Pivo Pod Active
A smartphone camera mount with several apps that support video capture, presentations, and social media feeds. Pivo Pod rotates 360-degrees as it tracks faces and bodies, even dogs and horses. The well-designed hardware is great, the plethora of software and options can make figuring out what to do with a Pivo Pod a bit daunting. It is easy, however, to get started. Mastery will take some time.
Pivo Pod Active: The Camera Mount for People Who Move
Aspiring social media creators need to make interesting content. Sitting in front of a camera and staring into a lens doesn’t result in a compelling narrative. Great visual content requires movement. And that’s where Pivo comes in.
Pivo Pod Active is a smartphone camera mount that uses its own apps to track faces or bodies (human and animal, depending on the target) so that you, or another subject, stay in the frame. At least that is its ambition. (Note, I received a Pivo Pod Silver, which is now known as the Pivo Pod Active).
What we like
As described above, Pivo Pod Active tracks faces or bodies with its built-in AI. I received a Pivo Pod Silver, which is also known as Pivo Pod Active. Pivo Pods are attached to phones via a secure, adjustable grip that holds the phone, camera and Bluetooth to connect to apps.
Pivo pivots. That’s what it does. Unlike the ill-fated Friends couch move that forever engrained a certain enunciation of “pivot” as a sitcom earworm, the Pivo can spin in 360 degrees smoothly and with seemingly little effort. I was interested in Pivo as a remote tool for steadily capturing video of my talking head—though as I do more videos over the coming months, it will likely become a standard part of my production arsenal.
The solid hardware is easy to work with. Lock down the phone and turn on the power. Launching an app connects via Bluetooth. And then it’s over to the app.
Most people should start with the Pivo+ app, which offers a variety of options for tracking, including head and body. Predictive tracking tries to catch up with you if you leave the frame by guessing where you should be given your last movement. The Active version includes slow, normal, fast, and frenzy tracking speeds. I leave mine on frenzy because I find even with frenzy the Active Pod struggles to keep up with normal movement. The app also supports autofocus as subjects move closer or further away.
For personal use, it’s a little hard to be in the shot and see if the recording is working well. I would love to see Pivo Pods tethered to an iPad, with the iPad controlling the iPhone’s camera. That wish will probably take some collaboration with Apple.
The Pivo Present app works with popular video conferencing apps, including Zoom, Google Meet, and social leader TikTok. But not like you think. At least on the desktop, Pivo, once connected via the app to a QR code to the Chrome Extension or Pivo app, a small circle appears. It isn’t associated with the video on any camera connected to the computer. It’s an independent window that works by being part of a screen share rather than as the camera input. It all feels and behaves a bit clunky, but it does work.
Pivo Present takes a bit of time to set up, but for those who would like to include tracked video as part of a presentation, it provides a circle view or a split screen. I discuss this feature more in the What could be improved section below.
Pivo Pods come with a remote that takes the action manual, including camera control and rotation of the Pivo. I found this a useful feature for fine-tuning shots from a tripod.
Clever features like clapping to engage the Pivo Pod Active’s app add a bit of whimsy to a pretty straight-laced mechanism.
Pivo charges via an included micro-USB. It takes a long time to run down its battery, and the various apps keep users apprised of the charge via an icon on the display.
Pivo Pod Active is one of those deceptively simple products that gets complicated because of software, not its electrical or mechanical design, both of which are well thought out and deliver on their promises. The software, as you will read, needs some more work.
What could be improved
I had issues with Pivo keeping up with movement, even when set to its fastest tracking mode. I had high hopes, when entering the Spring Ka-Ching Dancer contest of Disney’s Live with Kelly and Ryan that it would offer a more dynamic way to film my dance moves. I ended up using Pivo to hold my camera, but I disabled the tracking as I kept falling out of frame. Rather than slick and professional, it made the video look more amateur.
Don’t expect the tracking to work without testing what you are trying to track. I performed some experiments with slower movement, and Pivo was able to keep up.
There are a number of Pivo apps that do different things; some of them cost money in addition to the Pivo hardware. I found their site slow, but eventually, the descriptions loaded so I could select my Pod and read about which apps were included with the eval Pod (Silver was not an option, so I selected Pivo Pod Active—those not familiar with the name changes might get confused). The Pod Active includes Pivo+, Pivo Play, and Pivo Cast.
I would love to see Pivo get to the point that the iPhone running their app becomes a camera option in popular video conferencing systems. It is an interesting adjunct now, but I’m not sure the set-up is worth the result. Sure, a teacher or presenter can walk around and be tracked, but my iPad camera does that now without any additional effort, at least to a degree.
I also found that in using Pivo Present, it often lost my face in the translation, a circle clearly tracking it on the phone but streaming a different view on the computer’s circle.
I would also like better app handoffs. Pivo does not gracefully move its connection between apps. An active Pivo app needs to be closed in order for a new app to connect to the device. If you can’t connect to the Pivo, make sure it isn’t already connected to another Pivo app.
Finally, on a product selling in 2022 with built-in AI, Pivo should lean into the latest hardware as well and upgrade its micro-USB connection to USB-C.
From an overall conceptual point of view, the Pivo Pod is, at this time, aimed at individuals. I just hosted a San Diego Comic-Con panel. Having a Pivo Pod on a tripod wouldn’t work well because it wouldn’t know what to focus on, unlike Apple’s camera, which coordinates sound to keep Center Stage centered.
Pivo Pod Active: The Bottom Line
I like the idea of Pivo Pods. They make a lot of sense. I wish, however, that they were more integrated experiences. To some degree, the discrete apps make sense, on the other hand, people need to master multiple apps or buy additional apps after spending money on a piece of hardware. The apps remain, at least to me, a work in progress, as does the business model.
Hardware set up is easy, but mastery will take some investment in figuring out what you want to do, which app to do it in, and then how to maximize the utility of the Pivo Pod for that application.
If found the Pivo Pod Active a difficult product to evaluate. I focused on its video conferencing and basic features, not its animal tracking, 360-degree image capture or other areas that fall outside of my normal use cases. The $40 Studio 360 lightbox and table, for instance, look interesting for product shooting, but that wasn’t part of the package so I can’t evaluate the Studio 360 product experience.
I can see how some people will use the Pivo daily for shooting video for social. I don’t think it adds that much value to video conferencing or lectures. There are other, less cumbersome ways to integrate movement into a presentation—in fact, I concentrate my remote lectures on the material. My learners know what I look like, and they see people on screens all day. I would rather give the screen to the material than to me.
Pivo does not gracefully move between apps. An active Pivo apps needs to be closed in order for a new app to connect to the device.
I do want to do some more experimenting with my Pivo, outside, in nature, on trips with big vistas. It will likely make wonky panoramic views look better than with Apple’s stitching shots from an unsteady hand. Unlike most tripod-mounted solutions, a Pivo Pid may not actually need a tripod. Sit it on a rock and let it shot–that will keep it mobile enough to shoot the fox when it runs up to sniff your dog.
In the meantime, I will endeavour to master the features that fit my workflow.
Pivo provided the Pivo Pod Active for review. Images courtesy of Pivo.
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