Review: Livestream Mevo

If you frequently produce live or on-demand videos for social media sites, Livestream Mevo can help you produce more polished and engaging videos. While there are some rough edges in version 1.0, and there is a learning curve for operation, Mevo is an essential tool for any organization seeking to leverage the power of video in its social media marketing.

Livestream Mevo (Figure 1, below) is a 4K camera/iPhone app combination that lets you stream or record an entire 4K image, or sections of that image, to simulate a multiple-camera production.

Figure 1. The Mevo, front and back. Click the image to see it at full size.

Imagine a band on stage, with the ability to frame the entire group, or switch between one or two band members, or focus in on their instruments (Figure 2, below). The camera, of course, is static, and all switching and configuration options are managed through the iPhone. Framing and switching can be manual or fully automatic, guided by facial recognition and other cues.

Figure 2. Creating a two-shot in the Mevo iPhone app. The frame in the upper-right corner is what’s being recorded, streamed, or both. Click the image to see it at full size.

The base Mevo camera comes with a mount for a microphone stand, an AC adapter and a long USB cable for charging or powering the device, plus a 16GB micro SD card and adapter. Battery operation is rated at about one hour, and the USB connector on the camera is used only for power; you can’t connect a USB microphone or other peripheral to the Mevo. Those requiring longer battery-powered operation can buy the Mevo Boost accessory for $249, which includes an internal battery that can power the camera for up to ten hours, an Ethernet port, and a USB port for charging or for deploying a USB 4G modem.

You download the free Mevo app from the Apple App store; there is no current Android version, though one is planned. Once installed, you connect your iPhone to the Mevo in one of two ways. On option is to configure the Mevo as a mobile WiFi hotspot, and choose the Mevo as your WiFi in the iPhone settings. Any live streaming in this mode will use your iPhone’s 4G service, making it appropriate primarily when WiFi isn’t available or is too slow. Alternatively, you can log your Mevo and iPhone into the same WiFi network and communicate over WiFi, in which case all streaming occurs via your Wi-Fi connection.

Hardware Specs

The Mevo comes in black or white. Our test unit was black, like the unit shown in Figure 1. The unit is about 2.5″ high with a diameter of 2″, and it weighs 4.6 ounces, well under half a pound. You turn the unit on and off via a button on top of the camera, with the front side dominated by a fixed 150mm f/2.8 glass lens and microphones and speakers behind a small grill. The Mevo comes with a small base you can screw into a microphone stand and lock to the camera. Alernatively, you can run the camera from a tabletop or any flat surface.

On the back of the Mevo you’ll find WiFi signal level and battery-level indicators, with feedback supplied via a 24-color LED light ring on the top with colored flashing lights that looked cool, but that I found hard to discern. Fortunately, you get more than enough operational data from the iPhone app itself.

The camera uses a 4K Sony sensor with a resolution of 12.4 MP, capable of capturing 3840×2160 pixels at 30fps. Camera controls via the app are extensive (Figure 3, below). For example, you can set exposure to either auto or fixed, and you can set white balance to auto or choose from four presets: incandescent, sunny, cloudy, or fluorescent. You can apply three filters (B&W, vivi, and sepia), choose from three levels of sharpness, and adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation separately. Unfortunately, you can’t see the video while making these adjustments, which complicates operation. This is a problem that other camera manufacturers have solved, and Livestream needs to solve it as well.

Figure 3. These camera adjustments are great, but it would be useful to actually see the incoming video while using them.

In my tests, auto modes worked well enough, and Mevo proved adept at working in low light with good brightness and minimal grain. At times, the camera would noticeably pulse through exposure adjustments in dim lighting, though this never happened during actual shooting and recording–just when I was testing and learning how to use the camera.

Mevo encodes all live streams at 720p30 at up to 5 Mbps, with the data rate automatically adjusted to match the connection speed. The unit can stream directly to your accounts at Livestream and Facebook Live.

There is currently no generic RTMP interface, though Livestream is considering adding one. If you’re looking for a device to use with Ustream, YouTube Live, DaCast or other services, you’re out of luck.

The unit supposedly can record at up to 20 Mbps, again at 720p30, though all videos I recorded flatlined at 10 Mbps. You can stream and record simultaneously, but in that case, the unit will store the streaming file at the lower bitrate.

Neither the Mevo nor the Boost has an external microphone connection, but you can substitute in higher quality audio by routing it through either your iPhone’s microphone/speaker port or Lightning Connector. Livestream has an excellent series of video tutorials detailing various aspects of Mevo operation on its website, and the tutorial on using external audio sources warns that not all sources are compatible.

This proved true for me, as all four mics/mic systems that I tried failed. Livestream has a short list of compatible devices on its website, and you’d be well advised to choose a known-compatible model. As you can see in the Audio Mixer in the Mevo app in Figure 4 (below), you can choose which audio source to include with the video (Mevo or iPhone), and set levels.

Figure 4. Here’s where you choose the audio source (Mevo or iPhone), and set levels. The blue box around my face is facial recognition.

Software Operation

Though I live in the self-proclaimed world capital of old-time mountain music, there isn’t always a concert to be had when you need one. So I ran my first series of tests on the next best thing, a single-camera shoot I had produced two summers ago for local group Loose Strings.

Figure 5 (below) shows the main production interface. One characteristic I didn’t like was the fisheye effect shown in full-screen output; the top and sides of the Mac monitor in Figure 5 are not curved. However, this effect is apparent only when the complete frame is visible, so it’s not that distracting in practice. The picture-in-picture on the upper right shows the video actually being streamed or captured, which is the complete frame at this point. The three boxes around the faces on the left show facial recognition, and these are all stored shots I could access by pressing the six-button icon on the lower right. This opens the “grid” view that shows all shots created by facial recognition or by manual selection.

Figure 5. The main production interface shows the fisheye effect. Click the image to see it at full size.

In manual mode, you can click on any point in the frame and cut to that “shot.” You see this in Figure 2, where I’m focusing on the two band members on the left. You can resize and move this box as desired with typical gesture controls, and it retains the 16:9 aspect ratio. You can also zoom in, but not past the actual 1280×720 pixels in the box. Operationally, you touch the three circle icons on the lower right to access camera controls, such as those shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4, and you touch the double arrow icon on the lower right in Figure 2 to jump back to full frame.

Running in Auto Mode

I ran my next series of tests in auto mode, capturing my daughter Eleanor sitting with me on a stoop on the side porch of our home. The lighting was unfortunate, as we were in the shade, with the sun behind our heads and shining into the camera lens, producing the slight streaking shown in Figure 6 (below).

Figure 6. Testing in auto mode

I tested primarily in auto mode, letting the camera perform all switching. The camera didn’t do a bad job, but moved constantly, like a novice cameraperson trying to achieve perfect framing but never quite succeeding. I found it irritating, but fans of the TV show The Office will probably feel right at home. Livestream could definitely improve the algorithm here to steady the camera, and not follow minor head movements quite so vigorously.

The final tests involved shooting several takes of the radio announcers at a recent Galax High School football game. The school posted one video to YouTube.

You’ll note some rough edges at the start. This is because the Mevo had no storage card in it when I attempted to start shooting; I had removed it to add some earlier videos to the school’s TriCaster-based live production. After getting everything set up, I pressed Record, and then learned that I had forgotten the card, so I had to scurry back, retrieve the card, and install it before starting the shoot, making me a bit late for the radio interview. Livestream could reduce gaffes like these with a visual indicator that there’s no card in storage.

After getting going, I shot this video of the radio announcers, allowing the Mevo to find the faces, but switching manually. In the production, I noticed that Mevo seemed to favor extreme closeups more than I typically like to, but you can correct this by dragging the frame larger. The camera doesn’t understand rule-of-thirds positioning, which was easily corrected as well. While I was experimenting with Grid View–one of the two modes you can use to switch between shots–I had trouble identifying which shot was live, which resulted in some poorly framed shots. As I said earlier, though the software seems easy, there is a learning curve. I’m thinking that a few more shoots with the camera and it would look as polished as multiple-camera video produced with a traditional live switcher.

Warts and all, however, this video was shot in a confined space that couldn’t support multiple cameras, and the framing variety makes it much more watchable than a static two-shot. The audio, which was captured by the Mevo, is certainly competent, and the video is sharp and clear, despite harsh overhead lighting. If the school buys a Mevo, I could see interviews like these streamed live to Facebook Live, with the recorded version uploaded to YouTube and other social media sites. I can see interviews with the coach from before the game added to the live stream during commercial breaks.

At a high level, that’s the value proposition that Mevo delivers: multiple-camera polish at a fraction of the cost and hassle. In this manner, it adds a touch of class to even the simplest of productions that wasn’t practical before. It’s the kind of device that you don’t quite understand the potential of until you’ve shot one or two videos with it. Then you’ll quickly realize that if video is important to you or your organization, Mevo is a must-have tool.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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