Recently I’ve been trying out some different streaming options for the two pool tournaments that I direct each week. My APA League Operator just went to Vegas for the Southwest Challenge and wanted to stream some of the matches back home to the local players. I gave him some advice on an easy setup and I wanted to publish it here for anyone else who might be interested. With the technology available to us today it’s a whole lot easier than you might think to live stream a pool match. All you need is an iPhone, Android, or even a newer iPod touch (assuming there’s Wi-Fi.)
You will need to create your own free account with either JustinTV or ustream. There may be other services, but these are the ones I’ve tried and both have their advantages and disadvantages. JustinTV has a much better API if you’re a programmer like me, but ustream has some pretty big advantages for normal users. JustinTV has no client app for Android, so while you can stream from Android, your viewers can only watch on an iPhone/iPad or computer. Also, only ustream allows you to mute the audio in case you don’t want background conversations to be overheard.
Once you have your free streaming account setup with one of the sites listed above, you should test it out at home. You don’t want to get to your big event only to realize that you’ve forgotten your password or don’t know how to use the app. Go to the App Store or Google Play section of your phone and download the app that corresponds to the site you chose. JustinTV and ustream each have a streaming app for both the iPhone and Android platforms. Login to the app and click on the camcorder button to switch to broadcasting mode. If you haven’t entered your username and password, it will require you to do so now. Once in broadcasting mode, it’s very similar to using the built in camera app. You just point at the pool table and hit the button with the red record circle on it. While recording, the red circle will flash and the app will tell you how many viewers you currently have watching. You can also chat (in text) with everyone who’s watching your stream.
After you’ve done your home test to confirm that you have all of the technical stuff out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about the best location to place your camera (phone) during the event. If this is a regular tournament that you run every week, you can wing it the first week or two and try out some different spots. However, if your first try at this is an important event, you may want to go to the venue at least a couple days early to setup and test. The main things you want to consider when choosing a location are the camera angle, foot traffic, and distance from the table. Ideally, you want the camera to be 5-7 feet off the ground so that it is looking down at the table. It should be just far enough away from the table that the whole table (every pocket) just fits into view without any kind of zooming. This height and angle will allow almost every shot to be seen, even when the shooter’s back is to the table. You also want to try finding an angle where people won’t be walking through the shot a lot. Neither of these apps have a “focus lock” so when people walk in front of the camera, it tends to focus on them and then back on the table once they’re gone. This can happen with the shooters as well, but the fact that they’re close to the table and you’re shooting at a high angle does help to minimize it.
There are a couple of other optional items you can buy to help with getting that perfect viewing angle. The Magnetic Gorillapod is by far the best tripod I’ve found for this setup. It has flexible legs that can wrap around anything from a chair to a pole, or even a little hook on the wall. You may have also guessed already, but it has magnets in the feet so that you can just stick it right onto any magnetic surface. The light fixture of a neighboring pool table is a good place to try. The only problem with the Gorillapod is that it doesn’t hold onto a normal phone by default. It has the little standard tripod screw at the top, so it works out of the box with just about every camera, but only a few phones (or phone cases) have that tripod screw hole. This is where the iStabilizer tripod mount comes into play. It holds any reasonably sized phone and screws into any standard tripod, including the gorillapod. One last item that is useful to bring along is a lightweight extension cord. Without it, you’re either limited to streaming for only a couple of hours until your battery runs out, or you have to be extremely lucky and have a power outlet right next to your camera location.
Once you have your stream working, you need people to view it! It’s a good idea to mention it to all of the players at the start of the tournament to let them know that their friends and family can watch for free. (I’d also let them know that the camera is for streaming purposes only and there is no red flag for booth review like in the NFL.) Another idea for spreading the word is to post the stream’s url on Facebook or Twitter if you are connected to a lot of people in the pool playing community. Having strong players on the stream never hurts either, so if your venue has more than one table, you can try to coordinate the matches so that the stronger players (and winner’s side matches) end up on the “streaming table.”
Have fun shooting and if you are going to stream any pool matches be sure to leave a comment here or drop me a tweet so I can watch.