The Roland VRC-01 is a piece of hardware designed to work with Roland’s AeroCaster iPad and mobile phone software, resulting in a simple way to livestream (or record) video productions, complete with pro audio and up to four smartphone video sources. It is designed to be cheap, easy and simple – as long as you already own iOS/Android phones to use as cameras, and an iPad to use as the “brains”. It’s unique, and works well.
First Impressions / Setting up
The thing with livestreaming is that it is simple, until it isn’t. Sure, you can hit “go live” on your phone, and be done with it. But as soon as you want two, three or four cameras, and to use proper microphones, and to cut to media, and to have wipes, transitions and on-screen info (“lower thirds”), and to feed in the audio properly, well… you’re into broadcast territory.
And then, things tend to quickly get both complex and expensive. You’re looking as a minimum at using a laptop, which, if you’re already DJing on your laptop, you may not want to do on the same one, even though it’s usually possible. You’re also looking at getting cameras, cables, interfaces and so on.
That’s where Roland’s AeroCaster system comes in. By using a free iPad app that connects your existing iPad to any old iOS or Android devices running the AeroCaster camera app to use as cameras, plus the VRC-01 piece of hardware, you can instantly, wirelessly and cheaply have a multi-camera broadcast system. All you need is a local WiFi network over which everything can talk to everything else.
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You can add and mix pro microphones and a line audio source (that’ll be your DJ controller or mixer), then add audio effects, monitor using headphones… even capture audio without any additional hardware using the VRC-01’s on-board mic. The VRC-01 also gives you hardware controls for switching cameras and “scenes” (pre-prepared combinations of cameras) and other controls too, which we’ll get to.
It’s a cool idea. Cameras on mobile phones are excellent nowadays, better than webcams, and using the strengths of hardware and software together to deliver multi-camera streaming over WiFi to the Internet reduces complexity and expense.
In theory, at least. Let’s find out how it works out in practice.
So the unit itself is a functional, cheap-feeling plastic box. It has four faders for audio, four larger backlist pads for switching cameras, further backlit buttons for more functions, and eight knobs for things like gain, compression/limiter, and other levels and adjustments.
There’s an 1/8″ minijack TRRS headset socket for headset attachment on the side, and around the back, two Phantom-powered XLR/TRS combi jacks, an 1/8″ minijack stereo line in, 2 x RCA monitor outs, and USB-C sockets for connecting to power (optional) and an iPad.
It’s not as nice an object as something like, say, the Blackmagic ATEM Mini, but it’s functional enough.
First thing you’ll want to do is download and install the AeroCaster app on your iPad, then the AeroCaster Camera app on the iOS or Android phones you want to use. You’ll want to get those phones on tripods (little phone tripod clips are easy to get hold of nowadays), and get all your devices on the same network – the cameras will then show automatically in the AeroCaster app on your iPad.
Now, you’ll plug your iPad into the AeroCaster (using your own USB-C to USB-C lead if yours is a USB-C iPad; only a Lightning cable is provided for this), and add external power to the AeroCaster should you want to save the iPad getting drained (a USB-C to USB-A lead is provided here).
You’ll also want to add your audio sources, which can be mics, line inputs, whatever. Bear in mind that the cameras only feed video not audio, so you will need something, unless you just use the built-in mic on the VRC-01.
To go live, you log in to your chosen livestreaming platform on the iPad app (YouTube, Facebook Live, Twitch etc), or use RTMP to add any streaming service (we use Restream to broadcast to multiple platforms at once, for instance), and hit “go live” – there’s even a big On Air button on the VRC-01 to make this bit easy.
To test the VRC-01, we set up two iOS phone cameras (one was an old iPod Touch, actually), and plugged in a DJ controller for line-in audio to the unit, also testing with a dynamic microphone plugged into one of the mic channels.
Using this system was revelatory. With no wires and frankly really no work at all, you can be live with several cameras in minutes. The phone apps work brilliantly – yes, there are a few settings if you wish, but it really is “set and forget” (as long as the phones are sufficiently charged, of course). The iPad app is simple, yet if you dig a little deeper, it has everything you need.
For instance, we loved the ease with which you can add still pictures, videos or even audio to your live show by loading them into the app. We were impressed with the number of adjustments it is possible to make to the incoming pictures – from white balance to exposure, all you need is there if you want it (even using the flashlights on the cameras to illuminate where they’re pointing). And we thought it was great that you can manually set the streaming bitrate, to suit your platform and your bandwidth.
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Over on the hardware, the most impressive things for us were the audio features. This isn’t surprising, because what you’ve got in the VRC-01 is basically a good audio interface, with some buttons to control the video software.
The mic channels both have a compressor/limiter (and Phantom power if using with the unit connected to power), and there’s even an overall “auto leveler” (sic) button so you don’t have to worry that your show is loud enough. We appreciated the lip sync delay knob (an inevitability with this type of set-up that is easy to fix this way), and reverb is a nice additional setting too. What with a de-esser and a noise gate too, you really have all the tools you need to get the mic channels sounding great.
There’s more, though – you have direct monitoring either by headphones or with speakers, a useful echo cancel (good if you’re bringing in guest over Zoom etc on a podcast), the ability to drop in background music and sound effects from the iPad app, and on the video side, as well as easy switching between the four cameras (five if you count the iPad’s camera, although to access this fifth camera you’ll have to use the app), there are four pre-set scenes, two picture-in-picture option and two split-screen options.
We found the whole thing intuitive and simple to use, but easily able to deliver impressive results, and we couldn’t really fault it at all based upon what it sets out to do.
If you’ve got old phones knocking around, have access to an iPad, and would love to be able to produce the kind of DJ livestreams you see the pros doing, with multiple camera angles, intro videos, screenshots, cutaways and all the rest, you should seriously look at Roland’s AeroCaster system and the VRC-01 unit.
For a small outlay, you get the hardware you need to take full control of the excellent and free AeroCaster iPad app, which together give you a capable broadcast platform. As long as you have a good WiFI network where you want to stream, it all works over that – potentially the only wires will be your audio inputs to the VRC-01, and USB-C cables between the iPad and the VRC-01 and to provide power to the VRC-01.
A downside to any system like this is that you’re using phones as cameras – they need charging, and you need to be careful the way you set them up so they don’t run out of battery, auto turn off, eat up your WiFi without you realising, and so on.
Likewise, you’re using an iPad to do your broadcasting, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve not got anything else going on with that unit. Really though, this is no different to running DJ software on a laptop – but having a checklist of things to charge and features to turn off on your devices before going live would be a good idea.
When you buy the AeroCaster VRC-01, you’re also paying for the software, because although the software is free, it won’t operate without it. Lucky then that the software is excellent, and Roland is to be commended for building such a capable system. The roadmap for the software includes:
- Expanded scene options to crop media, edit the size of split and quad compositions, and more
- Support for importing still images and movies from iCloud Drive
- Integrated chat display for comments from online viewers
- Capturing local audio/video content on each connected smartphone and wirelessly transfer the smartphone content to the iPad
…so it certainly seems like Roland is in this for the long haul. For now though, also note that it is possible to use the VRC-01 with a laptop for enhanced Zoom calls, recording audio-only podcasts, and so on.
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The VRC-01 and the AeroCaster system passes my acid test: I’d be able to use this to produce the kind of shows we make here at Digital DJ Tips, if I were forced to. I could achieve broadly similar results to those we get from our studio, a studio that has cost many tens of thousands of dollars to set up.
No, using the VRC-01 wouldn’t be quite as easy and the results wouldn’t be quite as good, but for the money, it’s truly incredible what you can do with this clever little set-up.