Mevo: 3 Great Things, 3 Big Limitations

Mevo (Around $400 on Amazon)

Mevo

Why deny it?  It's cute.

Thinking about Mevo?

Great Things About Mevo

  • Company support
  • Ease of setup
  • It works!

So was I.  It looks cool.  The marketing campaign makes you think it will change your life in some vague way, so I got one.  If you do any sort of video or streaming support for your clients, I can assure you there are three very cool things about Mevo.  I can also tell you there are three very big limitations as well.

Mevo’s Big Limitations

  • No going back on shot decisions
  • Limited zooming
  • Shots cannot be adjusted offline

Which brings us right to Great Thing Number One: Livestream (parent company of Mevo) poured a lot of resources into this little gadget.  The device, the packaging, the company support, all invoke Apple in its heyday.  Mevo at its most basic is very small, little larger than a shot glass.  It’s a cylinder, either black or anodized silver, relatively featureless, but extremely well thought out—as a for instance, the bottom of the device is threaded for a standard mic stand (along with an adapter for a tripod stud).  Livestream is obviously committed to Mevo, and they push out updates regularly to both firmware and software, many of them driven by user feedback.

But the reason you’re interested in Mevo has nothing to do with that, right?  You want multiple camera angles from a single device, the ability to cut between them, and simple streaming live to the web.   Mevo definitely delivers all of that.  Here it is in a nutshell.

Imagine a 4K imaging sensor optimized for a 150° lens and a 16:9 aspect ratio—in Mevo’s case, 3840 x 2160 pixels.  While not quite cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) it’s a very healthy resolution (called, in fact, Ultra HD).  Suppose you divide that box into nine equal boxes, like a tic-tac-toe grid: you get 1280 x 720 pixels in each box.  Does that number look familiar?  It should—that’s the 720p specification of HD television.  So—why not use that sensor to derive multiple HD quality shots?  All it takes is software, and Livestream Mevo software can be used on later iPhones and many iPads (they promise more platforms will be supported in coming releases).

4K Imager

TTT grid

Mevo’s imager resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels, which is exactly nine 720p boxes.

Mevo offers you three options when you’re ready to press the red button: record HD video to an internal Micro SD card, connect to Livestream, or connect to Facebook Live.  (The last two options also engage recording to the SD card, but the card will record at whatever resolution Mevo is able to do for the stream, which will nearly always be lower than the 10mbps the card can do on its own.)

As luck would have it, a job came up that seemed tailor-made for Mevo.  I record and remix concerts for the jazz choirs at College of the Canyons, our local community college, and other than parents with smartphones no one really documents them.  Right after I bought Mevo, their holiday concert came up..  Which brings up Great Thing Number Two: Mevo is really easy to set up.

I put Mevo on a mic stand in front of the stage, then started the Mevo app on my iPhone 5GS.  The app asks you to power up Mevo by pressing the button on top of the unit.  A light spins around on the top of Mevo as it powers up, and when it’s done the phone changes to a configure screen.  Mevo can be paired with an iPhone or iPad several ways, but by far the easiest way is to use the built-in Mevo Hotspot.  Choose this, and the app takes you to iPhone’s Wi-Fi configure page where you choose Mevo from the list and then return to the app.  The main page of the app has the overall picture from the imager full-screen, and in the upper right a smaller screen of whatever is on line.  Bottom left is the big red button, bottom right are a few other icons.  The concert I was shooting featured two groups of 13 singers each alternating on stage, so I moved Mevo to where I would be able to see all 13 singers in a single master shot (Mevo ended up around four feet from the edge of the stage). 

Now forget for a second about the bleeding edge 4K sensor and accept the fact that the best you’re going to get out of Mevo is 720p.  You have nine possible things that can record to the SD card or go to the stream, but only one at a time.  You can see the whole frame, or you can see one of eight shots you’ve set up within that frame, but all of them will output at the same 720p resolution. 

So here is Big Limitation Number One: you are stuck with whatever shot decisions you make while the event is going down—there is no going back.  This has some implications for one-man shops such as myself: while the event is happening I can’t concentrate on anything else other than my iPhone choosing and cutting video.  I can spare a glance over to Pro Tools to make sure it’s still in record, but if I need to get up and adjust an audience mic the wide shot is going to play for a few minutes without switching.  Or I suppose I could wander around crashing into tables and walls while cutting the show, just like a normal dumb human using a smart phone.

College of the Canyons’ Just Jazz performing a really great arrangement of Bird’s Confirmation.  Audio is from Pro Tools, the shots of the band are from my Canon camcorder (gaff taped to the pedestrian bridge over the Atrium), but everything esle is Mevo.T

Accepting that limitation, we are now ready to cut a show, what Livestream calls “live editing”.  Tap on someone’s face on the iPhone screen, and Mevo will instantly cut to a closeup.  Move the box and the image will pan to where you move your finger, the speed of the pan following the speed of your move.  If you want the frame even tighter on the face, you “pinch” on the box.  The image will zoom in obediently, but once you get to 1/9 the size of the master frame, a single tic-tac-toe box, you’re done.  Big Limitation Number Two: Mevo cannot zoom any tighter than the size of one 720p box.  I have a feeling this may get dealt with in future releases of the app, such that if you’re willing to put up with the loss of resolution you can engage some sort of digital zoom, but for now it will only output signals that began life as no less than 720p.

IMG 0944IMG 0945

The master shot, all 13 singers                                                                                               As close as I can get on the right side

In practice, this can be quite limiting.  Since the tightest box I can get horizontally is 1/3 the main image (think the middle row of the tic-tac-toe grid), the best I could do was to separate the group into subgroups of four and five singers.  I have to say it was still way better than a single static shot, but it would have been nice to get a little closer for solos.

But really, think about it: I’m sitting in the corner of the stage occasionally glancing at Pro Tools on the laptop willing it to stay in record,  and I’m cutting a four-camera show on the iPhone in my hand.  Live.  Which is Great Thing Number Three: it all works.  In my case Mevo was across the room, and I still had no dropouts or loss of signal.  You have to make some decisions about coverage—do you want static shots or have the app follow particular faces?  For static shots, press what you want to shoot and hold for a few seconds.  The box will now stay put unless you move or manipulate it.  You can set up to eight angles that way, but in practice I never had more than four.  I haven’t made much use of the face-following feature yet, but it seems to work.  If you tap the tic-tac-toe icon on the lower right of the main screen you get a 3 x 3 multiviewer that you can use to take whatever angle you want by tapping on it.  It’s really miraculous.

Mevo Boost (around $250 on Amazon)

Boost

Livestream does need to come up with a way to re-frame shots without taking them.  For instance if I center a soloist in a shot on the left side of the group and then cut away to the right side for a response, when I cut to the left side again the shot will still be panned for the solo.  I got caught out by this several times, and I really don’t want to engage the face-sensing algorithm because the face I’m after might change in a few seconds.  So here’s Big Limitation Number Three: shots cannot be adjusted offline. 

My only other complaints about Mevo are minor.   Without the Mevo Boost accessory battery life is only an hour, but an AC adapter is included.  (Boost provides 10 hours of battery life plus ethernet and USB connectivity.)  The app is a bit of a battery hog on the iPhone, but since you’ll be stationary anyways just keep your phone plugged in to its AC cube.  While Livestream thoughtfully includes a 16G Micro SD card, doing the math recording at 10mbps means you’ll burn around 5 gigs per hour of recording, so I bought a 64G card when I bought Mevo just in case I went past three hours total.

A lot of people have given unfavorable reviews to Mevo on the basis of its supposedly marginal ability to handle low-light situations.  I find this unfair, as there is a tradeoff between the amount of light that hits the sensor versus how much of the sensor is actually used.  I think Mevo does a great job in available light, and a fantastic job if you’re able to enhance the lighting situation a bit. Mevo isn’t meant for broadcast (although it’s almost certain someone will use it for something), so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Post production went just as expected.  Final Cut Pro X was able to import the files from the card quickly, and since I didn’t stream anything I had full 720p HD resolution.  At the concert I set up another lock off camcorder to shoot the band, and afterwards combined that and my Pro Tools remixes in FCPX.  I let FCPX chew on the camera audio files for sync against the remixes, and set the resulting Multicam file Mevo as Camera 1, the band as Camera 2, and audio from the remix.

For my first time out with Mevo, I can say that despite its limitations I was impressed, and really like using it.  The performers were very happy to have a video recording of the concert, and while I would much rather hire actual camera operators and do it correctly, the budget simply did not allow for it.  And the results were pretty amazing.

More videos from the concert can be seen here.


© REMOTE WEST 2017