The Parrot Teleprompter is an affordable, compact solution for adding a prompter without breaking the bank

Last year my students added broadcast to our student media program.  At the time, I had one Student Media Production class of seven kids (this year we have 14 on staff) that is responsible for both our yearbook and our website (my program is fully converged). Our building has had issues with communication for years, and so the students have implemented a weekly announcement broadcast as a service to the school. Inspired by our school’s makerspace instructor who teaches a bias toward action, we launched the broadcast at the beginning of September.

We do not have any way to broadcast live in our building, and so we would record the announcements in advance and then I sent an email out to our faculty each week with a link to the current broadcast. As the weeks went on, we made improvements, but one of the first issues I noticed was eye contact. Typically, my multimedia editor wrote the script and recorded the broadcast in the same class (we’re on a block schedule). This meant there wasn’t always a lot of time for the announcer to rehearse and many of the announcers (the students have opted to rotate this job) weren’t been able to quickly memorize the script.

It occurred to me that a teleprompter could solve some of those problems. I looked into various DIY options, and found several that would’ve rather cost-effective, but they all required the use of an iPad or similar tablet, which we didn’t have. My plan was to build one of these (which could be accomplished for around $30-$40) and purchase an inexpensive tablet and use that. On a whim, I decided to search the B&H website to see what they had. After sorting my results for price, I stumbled on the Parrot V2.

This year, announcements are handled through a new campus information system, which rendered our announcement broadcasts useless. I found this out just a few days before school began and the staff and I were at first frustrated that someone else had encroached on our turf. The more we thought about it though, the more we realized this was actually a blessing. Weekly broadcasts were a huge time suck and weren’t producing any sort of compelling storytelling. We’ve now moved to a monthly show that’s more of a newsmagazine format.

The prompter

I purchased the prompter and remote bundle from B&H Photo. The bundle is $109.99. The items individually are $90 and $19.99, so there’s not any savings for the bundle, but I liked the idea of having a remote that the anchor can use to control the speed of the text.

I really like the size. We’ve got a nice, big camera bag that we pack all of our gear in (the camera, a light, the microphones) and there’s still room to add the prompter as well. My iPhone 6 in a bulky Otterbox case fits in the space for the phone. The sides of the prompter are just wide enough for the sides of the screen, but if you’re using a larger phone, you can adjust margins in the app so all of your text is displayed.

The adapters

It’s great that you’ve got a whole range of camera adapters that are shipped with the Parrot. The adapters screw onto the camera’s lens filter threads and most common sizes are included. Parrot sells other sizes on their website for $10 apiece. The smallest adapter that is included is 49mm, which didn’t fit on the video camera we’ve been using, but we ordered the 43mm size from a third party company on Amazon for about $5 and it’s been working great. The prompter did come with an adapter that fits our Canon T2i DSLR, which also shoots video.

The remote

Connects via bluetooth. I tried it out with my iPhone 6 and it worked well, though there was a learning curve to figuring out what the buttons do. While there is a little instruction booklet with a diagram that explains what each button does with either an Android or an iOS phone, the directions indicated that most of the buttons didn’t work with iOS, though in reality, I discovered they did provide a variety of functions. The remote can pause or play the script, zoom in or out on the text size and speed up or slow down the rate of play. Some of the functions seem completely irrelevant. For instance, there seems to be no reason why I would need my teleprompter remote to control the volume on my phone (and yet that’s what two of the buttons do). I wish there was a way to use the remote to scroll up or down – especially to jump to the previous section. Similarly, it would be nice if there was a way to restart from the top using the remote. My final issue with the remote is I have to re-pair it with my phone each time I use it. Turning on the bluetooth on my phone and turning on the remote doesn’t work.

Overall, the remote definitely isn’t ready for prime time. I’m glad it can adjust the speed of the script, but there is room for improvement to make it even more useful.

The app

It’s a decent app. It’s free and available for both Android and iOS devices. You can link the app to Dropbox to easily access documents. Google Drive is not supported, which means if that’s what you’re using (like we are), you’ll just need to copy/paste from the document to the prompter app. My biggest complaint is that the app does not mirror the text by default. You have to go into the presentation settings and turn on mirror text every time you use the app with the prompter. It’s a minor irritation, but I feel like if you’ve made an app as a companion to a prompter, it makes sense to be able to set this as a default.

I appreciate the fact that anyone on staff can download and use the app on their phone. My multimedia editor immediately downloaded the app to her phone to use when filming, so I don’t need to loan my phone to the kids or purchase some other tablet or device to use. It’s also an incredibly lightweight app; it takes up less than 10MB of space, so it’s not a storage hog – which my students are always concerned about when I ask them to download an app to use.

Final thoughts

If you’re looking to add a teleprompter without breaking the bank or making something yourself, the Parrot is a fantastic option. It’s compact size and lightweight also make it easy to add to a camera bag for use on location. After a year of use, I’m still quite happy with the purchase and highly recommend it.

Caveat

I’m not a pro. I don’t have a broadcast background, but I know the value of adding video to our website. Our tiny program is self-funded, so I don’t have a lot of money to throw around, so I try to get the biggest bang for my buck. This device seemed to fit the bill.

We’re also a relatively new program. We’re working on our fifth ever yearbook, fourth year of web and second adding more regular video. Finally, as I said before, we’re small – there are fourteen kids on staff who simultaneously work on yearbook, web and broadcast.

For more images and video of the product in use, there’s some good stuff on the Parrot website. Here’s the Press kit.

Travis Armknecht

Travis Armknecht is a high school English, journalism and speech teacher and the adviser of GCAA Student Media at Grand Center Arts Academy in a 6 through 12 visual and performing arts charter school in the heart of St. Louis’ performing arts district. Armknecht has taught at GCAA since 2012, when he was the first high school English teacher hired at the school. He founded the school's journalism program in 2013 with a small group of sophomores who worked tirelessly after school to create the school’s first-ever yearbook. Now in its fifth year, GCAA Student Media is a fully converged staff that works on the Expression yearbook, GCAAtoday.com website, and new GCAAtv broadcast program. Armknecht is a Certified Journalism Educator – a national certification designation from the Journalism Education Association. In 2016 he was named the Missouri Journalism Education Association Rising Star and was named a national JEA Rising Star in 2017. He is also the treasurer and co-president of journalismSTL, a St. Louis-based journalism teacher non-profit organization. He has a BA in theater and journalism from Concordia University in Nebraska and an MA from Webster University in Teaching Communication Arts, with an emphasis in Media Literacy. He lives in the south St. Louis city Bevo neighborhood with his wife and their young son.

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