In times of global crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity's health is not only at stake but also our economies, business and livelihood.
While our medical brothers and sisters work hard to resolve this crisis, we need to keep the world working and keep businesses moving. Content creation at this time is very critical in disseminating information and news. Business communication, collaboration and remote workflow is important for business continuity.
Now that attending live events, meet-ups and face-to-face meetings are increasingly difficult, if not impossible, alternatives need to be found to continue to bring entertainment, information and community to people. Online meeting and webinar tools such as Zoom (Digistor's remote meeting tool of choice) or GoToMeeting are a great way for small groups to keep in contact, but what happens when you need higher production values, multi-camera and audio inputs, live switching or to reach a larger audience with a customised viewing experience? This is where live streaming solutions come into play.
Digistor can help develop an effective live production and streaming strategy for applications including
- Sports broadcasting from match action to "behind the scenes" material
- University lectures
- CEO, AGMs and corporate communications
- Political and community communications
- Live entertainment events and concerts
- Broadcaster "breaking news"
- Church/Funeral services and other Houses of Worship communication needs
Interestingly, some of our suppliers are already reporting delays in delivery of the equipment discussed in this blog due to increasing demand, so now would be the time get your orders into Digistor.
In order to help assess the solutions that may assist you, this blog provides a brief outline of some streaming options for organisations. Rather than a definitive guide, this is intended as a "teaser" or starting point for your discussion with Digistor. There are always many ways to "skin a cat" and this applies to streaming solutions because each production and distribution requirement is so different.
Requirements for a Streaming Solution
For all streaming requirements, you need:
- To manage Sources and Content (the input to your program that you wish to stream)
- Production capabilities (mixing sources, adding media, defining the "look") to create the final program
- To encode of the program ready for streaming distribution
- To distribute to the desired audience in the desired format
The simplest setup could be a mobile phone's camera and mic streaming directly to Facebook Live/YouTube Live. This is a valid solution, but limited to a single hand-held source, of limited quality. And in addition, public domains such as Facebook and YouTube contain other content that may be a distraction. Your streamed content could also be private to a particular group, require a login, branding or other customised delivery. We will consider these scenarios later.
1. Managing Content and Sources
If you have multiple video, audio and other sources, you will need to switch between them or mix them into the final program output. Depending on the complexity of switching, you may use an external hardware switcher or simply connect your sources to the computer and allow the streaming software to provide the switching.
As an example, the ASE Edit Royale live events held at Digistor had inputs that included:
- five computer systems
- a roving camera with video and audio
- a roving interviewer's mic audio
- overlay titles and graphics
Check out Greg Taylor's blog on the initial Edit Royale production and streaming setup. Below is a diagram of the setup for the most recent Edit Royale setup.
The Blackmagic ATEM live production series provides lots of options for live switching from the low-cost ATEM Mini with 4 HDMI inputs and HD output through to 8K versions with many more inputs and options. We used the ATEM Television Studio for the most recent Edit Royale utilising its extremal computer control for graphics and audio mixing, making it a very flexible setup where you can have multiple people controlling the live source, graphics and audio mixes.
If you need to mix multiple audio sources, we also provide a range of professional audio mixers.
Blackmagic Web Presenter
The Blackmagic Web Presenter is a simple device that converts your camera or other video source with HDMI or SDI into a webcam so your PC can detect and enable recording. It will down convert any SD, HD and Ultra HD sources and make them look like a 720p USB webcam and can also live switch programs using its built-in 2 input production switcher when the optional Teranex Mini Smart Panel is installed.
Chances are your input source connectors will not all match the switching/encoding devices your want to plug then into. Luckily there is a range of converters from Blackmagic and AJA that will let you convert HDMI to SDI, SDI to HDMI, embed/de-embed audio, etc.
Lights, Cameras, Teleprompters – Action!
To ensure that your production is of high quality, you need to consider:
We've been involved recently with supplying BirdDog IP-based (NDI) remote PTZ cameras and controllers, especially for university lectures or similar, where the camera tracking and zoom can be controlled via software or control panels. This is ideal where you want to obviate the need for a cameraperson, but still control all aspects of camera operation.
Don't forget mics too. You need your audience to be able to clearly hear your production.
2. Capture, Encoding, Streaming Boxes
Streaming software like Wirecast can encode and stream program content to destinations including Facebook and YouTube and CDNs, but in many cases, you may want to use an external box for encoding and streaming, obviating the need to use production software at all or because you have specific streaming requirements not addressed by the software.
Once you have mixed your sources via a switcher such as the ATEM or streaming system and you have your final program out, or if you have only a single video/audio source you want to stream, then you will want to encode the stream into the required streaming format(s) and send out to reach your audience. There are a number of dedicated hardware devices to provide these functions at various levels of quality and flexibility.
Matrox Monarch and AJA HELO are great examples of encoding and streaming appliances which will accept a video/audio signal and encode and send to various streaming destinations. Features to look out for include:
- the ability to stream in multiple formats to multiple destinations
- flexibly handling start-stop and failure in the signal
- program-out options
- external computer control
- recording formats and media
They will also enable you to record your program stream for later editing and posting for on-demand viewing.
For higher performance and demanding broadcast applications, AWS Elemental Live encoders combined with AWS Elemental's Cloud processing and distribution options. We have configured these devices and services for live sports broadcasting applications to huge audiences viewing simultaneously via HD, 4K and HDR set-top boxes, computers, phones and tablets.
3. Live Program Production
These products will give you the ability to mix multiple channels, multiple layers, effects, chroma-keying, graphics, audio mixing, titles and much more – essentially creating a TV production studio in a box. They support streaming to multiple social channels and other destinations and much, much more.
Wirecast comes as a software-only version you can run on your Mac or PC or as a high-performance turn-key hardware and software computer system called Wirecast Gear. The beauty of the Wirecast Gear is that it gives you an easy to use, fully configured live video streaming production system. Because Telestream has already done all the work, there is no need to build your own system.
Streamstar provides exclusively hardware and software based turn-key solutions which have had lots of success in the live sports area, but their products are equally suited to other live events. The software is known for its ease-of-use and high-performance.
4. Reaching Your Audience: Distributing Beyond Facebook and Twitter
There are a number of reasons to utilise an external CDN including:
- creating a custom viewer with branding
- embedding on your own website so the audience visits your site to view
- enabling security with password authentication, etc.
- keeping advanced statistics
- reaching large audiences
- utilising AI features such as automatic captioning, object identification and more
- cloud-based recording with post-stream optional download
- on-demand deployment
- failure management options
On a final note, we'd recommend working through and documenting your streaming requirements – from sources to production to your audience – and then speaking to Digistor to discuss how these can be addressed. It may be that you can start simple and ramp up to more sophisticated over time, or it may be that you have very stringent requirements that have to be met before plunging in. In either case, let us help you keep the lines of communication open!