The ability to wirelessly monitor your indie or live stream from your HDMI camera in the field would be great—if you could afford it.
Wireless streaming is a growing trend with lots of applications for filmmakers, but it's still relatively pricey. Teradek’s Bolt systems go for $1990-$9000 and a GoPro HEROcast system runs around $7500. Now, there's a new player in the field that could make live broadcasting a much more attainable practice for the average indie maker. The creators of FREECAST just unveiled their option that works on any HDMI camera for just $299-$499 through their Kickstarter campaign.
Sounds like an amazing deal, but does it really work? No Film School caught the FREECAST team at NAB last week, and after hearing the price, we had to test it out in the field. The result? It works great, and could open up a lot of possibilities for more than just the low-budget indie.
Why did FREECAST decide to get into the wireless market? Here’s a video explanation. Entrepreneurial spirit means good stuff for filmmakers:
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=58&v=FMW5DEMYaxY
How it works
We tried the Pro model for GoPro. Both the Standard and Professional models come with a GoPro-specific case and battery that operate as the transmitter. (The Universal model comes with a transmitter that attaches to your camera via HDMI and shoe, or any way you would normally attach say, a wireless mic transmitter.)
For the pro model, you pop in your GoPro, turn it on, and turn on the transmitter. It flashes a blue light. Then, when you power on the receive, the FREECAST generates a WIFI network for you to send your feed through. FREECAST co-founder DJay Brawner has a detailed video walkthrough here.
From inside the FREECAST app, you can then configure your signal settings: resolution goes up to 1080, bit rate can be from 220kpbs-8mbps, and frame rates can be set from 10-30 FPS. Video is encoded at h.264. If you’re using FREECAST to monitor rather than live stream, you would just add the step of hooking up your monitor through the HDMI out on the receiver.
In the beta version, if you plan to stream to Facebook Live or Youtube, you would then setup your social media account and paste the URL to test it out. That part of the process should be eliminated by the time it ships, according to the makers, making it a more seamless, one-click affair.
We tried the system out on a familiar bike path where we could eyeball the distance. It worked seamlessly at least 300-400 feet away, and as far as about 1600 feet away. In this test, we found a seamless compatibility with GoPro, the wireless signal appeared easily, and the range lived up to the 500 meters claim. The latency also lives up to the FREECAST team's claim; they give latency specs as <200, which seemed accurate to us Watch the team address latency below:
What it can’t do yet
- Work on non-iOS or Android devices
The FREECAST team added Android compatibility just after we tested it. Unfortunately, If you want to use this on a PC or Windows device, you’ll have to keep waiting.
- Replace dedicated broadcast or livestream box
FREECAST is perfect for livestreaming with a single camera. If you’re looking to stream and switch from multiple cameras, or at broadcast quality, you will still need a dedicated pro system.
- Stream to platforms other than YouTube and Facebook
According to the FREECAST team, they are working on adding streaming Instagram, UStream, LiveStream, and more by the end of the year.
Some practical applications
The benefit of having a clear picture of what your camera op is seeing on the set of your indie is obvious. Here are some practical applications beyond that:
- Stream to up to four devices
Sending your actor into McDonald’s, guerilla style? Attaching a GoPro to your actor’s bike for an esoteric POV? Smaller indie sets can reap the benefits of being able to wirelessly monitor picture, not to mention finally give continuity/wardrobe/production designers their own view.
- Shooting in a questionable environment
As we’ve mentioned, filming something like a protest can be tricky, and involves a lot of changing variables. If you’re worried about your footage being compromised (or confiscated) or if you just want to livestream from a higher caliber camera, FREECAST would be perfect.
- Directing your shooter on a documentary set
If you’re a director who doesn’t necessarily shoot your subjects yourself, being able to see what your cinematographer is shooting on your handheld device could be a major upgrade. Not that you should start telling your cinematographer to pan left or zoom, because that would be really annoying, but it could help you communicate better and without frustrating surprises in the edit room.
- Shooting a live event
As I mentioned, FREECAST won’t replace a multi-camera broadcast system, but if you’re a smaller operation with your own switcher, and you want to incorporate the feed from a camera on say, a roaming drone, this might be fun to try.
- Showcasing your work as a freelancer
Nothing sucks more than shooting cool stuff that never goes anywhere because you haven't had time to sort and edit the footage into something cool. Going on an amazing bike ride this weekend where the sun hits the pines in a majestic way? Eating some steaming noodle dish side-lit by candles? If you could experiment with streaming the wonderful world your camera captures live, you could create a really nice portfolio of work.
FREECAST does what it says it does for way less than its competitors, making real-time wireless streaming available to filmmakers of all budgets. We're curious to see how creative filmmakers start to harness technology like FREECAST with burgeoning social media live features. Overall, FREECAST seems pretty solid, even in beta. We hope the company will continue to add support and make the device and app more seamless.
If this sounds like something useful for your arsenal, check out the FREECAST Kickstarter, where you can get any first-run model for $100 less than the future retail price, until the campaign ends on ends on May 5.