Following my experience at CTIA Wireless 2008 with streaming video from a Nokia N95, I’ve sought a solution to adding an external microphone. The N95 has an input that is designed for making phone calls and adding a headset for this same purpose. It includes noise-cancelling automatic gain adjustment to make phone calls using the phone’s built-in microphone appropriately loud or soft depending upon the speaker’s voice level. The noise-canceling properties of automatic gain adjustment built into the N95’s microphone improves audio quality for phone calls by separating the speaker from the background noise which is problematic when that background noise is, in fact – not noise – but an interview subject.
Mark Squires of Nokia’s Social Media group tried to arrange a discussion for me with someone from the company’s accessories group, but I was scheduled too heavily with interviews to meet him inside the convention center. I shared with Ray Haddow who manages Blogger Outreach with the Social Media Communications group the solution developed for Reuters and their MoJo reporter’s kit, and asked if other adapters might be available.
Both Mark and Ray transformed the discussions and information from our emails into internal discussions about how Nokia might provide a solution. Afterall, the N95 as a “multimedia computer” is enjoying a symbiotic demand relationship with mobile video streaming services. All social media is creating a strata of use cases: from those who create V.I.T.A.L (video, images, text, audio & links) media for a few freinds, to those eager to add video to their toolbox for personal brand and even those who are using the N95 to report for MSM publications and networks like Shelby Highsmith for MTV Choose or Lose.
MTV’s Choose or Lose production is one example of how the combination of the N95’s 5MB video camera, and mobile streaming video services like Qik are being used to report in near-real-time on the events of the 2008 Presidential Election. Michael Scogin talked about the production and MTV’s citizen journalists during my interview with him at CTIA.
After CTIA, I connected with Michael Fortson of Qik via Twitter. We talked by phone and Twitter about the problem and need for a solution as so many of these high value on-the-spot videos were devalued by the unacceptable lack of audible audio. You can degrade the quality of the image and still have a compelling video, if the audio is excellent. The reverse is not true.
Michael pointed me to Jim Long, self-described new media guy trapped in an old media body. Jim uses an N95 to record images and videos from his vantage point of literally behind the camera. He is an NBC cameraman assigned to Washington, DC. Jim found this experiment by Steve Garfield using the N95 bundled external microphone.
And next he sent along a link to this experiment by Bloggerman. I received a pointer to this video from a few people.
And then others who have a stake in finding a solution to improving the quality of real time video through better audio also joined the conversation taking place openly on Twitter. Kartin Verclas from MobileActive and Shelby Highsmith one MTV’s citizen journalists. We all discussed the service offerings for live mobile video, the shortfall of the N95’s audio and potential solutions.
Shelby Highsmith recommended using a BT headset as a microphone, and made a video to demonstrate how the BT headset would function in a high noise environment like technology conferences, bars or restaurants. Meanwhile, I made a trip to Radio Shack and purchased two adapters for the experiment suggested by Bloggerman using the TV cable. Bloggerman stated the red cable plug must be used as it delivered the audio from among the three RCA plug set color coded red, white and yellow. But that didn’t work.
The results from my attempt to connect the N95 TV cable set to a female-to-female RCA to RCA adapter, the second adapter a male-t0-female RCA to mini 8″ connector and finally plugging in the mini 8″ microphone cable allows the use of an external mic with the N95 proved successful after, in his own experiment Shelby Highsmith chronicled in images and video the right combo. He discovered that the yellow cable connector was the correct connector, rather than the red one recommended by Bloggerman.
Important Note about the microphone you choose: it must either be a battery-powered condenser microphone or a dynamic microphone. Dynamic mics don’t require a power source, whereas condensers do and the Nokia input port does not supply power to the microphone. If a condenser is used it must be battery-powered.
I’ve tested this solution with a battery-powered Edirol C15 condenser mic and the results are promising. The real test is in the field with an interview subject. My field tests will begin next week featuring some live streaming from the polls in North Carolina’s Democratic Primary Election. Tune in to http://www.qik.com/mojo or watch my Twitter stream at http://www.twitter.com/mojosd for notification of when I’m live.
Thanks to everyone who participated in this discussion and the many experiments to narrow down the possibilities. I hope everyone who is creating mobile video streams using the N95 will find this solution helpful and we all can continue to move the production quality forward.