Live coverage, still a tricky process recently covered the Carnaval San Francisco parade that comes through the Mission District of San Francisco every year.

It’s a big event for this community, and deservedly it required lots of coverage. I met with the MissionLocal staff before the parade was to kick off to talk about options for live coverage. Several of the reporters had iPhones and they had some ideas about covering the parade with live video.

We setup an account on Qik live video streaming service, and shot a few test videos around the office. While the live video was delayed about five to ten seconds, it seemed to work better than we anticipated. (It still boggles the mind to think a decade ago live video coverage of an event meant hundreds of thousands of dollars for a satellite truck.)

Here’s the catch though: When the iPhones were using the office wifi, the quality was not too bad. However, once we left the office and we were on the 3G cell service, there was a precipitous drop in quality, especially in the audio. We thought about shooting near a cafe with wifi service, but even that seemed problematic and prone to signal disruptions.

One reason we went with Qik is that it saves a higher quality version of the video on the phone while you’re live streaming. So people watching the video live might see dropped frames and frequent video interruptions (which did happen.) But the app will upload those missing frames for people watching the video after the event, and that copy of the video will appear more complete and seamless.

Based on the overall results, I probably would not recommend live coverage with an iPhone at this time—at least not with the iPhone on AT&T’s 3G network. It’s remarkable how quickly this has become possible, and I suspect very soon the technology will catch up to the quality standards of the web (which are relatively low.) Maybe next year’s LTE 4G phones will solve these issues.

Another factor to consider with live video coverage is planning what to shoot the whole time. Live video is a tricky process, even for the pros in the broadcast world. Something interesting has to constantly be happening, either with a narrated voice-over over or some type of action. Very few viewers are likely to watch live for very long if nothing is happening. The good news right now is that I think the novelty factor of seeing live video on the Web is still high, so it’s easy to grab a viewer’s attention initially. If we are to experiment with this again, it would be a much more planned out with a clear idea of what was going to be on the air at all times.

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