Cerevo Streaming review
Short version: Online streaming? Heard of Cerevo? Don’t bother. There are lots of problems with every piece of kit they make. Invest in other live streaming products.
At time of writing there are 4 different all-in-one streaming boxes from Cerevo;
I own all of these, and have used them to stream Live events all over the country. Each device has pros and cons. Sadly more cons, with every single one of these devices having usability problems. Two of them, as far as I can see, are actual design faults. Let me explain…
LiveShell – £179
The LiveShell came out in 2011 It’s a handy mobile-phone sized all-in-one live video streaming box. It’s light, portable, and battery powered. It takes HDMI Video In, up to 576i. It has a separate Audio Line In source, and also the option for a break-out cable so you can also use Composite Video In if required.
It has an ethernet socket for wired network connections, and also a USB port for a WiFi dongle.
Personally, the main benefit of the LiveShell is that it runs off replaceable AA batteries. If you use Eneloop (Sanyo) rechargeable batteries, it can stream non-stop for over 3 hours. I can confirm this is true, as I streamed a car journey from London to Edinburgh non-stop and only had to change the batteries once. And when the batteries are getting low, the whole LCD screen flashes as a warning that you have less than a few minutes of power left. Handy.
The LiveShell settings are also available via a web interface they call SHELL. So you can easily use your phone and get access to bit rates, audio levels, etc. Also handy.
However, the video stream is h263. If you don’t know what h263 is, it just means the way the video is squished down and put together in order to be sent across the internet. As time goes on, a lot of providers are no longer supporting h263 (YouTube for example) because it’s no longer the most efficient way of doing so. As of 2015 it’s a defunct codec. Not so handy.
And unfortunately, this isn’t something they can fix with software or a firmware update. The physical microchips and electronics inside are hard-coded for h263. Bummer.
Therefore, it’s essentially now an expensive and dead piece of kit.
- Replaceable batteries
- Up to 576i SD video
- HDMI and Composite inputs
- Separate Mic In
- H263 Codec (pretty much no longer supported)
LiveShell Pro – £400
I then bought a LiveShell Pro. The Pro version officially handles up to 720p, has an additional 3.5mm Line In on the front of the box, and also has stereo phono sockets on the back. Therefore, including embedded audio via HDMI, that gives THREE independent audio sources that can be mixed on this device.
If you have a composite monitor, you can plug in a break-out cable into the AV OUT socket on the front, and keep an eye on what you are streaming without looking at your website stream.
The LiveShell Pro has an internal rechargeable battery, which will also run for approximately 3 hours. Unfortunately they’ve taken away the AA battery option, and added their own non-standard type of rechargeable battery. And it’s only replaceable if you have a screwdriver to hand. This is in no way a quick fix. You can run it off mains power or recharge it using a Mini USB cable plugged into the back of the device, but it’s such a shame they didn’t go for the AA battery option.
You can also access all the settings via the SHELL web interface, the same way you can with the original LiveShell. Which is excellent if you use it remotely.
But. There’s also a major problem with interference and noise. If you use a microphone plugged into the front 3.5mm socket, there is a constant hiss and buzz on that audio source. You can fade up and down the other audio sources via the web interface and this won’t make a difference. It’s specifically the front Line In socket. And I use this all the time.
This is a big problem for me. Obviously this noise is unacceptable for a broadcasting device. How on earth can anyone take you seriously with buzzing and crackling audio over your video?
And oddly, the crackling buzz goes away when you disconnect the USB charging cable. Plug it back in, and it comes back. In my opinion, it’s therefore a build issue. Most probably, the internal circuits and electronic components are too close to the actual mic socket!
It’s internal electronics have been badly designed.
Overall the LiveShell Pro is usable. Just don’t use the front Mic In socket, and always be near a power outlet.
- Rechargeable (though non-standard hard-access battery)
- Up to 720p HD
- Separate Mic In
- Separate Stereo Phono In
- Severe buzzing noise in Mic/Line In socket
LiveWedge – £999
The LiveWedge was released in early 2015 and is another Cerevo streaming box. It’s a more complicated piece of kit. It’s also much more powerful. It can stream up to 1080p, and has FOUR HDMI inputs. You can cut, mix and wipe between the four sources, similar to a Vision Mixing desk in a live studio gallery.
One fantastic thing it also does is that it has built in up/down/cross converters. So any HDMI signal you put into it will be converted to whichever resolution you have set as the output. That means you can mix all sorts of different HDMI Input sources, but your output will always be, for example, 1080p.
It also has its own App, available on iOS. But you cannot access any of the LiveWedge features via a web interface like you can with all other LiveShell devices. Bummer (again).
You can display stills from an SD Card, but at time of writing it won’t play video clips from SD. Out of the box it was only able to display JPG images, though a firmware update (Dec 2015) now also allows PNG files. You can also only load one image into the memory at any one time.
However, to access the card you need to physically remove it. It is NOT accessible via network. An SD Card is a good idea, but hasn’t quite been explored in the way that users would probably want use it.
I should also point out that the SD Card is also the 4th Input. So if you have 4 HDMI sources connected you can only use the first 3, as Input 4 becomes the SD Card output.
The LiveWedge also has a Chromakey function. So you can use one source against a green or blue-screen and key through it to one of the other input sources. You can also key through stills from the SD Card, so you can create lower thirds, though that’d be a bit clunky and not the best way to do that. Overall, a good addition to the product.
The fact you cannot access any of the settings externally means you cannot remotely turn the stream on or off, or do any cuts or mixes without being on the same network and using the App. Don’t get me wrong, it has physical buttons on the box you can press, but I want something I can control remotely.
For example, I have two sources that I control remotely; the LiveShell in a car and a LiveShell Pro in the radio shack. I can independently turn each stream on and off from my phone and the website RTSP video shows whichever stream I have started last. But I can’t include the LiveWedge in this system, as it isn’t available remotely. I also now can’t use YouTube as the website video provider as they no longer support h263 for the car streaming box…
But back to the LiveWedge… And. It Crashes. ALL THE TIME. The App crashes, and the box crashes. Over and over and over. Sometimes you have to physically pull out the power and reboot the whole thing before it’ll start talking to the App again. Sometimes you have to restart the App for it to talk to the box. VERY Frustrating.
And when it crashes, it loses the image it was holding from the SD Card. So you need to load it up again after every crash. It also doesn’t remember the current settings. So if you’re on HDMI Input 2 when it crashes, it starts back up broadcasting BLACK, rather than putting HDMI Input 2 back on-air. It also forgets your output resolution.
It also has a major downfall where it displays all your WiFi settings on the front LCD screen, proudly telling everyone your WiFi password in clear text!
- Takes FOUR HDMI In sources
- Has separate Stereo Phono Audio In
- Chromakey function
- Has Picture-In-Picture function
- Stillstore function
- Mains powered only
- Doesn’t remember settings
- Regularly crashes
- Not accessible via web interface
LiveShell 2 – £250
The LiveShell 2 is Cerevo’s latest device (as of Dec 2015). It’s essentially the same as the original LiveShell device, but updated to use h264 and officially accepts 720p. They also advertise it as using 5G as well as 2.4G wifi. But this is simply a different supplied USB dongle that plugs in the back. It’s nothing built in, and nothing really to shout about.
Again, they’ve removed the ability to use AA batteries, instead opting for a built-in micro-USB rechargeable battery. And there’s no way to get access to it. So if it dies when you’re out in the field, that’s it. Bummer…
Other than that, it doesn’t do anything more.
There is one major flaw. The USB socket is directly next to the HDMI socket. And this means, yet again, interference. And not just audio this time.
I’ve tried 5 different HDMI sources and 3 different HDMI cables. All have this crackling.
Forgive my bubbling anger in the below example:
“So you’re telling me that this isn’t a problem? This is not a problem to you?”
This is what happens when you put a WiFi dongle directly next to an HDMI socket.
I wrote to Cerevo and explained the problem I was having; Video and audio break-up, green flashes and clicks, jumping video. I sent them the link to a broadcast I’d done to test. They agreed there was a technical problem and asked me to return it to them. A month later, and an £11 postal expense to me, a replacement arrived…
… with exactly the same problem.
I have found that if you move the wifi dongle away from the HDMI socket using a USB extension cable, then the issue goes away. Yet another clear indication that it’s an internal electronics problem. Signals in close proximity causing issues.
So far Cerevo have yet to acknowledge a problem with either the LiveShell Pro or the LiveShell 2. But there’s plenty of examples I can give of these issues.
- The LiveShell was the original and perfect streaming product, though could only stream SD using a codec that went out of date rather quickly.
- The LiveShell Pro solved the codec problem, but then Cerevo took away the replaceable AA battery option and introduced a non-standard rechargeable battery. They also somehow introduced a Line In audio noise issue.
- The LiveShell 2 stayed on-track with the codec, upped the streaming resolution to HD and lost the Line In noise issue, but somehow became worse with an HDMI interference issue, and also completely removed the possibility of an interchangeable rechargeable battery..!
My advice is to stay away from these products. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of thought, logic or testing going into any Cerevo designs.