Thursday, October 27, 2022

Customizing an IRL Streaming Backpack

In past entries, I’ve gone into my process and mindset for travel streaming. Being able to go to interesting places around the world has always been a dream of mine, and now that I create Twitch broadcasts, I’m able to share that dream with my audience. In the entry Travel with an IRL Streaming Backpack, I went into the specific options someone can choose if they want dedicated equipment for IRL streaming while they travel, and I also detailed the specific kind of backpack I made for my own adventures. 

I built my streaming backpack about five months ago, in preparation for my trip to Greece, and even in that short amount of time I’ve gotten a huge amount of use from this new streaming accessory. As I always talk about in The Twitch Playbook, experience is the best teacher, and I try to stay open-minded about where my experiences can guide various tweaks to my equipment. Each time I’ve gone live with my streaming backpack, I’ve come up with new quality-of-life improvements. These things are the lifeblood of a healthy stream- not huge purchases, but inexpensive (or even free) alterations to what you’ve already been working with. In this entry, we’ll go through some of the broadcasts I’ve done with my streaming backpack, and what alterations I’ve made because of them. 

First off, remember that you don’t need an IRL streaming backpack to do IRL streams. If you’ve never done a show like this before, try going live using the (completely free) smartphone streaming options I talked about in the entry Streaming from Your Mobile Device. But whether or not you own a streaming backpack, or even do IRL streams at all, my various tweaks in this entry can still help your own shows, if you pay attention to the underlying logic. 


I first decided to build a streaming backpack when I was about a month out from a trip to Greece. I knew I wanted to go live from my vacation, but I didn’t want to keep paying to rent my equipment. And after I decided to build, I took the preparations very seriously. There wouldn’t be any phone support with the rental company this time, or any kind of guarantee. It was up to me, and only me, to make sure everything worked.

Greece was kind of like this, but with 
fewer clouds.

I tried to think of the practical uses of my backpack out in the field. What would cause the most friction? Where could I streamline the process? One immediate thing that stuck out to me was the issue of cables. In order to use a GoPro with my stream setup, I’d need to attach a USB-C cable for power, and a Mini HDMI cable for the video signal. Having two separate cables snaking around my body to plug into the backpack could easily get cumbersome. So I bought a length of sleeve that could wrap around the cables, essentially turning those two cables into one. I then measured the exact distance and position at which the two cables stood when plugged into the camera, and jury-rigged them together so I’d be basically plugging one large object into two ports. It worked perfectly, and saved me a lot of headache. 

The other major problem I foresaw was charging. There are four portable batteries in my streaming backpack, which power the various devices needed to make the stream work. Every night, I’d have to charge those batteries so they wouldn’t die while I streamed the next day. I got a cheap power adapter with four usb ports, along with four long USB charging cables. I then used a set of velcro ties to affix all the cables to each other, so they acted similarly to the wrapped camera cables. I left just enough space that I could break each of the four cables away and plug them into their respective devices. This saved a lot of time and headache in potentially having to deal with four separate charging plugs, figuring out where to plug them in, trying to untangle them, and any number of other issues. My configuration allowed them to act essentially as one cable with four heads, very compact and neat when stored, and long enough to reach even the furthest wall outlet. 


Always love getting a chance to visit 
Liberty City.

The backpack worked perfectly in Greece, and my early modifications caught a few of the major potential problems before they had a chance to form. There were several smaller changes I made along the way as well, like stuffing a piece of cloth behind my camera mount to change its orientation, using a black bag to cover my lens while paying with a credit card, and taking advantage of screen sharing software to control my PC at home while going live. I was very satisfied with my performance with this backpack, and had really refined my technique throughout the streams overseas. At this point, the backpack had already paid for itself. Even if I never used it again, it had already cost less than the two-week price of an equivalent backpack at a rental company. So, I mostly expected to leave the backpack in a closet until my next big trip.

But then I had a realization: I’m always traveling for work, so why not bring my backpack along? I don’t typically have a lot of time in each location, but it couldn’t hurt to have just in case. So, after my Greece vacation I started bringing the streaming backpack as a carry-on for all of my flights around the US for business. And despite not often having a lot of downtime on business trips, I found that (with a little creative scheduling) I could make time for IRL shows every once in a while. The backpack uses prepaid SIM cards to go live. It’s easy to buy the dates for data coverage in advance when going on vacation, but not necessarily when you want to do an impromptu stream while away on business. For that reason, I would sometimes do my American episodes totally pre-recorded and non-live. But those ones were a lot of fun as well! Since starting to bring my streaming backpack with me on trips in the past few months, I’ve done episodes from Seattle, New York City, The Mall of America in Minnesota and more. One time I even caught a ghost on camera! (That one’s a long story- extreme sleep deprivation may or may not have been involved.) You never know what use you’ll get out of a tool like this, but simply having it around creates new opportunities for content creation. 


The optimization lessons I learned in Greece, plus the impromptu style of my American IRL backpack shows, really came together for my most recent trip. Last week, I returned from another trip to Tokyo, Japan. For anyone who doesn’t know, the entire country of Japan has been entirely closed to foreign travel for the past three years. So as soon as there was a rumor that they’d announce a reopening, I gambled on a flight and hotel room, in the hopes that the country would be open by the time I arrived. As it turned out, I got to Japan on the literal day that it reopened to foreigners. And I had my streaming backpack, with all the wisdom and customizations I’d learned on my previous trips, along with me. 

Footage of me in Tokyo.

This time in Japan, much of my IRL streaming experience felt like a well-oiled machine. I knew when to tilt the camera down while talking face-to-face with a shop employee or entering a bar. I was able to cover the lens efficiently when paying a bill with my credit card. Having more or less conversational Japanese skills at this point, I was also able to politely ask permission to broadcast from businesses, and was often granted access. My various IRL streaming experiences, along with the language abilities (another skill I learned thanks to Twitch streaming) really allowed me to be not just a better IRL streamer, but a better overall traveler. 

In Japan, I utilized my American pre-recorded episode ideas to optimize my shows even further. I streamed everywhere there was internet, but I also recorded each stream locally on the camera. Every morning, I uploaded the previous day’s local recordings to YouTube. This ensured that any part of my stream where the internet cut out would be restored for posterity. 

I also started doing a lot more first-person eating on my streams. In Tokyo, the average size of a noodle shop, or even a restaurant, is incredibly small by American standards. Often it’s no more than a set of stools at a bar, and a wall roughly twelve inches behind your back. Taking off my streaming backpack to set up a tripod for my camera while I ate, like in America or Greece, would be incredibly cumbersome in many of these Japanese locations (not to mention annoying to fellow customers). So instead, I’d simply keep my streaming backpack on my back, and point the shoulder-mounted camera down to look at my food while I ate. I could still talk into my mic and read chat, the only difference being that viewers didn’t see my face while I was eating. Ultimately, I think this gave an even more authentic feel to the broadcasts, because it showed viewers what it’s really like to eat in Japan. 

During this trip to Tokyo, just like my trip to Greece, along with every other day in the last four years, I didn’t miss a single one of my three daily livestreams. And every time I went live from my streaming backpack, it got a little easier. Not because of the equipment itself, but because of the critical thinking I employed while using that equipment. On my IRL streams, just like on my normal Twitch streams, I always try to stay inquisitive. I don’t just assume something is as good as it can be, I always look for a way to make it a little better, or a little easier to use. That philosophy has greatly helped me to customize my IRL streaming experience, and it’s helped me to become a better streamer in general. Even if you don’t do IRL streams on your own channel, I think this same inquisitive mindset can greatly help to boost your shows, either in front of or behind the camera. Small changes can make a big difference on a Twitch stream.

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