How To Build Your Own Streaming Backpack

Streaming backpacks have transformed how TV stations conduct electronic newsgathering. Rather than relying on costly point-to-point microwave transmission that can only be done with a license from the Federal Communications Commission, streaming backpacks enable reporters to contribute live shots and edited stories from anywhere there’s a wireless network connection—and do so license free.
A man holding a camera with a TVU One backpack on his back
A streaming backpack is a cheap alternative solution

For a TV station, a streaming backpack alternative to an electronic newsgathering vehicle that costs several hundreds of thousands is a bargain.

However, bargains are relative. One person’s bargain is another person’s financial aspiration. Such is the case for many individuals when it comes to streaming backpacks. Small producers hoping to go live by IRL streaming (in-real-life streaming) on a YouTube channel likely will find the price tag of these streaming backpacks out of reach.

The good news for these video producers who want to go live but don’t have the financial resources of a broadcaster is that it’s possible to build a own streaming backpack for under $500, depending on what is already owned.


How To Build A $500 IRL Streaming Backpack

Millions of people in the United States already own these phones, although it’s tough to tell the precise number. But it’s possible to estimate. Statista, a market and consumer data specialist, estimates this year there will be 280.5 million smartphone users in the U.S. (That’s just over 65 million more smartphones than there are people 18 years of age or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.) 

Granted, not all of those cell phones are Samsung Galaxy 9 or higher nor Google Pixel Phones. However, market share data from Statista collected between February 2020 and February 2021 shows Samsung’s North American share hovering at about 25% and Google’s at about 5%. So, it’s not unreasonable to assume millions of people own those phones.

For owners of these phones, all that’s needed to build a streaming backpack is TVU Networks’ TVU Anywhere mobile broadcast app running on their smartphone, a Magewell USB Capture HDMI Gen 2 ($299 at B&H Photo) or Magewell USB Capture SDI Gen 2 (also $299), depending on whether they are using a camera with HDMI or SDI output. The converter comes with a mini-coax-to-SDI adapter cable for the input and a USB 3.0 cable for output. However, this setup requires a USB-C adapter ($8.99 at B&H) to connect to the phone. 

The only other expense items for this DIY streaming backpack may be separate backup batteries and a charger, which are available on Amazon for a wide range of prices ($15 to $50), and a small backpack ($15 to $75) or fanny pack ($7 to $35) both on Amazon.  


Why Not Just Use A Smartphone?

Having the freedom to change lenses and input external mics offers producers far more flexibility than they typically have with their cell phones. Even if lenses can’t be interchanged, most cameras offer a variety of setting and features that give producers better control over their shots. These include, but are not limited to, image stabilization, high dynamic range support and more audio inputs. 

There are many benefits of using a streaming backpack such as this. First, it’s far less expensive than the streaming backpacks broadcasters use to shoot news. Second, leveraging the Galaxy 9 or higher or Google Pixel Phone with TVU Anywhere means that both the cell provider’s wireless network and an existing Wi-Fi network can be aggregated using TVU Networks IS+ technology. Together with HEVC encoding, this approach enhances reliability and maintains superior video quality.

Third, using a standalone video camera offers greater production flexibility, and finally, this setup is extremely lightweight, making it easy to carry for run-and-gun productions.

A hand holding a smartphone with the settings of TVU Anywhere on it
A smartphone integrated with TVU Anywhere enhances reliability and maintains superior video quality

The Next Step Up

This involves using the TVU Nano IP transmitter, TVU Networks’ smallest IP video transmitter, measuring just 6.2 x 3.25 x 1.2 inches and weighing 17 oz. The TVU Nano uses the same TVU Networks IS+ technology to aggregate bandwidth as the Galaxy 9/Pixel Phone-based DIY solution. 

However, unlike that approach, TVU Nano can aggregate up to five data connections, including 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and Ethernet with a USB adapter. It supports Cat6 3G/4G/LTE modems—two embedded and two external—and microwave, Ka-band, Ku-band and BGAN satellite connections. Video and audio encoding can be AVC H.264 or HEVC H.264 as an option.

While more expensive than the Galaxy/Pixel Phone-TVU Anywhere approach, a TVU Nano-based streaming backpack offers far more connectivity options and greater bandwidth aggregation. It is also much less expensive than the streaming backpacks TV broadcasters use to contribute news from the field.

TVU Nano installed to Panasonic Camera
TVU Nano-based streaming backpack offers various connectivity options and great bandwidth aggregation

Key Considerations On Streaming Backpack

For those with low funds and no real desire to use an external camera, TVU Anywhere running on a smartphone and used in conjunction with TVU Producer live switching is a great approach. If some money is available and the flexibility offered by using an external camera is needed, a great IRL streaming backpack can be built using a Galaxy/Pixel Phone, TVU Anywhere and a Magewell converter box.

If still more funds are available and there’s a desire to up the level of bandwidth aggregation by drawing on more and more varied sources of bandwidth, a DIY streaming backpack based on the TVU Networks Nano IP transmitter is the correct choice. Beyond that, the choice is a streaming backpack used daily by broadcasters around the world.

Selecting the right approach means knowing what needs to be accomplished, how the backpack will be used and how much funding is available. The answers to those questions will determine which approach is right. Regardless of the selection, however, there is a great alternative for use at any level.


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