Chris Toombs is the founder of FPVLive.TV, a company which provides live streaming broadcasts of FPV events.
Chris told Third Law how he first got hooked on FPV, the varying issues of providing streams inside and out, hiccups at the World Drone Prix and how integrating live data into streams is high up the to do list at FPVLive.
Third Law: Hi Chris, can you talk us through your background and how FPVLive.tv was born?
Chris: I started out in the early 90’s as an Electronics Technician in the US Navy and have been a technician in one form or another ever since!
While on vacation with family over Thanksgiving 2014 one of my brothers asked if I had watched the YouTube video of the drones flying through the woods. I had no idea what he was talking about but was hooked by the end of that first video. After talking with a friend who was already into FPV I ordered the parts to build a 450 size camera platform. Before those parts arrived I started to think about how to livestream the FPV feed. To be honest I had absolutely no idea how I was going to do this so the idea was put aside for a few months as I learned to build and fly.
I started to attend Drone Racing Club events here in Atlanta and after a few meets Todd Wahl, who founded the DRC, and I started talking about livestreaming the races. He brought Daniel Gonel onboard to handle the branding and website.
Third Law: With FPV race events taking place in facilities both outdoors and indoors, from old factories to fields, what are the differences and issues with providing streams in these different situations?
Chris: As far as the FPV video feeds go, outdoors is much easier. You still need proper base stations but there are fewer objects for video signals to reflect off of. But being outside has its own challenges such as power, extreme temperatures and in some cases spotty internet.
Being indoors is a lot more comfortable most of the time, but you can have some very bad video issues.
I think we are getting better at dealing with multipathing (signal bouncing off walls instead of going straight to the receiver) in convention centers and metal buildings. It takes a good deal of testing and tweaking. Having pilots on 25mw video transmitted helps quite a bit as well.
Third Law: At the recent World Drone Prix, there were some significant issues with the live streams. What went wrong?
Chris: First of all, I like the idea of global events. We are a global community and it is awesome to have the opportunity to meet with people in person that you have been interacting with only through social media. But if organizations are going to stream those type of events then they need to get it right. A poor stream on that level can turn away thousands of potential new people to this sport and hobby.
In my opinion the World Drone Prix (WDP16) focused too much attention on streaming HD feeds from the drones. Because things weren’t working out so well with the equipment they were using the turn around times were huge. I think on the first day they ran 9 races in 8 hours. That is entirely too long!
Joe Scully from FPV Racing Events talks about 6 or 7 minute cycle times between races in order to keep pilots from sitting around too long and fans interested. For me personally 5-10 minute cycle times work well. I’m able to update race graphics and play pilot interviews and sponsor videos between heats.
WDP had plenty of interesting filler video such as team profiles and interviews, but unfortunately the audio source rarely switched over from the announcers microphone. A livestream at that level cannot have basic production issues like that. WDP allowed one aspect of their livestream affect the entire event. One of our main goals at FPVLive.tv is to never let issues with the livestream have a negative effect on the outcome of the race or the success of the event.
What it really boils down to is the World Drone Prix tried to do entirely too much in a very short time frame with very little actual FPV race event experience.
Third Law: Including live data in streams is key for spectators, how do you go about ensuring this particular integration is as good as it can be?
Chris: Integrating live data such as lap time is next on our list of features to add. This requires a lap tracking system that is accurate and has raw data that can be accessed. There are some options out there and we have some in-house things being worked on.
We do however have a system in place that allows me to update pilot lower thirds, upcoming race info, last race and overall results graphics. The data still needs to be entered manually but we are the only ones who are consistently integrating this type of information into the livestream.
Third Law: You use Periscope and Twitch, and streams can be viewed across platforms on mobile, tablet and desktop. What other innovations and additions are you looking into?
Chris: I think we will be adding some roaming reporter type live video into our streams. We have just upgraded our software and can easily integrate video from a Periscope like app. We could even get remote reports from other events.
Third Law: You’re partnered with the Drone Racing Club. How has this partnership benefited the development of FPVLive?
Chris: The DRC has been crucial in the development of our entire system. We are at every DRC event either streaming or testing new equipment and processes. In fact, we rarely implement something into a major event that hasn’t been put through the paces at a Drone Racing Club event first.