Justin.tv vs Ustream, Softbank 3G vs Emobile Pocket Wifi: A comparison for iPhone mobile broadcasters in Tokyo
Justin.tv released their mobile broadcasting application for iPhone 4 last week on Sept 16th. I downloaded it immediately. During my first broadcast, I noticed my balcony filling with soapy water from the washing machine due to a blocked drain. I confess that at that moment I was more concerned about soap-poisoning my plants than watching the broadcast! However, later, I saw that the Justin.tv app video seemed less clear than Ustream’s, almost like the iPhone camera couldn’t focus. Was this an application issue or my Softbank 3G connection?
I’ve been using Emobile wifi wired modems, since moving to Tokyo in 2008, that have allowed me to hop online and broadcast from anywhere that’s not the depths of the subway. I’ve been generally happy with Emobile even though I sometimes experience video lag with longer broadcasts. (Up to 15 minutes on Justin.tv!) During my first year in Tokyo, I carried an ASUS Eee PC 901 laptop around with me everywhere. It’s basically the Commodore 64 of our time (slow!), but with its solid state drive and tiny dimensions it makes a perfect little broadcasting computer. That being said, even the smallest computer can become a burden if you have to carry it around the city all day in a bag with the rest your life. My broadcast frequency diminished.
This past June, Apple Store Japan started offering the iPhone 4. Let me state that ALL my friends have an iPhone of one model or another. When we got together, a lot of time was spent “Ifn-ing”, a term I coined to mean the sharing of apps, sending of mails, and generally focusing on one’s iPhone instead of being social with those physically in the same space. When the iPhone 4 came out, I didn’t care. At least, not until I learned that it had a camera and applications for webcasting! I was in line at the Harajuku Apple Store the following day to add my name to the mounting backorders.
When the iPhone finally arrived, I downloaded the Ustream app and started using it for mobile broadcasts. Justin.tv had yet to release their broadcaster. The video was fluid on my end but my viewers were telling me a different story. The framerate was slow and the stream often froze and had to be refreshed. What to do?
I was at one of the many Bic Cameras in Shinjuku last Sunday to buy my first external hard disc and finally back up my Lenovo x60 after 3 years of ownership. Before I could accomplish this task, I happened to pass the Emobile area. It must have been fate. A wireless modem was waiting for me and ready to operate with my iPhone 4 and replace my current Asus computer modem: “Pocket Wifi.” I stopped. I asked the poor Japanese salesgirl a lot of questions in broken Japlish. She squinted and I used my iPhone Kotoba app to facilitate the translation of things like “Does the monthly price include unlimited data up and down?” and “Is my current 2 year contract with Emobile complete?” and “May I switch my current modem for this new one?” The answers were all hai, hai, and hai. The switch was made and, as an existing customer, all for 1 yen! For unlimited data up and down, I can expect to pay 3,980 yen a month for the first contract year and 4,980 yen for the second.
The comparison via recorded live broadcasts…
So how does each platform behave on Softbank 3G vs Emobile’s Pocket Wifi? Which platform comes up on top? I recorded some short test broadcasts using both the Justin.tv and Ustream iPhone 4 applications. For each platform, I recorded a broadcast on Softbank’s 3G and then on Emobile’s Pocket Wifi connection. You will note in the recordings that I repeated the same information on all the videos. This was mainly informational for the live viewing audience and for archiving purposes on the respective websites. Consider it the “control” in the experiment! Let’s take a look!
First up: Justin.tv on Softbank 3G.The audio and video streams are really mismatched at the beginning. Audio is rather quiet. The video is grainy, especially as I get further away from the iPhone and there’s no way to see any real details. During the final seconds, we focus on playground guests dismounting the jungle gym. The video becomes extra choppy. All in all, I’m missing out on a lot of the stream quality that I’ve come to expect from a traditional mobile laptop broadcast.
While I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the video became, the grainy quality lingered and was disappointing. In this initial platform from Justin.tv, it looks like we are stuck with a case of near-sightedness.
When using the Justin.tv iPhone broadcasting app with Emobile’s Pocket Wifi, there was a marked improvement in both the framerate and audio clarity.
The Ustream.tv broadcasting app on Softbank 3G displays a massive improvement in video quality over the Justin.tv broadcaster. (Click the small play arrow, NOT the large one in the middle!!)
The framerate is slower but the picture quality is excellent. But disaster strikes: a complete video hang up while the audio blabs on! Viewers would have to refresh the stream at this point in order to get it moving again. There’s only so many times someone is willing to do that, besides all the content that may be missed in the process! Softbank 3G is not broadband enough to handle uploading all the data from the UStream iPhone 4 application.
The combination of the Ustream mobile broadcasting app and Emobile’s Pocket Wifi is surprising good. (Click the small play arrow, NOT the large one in the middle!!)
When the camera is not in motion, it focuses right in on the subject. The reduced framerate is a small price to pay for video details that I couldn’t see on the Justin.tv broadcaster. There is one short rabbit-like hang-up for a few seconds, but it passes and we don’t experience any more of those for the duration of the video.
As an on and off live streaming broadcaster since 1999, I’ve had a lot of time to consider the most important features of a broadcast. My number one concern is stream quality. I need to be confident that my viewers can see and hear me well. Without question, Emobile’s Pocket Wifi is superior to Softbank’s 3G network, as evidenced by better video and audio quality on both the Justin.tv and Ustream iPhone 4 broadcasting platforms. As for the better performing application? The Justin.tv iPhone broadcaster offers a smooth yet grainy video on a faster connection. The Ustream’s iPhone broadcaster’s framerate is low, but video details are clear. Broadcasting on UStream seems a bit dangerous, however: if the upload speed suddenly decreases, it’s rabbit-face central!
In a perfect world, with smooth and fast mobile connections, the current release of the Ustream application for iPhone 4 would be my mobile broadcaster of choice. However, given that any mobile connection, at this point in time, is quite variable in speed and the vast majority of my viewing audience hails from Justin.tv, I’d be foolish to continue to try and use Ustream. The Justin.tv broadcasting application for iPhone 4, in combination with Emobile’s Pocket Wifi, is just good enough for now, but I’m looking forward to future releases of the application that address the video quality issues so that we broadcasters can better share the details of our streaming content with our audiences.