So in my endeavors to make my rare gigs more memorable, I’ve been on the lookout for methods to record audio & video of my sets. In doing some perusals of various methods, I happened across a channel on the Chew.TV Slack called #chewcam. As I dug into information on it, it seemed like an awesome idea for multiple reasons, so let’s touch on what it is, and how to make it happen.
#ChewCam is a channel on the Chew.TV slack dedicated to using Raspberry Pi as a stream/recording solution. Using the rpicam code, plus some packages from the pi repository, someone can for all intents and purposes create a self-contained streaming and recording solution, with a few caveats. Let’s delve into how this happens. I’m simply documenting the hardware I’m using, as well as the steps I took to get everything up and running. I’ll link to the hardware on Amazon where I purchased it, etc if you want to recreate on your own.
The first bit of hardware is the Raspberry Pi itself. While this can be done with older versions of Pi, I bought the Raspberry Pi 3 since it just came out and has some advancements over the Pi 2. The wonderful thing about the Raspberry Pi concept is that you’re purchasing a self-contained mini form factor CPU that is capable of quite a bit. And then you can customize it further by addons, cases, hats (extra boards that sit on top of yours), touch screen LCDs, and more. It can be a bit overwhelming though at first. So what I did to start, was buy a starter kit!
This is an awesome starter kit, it worked out perfectly. The case holds the Pi 3 snugly and snaps together easily, and the starter kit includes heatsinks for the gpu and cpu if you want. I chose the clear case style because it matches another piece I got, the camera.
Raspberry Pi Camera
There are two parts that I got for the camera, though the second part is optional. The first part is the camera itself which there are two options for. You can get the normal camera which works great for daylight and evening settings. It does not work so great for low-light settings though. Which is where option 2 comes in, it has no IR filter on it, so works great in conjuntion with IR lighting when you need low-light operation and setups.
The second part I linked to is optional, though I would obviously suggest it. It’s a case for the camera itself. Keep in mind when you buy parts for your raspberry pi, you’re usually just getting the circuit board and wires etc needed. Withe the camera it comes as the circuitboard with the camera attached to it, and the ribbon cable attached which you connect to your pi board. So that’s why I got the case, and it’s a clear case which is why I chose the clear-case starter kit linked at the top. It just ties together as a theme.
One of the sad things I found out about the Raspberry Pi, is that even though it has a 3.5mm sound jack, it’s simply a stereo out for headphones/speakers/whatever. It’s not a combo jack with microphone input. You could of course replace the jack by soldering on a 3.5mm combo jack and soldering it to the right pieces etc, but why? The Raspberry Pi 3 comes with 4 USB ports, so I simply bought an inexpensive USB Soundcard to plug in. It simply plugs in and Raspian detects it automatically and I plug in my mic/line-in, and it has a line-out as well for speakers/headphones/whatever.
This part could be considered optional if you’re not worried about recording audio. Some people will simply want to record video and then do audio syncs etc at home in their favorite video editing software. If that’s your cup of tea, you can skip this piece of equipment and continue on.
The Pi doesn’t have an incorporated HDD or anything like your normal computer setup (though you could use the USB for some external storage). So how do you boot it? By having your OS loaded on to a MicroSD card. Older versions of the PI used full size SD cards, but as I said I’m on the Pi 3 which is Micro SD. I chose a SanDisk 32gb MicroSD card, and then loaded the NOOBS/Raspian OS onto it.
Now if you have a microSD card already, you can likely use that. The tutorial I followed from Raspberry Pi foundation suggests 8GB or larger, and since I wanted a little bit of storage I went with a 32gb card. I figured this would allow me to record some audio/video without having to add USB thumb drives etc, and it works like a champ.
So by now you may be wondering, “Ok Mikey, I ordered all the Raspberry Pi stuff, how do I power it all at my gig?” Well the great thing about the Raspberry Pi is that it’s a lower-voltage device. So while the starter kit linked above has a power supply, what about when you’re off-grid? Or when you’re in a situation that doesn’t allow for you running an extension cord, or when your power strip is all full-up? Enter the powerbank options. Now, I’m going to link you two options. One is the one that I purchased, and one was recommended by someone in the #ChewCam channel on Chew.TV Slack.
Kumiba Xiaomi 10400mah Portable External USB Battery (I own this one)
Intocircuit 15000mAh 4-8A Dual USB Portable Power Bank (I may buy this one)
So, why the two options? Well I owned the Xiaomi 10400 powerbank. It’s pretty inexpensive, well-built, and does what it needs to do. The problem with this is that it has one output port that uses “smart output” to adjust the output amps based on the device. Here in lies a possible problem. The amps/volts used by the Pi vary based on what it is doing. In my tests with the Pi3 running on the battery pack, it ran just fine. Recorded and streamed video just as expected. However, I need to state this clearly! The entire time I ran my tests, the Pi would trigger it’s “current undervolt” warnring. Now as I said, it never stopped functioning, it would simply trigger the warning then reset and trigger again. I believe this is because the Power Bank was dropping amps then upping amps as it thought the device didn’t need as much power.
The second power-bank listed was suggested by someone else using their Pi out in the field and he states he doesn’t have that problem. Looking at the specs of the 2nd Power bank, it has two output ports, both capable of supplying 2.4a power. This allows for full voltage no problem for the Pi, so I may buy this one if I run into issues. It’s double the cost of the first one though, so I’m going to try more testing in the field etc to see if I actually ever run into any issues.
So at this point, you may be wondering “Ok, so what are we looking at for video quality?” And to answer that, I’m simply going to link two videos for you to review. These are going to be rtmp streams to YouTube at 720p and 1080p video. The audio I’m going to feed is simply YouTube royalty free music, so you’ll have to pardon that, but here we go! The camera remains in the same position between the two video streams, so as you can tell the zoom changes when switching between 720p and 1080p for some reason. I haven’t done any digging on this to see if it’s a specification of the camera or if it is something in the software rendering the stream, but enjoy none the less.
720p Video (Audio turns on a little loud at 2:40, sorry, lol)
1080p Video (Audio kicks in around 2:09)
Bonus Video Test
720p 60fps Quick Test
In a later post, I’ll document the howtos on setting up the PiCam to do what you need for both streaming & recording. Now keep in mind, the hardware that I linked above is just what I chose. There are many many options out there, and I encourage you to take the time to find what suits you best. After all, that’s half the fun in Pi-based Projects!