I remember when Gordon Laing from CameraLabs showed me the Padcaster Parrot teleprompter on a press trip in California years ago. He was setting up to shoot a video about the new camera we were testing, and as he is meticulous and professional, he had already written a script with all of his first impressions.
I hadn’t done a lot of YouTube at the time: just a few videos for my former magazine’s channel, none of which were scripted. I often looked back at the content of those few videos and realized I had missed some critical points by trying to do the talking points off the top of my head.
I worked at CNN in the 1990s and have seen my share of teleprompters, but the versions used in studios are massive to project a script large enough to be seen from across a studio. They were also incredibly expensive and required a dedicated operator to scroll through the text at the speed of the anchor’s presentation.
Teleprompters are deceptively simple. A sheet of glass on an angle allows the presenter to reflect an image below the teleprompter while incoming light passes right through the glass as if it weren’t there.
Despite the simplicity of optical physics, a teleprompter needs a way to attach to a camera and something to project the image onto the glass. Those larger teleprompters at CNN used large panel displays and had to connect to massive broadcast TV lenses.
No bigger than a Big Mac box, the Parrot is ingeniously simple. A series of adapter rings allow it to attach to the front of almost any lens, and a clamp system holds a camera in place. Padcaster makes its teleprompter software, which takes any text fed to it and shines it onto the glass. Other companies make teleprompter software for iOS and Android, so the system doesn’t require the Parrot app, but it’s a good app supporting the company’s remote control.
I bought a Parrot teleprompter from the shoot with Gordon when I returned to my hotel room, and I’ve used it countless times since then. While it’s a great tool, some key things need some improvements, and with the Parrot Pro, those updates have arrived.
Bigger, More Flexible, Less Annoying To Set Up
While the Parrot is great, its small size makes it only suitable when set up a few feet from the presenter. As a result, I have the Parrot in my bag, but in my studio, I use an inexpensive (fragile and shaky) iPad-sized teleprompter.
The Parrot also doesn’t support larger phones, like the iPhone Pro Max and many Android phones, as it’s narrower than those. The Parrot also has a pretty poor system for holding onto a phone, with the lower portion of the teleprompter connected to a spring-loaded system. To attach a phone, it’s necessary to pull down on the spring-loaded bottom and slide a phone in the space between the bottom of the clamp and the bottom of the unit.
This is always a bit awkward, and while it has never scratched my phone, I have always worried it will.
Padcaster has announced a new version fo the Padcaster Parrot, the Parrot Pro, which I have been reviewing for several weeks. The Parrot Pro isn’t available to the general public yet, but the company has pre-sale bundles on its Kickstarter page.
The Parrot Pro is much larger than the Parrot, with a 6.5-inch widescreen. It’s capable of holding any phone, and even some smaller tablets, thanks to ditching the clamp system in favor of an adjustable panel that folds over the screen when not in use (protecting the glass) and can slide out to accommodate different size phones. A flip-up lip keeps the phone from sliding forward off the tray.
Another issue with the original Parrot is that the clamp system means the phone can only be perpendicular to the screen, making the teleprompter hard to use when a camera is above or below the creator.
The tray on the Parrot Pro can be angled, and the system uses GoPro adapter knobs to hold the tray in place. That’s a clever design choice, as GoPro accessories are easy to find online.
There’s also a tripod mount on the bottom of the new Padcaster Parrot Pro, which is a great move. Not only is this good for creators that don’t want to hang something off their lens, but it’s great for anyone that needs to use a teleprompter for an audio-only application like podcasting and doesn’t want to stare at their phone in their hands.
A Possible Issue, A Simple Fix
The one quibble with the Padcaster Parrot Pro is that the platform for the phone is not as secure as the clamp system in the Parrot. While I always worried the Parrot would scratch my phone (but didn’t), the flat tray of the Parrot Pro has no edges aside from the front lip.
Since the Parrot Pro attaches to a lens with a circular mount, it’s really easy to turn the unit on an angle when adjusting it, and there’s nothing to keep the phone from falling off the sides.
I’ll fix this by bringing a rubber band with me, but I wish there were at least a beveled edge on the sides of the panel, as I am a notorious klutz.
The Padcaster Parrot Pro isn’t available for sale yet, but it did recently conclude a very successful Kickstarter and is now seeking more funding through IndieGoGo, where backers can get it for $129 with adapters. The final price will be $199.