Hurdles of Live-Streaming with a DJI Drone on Periscope
Having owned a DJI Mavic since December 2016, it think it's valuable to share my perspective on what it takes to learn how to pilot a flying robot with cutting blades, across one of the most densely populated parts of the world.
I'm in a unique position, in so much as being one of the very few live-stream broadcasters in Hong Kong showing the sights and sounds.
I live-stream on the Periscope platform. Most live-streams are a private broadcast for patreons, and once a month, I also share a public scope with non-paying viewers. For those interested in knowing more, click the link. There is also a schedule at the top of the page.
I also make and upload some drone videos on to my YouTube channel.
I wish I could solely make videos for the YouTube platform as it's much easier than live-streaming on Periscope. All I need to do is select a location free of signal and legal interference. This isn't anything to do with the in-built option of streaming on YouTube with the DJI Go software, it's down to the fact that live-streaming with a drone on Periscope has so much more to set up behind the scenes in order to pilot it.
Things to Consider Before Flying Using Periscope.
- Location function is turned off. Viewers can't follow you along on the map that's normally provided in periscopes and the viewers end up constantly asking pilots where they are flying*.
- You need two (iOS) devices. I have to create a hotspot from one iPhone to another iPhone to be able to stream on Periscope (actually I don't need to hotspot, I just need 2 unlimited data connections you know?!). I have a spare iPad, but as others have reported to me, hotspotting to iPads doesn't work. Luckily I have a second iPhone paid for by my patreons**.
- The DJI Go app doesn't natively support Periscope. If it did, I'd need only one phone. So now I'm looking at two screens (if piloting alone) while a dangerous flying robot with spinning blades is hovering over Hong Kong. The current solution I feel is basically a quick fix.
- Periscope Producer (PP) requires more bandwidth by default. Normal scopes broadcast at 380p. PP needs at least 960x540, so more cell bandwidth is required. Luckily I have unlimited LTE in Hong Kong. You're out of luck if you're on a plan with a GB limit.
These four items I hope, are simplified by Periscope at some point, however their hard-on for 360 VR Periscopes know no bounds and the development team I'm repeatedly told, is small. I am going to assume technical changes will be coming later rather than sooner. Phone calls to DJI are certainly required. Kayvon the co-founder of Periscope has never even flown a Mavic on his own platform. I wish he would do, and then realise how ridiculous the current solution is.
So why do I live-stream on Periscope then?. It's just live-streaming is so attractive, and I have overcome these hurdles in spite of Periscope's attitude towards drone broadcasts. I continue to stream because of the engagement factor, it's a massive incentive to narrate and engage with an audience. This is why it's mostly a paid affair. Should this extra work be given away for free?
Other things to consider.
- I need near perfect signal to stream. Another Periscoper "Penguinsix" with his YouTube channel, created a short video to display the actual signal strength from an iPhone. I've learnt for Periscope broadcasts with a drone, that I need a minimum of -90 to ensure no stuttering is present during a scope. Anything above that might not even work!
- Legal issues. I'm not allowed within 50 meters of a structure or a building, flying at night is a no no as well.
- Hong Kong is extremely dense. Signals from wifi, radio signals, metal, satellite TV, other GPS devices, interference from buildings, it goes on and on. Even with Ocusync and a signal booster, signal strength is going to be severely limited in and around Hong Kong. So far I can get around 400-500 metres in a given direction near the city when I'm lucky. Over open fields and water, I can get 2km.
- Don't forget mother nature! A pilot needs good weather and low wind speed.
"I am one with the force, the force is with me".
I'm still learning how to stream with enough signal ( the '-90' required simply to enable periscope transmissions). It's my biggest obstacle that I can't pre-plan for. I'm learning only through trial and error; taking notes of signal strength in and around the city as I travel. It's slowly becoming a sixth sense. It's a different intuitive mind map aside from just knowing where to just fly a drone legally.
Hong Kong itself is almost an island city state, I'm lucky with open areas to fly over busy shipping lanes, near city structures, islands, massive religious statues (two Buddha statues exist), abandoned villages, peninsulas, bays, mountain peaks and open fields. I want to fly all over it using Periscope if I can. It's still the best live-streaming platform for showing the world, Hong Kong.
My hope is that people find these brief technical descriptions useful for flying near a city while using Periscope. I also hope there is a better understanding between viewers, and those who create 'drone scopes' because of the amount of technical knowledge required just to provide another form of entertainment that can be dismissed away by tapping an 'X'.
* Periscopes made with drones need 'Periscope Producer', but 360 periscopes, regular periscopes get the option of including location. Periscope have responded to requests that 'most' scopes are inside a studio and don't need the location option. The big deal behind this however is discoverability is lowered dramatically. So spend thousands on technology only to be penalised in the process. The most mobile type of a Periscope live-stream ironically doesn't feature the ability to know to viewers where they are.
** The Phantom 4 required one smartphone to broadcast. Location was also available, so on some technical levels, live-streaming with a drone on Periscope has retarded.