Appropriate timecode workflows are essential for sync sound shoots, and nothing is more important to a successful sync workflow than having accurate timecode generators (or sync boxes) driving timecode on all of your devices.
In film production, there are a few brand names that you recognize as staples. I’d consider Ambient Recording and Denecke to be at the forefront of this small niche of products. That said, there are a lot of other companies developing great products worth mentioning, including Mozegear, Tentacle Sync, and the focus of this review, Betso.
Timecode: It Is All About Precision, And Size Does Matter
When working with sync boxes, the most important thing is accuracy; and when working off of a bag on location, the most important thing is keeping your bag as small and light as possible. The Betso SBOX-1N delivers on both accounts.
With a SMPTE timecode accuracy of 0.1ppm, an accuracy measurement matched only by the most popular Ambient offering (Lockit ACL204), and at a size of 2.95 x 2.44 x 0.79″, just a slightly bigger footprint than the smallest Mozegear offering (Tig Q28), in my opinion this box is at the top of the competition and at a very affordable price.
The Betso SBOX-1N has a metal allow construction, giving it a bullet-proof feel and making it very durable for location use. It features standard I/O connections, including two BNC and one 5-pin Lemo. This is often an area where other small sync boxes lack, as they may use non-standard connectors that make it hard to remain compatible with current set-ups. From left to right: the first BNC connector works as the word clock output signal when word clock is on, or as a timecode input when word clock is off; the second BNC connector works as the timecode output; and the 5-pin Lemo connector can handle a number of functions, including timecode input, timecode output, external power input, and GPS input (requires Betso GPS device). If used in a bag, essentially, from one single connection you can power this device, input timecode to set the device to the desired timecode and user bits, and output timecode to jam TC on other devices.
The SBOX-1N can do all standard SMPTE TC frame rates (23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 29.97DF, 30, 30DF), as well as double speed frame rates (47.952, 48, 50, 59.54, 59.54DF, 60, 60DF), and half speed frame rates (11.988, 12, 12.5, 14.985, 14.985DF, 15, 15DF), offering incredible versatility for multiple uses.
Even with a really small size and weight, the SBOX-1N features an OLED screen with an incredibly easy user interface. The screen provides a lot of useful information, including battery reading, word clock setting, frame rate setting, and current timecode.
The buttons are a bit small for my taste, as it can be a bit hard at times for me to press the right button combinations when needed, especially when I have it in its protective pouch on the side of my bag (see this post’s cover picture), but after some getting used to, it hasn’t been much of a problem. With a push of a button, you can switch the display between showing generated timecode and u-bits, to external timecode and u-bits (from external TC source). The Betso SBOX-1N will also give you the ability to see any timecode offsets in frames between generated timecode and external timecode source, making it a great tool for analyzing accuracy between different devices.
If you are worried that the OLED screen will drain too much power, then worry not, as you can set the display to turn off automatically after 5, 10, or 30 seconds of inactivity. And talking about power, when not powering the device from an external source via the 5-pin Lemo connector, you can power it off of two AA batteries. The SBOX-1N will allow you to set the battery type (alkaline, NiMH, or lithium), producing very accurate battery readings. In my tests, the SBOX-1N lasted at least 50 hours on two fully charged rechargeable AA NiMH (2000mAh) batteries. This is significantly higher than any of the available small timecode products I’ve worked with on the market!
This makes the SBOX-1N a great sync device master in the bag, as the small size, light weight, highly accurate TCXO, and long lasting battery life stand out from most if not all other devices in its class. However, we are only scratching the surface as far as capabilities go.
Where this device really outshines other devices is in its special features. My favorite, the ability to auto turn on the SBOX-1N when a timecode signal is connected to the timecode input BNC connector or 5-pin Lemo connector. And to top it off, the ability for the device to automatically jam on boot from the input timecode signal. The device will automatically pick up the appropriate frame rate setting and jam to the right timecode value. Talk about easy, hands-off operation! It even does cross-jamming. The only thing really missing in the SBOX-1N is tri-level sync, however, for 99% of the sync shoots I do, tri-level sync is not required anyway.
Product Review Summary
- Metal alloy construction, for added durability.
- OLED screen, for easy configuration.
- Standard connections, for easy integration.
- All standard TC rates, and non-standard rates as well!
- Very long battery life on two AA batteries, however, external powering also available.
- Auto-powering and auto-jamming features for easy workflow.
The Not So Good
- Small buttons that will take some getting used to.
- No tri-level sync available, but not a deal breaker at all.
I really think that the Betso SBOX-1N deserves 5 stars. Yes, it lacks ti-level sync, which would be convenient for those very rare and specific situations where you would want it, but this very affordable sync box offers one of the most accurate TCXOs, an OLED screen, a very sturdy and durable construction, very long battery life, and amazing features all jam-packed into a very small and light package. You just cannot go wrong with this device in my humble opinion.
Please feel free to leave any questions, reviews or opinions in the comments!