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:
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.
Here is an excerpt from a recently published article on Techzone360.com entitled, “It’s Time Your Business Jumped on the Live Streaming Bandwagon: Here are Five Reasons Why.” by Chris Knowlton, VP of Wowza Media Systems. Wowza is a leading software developer specializing in streaming media server technology. According to Knowlton, there is a case to be made for embracing live video streaming as it has unique advantages over pre-recorded on-demand video streaming. The 5 key reasons are:
1. Streaming extends reach – Streaming a live event provides an opportunity to connect in new ways, whether we are talking about sports matches, church services, concerts, company all-hands meetings, or university lectures. You can reach people who could not otherwise attend in person, which, depending on your goals and business model, typically translates either to positive membership impacts or new customers.
2. Streaming boosts engagement – Live events are compelling for users. There is an immediacy to them that can’t be matched with on-demand viewing, especially for live games. According to Ooyala, the average live-streamed video is viewed as much as 10 times longer than on-demand. Social media only bolsters the engagement, making us part of a larger real-time conversation around the event.
3. The live experience has drastically improved – Live streaming now provides a better user experience than ever. Over the last 15 years, we’ve gone from low-resolution, stuttering, postage-stamp sized viewing experiences on desktop computer monitors to HD (and even Ultra HD) streaming on computer screens, mobile devices, and connected TVs. Thanks to increasing bandwidth, more-scalable Internet infrastructures, improved streaming technologies, and a plethora of devices that support HD playback, our streaming experiences now can rival or surpass those of traditional television delivery.
4. Cost is no longer an excuse – The prices for computer hardware, storage, and bandwidth continue to drop. Cloud-based infrastructures and services make streaming even more affordable for many people, providing the flexible low-cost computing and scalability you need, and for discrete events, only when you need it. As an example, you can stream an hour of high-quality video to 100 users for about the price of a latte.
5. Higher quality is now possible with less complexity – In just minutes, you can be online and streaming live events globally. The more advanced your requirements, the longer the first-time setup may take, but streaming products and services continue to abstract away more of the complexities and reduce the learning curves.
Live streaming has come a long way, and it will only continue to advance; however businesses that continue to wait for the next best thing will likely find themselves playing catch up to those embracing it today. We’ll likely see these types of battles ensue across industries in the years to come.
I would add to this that a live-streamed event that is archived and available for immediate viewing is the best of both worlds. The fact that a video was streamed live gives it a sense of authenticity that a pre-recorded video can’t compete with. We have seen viewership of a live event increase by a factor of 10 within the first week after its initial broadcast!