provides a comfortable place for a 2nd AC to hold the slate and the power button on the side has a sliding protective plate, preventing accidental powering on or off. Turning the slate, you’ll see locking doors for the NP-550 batteries that take two hours to charge and then last for a whopping 120 hours. Indicator lights on either side of the battery doors display green if both batteries are providing power to the slate.

Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

Another standout design feature is the tiny display at the device’s rear that shows the current settings (frame rate, battery life, Bluetooth indicator, and more). A small toggle allows you to manually set everything if you prefer not to use the Sidus Audio Bluetooth app. Having manual control should alleviate concern over the possibility of a dead phone battery in the middle of a busy shooting day.

Sidus Audio lets you determine an order for different operations and making the slate display “CINED” took just seconds to program in.

If you’re shooting exteriors at noon, know that the timecode display on the front is extremely bright. To avoid flaring the camera lens in a studio environment, you can turn down the display’s brightness. My favorite feature might be the ability to write short custom messages on the slate itself, thus providing an opportunity to impress the whole team by adding a client company name or production title. Creating that custom message takes just seconds in the app.

A series of small red LED dot lights in the upper left or bottom right of the timecode display blinks to let you know when the slate is on. Another handy feature is a “flip” button on the side that flips the timecode numbers without having to turn the slate over. There isn’t, however, a protective sliding door over the flip buttons, and I wish Deity had matched the design of the sliding door over the power buttons on the flip buttons too, but that’s a small quibble.

The on/off button with protective sliding door. Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

Another possible design feature might be to have a Velcro spot or small strap for mounting a 3rd party timecode generator to the back of the TC-SL1 slate. I also understand why Deity would have wanted to keep the clean look of the design intact.

Sidus Audio app

Back in the day, the launch of the Sidus Link app for Aputure’s lighting products wasn’t without its share of bugs, and that’s to be expected, considering it was a new software product for a company not necessarily known for software design. I’m happy to report that things went much more smoothly with the Sidus Audio app on launch day – granted, from a design perspective, less complexity may now be required.

A quick manual Bluetooth reset on the Deity TC-SL1 meant the app was able to see the slate immediately, along with three other TC1 timecode generators on my Apple iPhone 14.

Having all my TC-1 boxes in the same group worked fine for my purposes. For larger projects requiring multiple camera teams playing in different areas, you might want to configure your devices differently. Most of my time in-app was spent in the “devices” menu, although you could select the “workstation” menu for a larger scrollable display of your devices in a given group.

Clicking “sync” in the app brings all your Deity devices together with identical timecodes in just a few seconds. Obviously, this app won’t work quite this seamlessly if you use a competing product to jam your slate. In that case, a quick visual check will show you’re sync’d.

Final thoughts on the Deity TC-SL1 slate

Image Credit: Graham Sheldon/CineD

So far, the TC-SL1 Smart Slate is one of those rare product home runs. It’s that good, and it invigorates an audio product category that hadn’t seen much iteration in years.

The TC-SL1 also does good things for Deity as its brand appeal broadens from solely content creators to including larger productions. Nothing against content creators (as I write this content!), but a wider appeal for Deity can only serve the audio space as a whole.

What do you think? Will you be adding the new Deity Microphones slate to your kit? Let us know in the comments below!

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