September 30, 2014

Ustream vs. Qik: A Video Webcasting Smackdown

ustream_001When Ustream‘s video webcasting app hit the market on Friday, my first thought was, “I wonder how it compares to Qik?” Once the rough edges are polished off, Ustream’s app will beat Qik’s in some areas, but Qik has the leg up in others.

Both apps do a good job handling their basic function: capturing video and audio and broadcasting live to the web. It’s both a “wow factor” function (that our friends with iPhones can’t currently replicate) and something that’s truly useful.

Ustream boasts that it does a better job of handling latency, so I put it to the test. It seemed to use a bit larger buffer–it took a couple seconds longer for the webcast to begin online than Qik–and at the end of a four minute video, Ustream’s webcast was running only 4 seconds behind real time. Running the same four minute test with Qik, the webcast started a couple seconds more quickly, and latency was up to seven seconds by the end.

Is that a big difference? I don’t think so. While Ustream’s claims are true, it’s not going to be meaningful with short webcasts. But it might be an important differentiator if you plan to do longer pieces.

Other Features

Ustream boasts a load of controls, most available while webcasting. You can:

  • Record locally (to SD) when you don’t have a data connection (and then upload later).
  • Edit titles/tags for your videos.
  • Geotag your videos.
  • Hit a button to tweet a link to your webcast.
  • View chat and hashtagged tweets about your webcast on your phone in real time.
  • Mute audio.
  • Conduct polls. Announce the poll via audio, then hit the poll button. Those watching can vote yes or no, and the results show up on your phone as they come in.
  • Specify high or low quality (of the webcast)
  • Specify high or low resolution (of the in-app viewfinder)
  • Overtake another stream. For example, say you have a Ustream channel that shows a webcam in your office. By specifying that channel on your phone, you can interrupt the stream with your “on-location” webcast.

Qik has a couple features Ustream does not, but has fewer overall:

  • Record locally (to SD) when you don’t have a data connection (and then upload later).
  • Edit titles/tags for your videos.
  • Geotag your videos.
  • Hit a button to share a link to your webcast via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or with individual contacts via email or SMS. Qik clearly wins on sharing features.
  • Hit a button to toggle whether your webcast is public or private.
  • Basic video editing. After you record locally, you can use an easy slider to trim unwanted footage from the beginning and/or end of the video.

User Interface

As I mentioned, you have a lot of controls at your fingertips with Ustream. On the other hand, this leads to a fairly cluttered UI. With Qik, you have fewer options while recording, but you also have a larger viewfinder, a more easily accessible record button and a generally cleaner UI.

ustream_002ustream_003

The Problem with Ustream

Unfortunately, some technical issues make Ustream an unreliable choice at the moment. I ran into the following while testing the app:

  • While webcasting, Ustream apparently hogs resources, causing other processes (e.g. widgets) to hang. This throws repeated dialogues asking whether you want to force close or wait for the process. This is the biggest issue and occurred several times while webcasting. While the webcasts were uninterrupted, it takes your attention away from what you are trying to record.
  • An error upon opening: “Cannot access camera. Please reboot your phone.” The app then closed. This happened a couple of times (and was, in fact, resolved by rebooting).
  • Once or twice, the app crashed while logging in, and quit back to my home screen.

ustream_twitterThis last issue made me laugh. Ustream auto-tweeted a link to one of my webcasts with this text: “Im broadcasting, from my iPhone, live on Android phone.”

I tested version 0.8.1 of the app on a rooted G1 running Cyanogen’s latest stable build, 4.0.4.

It’s promising that the developers already pushed out one update (from 0.8 to 0.8.1), so hopefully we’ll see these rough edges polished off soon.

The Verdict

Until Ustream addresses those technical issues, I can’t recommend it as a reliable option. But assuming the app will be fixed soon, Android users will have two good choices for video webcasting. Ustream offers lower latency and more granular controls while Qik offers video trimming, better sharing options and a cleaner user interface.

Both apps are available for free in the Android Market.

Ustream vs. Qik: A Video Webcasting Smackdown

When Ustream‘s video webcasting app hit the market on Friday, my first thought was, “I wonder how it compares to Qik?” Once the rough edges are polished off, Ustream’s app will beat Qik’s in some areas, but Qik has the leg up in others.

Both apps do a good job handling their basic function: capturing video and audio and broadcasting live to the web. It’s both a “wow factor” function (that our friends with iPhones can’t currently replicate) and something that’s truly useful.

Ustream boasts that it does a better job of handling latency, so I put it to the test. It seemed to use a bit larger buffer–it took a couple seconds longer for the webcast to begin online than Qik–and at the end of a four minute video, Ustream’s webcast was running only 4 seconds behind real time. Running the same four minute test with Qik, the webcast started a couple seconds more quickly, and latency was up to seven seconds by the end.

Is that a big difference? I don’t think so. While Ustream’s claims are true, it’s not going to be meaningful with short webcasts. But it might be an important differentiator if you plan to do longer pieces.

Other Features

Ustream boasts a load of controls, most available while webcasting. You can:

  • Record locally (to SD) when you don’t have a data connection (and then upload later).
  • Edit titles/tags for your videos.
  • Geotag your videos.
  • Hit a button to tweet a link to your webcast.
  • View chat and hashtagged tweets about your webcast on your phone in real time.
  • Mute audio.
  • Conduct polls. Announce the poll via audio, then hit the poll button. Those watching can vote yes or no, and the results show up on your phone as they come in.
  • Specify high or low quality (of the webcast)
  • Specify high or low resolution (of the in-app viewfinder)
  • Overtake another stream. For example, say you have a Ustream channel that shows a webcam in your office. By specifying that channel on your phone, you can interrupt the stream with your “on-location” webcast.

Qik has a couple features Ustream does not, but has fewer overall:

  • Record locally (to SD) when you don’t have a data connection (and then upload later).
  • Edit titles/tags for your videos.
  • Geotag your videos.
  • Hit a button to share a link to your webcast via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or with individual contacts via email or SMS. Qik clearly wins on sharing features.
  • Hit a button to toggle whether your webcast is public or private.
  • Basic video editing. After you record locally, you can use an easy slider to trim unwanted footage from the beginning and/or end of the video.

User Interface

As I mentioned, you have a lot of controls at your fingertips with Ustream. On the other hand, this leads to a fairly cluttered UI. With Qik, you have fewer options while recording, but you also have a larger viewfinder, a more easily accessible record button and a generally cleaner UI.

The Problem with Ustream

Unfortunately, some technical issues make Ustream an unreliable choice at the moment. I ran into the following while testing the app:

  • While webcasting, Ustream apparently hogs resources, causing other processes (e.g. widgets) to hang. This throws repeated dialogues asking whether you want to force close or wait for the process. This is the biggest issue and occurred several times while webcasting. While the webcasts were uninterrupted, it takes your attention away from what you are trying to record.
  • An error upon opening: “Cannot access camera. Please reboot your phone.” The app then closed. This happened a couple of times (and was, in fact, resolved by rebooting).
  • Once or twice, the app crashed while logging in, and quit back to my home screen.
  • This last issue made me laugh. Ustream auto-tweeted a link to one of my webcasts with this text: “Im broadcasting, from my iPhone, live on Android phone.”

I tested version 0.8.1 of the app on a rooted G1 running Cyanogen’s latest stable build, 4.0.4.

It’s promising that the developers already pushed out one update (from 0.8 to 0.8.1), so hopefully we’ll see these rough edges polished off soon.

The Verdict

Until Ustream addresses those technical issues, I can’t recommend it as a reliable option. But assuming the app will be fixed soon, Android users will have two good choices for video webcasting. Ustream offers lower latency and more granular controls while Qik offers video trimming, better sharing options and a cleaner user interface.

Both apps are available for free in the Android Market.

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