Tutorials

17
May

How to Watch Live Streaming Video – A Primer for Beginners

Close-up Of Young Man Lying On Sofa Watching Video On Laptop At HomeStreaming video is pervasive in everyday life. We use the technology to watch Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, video-on-demand from the cable company, Skype, Face Time, webinars and various live special events. Depending on the application, the technology varies with respect to the devices and types of connections used. In this tutorial we will focus on live streaming (also known as “webcasting”).

According to Wikipedia …

“A webcast is a media presentation distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand. Essentially, webcasting is “broadcasting” over the Internet.”

This is what Webcast & Beyond does. We go to an event with our production team and equipment and broadcast the experience live to a global audience. We also provide a platform where the audience can “tune-in” to watch. Typically the platform takes the single feed from the event and distributes it to a web page with a video player embedded. This way the web page address acts like a TV channel to “tune-in” to a particular webcast.

Example of a webpage for watching streaming video

Example of a webpage for watching streaming video

Access to the viewing web page can be public or private, and may be free, require registration, involve a fee, or a combination of these. To watch a public webcast all you need to know is the web address (usually in the form of a link that was sent to you in an email or posted on a website) and the broadcast time. Be careful to note the time zone in which the broadcast is originating from. Unlike television stations, internet broadcasters usually don’t time shift the broadcast to the viewers local time, so you will need to determine the correct time adjustment for your geographical location. Private webcasts require a password and sometimes a username as well in order to access the viewing web page. Passwords are issued by the hosting organization or automated through a registration system. If a fee is required the password is issued after online payment is completed.

Live Streaming Features

In addition to the video player, which is the window there the video is played, there are other features and controls that are sometimes included on the viewing page:

  • Playback Controls

    Playback Controls - Usually located at the bottom of the video player, by placing the mouse cursor near the bottom they pop up.

    Playback Controls – Usually located at the bottom of the video player, by placing the mouse cursor near the bottom they pop up.

    • Play/Pause – (the triangle icon on the lower left) to start and stop the live stream.
    • Volume – (the speaker icon) for audio.
    • Full Screen / Pop-out – (the dotted square icon on the lower right) expands the viewing screen size.
    • Quality – Some webcasts have different quality streams to choose from with numbers such as 270p, 432p, or 720p HD. The higher the number the better the quality in terms of picture clarity and audio fidelity. The reason for offering these choices is to accommodate the different viewing conditions each person is limited to. The most common limitation one has is the speed of the internet connection. Fast connections support the high quality streams whereas slow connections can only handle the lower quality streams. There are other factors involved such as the type of device you are using as to whether it is powerful enough to process the higher quality stream. General Rule-of-Thumb is to select the highest quality possible until the stream begins to buffer (stall as it waits for more data).
  • Live DVR

    Some live players have this feature and it is truly fantastic! You can literally go back in time by dragging the slider bar at the bottom to the left. This is common in recorded video but less so when the event is live.

  • Chat Box

    chat boxThe online audience can participate in a group chat environment using a chat box which is often displayed on the side or below the video player. People use this to communicate with the onsite participants, usually to pose questions during a Q & A session as well as to interact amongst themselves.

  • Social Media

    Public webcasts often include widgets (tools) to share the experience with your friends. You will find icons for Face Book, Twitter, email and others that will post notices or send the web link to your friends and followers.

Devices

There are many devices capable of presenting a live stream broadcast. These include:

  • Desktop computers (Mac and Windows)
  • Tablets (Android & iOS)
  • Smart Phones (Android & iOS)
  • Smart Televisions (units with internet browsing capability)

Generally a desktop computer is best as it can support a hard-wired internet connection, has a bigger screen, and often has sufficient processing power to playback the highest quality stream. Older computers with older operating systems are not the best choice.  If your PC can smoothly run Windows 7 or later you should be good to go. If you are on a MAC it is recommended that you have an intel processor (not the older Motorola models) with OSX software.  You will need a browser which supports  live streaming. On the PC we recommend the latest version of Chrome.  On a MAC we recommend the latest version of Safari.

Tablets and Smartphones are a popular choice due to their mobility but require either a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection for streaming video. Wi-Fi is preferred in most cases because cellular data is expensive and often not fast enough. If you are using cellular then make sure your connection is 4G(LTE) for the best experience. When it comes to best performance on a mobile device, the Apple iOS iPhones and iPads are preferred over Androids (generally) because streaming platforms are set up to be compatible with  Apple products. The minimum requirement  is to be running iOS version 3.0 or later.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has helped you get oriented with the process of live streaming video.  If any of this seems too technical don’t worry. You can run a simple test to get an idea whether your set-up is up the task. We have embedded a video from our portfolio to try out. Try playing this on the same device, with the same internet connection you plan to use for watching live streaming. If it works well then your equipment and internet connection are in good shape. Keep in mind that this test is using a recorded video which is a little different than a live video stream. Nonetheless, if this video is working chances are you will be able to watch live streams as well.

13
Jun

How to Capture Audio from the House Sound System

mixer
Many of the larger events that we handle for live streaming or recording involves capturing the audio from the venue’s sound system. Crisp, clear audio is vitally important to the success of any event so it is imperative that the techniques used to interconnect with the house sound system be thoroughly understood. To do this, we use balanced XLR mic cable to run between the sound board and our video equipment. We bring various adapters to handle the different possible connection types including, XLR, 1/4-inch TRS, and RCA. Typically we request the program mix output at line level and bring it in to our own sub-mixer where can can fine tune the levels from our position as well as add in an ambient mic to capture the natural sound in the room (also good as an emergency mic in case there is a problem from the house system). Then we adjust the gain structure from our sub-mixer to our encoder for unity gain.

The final step is to listen to the noise floor of our audio feed. If there is a hum or buzz present we will have to eliminate the ground loop which is causing it.  This is a rather complex subject but suffice to say that a ground loop occurs when two or more electronic devices share a common signal cable (such as an audio XLR cable) and are plugged in to different electrical outlets. The result is a noticeable hum/buzz at the receiving end (camera input). This phenomenon exists because there is a slight difference in the voltage levels of the grounding pins of each device. The audio cable has a shield that directly connects the sound board chassis to the receiving device (camera or remote mixer) and thus a circuit is created (a loop) which carries the buzz and hum signal.

ground loopIf this situation occurs there are a few remedies to fix this:

  1. Plug into the same power source if we can get power from the same strip as the house sound system.
  2. Float the ground to our video station.  This is accomplished with a 3-pin to 2-pin ground lift adapter that is attached between our extension cord and the wall outlet.
  3. Use a DI box to interface with the sound board. The DI box takes the line level output of the sound board and converts it to a mic level signal using an impedance matching transformer. This transformer has the ability to “lift” or isolate the grounding connection in the XLR cable, thus breaking the ground loop.
  4. Run on batteries. A simple webcast with say, one camera may not require the use of external AC power thus eliminating the ground loop by not attaching to the wall receptacle.

Our webcast team uses these techniques to ensure that your event audio sounds clean, clear, and professional.

 

18
Dec

How to Set-up a Multi-camera Live Webcast with a One-man Crew

Authored by Gregg Hall, owner/operator Webcast & Beyond

One of the big advantages of live streaming today is the ability to affordably broadcast all kinds of events to specific target audiences.  The availability of low-cost broadcast equipment and online streaming services has opened the door to practically any organization wishing to produce live content.  In the quest to minimize production budgets whilst maintaining production quality I will discuss one approach to webcasting an event wherein one person wears the hats of many; namely 2 (or more) cameramen, the technical director, the sound engineer, and the encoding engineer.  Mind you, this approach does not work for every situation but there are many events where this is totally feasible and opens the door to more business opportunities by keeping production costs to a minimum.

Let’s start by specifying the design requirements for this one-man webcasting system.  First, it must be high definition.  These days it is easy to acquire affordable cameras that shoot at 1080i and output either an HDMI or HD-SDI signal.  I can’t overstate the importance of shooting in Hi-Def even when you are streaming at standard definition bit rates.  The fact is HD sources look far superior to SD sources when encoded at lower bit rates.  Secondly, it must be portable.  By that I mean one person can transport the whole system by themselves when travelling by plane.  Thirdly, the layout must be ergonomically efficient to allow one person access to all of the controls.

Here then is a list of the basic components needed:

  • Cameras – We need two or more HD cameras with HDMI or HD-SDI outputs.  Many options in the $2k – $5k range are readily available.  Check out the Canon XA25 HD camcorder priced at $2.5k.  This camera has a 20x zoom lens, XLR audio, HD-SDI & HDMI outputs and is compact enough for travel.  Make sure to select fluid head tripods that fold up compact enough to fit in a suitcase.
  • Switcher – Seamless switching between the various cameras along with the ability to add transitions, effects and graphics is a must.  Options include software based products such as Telestream’s Wirecast, hardware switchers including the Black-magic Design ATEM Television Studio, or all-in-one streaming boxes such as the Livestream HD500.
  • Audio – For some events you may end up bringing a few wireless mics and that will be sufficient.  More often than not there will be a live sound system to connect with.  I recommend bringing your own small audio mixer to control the level being feed to you and also to add your own ambient mic, which captures the audience and venue sounds not picked up by the PA system.  Another consideration is maintaining sync between the audio and video.  Typically the video switcher introduces a delay of 2-3 frames which means your audio needs to be delayed by the same amount.  Sometimes the solution is to route the audio output of your mixer through one of your cameras.  That way the audio becomes embedded with the video inside the camera and is brought into the switcher through one of the video inputs.  The switcher then maintains the audio/video sync.  But if you bring the audio directly into the encoder, you will need an audio delay unit to compensate.
  • Encoder – We will need a hardware or software encoder with an HD input to create your video stream.  I prefer software encoders such as Flash Media Live Encoder or Wirecast running on a laptop.  A video capture device with HD-SDI or HDMI inputs will be necessary to bring the video into the computer.  Black-Magic Design and Matrox offer many low-cost solutions for this.
One-man Webcast Set-up

One-man Webcast Set-up

Shown here is one of our portable systems deployed at a trade show. I was the one-man crew controlling the 2 cameras, switcher, audio mixer, and encoder. In this configuration 2 cameras are connected to a Black-Magic Design ATEM Television Studio Switcher. The switcher is very compact and affordable with a list price of only $1000. To use it, a laptop is employed as an external control surface, and a field HD television is used as a multi-view monitor. The ATEM has 6 inputs, a real-time H.264 output for recording an archive of the program stream and HDMI / HD-SDI outputs. The HDMI program out is routed to a Matrox O2 Mini external video capture device connected to a second laptop which acts as the encoder. A Mackie 1202 mixer receives a feed from the house PA system. The output then goes to a Behringer DEQ2496 processor which delays the audio 2 frames then converts it to a digital AES/EDU signal for input to the ATEM switcher. Also part of this system is a Matrox DVI convert which transcodes the screen of the host’s computer into an HD video signal that we can switch to as a video source. A pair of studio headphones monitors the audio from the Mackie mixer and also the encoder laptop. The encoder laptop also serves to monitor the webcast.