You can use a GoPro HERO4 Black or Silver as a webcam or for real-time capture to a computer. But it's not quite as simple…
It is possible to use a GoPro HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver as a webcam or for real-time capture to a computer. But it’s not quite as simple as just plugging your camera in with a USB cable. And it’ll require buying an extra accessory.
This method works with the HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver, but it won’t work with the HERO4 Session. That camera doesn’t have the HDMI-out port that is required to make it work.
The brand new HERO9 Black is now available. It has a bigger battery, shoots up to 5K30 video, has a color front preview screen, built-in horizon leveling, upgraded HyperSmooth 3.0 and TimeWarp 3.0 video stabilization, and new HindSight, Scheduled Capture, and Duration Capture modes.
The subscription to GoPro gives you unlimited cloud storage, discounted no-questions-asked camera replacement, and up to 50% off GoPro accessories.
You might be wanting to use your GoPro as a traditional webcam for videoconferencing Zoom meetings or classes or virtual cocktail hours. Or have a virtual visit with your doctor or family member. Or maybe you’re a teacher looking to record classes or tutorials, or a vlogger trying to build a following. Basically, there are a bunch of different reasons you might be wanting to do this.
And it’s a very good way to put these older HERO4 cameras to use. (You can also trade one in to get $100 off the latest GoPro model.)
So if you have a HERO4 Black or Silver lying around, here’s a guide to sending out a live video feed to a computer to use as a webcam or to record video directly to the computer.
But before you can start using either of these cameras as a webcam, there’s some extra gear you’ll need to make it work:
Here’s a rundown of why you need each piece and what it does.
Like several other GoPro models (but unlike the newer HERO8 Black), the HERO4 Black and HERO4 Silver have built-in HDMI ports.1
That’s the port you use if you want to connect your camera directly to a TV or display for playback. But for your computer to be able to use that video signal, it needs to be converted into a format that the computer can work with. That’s where an HDMI-to-USB video capture device comes in. These are small devices that sit between your camera and the computer. It takes the HDMI signal from the GoPro HERO4 Black or Silver (or another camera that has HDMI-out) and converts it to a USB signal.
Some laptops and notebooks come with an HDMI port that you can use to connect your laptop to a TV or projector. That comes in very handy for showing Powerpoint presentations on big screens or screening a movie on a big-screen TV. But those HDMI ports typically work only for output (i.e., from the computer to a display), not an input (i.e., from a camera to the computer). You’ll have check with your computer’s manual or manufacturer specs to find out firstly if it can be used as an HDMI input, and if it can, how to switch it (many, or most, can’t).
There are a few different HDMI-to-USB capture devices on the market. Some that I’ve personally tested with the HERO4 Black and Silver and found to work well:
My top pick, for a combination of performance, features, and price, is the Elgato Cam Link 4K. It looks like a slightly oversized USB thumb drive. It plugs directly into your computer. You then use an HDMI cable to connect the camera to the Cam Link. With so many more people working from home now and holding virtual meetings, these capture devices have been in high demand lately, but good places to look are and Amazon and B&H Photo.
The other HDMI-to-USB video capture devices work basically the same way.
The MavisLink HDMI capture dongle is one I’m including as a budget option that’s readily available (and seems to turn up under different brandnames). It looks very similar to the Elgato and works the same way. I’ve found it to work with both of these cameras, but it’s basically a cheap knockoff that is not the same quality as the others I mention here. Most noticeably, the picture quality is much harsher and more contrasty. But it will get the job done at a much lower price. You can find them at Amazon.
The Magewell USB Capture HDMI Gen 2 converter is one I’ve covered before (and one I’ve used extensively for some time now in capturing menu screenshots for the how-to guides on this site). It’s very similar feature-wise, but instead of plugging directly into the camera itself, you use a USB cable to go from the device to your computer. It’s probably the highest quality of these and also the most expensive. Again, they’re in high demand, but good places to look are at Amazon and B&H Photo.
The video capture devices don’t usually come with an HDMI cable, so you’ll likely have to pick one up separately.
Just as with USB, there are a few different kinds of HDMI connectors. The connector you need for the HERO 4 Black and Silver is a micro-HDMI connector.
The end with the smaller connector (i.e., the micro-HDMI end) goes into the camera’s HDMI port (it’s the smaller one, right next to the USB-C port). The end with the larger connector goes into the HDMI capture device. The capture device then plugs into the computer’s USB port.
Once you’ve got the capture device and the HDMI cable, setup is simple. Here’s the process.
With the camera off, plug the HDMI cable into both the camera and the capture device. If you find that it’s not switching over automatically, try turning the camera off before you connect the cable.
In whatever software you’re planning to use, change the video source and audio source to the capture device. Precisely how you do that varies by software or service. Here are some of the common ones:
Settings (the cog icon at top right) > Video > Camera. From the drop-down list, select the one matching your capture device (it won’t be named after the camera)
Settings > Audio + Video > Camera.
File > New Movie Recording. Then change the video and audio input sources by clicking on the small down arrow to the right of the red record button.
File > Open Capture Device.
video icon > Video Connection > click on the drop-down menu.
That basic setup will get you going and give you good results. And for occasional use, you’re all set. But if you’re using it a lot or looking to improve the quality and professionalism, there are some other optional extras that can improve the quality.
On-Screen Display. By default, you’ll have an on-screen overlay. You can turn that off by pressing the Mode button and selecting Setup. Click the side button until you see “On Screen Display” on the small front screen. You can toggle it on and off with that setting. (Hat tip to Christian for alerting me to that.)
It Gets Hot. The camera gets hot. While it’s normal, it is something to be mindful of, and it’s a good idea to disconnect it when not using it.
External Power. The built-in battery in GoPros will keep you going long enough for a short meeting or session, but if you’re looking to do more than an hour at a time or reduce the risk of going dark mid-session, you’ll want to add external power. The simplest way to do that is to run your HERO4 Black and Silver with AC power. For that, you’ll need a mini-USB power cable (the one that came with your camera will work just fine) and an AC adapter. You can switch out the AC adapter for another power source, such as a USB power brick or USB power hub2.
External Microphone. The single best thing you can do to improve the sound quality of your video streams is to add an external microphone. A good external microphone will help reduce that echo-y room sound and limit the external noises that can be distracting.
The simplest option is to add one directly to the camera. Just don’t forget that you’ll also need the correct GoPro mic adapter for the HERO4 cameras.
You can also have the microphone go directly into the computer. That setup can give even better results with more flexibility, but it increases the complexity a little because you’ll be managing the video and audio streams separately.
There are different types of microphones available, ranging from inexpensive up to very expensive. If you’re just using your voice, and lavalier mic (i.e., a clip-on mic) would be a traditional choice. If you want (or don’t mind) more atmospheric room noise, a shotgun mic is a next step. And if you’re needing to wander around a room–say, in a dance studio or woodworking workshop, you can also get wireless mic systems. Steps up from that are some of the high-end mics that professional podcasters use. I have a separate roundup of some of the alternatives for external mics for GoPros here.
Lighting. Lighting can be tricky, especially with a wide-angle view. Your GoPro will adjust automatically for the available light, but a better-lit scene will still look more professional than when you’re talking from the shadows.
If the whole scene is too light or too dark, you can still use the HERO4 Black and Silver’s Protune exposure compensation sliders to brighten or darken the whole scene. Since you can’t access the camera’s settings menu while the capture device is connected, you’ll need to do that through the GoPro mobile app or set it before connecting to the capture device. This can be a very simple and effective way to improve the image, and you can see the results live.
That said, it’s usually better to start with decent lighting. You usually want the light source in front of you, not behind you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and you can probably get good results from what you have before investing in more lighting gear. It might be natural window light (face the window or have it to a side from a front angle rather than have your back to it), a desk lamp (in front of you, slightly off to the side), or room lights (turn them on). In general, more light is better than less, and dispersed light or multiple light sources will help minimize harsh shadows.
If you’re looking for a light that you can use with your other GoPro shooting as well, GoPro has released a new Zeus Mini that allows the flexibility of using off-camera. LumeCubes (or their knockoffs) are also good options.
Mounting. While it’s convenient to just set the camera on top of the computer or on your desk, that limits the angle of view and tends to emphasize every little bump or keystroke. So, for better quality, you’ll probably want the camera standing separately or at least on some kind of absorbing layer. Aside from that, you can use any of the usual GoPro mounts or other photography tripods (with the correct adapter).
Menus & Settings? One of the inconveniences of using the HDMI-out signal from your GoPro is that it blacks out the camera’s back screen. While that’s not an issue with the HERO4 Black–it doesn’t have a built-in screen–it can be a nuisance with the HERO4 Silver. So you’ll need to use the camera’s buttons in combination with the small front screen, change the settings before connecting the HDMI cable, or do it via the GoPro mobile app (you can still connect wirelessly to your GoPro with the HDMI capture device connected, although you won’t get the live view preview showing through the app. You can, however, still access the settings.)
Adjustments. By connecting through the GoPro mobile app (or setting these before connecting), you can still use some of the Protune settings to control the video output and improve the image quality. The most relevant for this are:
Cards? You’ll often see the HDMI capture devices marketed as video capture cards. The ones I’m focusing on here aren’t actually cards–they’re small external devices–but traditionally, this purpose has been accomplished with cards that slot inside desktop computers and add ports to the back of the computer. Those obviously don’t make much sense with laptops or even modern slimline desktops like iMacs. But the name has stuck. If you decide to buy one not mentioned on this page, just make sure you’re getting an external device that can be powered over USB rather than an internal card that draws power from a desktop’s motherboard.
1080p30. Most of the standard web conferencing and live-streaming platforms max out at 1080p30. If you’re recording sessions to upload to platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, or education training services, you have more flexibility with higher resolutions (i.e., 4K).
FOV. The standard field of view (or lens) on these GoPro cameras is exceptionally wide. It distorts the view and might include parts of the room you don’t want to be included in the shot. You can switch the field of view to Linear or Narrow to rectify that. (Tip: make sure to change the resolution and framerate to something like 1080p30 to get the maximum range of choices for FOV.) On the flip side, that super-wide room view might be exactly what you’re after if you’re using it as a secondary camera to capture, say, an art studio or music recording studio.
Power. The HDMI port does not provide power, so you’ll need to use the internal battery or add external power via the mini-USB port.
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This post was last modified on July 20, 2020 5:05 pm