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Review: Cerevo LiveShell X and Ricoh R 360° Streaming System

Cerevo offers a package with their multistream-capable LiveShell X and the RICOH R Development Kit streaming camera for users looking for some serious streaming hardware for their 360 productions.

As 360° streaming becomes more mainstream, and more browsers and mobile properly support playing it back, producers who want to stream something that offers more interactivity than clicking “Like” are looking at ways to incorporate 360° streaming so that viewers can directly interact with the stream and look where they want to look. This is most prevalent in stage shows, such as concerts, or even faith-based programming, the viewer is in control of what they see.

Cerevo offers a package with their multistream-capable LiveShell X and the RICOH R Development Kit streaming camera (Figure 1, below) for users looking for some serious streaming hardware.

Figure 1. The Cerevo LiveShell X and RICOH R Development Kit 360 streaming solution set up for testing. Click the image to see it at full size.

More and more solutions for 360° streaming pop up every day. But if the event you want to stream lasts a long time, the consumer tools just may not be able to do it. Battery power, or even heat becomes an issue as minutes turn to hours and the stream continues. To address the issues with the current crop of low-cost 360 streaming solutions, Cerevo has partnered with Ricoh to offer their development kit, the Ricoh R, to consumers.

Cerevo sent the LiveShell X along with a Ricoh R for me to test to see how these two tools can work together to potentially enable more convenient streaming of 360° content to multiple destinations. I had a chance to try it out myself, and I asked my associate Mike Mirabal—who is far more versed in 360° streaming, and also has several other 360° cameras—try out the solution to get his feedback as well.

The Gear

The Ricoh R (Figure 2, below) is more sturdily built than the consumer Theta models, with a die-cast body, more ports, and two media card slots for micro SD and regular SD. It’s also designed specifically for streaming in that there’s no button on the device to snap a 360° picture or video for editing later. The unit also has a Mode button and a Power button.

Figure 2. The RICOH R Development Kit 360 Streaming Camera. All the ports are on the side.

Other differences between the R and consumer models is that, because the R is designed for multi-hour streaming, it has no internal battery compartment. It needs external power via a micro USB on the side. There’s a second Micro USB for controlling camera settings. The camera is limited to 1920x960 at 30fps.

The Ricoh R offers only a mono microphone and no mic jack. Consumer models offer stereo mics and the ability to plug in better microphones. The Ricoh R micro HDMI tethers to the Cerevo’s full-size HDMI, and the Cerevo broadcasts to the web via WiFi or Ethernet.

The LiveShell X has three encoders inside the unit which can stream to three destinations, or stream to two destinations and record internally. Channel 1 can do 1920x1080 streaming at 60fps (1080p60). The other two are limited to 720p30. The LiveShell also has an internal battery to power itself for several hours. You'll need external power to run all day.

One real benefit to Live Shell pushing multiple streams to multiple destinations is that it saves the expense and complexity of having to use a separate service to handle the redistribution of a single stream to multiple destinations, or to have multiple devices sending different streams out. Instead of an HDMI splitter and two laptops, plus a network hub to share the ethernet across devices, it’s all in one compact little box.

Be aware that your upload bandwidth needs increase, plus a bit of overhead, for each stream. If you are pushing three 4Mbps streams, you'll need 12Mbps up, minimum. I’d recommend 15-20Mbps to handle spikes in data, as well as dips in throughput.

Working Together

To run the Ricoh R, you need external power. This comes via USB, so an external power supply or big USB battery will suffice. The Cerevo has an internal battery, but if you’re doing an all-day event, the Cerevo will also need external power.

Both the Cerevo and the Ricoh have 1/4-20 threaded holes for mounting. If you want to try to mount then together, you can, sort of. The Cerevo can power the Ricoh, but that eliminates using the USB port for WiFi, LTE USB stick, or tethering. If the Cerevo had a second USB port for powering external devices with the internal battery, or internal WiFi, that would leave the existing USB port free. Then it would enable the use of the pretty large internal battery pack to also power an external camera.

For all-day use, the Cerevo needs external power, and you might as well run an ethernet cable as well. That leaves the USB port available to run a power cable to the Ricoh, plus a Micro HDMI-to-HDMI cable between them for the video and audio. Once you’ve got the Ricoh set up, you don’t need the second USB cable to the unit.

I found myself wanting to mount both units together, but there was no way to mount the Ricoh on top of the Cerevo. Even though the LiveShell X has two mounting points, they are not bottom and top—instead, they are bottom and side. So you can’t stack the Cerevo on a tripod and then the Ricoh on top of the Cerevo. If you glued the little base that Ricoh includes for the R onto the LiveShell, that could be a solution. Otherwise, plan on using them separately.

The Ricoh also doesn't help things with its current design. All the ports are on the side, making the cables visible in the 360° video. Ricoh’s consumer models feature microphone inputs and USB ports on the bottom, in addition to the 1/4-20 threaded mount (Figure 3, below). Something like this on the R would have made it so all the audio in, video out, and power cables were invisible to the cameras.

Figure 3. Ricoh’s consumer Theta models have inputs, ports, and mount on the bottom.

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