Ever since I got my Nokia 5800 touchscreen smartphone I have been playing with it’s videocamera. It’s fun to have a camera with you all the time. The 5800’s image quality (640 x 480, mp4) is okay for a phone and there are many options for sharing. The old fashioned routine ‘download-edit-Youtube’ is actually quite a lot of work so I have been looking into the option of recording-live-to-the-web and live streaming video, also known as webcasting.

So I installed some free video applications on my mobile phone: Qik, Bambuser, Flixwagen, Ustream (beta) Livecast (beta) Kyte and  Stickam. Check their websites for specs and to download their free mobile application (also for iPhone).

To start with the conclusions: Qik has the best image quality, application and options. Bambuser, Flixwagon and Kyte are a bit more basic but a lot of fun for webcammers. Ustream, Stickam and Livecast are more aimed at professional video streaming and television-like formats.

But first: who will use this and for what reason?

  • Friends and families. Record to the web and instantly share with your family and friends. Easier and quicker than YouTube.
  • Webcam bloggers. The mobile phone can be a portable webcam.
  • Artists. Promote your music or performance.
  • Media marketeers. Create B-roll content for social networks and viral marketing.
  • Reporters. Live news gathering and distribution.
  • Tech freaks. Because they can.

Yes, there are professional uses for these consumer services. The most important reason: this is where your audience is. If you want more quality, get a premium account, use WiFi and add production value. These services can also be of professional use in places where you can’t get a real camera in, if you have a small budget or as a fallback technology.

The technology also has it’s limitations:

  • No editing. Only Ustream has very basic on-site video editing capabilities, all the others have nothing. You wouldn’t need editing for live webcasting anyway but for recording-to-the-web it would be very nice. If only I could delete the crap beginning and ending and paste the good bits together.
  • Shaky camera movements and bad point of view. Inventions and innovations are badly needed here. How about a mini steadycam that folds up on the back of your mobile phone? A suction-cup phone holder ? A Gorillapod Mobile could work. Hopefully, future mobile phones will have decent shake reduction or steady shot.
  • Wobbly image quality, but that is about to change. Qik’s SD quality is reasonable and HD will be standard on the next generation smartphones.I’m not sure if HSDPA can stream HD but my WiFi-n can.

Viewers also have their limitations. Planning or  waiting for a webcast is very un-internet and even your most loyal viewers will forget or click away. So don’t expect many viewers. That only works if you have something very unique, exciting or valuable and you have gathered and massaged your audience for a long time. It’s best to have some interesting content when not webcasting and to save your webcasts for on demand video.

Reviews

Ustream (test page)

Poor performance, choppy video even over WiFi. Mobile app works awkward; can’t change connections without a connection. Can’t select quality. Site is very customizable with tv-like features but lacks GPS info. Embedding options are a bit hidden but very complete and it is the only one with MySpace embed code. Video’s can be sent to YouTube. And, woohoo, Ustream offers basic on-site editing !

Flixwagon (test page)
Mobile app is okay but you need time to get used to it. Quality can be set but not in pixels but description (‘tv quality’) However, quality is wobbly and pixelated. I couldn’t get it to work over HSDPA, only WiFi, probably a bug. I like the ability to stop/start/pause a recording, like in-camera editing. It uses GPS data and has embedding and sharing options (Twitter, YouTube, Ovi). The site has a lot of crappy video’s.

Bambuser (test page)
Quality can be set in the mobile app. SD (640×480) doesn’t stream wel; very choppy, even over WiFi. 320×240 is a little better but still choppy. Site has GPS, embedding and ‘posting’ to other social networks. You can organise events like broadcasts date and time and invite vieuwers.

Qik (test page)
Mobile app works good and looks nice. Quality is good and stays good thanks to buffering, so there will be a delay if your upstream isn’t keeping up. The site has GPS, embedding, sharing, post, chat and groups. Like all video sites, it suffers from a lot of crappy video’s but there are some options to filter to the best ones, like ‘Top Qikers’.
Another interesting option is to broadcast on Livestream.com. Livestream doesn’t have a mobile app but you can use Qik for that. Livestream looks like a big video streamer with a premium account option, haven’t tried them yet.

Livecast (test page)
The app is very basic (text oriented) but usefull. Has a nice feature to record now and upload later. Image quality is not impressive: wavy, choppy, pixelated, even over wifi. The site looks very clean and corporate and it doesn’t have a community. So you can’t view other people’s video’s. GPS, chat and embedding code are all there. Video’s can be sent to YouTube. Sharing is a bit of a hassle but it’s there. Player uses Windows Media and Quicktime plugins, not Flash video like all the others.

Kyte (test page)
Kyte has a nice mobile app (with design!) but it has one huge nag: I can’t exit it! The only way to stop the app is to reboot your phone. Basterds. Image quality is actually quite good, a bit choppy. The site lacks GPS but has everything else, if you can find it. Pages have a lot of empty space and on the flash video player itself, there is a lot to do. Like video messaging. There is also a visual editor for your shows.

Stickam
Stickam’s mobile app is clean and easy. I can’t say the same about their site. I can’t find my recordings! Where are my broadcasts? It seems like Stickam is still more into webcam shows  than mobile phone video.

My apologies for the camerawork :) Let’s say it’s an homage to the first film pioneers.

If you know of any new developments in this field, please let me know!