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My cheap, simple livestreaming rig: iPhone, Ustream, Zagg and Clingo

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My cheap, simple livestreaming rig: iPhone, Ustream, Zagg and Clingo

The challenge: On short notice, I was asked to stream holiday services from my wife's synagogue so that homebound congregants and college students could attend at a distance. "Sure," I said, before I really thought it through.

My preferred setup for a reliable video stream would include a MacBook Pro running Adobe's free Flash Media Encoder or Livestream's Procaster, quality FireWire-compatible DV/HDV camera and an Ethernet connection for predictable connectivity -- although I wouldn't dismiss Livestream's adorable and compact $495 Broadcaster hardware streaming kit (to say nothing of the company's $8,500 Studio all-in-one switcher). All of this gear would need room and power to operate, which is rarely a problem at concerts or other events I've streamed from the temple. In this case, however, the pews would be full and there'd be no room to run power cables and networking across the floor.

Instead, I threw together the above configuration, which is admittedly low-fi and low-rent but worked surprisingly well. It starts with a Zagg Sparq 2.0 portable battery pack (model discontinued, but there are subsequent units). The Sparq's onboard battery will easily charge an iPhone 4S several times over; plenty of juice for hours of streaming without having to string an extension cord.

Next up, a Clingo universal car mount. This articulated arm has a suction cup mount on one end and a sticky, figure-eight pad on the other end. The adhesion pad is strong and reusable but easy to detach from the phone without leaving marks or residue. The advantage over a full-back or bracket mount is easy to deduce: the smaller contact area meant that I could securely mount the phone without covering the back camera. The smooth plastic shell of the Sparq, in turn, made an ideal suction cup mounting surface.

Finally, the iPhone 4S, plugged into the Sparq and running Ustream's free broadcasting app. I started with the older broadcast-only app; I could (and should) have been using the new version that supports viewing as well. Some users have reported instability in the combo app, and I wanted to be able to leave this running unattended in a corner, but the difference in quality between the year-old Broadcaster app and the new app is pretty substantial. At that point, all that's left to do is plug it in, check for WiFi coverage, aim it to the front and hit the button.

As you can see, there's some modeling clay weighting the Zagg in the picture; although it's pretty substantial, depending on the arm angle the iPhone had a tendency to tip. I used a beanbag on site to keep it stable. Later on, I dug out my Glif and a standard tripod to give me some flexibility with the camera placement, but if I faced a situation that called for this combo I'd definitely use it again.

Yes, the sound quality's not great, you've got no zoom, and there are plenty of other issues. But in a pinch, this is the sort of setup that lets you stream an event with only wireless bandwidth and your iPhone -- and if that's not living in the future, I don't know what is.

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