CollabraCam: Multi-Camera Real-Time Switching in the iPhone

Posted by scottstead on Apr 15, 2011 in Reviews, Tech, Vlog

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have noticed that I have developed quite the iPhone photo obsession with apps like Camera+ and TrueHDR. You may have also noticed a series of apps I’ve been using to ‘pretty-up’ my photos, including: Color Splash, Percolator, DXP, PS Express, Diptic, Picture Effect Magic, and especially Instagram. It’s folks like Doctor Popular and his daily Appsperiments that have been pushing me to seek out new ways to make my photos better and generally more interesting.

A week or so ago I was taking a new app for a spin, trying to pin down some price drops on photo apps (yes, an app searching apps) when I came across an app called CollabraCam on sale for $4.99 (now on sale for $2.99). I’ve go to say that at first glance I was a doubter. I couldn’t believe that the technology was all there and that it would look as clean as it did on their website. But, with some searching I quickly found some demos that made it apparent that this app was for real. Here’s the breakdown.

What does it do?

From the CollabraCam Website: Wirelessly connect with up to four iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad camera operators over local Wi-Fi. Monitor the live-streaming cameras and choose the best shots to edit your video in real-time. Select a camera to put on standby to prepare for the next shot. Silently direct your camera operators to pan a shot, dolly in for a close-up and more.

Video clips are recorded to the cameras and are transferred, compiled and saved to the director in the background as you go. When you end the production and save your session, the final clips are transferred from the cameras to you in a matter of minutes.

The rough cut of your movie can be viewed in the app and exported to your Camera Roll in three sizes. Video clips can also be exported to your Camera Roll to edit in a video-editing app or saved via File Sharing in iTunes to edit on your computer. With minimal time and effort, you can assemble and trim clips and add transitions and music to complete your movie’s final cut.

What do I need to do this? ?

The director software is suggested to be ran on an iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, or iPod Touch 4G. The iPad can function as the director station (which after seeing some videos looks like the way to go, if not just for the screen real estate) with pixel doubling (essentially the images on the screen are stretched to accommodate the larger screen). Update from Kyle at CollabraCam: “We are submitting an update today or tomorrow to make the app universal and include a dedicated iPad interface, no more pixel doubling!”

The camera software will run on the iPhone 3GS but is recommended to be run on series 4 devices (all iPhone 4 or iPod Touch 4G devices). I have yet to test the 3GS as a camera, but I was told by support that you may have to set the software to “camera”. Then close and relaunch the app to get it working properly on the 3GS.

You MUST have a wifi connection to use the software. It WILL NOT work over a cellular network. CollabraCam should only be used on a local high-speed Wi-Fi network (G or N) on the same wireless router or hub. You can create an ad hoc network on a laptop to use as the wireless broadcast network between the cameras. You do not need an internet connection on the wireless router or an ad hoc network created to use CollabraCam.

It is highly recommended to perform a hard reset before starting a session to ensure that nothing is running in the background. These extra cycles in the background are what cause the black flash frames between cuts. Here’s what the developers (Apptopus, Inc.) had to say,

There are lots of factors which can have an effect on performance, but
the biggest is processing overhead and memory. It is wise to flush
your memory and kill all background apps before a session. It is also
wise to put your device in airplane mode and turn Wi-Fi back on so a
phone call or text won’t disrupt the production.

I of course after reading this went to find exactly how to kill background processes and came across this handy article from TUAW.

Force Quitting
To force an application to quit, Apple recommends that you bring the app you want to quit to the foreground. Then press and hold the sleep/wake button for several seconds, until the Slide to Power Off control appears. Release the sleep/wake button and hold down the Home button for another 7-10 seconds. Your screen will flash briefly and you will return to the main iOS 4 Springboard home page with its icons. This method works for all operating systems from iPhone OS 3 forward, and is the preferred method listed in the iOS 4 documentation.

Removing the Application from the Recents List
There’s actually a much simpler approach for quitting apps, and that’s to use your recent app list. Double-click the home button to display the recently accessed applications. Press and hold any of the icons shown, then navigate to the application you want to quit and tap the red circled minus button. This sends a signal to the application in question that allows it to quit. The application will be re-added to the recents list the next time you launch it.

Why should I spend $4.99 $2.99 on this?

Do you shoot a lot of video with your iPhone? Are you an independent media producer or journalist with a small budget? Have you ever done a multi-camera shoot with an iPhone? Have you ever done a multi-camera shot on consumer, prosumer or professional video camera and wish that you could have knocked it out with an iPhone (especially when it’s content for the web). Are you tired of spending hours editing after shooting a piece or an interview? Do you go to events with friends that also have iPhones and think it would be nifty to do a multi-camera shoot of a keynote, an interview in the hallway, a concert – anything that has multiple angles that would be nifty to capture? If you answered yes to any or all of these – for the price of a happy hour Pabst Blue Ribbon you too can have some seriously cutting edge technology built in to your iPhone.

Update from Kyle at CollabraCam: The $4.99 price was to celebrate our first local TV coverage, we dropped the price further to celebrate our Webby Nomination. The price will go back to the original $9.99 after the Webby People’s Voice voting is done.

How do I benefit from using this app?

How much is your time worth? How awesome would it be to turn around a three camera shoot in just as long as it takes to shoot it? THAT is how you benefit from using this application. Imagine teams of three to four people roaming a presidential inauguration, a national political convention, a protest, a rally, a conference or some other large event where turning around a piece before anyone else would be really keen. You could beat the guys with the big cameras and the little cameras – anyone that’s heading back to base to edit their piece together and slap tops and tails on it (yes you can even knock out your video credits very easily with CollabraCam).

Not only is it cutting edge in its ability to live cut up to four cameras together into a single stream eliminating the need for a video switcher, but it has two other features that I think are very cool. It tallies the cameras as either being on standby or live. Also – the director can send common camera commands to the camera operators from the director’s interface.

What did I learn from testing Collabracam?

Things I learned today:

  1. When you’re done with a recording – keep the software open on all the cameras. I by habit closed my phone when we finished recording which closed the program and killed the download. Now I know!
  2. Bonjour was turned off/blocked on our in house wireless so we had to make a mac a hotspot by sharing out the wireless connection on a laptop. Done.
  3. It was apparent that we weren’t switching between cameras. Read the instructions! Maybe in future revisions after you hit record and the recording starts – the RECORD button could change its label to “TAKE”. It took us two or three recordings to figure out why we weren’t cutting between cameras. Doh! Again – I can’t iterate enough the importance of reading manuals. UPDATE from Kyle at CollabraCam: We are currently using the standard iOS toolbar which does not allow for different states of the buttons (the glow when tapped is automatically added, and a button can only be white to achieve the glow). In the future we may create a custom toolbar which can do that.
  4. The image quality was pretty d*** good. I was impressed. Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish with live cutting to compare the black frames between takes with the 3G and the 4G, etc. – but will do/know more soon.
  5. Reconnecting to the director after ending a session, etc. we had to quit all cameras and kill the app out completely from all devices to get it re-detect the cameras. It seemed like the cameras seemed to think a session was still open – because when we killed the Director app – the cameras – despite looking as though they were waiting connection – displayed the message ‘the director has disconnected do you want to continue’. This is an early version of the app and I’m sure this will only improve with time.

Final Notes

All in all – I love this app. I am going to recommend that everyone I know buy this app so we can shoot awesome collaborative multi-camera videos with zero editing time and instantly publish to my video blog, YouTube, etc. Kyle Hilla, a member of the developers info team has been super helpful throughout our testing and answered all of our questions with utmost transparency and road maps of the future of the software. Here’s a mini list of 3 major things he state they are working on that I think are flaw fixing and generally pretty sweet pluses.

  1. Select the audio source so it’s not just audio follow video
  2. Enabling 720p video
  3. Making it capable of streaming to the web – every indie journos dream

At $2.99 it’s absolutely a steal – so buy now. Furthermore – if you love mobile video as much as I do, show these guys some love and go vote for them in the Webby Awards! They’re up for the “Best Use of Mobile Video” award and I really think this is the next step for iPhone video.

Second opinions? Other reviews?

@Ruperthowe’s Review
@Rosenblumtv’s Review
Mac World Review
Greasy Guide
Great YouTube Test of CollabraCam


Gerry T Touting SeamlessWeb.com

Posted by scottstead on Feb 8, 2011 in Dining, Vlog
Gerry T working his magic as always at Union Station for the amazing food delivery service, SeamlessWeb.com. It was great to see Gerry and pretty sweet to learn about a new way that restaurants are using the web to connect with customers. One free coffee and a handful of coupons later – here’s what Gerry had to say.

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Batala All Women Percussion Band

Posted by scottstead on Jan 23, 2011 in Music, Vlog
On a Sunday walk about Eastern Market I happened upon this all women percussion band raising money for the recent flood victims in Rio and Brazil. Despite the extremely cold weather they beat their drums and got the crowd moving to raise awareness for a good cause. To learn more visit www.batalawashington.com.


Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, Levi Johnston Song

Posted by scottstead on Oct 20, 2010 in Concerts, Music, Vlog
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, October 19th 2010 at Sixth and I St NW, Washington, DC at the Historic Synagogue. Ben performs “Levi Johnston”.


Killer Tips for Winning Friends and Influencing People on Twitter

Posted by scottstead on Jul 29, 2010 in Documentary, Film, Vlog

Killer Tips for Winning Friends and Influencing People on Twitter from Chris Suspect on Vimeo.

This short documentary was put together by four people who met on Twitter and set up a sailing tweet up in the Chesapeake Bay. While you will learn how Twitter can bring people together for a great time, you’ll also learn some killer tips on how to use the site effectively. Each of us in the film have different motivations and strategies for the site, but in the end you’ll learn one trick that’s a surefire show stopper.

The concept for the film was created at breakfast before the sail. We shot it with one camera, each of us taking turns.

If you would like to follow us on Twitter we are @chris_suspect, @jonnygoldstein, @iconjohn and @scottstead.


(Warning: strong language, violence)


CPB and PBS Call For Diverse and Innovative Content At Silverdocs

Posted by scottstead on Jul 1, 2010 in Documentary, Vlog
Joseph Tovares, Senior Vice President of Diversity and Innovation at CPB and John F. Wilson, Chief Television Programming Executive at PBS spoke in front of a full auditorium at Montgomery College during AFI Silverdocs Documentary Film Festival and Conference about their recently released RFP. PBS and CPB are putting $20 million dollars on the line to draw out new ideas for diverse and innovative programming from content creators nationwide. This is the full panel from Silverdocs, however for more information please visit www.pbs.org/difund.

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Oliver Stone Introduces “South of the Border”

Posted by scottstead on Jun 29, 2010 in Documentary, Film, Vlog
Oliver Stone introduces his film “South of the Border” at AFI Silverdocs 2010 in Silver Spring, MD. This was shot on an iPhone 3GS and edited in iMovie.

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On Coal River: An Interview With Ed Wiley

Posted by scottstead on Jun 29, 2010 in Documentary, Film, Vlog
Activist, grandfather, hero…Ed Wiley’s been a busy guy. Most recently he’s one of the main subjects of “On Coal River” a film by Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood. His quest for a safe school for the children of Coal River, West Virginia has taken him many places, including the Silverdocs film festival where we met with him on the sidewalk. He shares his trials, hopes and what you can do to help the people of Coal River and all those affected by mountain top removal.This was shot with an iPhone 3GS.

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Reverend Billy Introduces “On Coal River”

Posted by scottstead on Jun 28, 2010 in Documentary, Film, Music, Vlog
With a song, Reverend Billy and his First Church of Stop Shopping choir introduced the film “On Coal River”. Their gospel style was fitting for the film and I, as a West Virginian, truly appreciated their support of this film and this cause. As we say at karaoke, “These kids got pipes.” This was shot on the iPhone 3GS.

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On Coal River: Panel Talk

Posted by scottstead on Jun 28, 2010 in Documentary, Film, Vlog
This is the panel following the Silverdocs 2010 premier of “On Coal River” a film by Francine Cavanaugh and Adams Wood. Special guests were subjects of the film Bo Webb, Judy Bonds, Debbie Jarrell, and Ed Wiley. This was shot with an iPhone 3GS.

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