Mevo Multicam is a great livestreaming studio-in-a-box, if you can learn to trust it

We go hands-on with the $1,000 three-camera streaming pack

The Mevo Start 3-pack with the Mevo Multicam App three-camera kit costs $999. Add some good lights and a half-decent microphone, and you have a full multi-cam streaming setup for less than $2,000. That would have been completely unthinkable just a few years ago, and let’s just take a minute to consider how absolutely astonishing how far we have come. Add a rock-solid internet connection, and you have essentially replicated the core functionality of a satellite van full of equipment costing two orders of magnitude more than this kit.

Could a professional broadcast news crew use a Mevo Start kit? No — you would need higher reliability, better redundancy and equipment facing the needs of a live news reporter. But if you come at the same problem from another angle, things start to make a lot more sense.

What if you are a YouTube streamer who wants to up your game? Perhaps you have been using a collection of web cameras and OBS to run your livestreaming, and you just want a setup that is easier to disassemble and re-assemble. Maybe you are a music streamer on Twitch. You’ve done a couple of streams with your band, and you are keen to up your game with multi-camera livestreaming. Or perhaps you want to start livestreaming events that happen in various venues. In that context, Mevo Start 3-pack suddenly seems to seem like an absolute bargain. Best of all, once you get it set up the first time, it is very quick to set up and re-assemble.

That’s the theory, at least. Taking a step back, the question becomes whether it works this well in practice.

Every now and again, a tech reviewer is facing an impossible task: How do you review a product that wasn’t made for you, and how do you give meaningful input on whether that product is fit for the audience it was designed for? Mevo Start 3-pack with the Mevo Multicam App from Logitech for Creators is precisely one of those products. I’m not a Twitch, YouTube or Facebook streamer — but on the other hand, I do have a journalism degree with a focus on broadcast journalism, and I fondly remember being trained as a news anchor and live television reporter. I was on the live link unit (i.e. the satellite van) for BBC News for a hot minute. I used to be a TV producer.

The problem is, when you have extensive experience in professional aspects of an industry, you approach a product with different expectations. When I was at the BBC, if the signal to the satellite dropped for even a fraction of a second in the middle of a live broadcast, you wouldn’t believe the level of stress in the RxTx (receiving and transmissions) center back at the newsroom. But, put simply, this kit isn’t designed to replace a small truck’s worth of equipment meant to broadcast breaking news to millions of people. It’s meant to make life easier for YouTube streamers.

The Mevo multi-camera app becomes the control center for your multi-camera livestreaming proclivities. It is an excellent and elegant way to do multi-camera streaming. Photo: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

On paper, the product looks like a very, very good idea — but that isn’t the same as saying that Mevo Start is perfect — it was clearly designed by people who haven’t spent a lot of time in dark clubs setting up camera equipment, and it’s obvious to me that the product team never had to set up and dismantle the kit 30 times in rapid succession. If they had, they’d have made some subtly different decisions that can have a disproportionate effect on the final product.

One truly stupid decision, for example, is the power button on the cameras. It is completely flush with the body, and while it is rubberized, it doesn’t have a divot on the button, or any way to find it by touch. To make matters worse, the button is matte black against a matte black camera body. Try to find that in the dark while trying to set up the cameras between two sets of musicians. To be fair to Mevo, this is often the case with the product design: It is designed in CAD packages and tested out in a brightly lit hardware lab, and only too late does someone think to set it up in the various use cases in which users might use the cameras.

The back of the camera includes a USB-C port for power, a MicroSD card slot for local recording, a microphone input and an almost-impossible-to-find-in-the-dark power button. Photo: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

Sorry to harp on about one design feature, but given it is literally the only button on the camera, it seems important. One thing I love about the power button is that it is pretty hard to press in — you have to use quite a bit of force to actuate it. That is great: It is hard to press the button by accident, and accidents are the last thing you want during a livestream. What is less great is that when you are setting something up for a livestream in a hurry, you’re going to have your hands full — I found myself needing to turn the cameras on and off with one hand regularly because I had a microphone or another piece of equipment in the other hand. That means that when you are pressing the power button on the camera, the only way to get real leverage is to hold the camera in place on the opposite side of the camera, at the same height as the power button. Unfortunately, that means that the only natural way to press the power button is to also grab the lens for leverage. I probably don’t have to spell this out, but I will anyway — the lens is literally the only part of the camera that would benefit from not having greasy fingerprints on it.

The only way to turn the camera on and off with one hand is to hold the camera like this. My fingers are pressing the button — but look at where my thumb goes. The very next thing you need to do is clear the thumbprints off your lens. Why?! Photo: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

Camera button aside, the cameras have a bunch of super-smart design features as well. There’s a small light hood to shield the dome-shaped lens from stray light, which hugely helps reducing light flares. The tripod thread can be taken out of the bottom of the camera, turning it into a much larger thread so you can fit it on a microphone or light stand. The light LED on the front of the camera uses a green LED to show which of the cameras are ready to go live — and a red one that shows which camera actually is live. The cameras have built-in batteries that drastically simplify the setup; you don’t need a power source to start streaming — great for on-the-go live broadcasts. All of these things are very well-thought-through features.

Getting the camera set up was profoundly frustrating. Straight out of the box, all three cameras needed firmware upgrades. It’s possible that this is an effect of me using an Android phone, and that the iOS version of the app is more mature, but the process ended up taking several hours of indecipherable error messages. I was finally able to get things to work, but that involved me having to restart my phone six times — once to get it to connect to each camera in the first place, then once to recover from a failed firmware upgrade.

I reached out to Mevo’s press team when I ran into these firmware issues. They offered to put me in touch with the development team to get me up and running. I thought about it, but decided to decline their offer. As a hardware reviewer, I get the benefit of being able to get on the phone with someone who helped build the product, but as a consumer, it’s often a very different experience.

If I had bought these cameras for my own use, at this point I would have returned them to Mevo: In my many years as a hardware reviewer, I have never tested out a product where I needed to restart my phone six times before I was even able to start the review process. I gave up for a few days, and when I finally was ready to put the cameras through their paces in earnest, there was another set of firmware upgrades. This time, I got through the process pretty smoothly, but having to update the camera firmware twice in a few weeks isn’t exactly encouraging.

The core problem is one of trust. There are a lot of products where it doesn’t matter if you have to try something twice or even three times. If you try to change the temperature on your Nest thermostat, and it doesn’t take the first time, that’s kind of okay. You try again, it works. You shrug it off. Livestreaming is not like turning on the air conditioner — when you have a couple of thousand people watching a live gig, stress levels are running high, and even the smallest technical issues can cause tremendous amounts of stress. My context for this is a live satellite link with potentially millions of viewers and a live television news broadcast getting ruined by the newsroom not getting a live report from the field. Perhaps other livestreamers are more Zen about technical issues than I am.

One extremely welcome design touch is the removable inserts. Without the insert, it fits on a microphone stand. The insert is double threaded: one side is the size of a light stand and the other side has a tripod-size thread. Very clever indeed. Also worth noting that the cameras get fingerprint marks on them very easily — not great for product photography, but not an issue when you are using the cameras. Photo: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

Once I was able to get the product set up fully, it had a chance to shine. The Mevo apps powering the cameras are outstanding. The multi-camera app lets you prepare a shot from one camera and fade between cameras. You can zoom in, use overlays and even configure digital panning movements. For what is, at its core, a pretty simple setup, you can create extraordinarily powerful results.

Despite my frustrated rage with the setup process, the Mevo cameras deserve a break: I tested the cameras in a number of different contexts, and they never let me down once. No hiccups, no buffering, no delays, no disconnections.

Multi-camera streaming is perfect for creative pursuits, live music and live-action events. Mevo represents incredible value in a small package. Photo: Haje Kamps for TechCrunch

The problem was that I was never fully able to trust the cameras, and as a result, I would probably never use them for a livestream I care about. Would I set up a three-camera setup and do a livestream of my foster kittens playing? Absolutely, and that would be both worth watching and beyond adorable. Would I use it to livestream a friend playing a concert at a local bar to his dozens of livestreaming fans? Probably not — my stress level would be too high, and I would need to do many hours of streaming without any problems before I would even start to trust the cameras enough to rely on them for anything important.

And herein lies the conundrum. Livestreaming is so high-stakes and stressful that it’s crucial that you feel that you can trust your equipment. Part of building that trust is the first-use experience with a product, and Mevo’s cameras were some of the worst devices I have ever reviewed in that respect. But the flip side is also true: The life of a reviewer is that you see devices with their first versions of the firmware, and with software that was maybe not quite ready for prime time yet. I am willing to accept that Mevo might be able to sort out the problems I found in my review and that three or six months from now, the cameras will be great.

On paper and in theory, at least, they could be a cost-effective and near-perfect solution for livestreamers who want to dip their toes in the multi-cam world. I would have to revisit the product in a few months to know whether or not to recommend it.