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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.

Software

If you want to adjust the camera settings, you have to adjust the Ricoh through USB to the Ricoh Console app on a computer, not via Bluetooth and a mobile app. Ricoh has an app for its consumer devices that works well and allows the user to configure the settings wirelessly from their cell phone.

Requiring tethering for adjustments is, to me, a stumbling block. Trying to manage a live stream while also trying to adjust the camera settings on a computer is a challenge. In our testing, it dropped the live feed once when we switched to the window to adjust the camera settings.

Initial setup for the Cerevo LiveShell is best done before an event, on the computer, because working with the Cerevo Dashboard is more convenient on a laptop display. While the LiveShell does have a display on the device (Figure 4, below), and you can change many settings there, RTMP keys and such are far easier to deal with when you can copy and paste them on a computer. Other settings, such as audio, aren’t available on the LiveShell itself, even though it does have an audio meter.

Figure 4. The limited display on the Cerevo LiveShell device

Those controls are only available via the LiveShell Console. What would have been really nice is if the two companies had integrated the software a bit and designed it so I could adjust the Ricoh camera through the Cerevo Dashboard. Currently, that’s not possible. Since the Ricoh needs to be configured via USB, leveraging the USB port on the Cerevo LiveShell X to communicate with the Ricoh R seems like a natural extension. Plus, it would then make the camera’s settings available remotely along with those for the LiveShell X.

As it is, you’ll need a laptop to get things up and running for both devices, and afterward, you can remotely adjust the Cerevo over the internet. The Ricoh requires you to plug back into it directly.

In Use

With this solution, video quality looks pretty good. It’s not 4K, but for an HD feed, the system is able to handle bright windows and darker shadow areas pretty well. I would like to sharpen it up a bit, and perhaps that can be addressed in some settings. But after we got it up and running, I didn’t go back and re-tether to the Ricoh to adjust settings.

Audio is another issue. I was disappointed by the single mono microphone in the Ricoh. There’s also no external microphone input into the Ricoh R camera. Again, this is a departure from the consumer models which not only have stereo audio built-in, but have a jack for external microphone input, and there are plug-in microphones designed for the Ricoh cameras.

The Cerevo has an audio input. However, it’s a line-level input, like the output of a mixing board. You can’t just plug a microphone into the Cerevo and get good audio. It needs to be amplified to line level, which requires another external device or two if you want to get good audio with your stream. If you’re streaming a concert, pulling a feed from the board and feeding it to the Cerevo would solve this problem.

When we pushed the stream from the Cerevo to both YouTube and Facebook, we were able to get YouTube to properly handle it as a spherical feed. However, at the time of testing, we were unable to get Facebook to recognize it as spherical. In the various browsers we tried, the same ones that worked with YouTube, Facebook always just showed stretched video.

360° video is very much in its infancy, so I have no doubt that, as Facebook changes things internally, seemingly every week, it will be a challenge for the manufacturers to keep up with firmware updates. I do see the LiveShell check for updates every time I turn it on and connect it to my dashboard, so Cerevo has a process to make sure its hardware is up to date whenever you use it.

Conclusion

I’m not going to share the entire 360° video we produced as we worked through the test with these tools in the online version of this article. It was fraught with bad audio as we tried to figure things out. Now we know. I have included some video segments from it the overview video that accompanies the online review (go2sm/liveshell).

As a package, these two tools seem like a mismatched pair. While they can, and do work together, there are several aspects to their use that I wish worked together better. The Ricoh R in particular, as a development kit, is lacking the polish and convenience typically found in Ricoh Theta cameras—no stereo mics, no external mic input, no ports on the bottom, no wireless control from a phone, etc.

The Cerevo LiveShell is a good product by itself. I can see this being a great tool for the streaming professional who wants an appliance to get their HDMI video to multiple destinations and/or recorded, with simple push-button ease and easy status viewability. Cerevo’s back end makes it easy to configure the unit. While there's no mobile-friendly version, the desktop version works well enough on a tablet. It can send the stream via USB or Ethernet. The internal battery power means it could potentially use a cellular LTE stick and be operated on top of a small camcorder at an event, streaming the HDMI feed from anywhere at the event. It’s small, compact, convenient, and nearly wire-free.

The Ricoh is designed for development and all-day streaming durability. Those two features typically mean tethered down, with multiple cables, and no battery operation—the opposite of the LiveShell X's strengths. If Ricoh had its control software integrated into Cerevo’s shell, and communication could pass through the LiveShell X to the Ricoh, that would go a long way to making this pair work together better.

As it is, I think the LiveShell X would be better served by other 360° cameras—ones that have their own battery, 360° or at least stereo sound, wireless control, and full 1080p60 output for higher-clarity streaming. Then you could wander an event, and go live where and when you wanted, just not for 24 straight hours.

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