The LiveShell is a fun little product that makes it easy to live stream to the internet from your everyday consumer video camera.
From Tokyo based Cerevo (Consumer Electronics REVOlution), the LiveShell is small device that mounts onto a camera to provide reliable and stable Wi-Fi-based streaming to any Ustream channel you assign to it. Using the included hot-shoe mount or the 3/8 inch tripod point, simply place the unit on top of your camera and connect the HDMI cable to the camera and LiveShell.
The LiveShell unit itself also provides ports for simple unpowered analog microphone connections. Levels for these inputs are controlled via the dashboard or on the unit itself though the menu system.
To configure the LiveShell, you need to use the remote dashboard via a PC web browser or a smartphone’s mobile browser. In either case, you can enter in your Ustream information as well as your wireless information into the dashboard. To transfer this information to the LiveShell, simply connect it via the included headphone cable to your PC or smart phone and the dashboard will “beam” your settings to the LiveShell. Overall, this method worked decently, but depending on your system, you may end up having to download the audio file it uses for configuration. A clever use though is to keep this audio file for fast reconfiguration of the LiveShell if needed. This isn’t needed much though, as you can store multiple Ustream profiles in the LiveShell and select them from the unit itself.
If you are unable to use the audio cable to transfer settings, you can also hard wire the LiveShell unit to a wired ethernet connection. In this mode, the dashboard simply sends the configuration back to the LiveShell via a reverse internet connection.
Once configured, streaming is merely a matter of turning on the LiveShell and the camera and waiting for it to connect to the wireless network. You can also leave it on the wired ethernet to stream as well. Once connected, the unit immediately goes live and starts streaming. The controls on the unit include 4 buttons that provide variable functions depending on what menu you happen to be in. In the main menus, you can pause the stream (leaving a still image streaming) or stop the stream completely. Diving deeper, you can control settings such as volume, audio rates, video brightness, and more.
While you can use the physical unit to adjust settings, what makes the LiveShell great is you can actually control it via your PC or Smartphone though the web based dashboard. In the dashboard, you can start and stop your broadcast, see the current status of your broadcast, and make adjustments to various settings such as bit rate and volume. Note that this dashboard is not located on the device itself, but rather it’s located on Cerevo’s servers which links back to your LiveShell. This means you don’t need to be on the same network as the LiveShell to control it.
The dashboard itself is easy enough to understand, and the mobile browser version is surprisingly functional. It does suffer in a few places where the Japanese to English translations don’t quite work right, but overall works very well. The biggest issue is as the dashboard is separate from the LiveShell unit itself, there can be a lag between changing settings or reading status information from what is actually happening.
One final feature of the dashboard that isn’t well documented is the captioning system. Via either the PC or smartphone dashboard, you can overlay text in various positions, fonts, and sizes onto your stream. The dashboard itself actually stores these text overlays you create allowing you to switch and reuse them. You can even add an image as an overlay (such as a show corner bug), but at this time, the LiveShell does not support transparent PNGs for this purpose.
Battery life is very good in testing. Using 3 AA batteries, the unit used only about 60% of the battery life after 2 hours of constant streaming. If connected to permanent power via its powered adapter, I would expect the unit to stream indefinitely.
In terms of image quality itself, the unit is fairly good at high bit rates. This device does not provide any type of high definition output, but running at 1.2Mbps, it easily produced a clean 480p image to Ustream that looked good and was free of obvious compression artifacts. It held up very well at 30FPS and showed no signs of problems carrying a signal over wi-fi. Stepping down the bit-rate to a more modest 500Kbps, there was significant compression loss and the image was surprisingly not very good. While the unit can push up to 3Mbps or higher, 500Kbps at the highest resolution was about the minimum acceptable setting for a stable stream. You could step down the resolution and bit rate to provide a more stable stream. To be honest though, the unit really needs about 700Kbps of rate to provide a passable image quality where the compression doesn’t distract the viewer. It’s a source of improvement for the LiveShell though as there are plenty of examples of lower bit rate feeds that provide better compression quality.
This is important as this unit only uses Wi-Fi and not any type of 3G/4G connection. In the open field without an available Wi-Fi, you will need your own private hot-spot to stream, and those personal hot-spot devices might not provide an adequate upload rate to provide an acceptable image.
Overall, the LiveShell is a great unit. It’s not the easiest to setup (the manual is poorly translated from Japanese), but it works very reliably.
Note that the LiveShell only streams to Ustream at this time, and there is no indication on if they would ever stream to other networks such as Justin.tv. Despite this limitation, if you are looking for a simple all in one solution that will allow you to stream on the go, this is a great option.
Update April 22, 2012
In mid April, Cerevo released a firmware update (Rev. 3233) to the LiveShell. With this update brings some fixes (improved wireless connectivity) and adds an important new feature, the ability to stream to any RTMP server. Using this device, you can now stream directly to Justin.TV, LiveStream, YouTube, or any Flash Media RTMP server. Using this custom mode, you don’t have the same tight integration with Ustream’s social and recording features, but you can push a basic feed to your other CDN’s with the same ease as before.