Live broadcasting from phones is awesome!
Your phone is the camera you have with you at all times, ready to capture every serendipitous moment, and it is optimized for networking regardless of where you are.
On the other hand, a phone camera is not the perfect tool for every job, with its tiny, comparatively light-starved sensor and mundane field-of-view.
Pro photographers still carry their DSLR:s and heavy optics to capture lots of light, get the optimal framing and that attractive distraction-reducing bokeh.
Extreme sport athletes use action cameras to bring their audience along for the ride, while keeping their hands free and the camera out of the way.
The field-of-view tends to be wide, borderline fish-eye, which reduces the need for both accurate framing and stabilization.
A phone would be awkward to mount to a helmet and would induce a lot of drag.
A GoPro on the other hand is smaller, has a ton of mounting accessories and is more sturdy and somewhat protected from the elements.
But can you live stream from a GoPro?
Portable cameras like these should be ideal in lots of live streaming scenarios – but what about connectivity? Not a single mainstream action camera ships with 4G built in…
The companion app concept
For a few years though, WiFi plus a smartphone companion app has been a standard feature set that action camera users expect. Using a phone to navigate the vast amount of settings they tend to have, is much more convenient than using a 2-button interface and / or using the tiny preview screen on the back. A wireless way to monitor what the camera captures while setting up the camera mount is also very useful. The latter fact motivates the action camera manufacturers to find a way to stream a video feed over the ad-hoc WiFi connection between the action camera and the phone. And from there, the phone’s 4G capability could pick up the baton in our live-streaming scenario, at least in theory…
People soon figured out how to piggy-back on the preview feed intended for GoPro’s companion app, by connecting to the http server running on the GoPro itself, available over the WiFi network. Several companies released GoPro support as a feature in their apps. Periscope for example, settled on supporting the Hero 4 and later. And there were even a bunch open source projects created that let you control your GoPro from your computer.
Better yet, starting with the Hero 7, GoPro’s companion app has first party support for live streaming over RTMP, which means you can use it to ingest your action feeds in real time to Bambuser and other services out-of-the-box, without leaving the companion app!
Routing the stream through a secondary device – the phone – over two different wireless networks – the GoPro’s WiFi plus the 4G network, is indeed a more complex setup than streaming straight from a mobile phone. Even establishing and maintaining the WiFi connection for local use was a horrendous user experience early on, but later GoPro models have the ability to use always-on Bluetooth as a coordinator of whether the battery-hungry WiFi radio should to be on or not. iOS also added an API which allows third party apps to request permission to be able to trigger joining of a WiFi network – prior to that iOS users had to multi-task back and forth between the GoPro app and the settings app to try to maintain a connection. With these two additions, the UX is quite smooth. An action camera with built-in 4G would take live-streaming to another level, but you probably have your phone in your pocket anyway, and the phone provides a better UI for occasional stream monitoring compared to if you had to detach the action camera and work through its tiny screen.
Ray Maker on YouTube has a nice demo of how to handle the RTMP setup steps in the GoPro app.
What about the competiton?
Drone manufacturer DJI has taken their knowledge in stabilization gimbals for drones and entered the handheld market. The Ronin series targets professionals who want super smooth video from their DSLR:s and pro video cameras, while the Osmo is an out-of-the-box experience with built-in optics and a compact form-factor, similar to what’s used on the drones.For some scenarios, this can be a good alternative to a traditional action camera: better stabilization and a more attractive field-of-view, but fewer mounting options.
Osmo uses the same DJI Go mobile app as the drones, which – like the GoPro companion app – provides a live viewfinder experience and has built-in RTMP live streaming. See our drone live-streaming guide for details.
Judging from this forum thread, the new Osmo Pocket might be an exception unfortunately, possibly because it has a built-in viewfinder unlike its older Osmo siblings and does not depend as much on a viewfinder in the companion app.
Xiaomi is a popular Chinese electronics brand. Their Yi action camera line has a companion app and at least the 4K Series lineup seems to support RTMP based streaming.
Choose Custom as streaming platform and see the instructions above to get your Bambuser ingest RTMP url.
Mevo is an integrated tripod-friendly wireless camera focused on live-streaming created by Vimeo. It supports RTMP streaming and when paired the boost accessory it supports LTE or ethernet and gets a 10 hour battery life.
Sony is another actor in the action camera space. They have decided to partner exclusively with UStream since the launch of the AS100v back in 2014 through to their current lineup, instead of letting the user choose any RTMP provider they want, like most other manufacturers. Some open source projects try to access the preview feed and route it to other providers in non-official ways and for some Sony cameras there is official developer access to the remote viewfinder feed, but we don’t currently know of a convenient way to use Sonys action cameras with Bambuser.
How to get started with live streaming from a GoPro
To get started, you can use an RTMP input with Bambuser, read our guide for setting up live streaming in the GoPro app (Hero 7 and later)