Over the course of the last year we’ve seen an explosion of startups looking to take streaming video to the mobile phone. Smartphones with high-speed data plans and video cameras are becoming increasingly commonplace, and many users are eager to turn their phones into handheld recording studios, even at the cost of video quality.
Well-known blogger Robert Scoble, who once said that he would “only use HD camcorders”, has become one of the new services’ most vocal supporters. Last month he predicted that Kyte would eventually overtake the competition, based on its interface and devices that support playback.
What he neglected to analyze was the audio and video quality of each service, which are obviously key components of media streaming. So we’ve decided to put them to the test. We’ve recruited Sarah Austin of Pop17.com, who has helped us record the same interview four times (once with each service). The questions may get a little repetitive, but at least the videos are easy on the eyes.
We’ve done everything we can to make the tests as consistent as possible. Each video was shot using the respective app’s highest quality setting on the same Nokia N95 smartphone. And we’ve used the same location, lighting, and Wi-Fi access point for each test.
Qik began testing in November 2007 with support for a limited number of Nokia smartphones. In March the site annouced a partnership with popular lifecasting site Justin.TV. The number of phones supported remains limited, but the site has recently announced support for the Windows Mobile platform (though only on a select number of phones so far), and the release of a version for jailbroken (hacked) iPhones. Qik has raised about $4 million in funding.
Kyte opened its media distribution channels in April 2007, but it wasn’t until almost a year later that it launched its streaming video service. Kyte has managed to recruit a number of big-name celebrities like 50 Cent, who prominently features the player on his homepage. Of the services tested, Kyte has by far the most funding, having raised a total of over $23 million.
Israel-based Flixwagon launched in a limited private alpha in January, and opened its doors to the public earlier this month. Like Qik, the company has also released a version for the iPhone, but it too is for hacked phones only. Flixwagon only has around $1 million in funding, and is reportedly seeking a second round.
Livecast (formerly known as ComView) supports Windows Mobile 5/6 and Symbian S60 phones. We began this experiment with the intention of comparing four services, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get Livecast to work. We successfully got the video to upload to the site, but Livecast’s video player is little more than an embedded .mov or .wmv file that never played. We managed to download a video file that worked locally, but that sort of defeats the point, doesn’t it?
We’re going to ignore Livecast for this comparison, because we couldn’t get its player to work at all.
In terms of video quality, Qik and Kyte are clearly a step above FlixWagon, with Kyte barely edging out Qik for the top position. FlixWagon seems to be using more compression on its videos, giving some shots a pixelated look that is especially obvious when there’s movement on camera. Kyte also seems to do this too to a lesser extent, but it’s nowhere near as bad.
Audio is another close call, but we think that Kyte takes the top spot here, too. Qik’s audio comes through clearly, though the volume is a little faint, while Kyte seems to have the ideal mix of loudness and clarity. FlixWagon comes in last – its audio has a very tinny quality that leads to an irritating staticy sound.
Preference in the embeddable players will largely come down to a matter of taste. Qik’s player has the best styling, but it lacks the embedded chat features that are found on Kyte (Qik has a chat button in the player, but it doesn’t seem to do anything). Again, FlixWagon falls short in this area – it’s overly simplistic player is neither stylish nor feature-rich.
What none of these services can offer is native, Apple-approved support for the iPhone, which is easily the most user-friendly smartphone on the market. The first app that can do this (if it’s even possible), will likely become the standard in mobile broadcasting.