REVIEW: Deity TC-1 Timecode Unit

I have been a long time user, and big fan, of the timecode units from Tentacle Sync. When they hit shelves, at their price point, reliability, and feature set, it deeply changed the market. It wasn’t even that long ago that the primary option for a timecode unit was the now comically large Denecke SB series. To be clear, I’m not knocking those older Denecke units. They were rock solid, but they are from an earlier time, and we have better options now (including Denecke’s own JB series units).

The fact that the Tentacle Sync Units were comparatively feather weight and that I could make complex setting changes from an app on my phone, at a time when competitors were using little rotary knobs, meant that I preferred their boxes over all others. With the introduction of the Tentacle Sync E’s Bluetooth capabilities, I could now batch control and sync multiple units at the time, without needing to plug any of them into my phone. I remember thinking to myself that “this was it.” This was the system away from which I could not see myself moving.

Enter the Deity TC-1.

One of the few things that I had envied about other systems was the on-board screen. Tentacle sync units do not have screens, but it was never THAT big of an issue to me because of how lightening fast that their app control is/was. However there was one other unit with some features that I really did wish that I could have, which was the Betso timecode system. The Betso’s had the ability to wirelessly send timecode from one master unit to the other units in its group, so you need only power up your recorder and it feeds its master timecode to the whole group automatically (the Ultrasync One’s can also do this from a base station, and the Zaxcom Zaxnet system can send timecode to the ERX, but it doesn’t have a crystal, therefore it needs to stay in range of the transmitter). It’s faster, yes, but my main desire for that ability was so that I didn’t need the app at all if I didn’t want to use it. Until now, no system could do both.

*To clarify what I mean when I say that “no system can do both,” I am referring to the way in which the TC-1 “does both” as in using bluetooth through a specifically designed for mobile app. The Timecode Systems Blink Hub was able to use a browser, iOS, or android to make changes to the devices using WiFI through the base station. This was innovative for the time, but it is not the same as the type of direct communication with each individual unit through the app as with Sidus Audio or the Tentacle Sync App. Ambient also has a browser based app which uses WiFi, and requires the use of its master lockit unit to be able to feed to the nano lockits. (The Blink Hub has since been discontinued after Timecode Systems was purchased by Atomos)*

To put it simply, the Deity TC-1 is a combination of all of the things that I have wanted in a timecode unit. I now have the choice of using an app or a menu on the individual units, a locking 3.5mm port (I honestly have zero clue on any level why Tentacle Sync did not implement this on the Sync E units), usb-c rapid charging ports, crystal controlled timecode accuracy of less than 1 frame drift in 72 hours, and most amazingly I have the ability to wirelessly sync all units together not only from the app, but from the menus on the units themselves.

*Sync between the physical units is achieved via an onboard 2.4ghz transceiver with a range of 30ft, and sync using the app is achieved via Bluetooth 5, with a max range of 250ft!*

In addition, the TC-1 is very small and very lightweight, as you can see below.

Starting with an overview of the features, I’m putting some photos of the menu structure below for reference.

On the main screen, you can see the name of the individual unit (which you can set either from the menu of the unit itself, or by using the app), the battery status with time remaining, the timecode display, and then the menu options. All of this is controlled by a clickable jog wheel and signature yellow back/power button on the side. I added P-Touch labels to the front of the units that I have been using so that I can quickly identify them when they are off.

Each unit can be set either to “master run”, “auto jam”, or “jam once and lock”. If the unit is set to master run, then you can use it to both receive a jam from an external 3.5mm source, and to feed timecode to all other units in range that are assigned to the same group ID. Mine have all been left on group A, but it is possible to create separate groups for different uses or to avoid another user in the area who may be using the group ID that you had been using before. If the unit is set to auto jam, then it will be waiting to receive timecode from the master unit or from the app. Jam once and lock will have the unit wait to receive a jam and then once it has, it will refuse any timecode updates unless it is reset. The ability to feed timecode from any unit to another (or all of the units in the area), without the use of an app is a massive step up from what I had been using with Tentacle. Again, I’m not against using an app to manage the units, far from it, but I love love love that I don’t NEED to use an app and that I now have options.

Once all units are synced together, you can go into the menu to choose whether the locking 3.5mm jack is set to line-in, line-out, or mic and audio-out (denoted as A-OUT in the menu). Line-in is for the unit to receive timecode from an eternal 3.5mm source. Line-out is for feeding timecode out on the left pin at line level (essentially the standard for feeding timecode to any camera with a timecode input port). Just like with the Tentacle Sync units, the TC-1 is designed to also provide timecode to cameras without a dedicated timecode input port, by feeding the signal to one of the camera’s audio tracks. It accomplishes this using the mic level and audio-out setting (a-out), which feeds mic level timecode on the left pin and scratch audio on the right pin (since on mirrorless cameras you cannot disable their microphone preamp, if you try to feed line level timecode, it will overdrive the audio track).

To go into this a little bit deeper, I’ll point out that when working with mirrorless cameras, such as the popular Sony A7S, there is no metadata timecode port. The solution here is to feed timecode onto the camera’s audio track, creating that lovely screeching noise which baffles and horrifies so many clients until you explain to them that this audio timecode (LTC timecode) is not a problem with the audio track and that it can easily be converted into metadata in post. The issue with doing this, when using regular timecode units, is that when you utilize the microphone jack on a mirrorless camera, it deactivates the internal scratch microphone. So as a solution, the TC-1 (when feeding mic level timecode) will also feed audio from its own internal scratch microphone. This way, there is timecode on track 1, and a basic scratch mic on track 2 so that production can still review footage with some audio before syncing. Tentacle sync has been using this workflow for a while, and I am very glad to see that the TC-1 has not overlooked this feature in its design.

*It’s important to note that the Tentacle Sync E can be set within its app to automatically detect whether it is plugged into a camera which needs mic or line level timecode, and on the TC-1 this must be set manually. It is possible that an automatic setting on the TC-1 could be implemented in the future*

The units are capable of running all standard frame rates, as well as true 30fps (which I have never seen used on set, but its nice to know that this is available should it be needed).

Now lets talk about that app control!

The TC-1 utilizes the Sidus Audio app for Android and iOS. This is not to be confused with the Sidus apps for controlling Aputure lights, although it is part of the same ecosystem via a Sidus account which can be used to log into both apps. Each TC-1 is paired with the Sidus Audio app by going into their bluetooth menus and clicking “reset”. They then will appear in the app’s menu when you click the “+” to add new units. Pairing is extremely fast and once you have them, they will all be listed in the main menu.

When you click an individual TC-1 in the menu, you will be brought to a solo screen where you can make changes to the types of settings which you see above, such as the device name, frame rate, user bits, etc. I have tested this on early beta versions of the app, as well as on release versions and I can say that Deity has been committed to debugging and streamlining the speed and intuitiveness of the Sidus Audio app.

Back on the main screen, clicking the 3 dots to the right of the “sync’ button on each individual unit will allow you to rename it, delete it from the app’s memory, or set it as the “main node.” When you set a unit as the main node, it will now be supplying what the app understands to be the master timecode. At the top of the main menu, you can see it displayed and it will reflect whatever the settings are on the main node. You can then click “sync” at the top and all units in the app will slave to the main node.

*I want to point out that setting a TC-1 as the main node in the app is not the same thing as setting a TC-1 as the master unit on the physical devices. These actions are independent and do not affect the ability to sync from one another. The unit designated as the main node in the app is only the main node as far as the app is concerned. The unit designated as the master on the physical units is only the master as far as the direct communication between the physical units is concerned. In the future, it would be great if firmware could be updated so that when you set a main node in the app, that TC-1 has its mode changed to master mode on the physical unit, and vice versa. That would add another layer of synergy to the system.*

Now, let’s examine the physical design!

As I said, the TC-1 is very small and lightweight, and the screen is bright enough to be seen in direct sunlight. That screen is even more useful than I had realized after using my Tentacles for so long. Being able to hold it up beside the camera’s menu to confirm that it has taken the feed just makes everything feel so buttery smooth. This is a feature that I have seen on other units and never truly realized how much that I would love it if I had had it on mine. Also if there is a problem, such as if a cable goes bad, sometimes this is useful for whomever is running camera to check and notify us of the issue.

You can also see the clickable jog wheel, menu/back button, usb-c port, scratch microphone, locking 3.5mm jack, and serial number, along with LED lights for power, sync status with other units, and pairing.

Above you can see one of the coolest accessories for the TC-1. Let me just say that up until recently, I had honestly believed that what you are looking at on the bottom of the TC-1 was called Velcro. It turns out that I’ve been taken in by colloquialisms and Velcro is purely a brand name for what is actually called “hook and loop.” So with that said, you can see that just like the Tentacle Sync units, the TC-1 comes with hard side hook and loop on the bottom. The difference here is that the TC-1 comes packaged with a hot shoe adapter with soft side hook and loop attached to it. That’s….. kind of fantastic. Just an example of an attention to detail of what we might need on a project, that might not have been obvious when designing this.

It’s also important to note that the 3 TC-1 set comes with a signature yellow locking 3.5mm to locking 3.5mm cable, a locking 3.5mm to right angle 5-pin Lemo cable (specifically for the pesky location of the timecode port on the ARRI Alexa Mini), and a locking 3.5mm to right angle BNC cable. That should be enough to get anyone started.

Above, I have the TC-1 pictured beside a Tentacle Sync E and an original Tentacle Sync box. Forgive the state of my stickers on the units (they have definitely been through battle for several years).

As you can see, the TC-1 is about as wide as both of the Tentacle Sync units, however it is noticeably thicker. It is even thicker than the first generation Tentacle Sync unit. That said, and again, neither of the Tentacle Sync units come with onboard screens or menu wheels, so I am definitely willing to forgive the TC-1 being a tad larger. You can also notice that while the 3.5mm jack is recessed on the Tentacle Sync units and flush with their chassis, the 3.5mm jack on the TC-1 sticks out from its chassis. This, I imagine, is to accommodate the locking nature of the TC-1’s jack. While the Tentacle Sync units do come with a plastic clip to hold the 3.5mm cable into the jack, its not a substitute for an actual screw locking jack. I am very pleased to see that Deity has realized this when designing their timecode box.

Having tested these units across several shoots, I can confidently say that Deity has truly listened to the market. They understood where our timecode systems could improve, and then they just went out and did it. They spoke to the users and then they implemented feedback. The result is an extremely small and lightweight unit with a combination of features that cannot be found in any other device. I have been loving the level of control that I have seen on these tests. Not one hiccup. Not one issue.

I said this before, and I’ll say this again. I loved, and still do love, my Tentacle Sync units. They started a new way of handling timecode on set. They gave us a way to make the camera department like us again, by being able to hand them a unit which wasn’t going to add a lot of size and weight to their rigs. They showed us how we could control and sync our units via app. While the Betso system could sync between units via a wireless feed, it couldn’t do it with an app. I was positive that I would be sticking with Tentacle Sync for the long haul. Then Deity came along and gave me an option to do everything that I could want in a timecode system, all in one unit. I could have my cake and eat it too. All that I can say here is: well well done Deity.

(I seriously can’t wait for the slate)


Jared Elkin is a Production Sound Mixer based out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area

(507) 358-1840

Jaredelkinaudio.com

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