Easy-to-use and affordable live-streaming cameras have been around for a while now. Dropcam pioneered the mass consumer market before being bought out by Nest.
Now Livestream is out with a new model, the Mevo, and they were kind enough to send me one to test out.Like the Nest Cam, it’s a small, pocket-sized HD camera for streaming and recording live events. But beyond that, it’s quite different. The Mevo can broadcast live to Facebook Live and the Livestream service. It’s resolution is higher and clearer. It has better microphones. And while it can connect via wifi, it can also, with an accessory, broadcast over LTE cell networks. Overall, the Nest Cam is all about monitoring. The Mevo is all about sharing.
But for me, the real innovation with the Mevo is the live, real-time editing. For live streaming, that makes the visuals more compelling which, in turn, should encourage more people to watch for longer than they would with a static, fixed view. And that, in turn, should lead to more viewer engagement.
But it’s in recorded videos that the live editing feature can become a huge timesaver. And, especially for a group or organization, that can potentially save them a lot of money. I’ve worked at organizations in the past that have dedicated staff to record, edit, and post video footage of live events. But much of that is done after the fact, and it has often taken days or even weeks to get the footage online. That misses huge opportunities for engaging viewers while interest is high. But with the Mevo, rather than having to record the video and then go back and edit it, as soon as the event’s finished you have a publication-ready mp4 file that you can post immediately to Facebook, YouTube, or your own site. And it can all be done without fancy video editing software. For organizations where video editing is prohibitive, this is a way to add the capability with little cost. And even for larger organizations looking to cost-cut, I wouldn’t blame the multimedia staff from seeing this kind of technology as a disruptive threat.
Basic Usage: Setup
First things first: you’ll need to charge the battery. There’s a built-in 1,200 mAh Li-ion battery. When fully charged it provides about an hour of shooting. It’s not removable or swappable.
To control the camera, you’ll need to connect to it by wifi. That doesn’t mean that you need to be on an existing wifi network–the camera creates its own private wifi network that you connect directly to.
With some devices that do that, it can be a pain to set up, but it’s a breeze with this one. First, you turn on Bluetooth on your device. It’ll then walk you through the simple steps to set up the wifi network and connect to it, and it only takes 20 seconds or so, if that. (It is possible to use the Mevo with Ethernet or an LTE cellular network, but those require an optional extra accessory, the Mevo Boost.)
Basic Usage: Shooting
It’s worth pointing out that although panning and tilting are core features of the Mevo, the camera itself never moves. It stays stationary, and it doesn’t rotate. All of the panning and tilting is handled with cropping from the 4K sensor, so you’ll want to make sure that the wide view includes all of the stage space you’ll be wanting to use.
The shooting fundamentals are pretty fool-proof right out of the box, but there are also some ways to tweak it if you’re so inclined.
Focus is fixed. Anything beyond 12 inches or so away from the lens will be in focus.
By default, exposure is automatic and is based on the active part of the frame. It uses a spot meter mode. So if you move from a dark part of the frame to a light part of the frame, you’ll get a quick and smooth exposure transition within half a second or so.
But you also have quite a bit of control over the exposure settings, although it’s not really designed for on-the-fly live use–it’s better set up before going live. You can use exposure compensation from -2 to +2 stops. This can be especially useful in uneven lighting for brightening up presenters’ faces, for example. There’s also settings for antiflicker, sharpness, brightness, contrast, and saturation. You can also apply a limited number of visual filters: normal, black and white, vivid, and sepia.
The White Balance is also automatic, but you can also use presets for incandescent, sunny, cloudy, or fluorescent lighting.
It’s also worth noting that although the camera uses a 4K sensor with a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels, you won’t actually get 4K footage out of it. Instead, the 4K provides a large canvas to move around on, but the footage you get out is 720p30 (i.e.,. 1280×720 pixels at 30 frames per second). That’s a good HD size for posting on the web.
Basic Usage: Live Editing
The only control you have on the camera itself is the power button. For everything else, you have to use the mobile app.
Currently, it’s iOS-only, and only for iOS 9 or later. While most of the marketing shots you see are of the app on the iPhone, it works equally well on an iPad. But the app is the same, including the resolution of the preview image, so with the larger screen of the iPad, the video preview can look a bit pixelated. But that doesn’t affect the quality of the actual streaming/recording video footage. And I’ve found it to be very good on the iPad–I quite like have the extra size and screen real estate.
They key innovation of the Mevo is arguably the ability to edit manually in real-time, but it also comes with some handy automatic settings.
One is Face Detection. It’s basically like the face detection that more and more cameras are coming with these days, but in this case, it’s used not for focus but for tracking. So it can follow the faces as they move. I found it to be good in high-contrast and front-on situations, but it had more trouble when the person turned their head to the side.
The other Autopilot. This puts the whole thing in, well, autopilot, with shots cutting automatically between the tracking points that have either been picked up with Face Detection or ones that you’ve defined yourself. It will also automatically track faces if you have it set to that option.
The editing controls are very well thought out. There are three main live editing functions:
- Zoom: just pinch or stretch, just as you’re already used to doing on your phone.
- Cut: to cut instantly to a different part of the frame, just tap on the new part of the frame. It will make a cut transition.
- Pan: just drag the active frame.
But with those, there are also very useful touches. For one, the actual controls are not transmitted in exact real time. Which means that you’re less likely to end up with jumpy video. Instead, you trace the zoom or pan first, and then the actual zooming and panning takes place. For another, you can speed up or slow down the movements simply by holding your finger for the duration of time you’d like the movement to take place. So if you want a slow pan that takes 3 seconds, you simply hold it for 3 seconds. It takes some practice to anticipate the action if your subject is moving around the frame since the manual tracking isn’t in real-time.
In writing, that doesn’t sound as intuitive as it is in practice. This quick video that Mevo put together provides a good demonstration:
You can also pre-select up to 9 static shots and place them in a grid view. With that, you can quickly cut from one to the other. This is especially useful when you have subjects who are stationary, but you want to move from one to another. An easy example would be a panel discussion where you want to cut to different speakers as the conversation goes back and forth.
Here’s a quick sample of the recorded footage. I wanted to test it out somewhere where I knew that the subjects would be moving side to side in the frame, and that was also outdoors with a combination of shadows and bright sunlight. So I took it to the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
As you can see, my live editing can use some work, especially on using the controls to anticipate movement. But this is straight out of the camera without any other editing.
For more “normal” scenes where the subjects weren’t moving from one side of the frame to the other, I found it much easier.
Basic Usage: Publishing
While I tinkered with the live streaming function, I mostly used it with the recording function. For recorded footage, you’ll get a 720p30 video file in MP4 format using the H.264 codec. That means it’s very widely compatible and won’t present any problems on just about any modern computer or device.
Here’s a helpful rundown put together by the folks at Livestream:
Specs & Requirements & Accessories
- Sensor: Sony 4K sensor (3840 x 2160px) with a resolution of 12.4 megapixels and aspect ratio of 16:9 at 30 fps (technically 29.97)
- Lens: it’s an all-glass lens with a field of view of 150° and constant aperture of f/2.8
- Sound: Stereo with dual analog microphones with high signal-to-noise (65 dB). The audio uses the AAC codec and varies from 8 to 192kHz in 8, 10, or 12 bits depending on what mode it’s playing through (i.e.,. MP4 recording, iOS preview, or live streaming).
- Battery life: up to 1-hour streaming
- Dual-band WiFi & Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Streaming resolution HD: 720p
- Memory Card format: microSD
- Warranty: 1 year
- iPhone 5s or newer with IOS 9 or higher
- Mevo app (free): getmevo.com/app or iTunes App Store
- For live streaming, either a Livestream or Facebook account.
There are a couple of optional-extra accessories that can come in very handy. One is a stand. Mevo offers one as a “Pro Accessory,” but it’s just a regular microphone stand by Konig & Meyer without any Mevo-specific alterations. Pretty much any tripod or microphone stand will work–it has a standard tripod attachment on the bottom.
- extended 12,000 mAH battery for up to 10 hours of recording
- weatherproof rating of IPX4, suitable for outdoor use in the rain (but not submerging)
- 10/100 Mbps ethernet plug
- a full USB port for streaming via compatible LTE USB modems
What’s in the Box?
- Mevo Camera
- Cradle mount
- 16GB MicroSDHC card
- microSD-to-SD adapter cartridge
- AC/USB adapter
- 10-foot (3m) micro-USB cable
As you can tell, I’m really impressed with the Mevo. In many respects, I think they’ve nailed it. But there are a few areas where I think it can be improved. Some of these would be relatively easy to implement in the short term; others are close to asking for a different camera or would be better suited to an upgraded (and probably more expensive) model. And some of them might already be on the development roadmap for all I know.
Branding support. Many organizations want to add a simple title at the beginning and perhaps a big in the bottom right corner. I’m not talking here about Star Wars-level scrolling text–just elementary support for branding, like being able to add a logo. It might be something as simple as a graphical logo, and perhaps a line of text identifying the event in the opening title. It would be great if the app could have a fade-in, display logo and a line of text, and perhaps add a logo bug. All of that’s easy to do in a video editing app, of course, but in the interests of making the Mevo app a one-stop solution, that seems like low-hanging fruit.
Larger Battery. Up to an hour of battery life isn’t bad, but for anything close to an hour long it’s going to be touch-and-go whether you catch the end. After all, an hour is a pretty common length for a presentation or performance, and it’s definitely not unusual to run over. Since portability is a nice but not mission-critical feature of the Mevo, I don’t think anything would be lost by adding ever-so-slightly more bulk in order to get a larger battery.
That said, there are two obvious ways to extend beyond that hour limit: plug it in via AC/USB or add an external power brick.
Lens Cover. It’s pitched as pocket-sized, and it’s designed to be moved around and set up pretty much anywhere. But the lens is exposed and easily smudged—or scratched, for that matter. It’s easy enough to clean fingerprints off, of course, so long as you think to do it before you start shooting. But the Mevo doesn’t come with any kind of cover or case. A small microfiber pouch seems like the simplest solution and something that can be inexpensively and simply included. Although third-party cases are already becoming available that are configured with recesses to fit the Mevo (like this one).
Low Light Mode. The reality is that this camera is really aimed at the market where low light isn’t going to be a major issue. Ugly fluorescent lighting is likely to be more of an issue than low light. So I recognize this probably isn’t a priority. But there are some important exceptions where a low light mode would really help, including musical or theatrical performances.
A Pause Button. If there’s an interruption you can either power on through filming or stop it. If you stop it, you’re going to have to stitch the segments together in post. There’s currently no way to pause and resume and end up with a single video file right out of the camera.
- The Mevo has an Apple HomeKit chip built in that’s not currently being used but will be available for features added in the future via firmware/software. On the surface, this functionality would seem to be aimed squarely at muscling in on Dropcam/Nest territory, but I guess it’s possible it might just enable some extended remote control functionality.
- I had some trouble with the memory card not coming out. I’ve had similar issues from time to time with other cameras using microSD cards.
- It’s available in black or white. Both look great.
- It’s video only. It doesn’t do still images or timelapse (at least, not yet).
My overall impression after playing with the Mevo is that this is a really polished product. For something new, there’s none of the feel of a first-run product. The device is very nicely designed, and the Mevo app is slick and intuitive. I never had any issues connecting to it wirelessly or with it locking up. In short, it’s performed flawlessly for me. There’s still plenty of room to move, but it already performs like a mature product.
And even more impressively, it works great right out of the box. I could still use some practice with the live editing–particularly with anticipating movement–but there’s really not a steep learning curve. Charge it, point it, and connect to it, and you’re good to go.
To be sure, the Mevo does not produce the kind of slick editing that you’d associate with broadcast footage. If you’re in the habit of hiring a video crew for your events, you’ll need to manage your expectations if you decide to shift to the Mevo.
But most organizations simply don’t need that when they’re posting events to their website or social media. They might simply want to share a guest speaker’s presentation, a class, a school play, a musical performance, or a church service. They want good quality, but don’t need the complications and prohibitive expenses that come with professionally produced video. And this is precisely where the Mevo is aimed.
Much of the marketing seems to be pitched towards a work environment, but the Mevo makes video fun and much less of a chore.