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.

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