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Best Practices for Affordable Multicam 4K Live Streaming

In this article, I'll explain how you can do a multi-camera 4K live streaming production with all the equipment--including the video cameras--for under $20,000.

In this article we’ll look at 4K live streaming best practices, and how you can do it affordably. It's actually quite amazing and surprising how affordable a lot of the equipment for 4K live streaming has become. 4K streaming is still very new, and there aren't a lot of ways you can watch 4K streaming. But fortunately, the equipment is there, so you can be ready when your viewers are. Here I’ll explain how you can do a multi-camera 4K live streaming production with all the equipment--including the video cameras--for under $20,000.

The key points I'm going to be talking about in this article are formats and frame rates. I’ll discuss the cameras you need to do both capture and production, how to bring all those cameras together with all of your other assets for your live stream, and how to switch them all together and encode them for the internet. Then I'll cover the encoding and the bitrates needed to get the best results with 4K. And then finally, I'll discuss streaming providers and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), and recommend a set of requirements when doing 4K livestreaming.

Formats and Frame Rates

What standards are we talking about when referring to 4K in the livestreaming world? Technically speaking, the resolution for 4K is known as 2160p, or 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high. This is also known as Ultra HD. There are actually two different 4K standards out there in the industry. Ultra HD is the standard that is used for live streaming because all 4K televisions have this format. The other 4K format is called DCI 4K, which is 4096x2160. But this is a digital cinema format that is not used for streaming.

When you’re selecting resolutions in your equipment and in your cameras for live streaming, choose 3840x2160 Ultra HD. For frame rates, Ultra HD uses all the standard frame rates you're probably familiar with when doing HD or SD productions: anywhere ranging from 25 all the way up to 60 frames per second (fps). These are all available in 4K. There will be even higher frame rates available in the future; the industry is ratifying additional standards for 4K up to 120 fps. But 60fps is the highest you'll find available on cameras today.

You can pick and choose whatever frame rate you want. Because this is live streaming, you don't have to conform to any particular broadcast standard with regard to frame rates.

Another piece of good news is about 4K is that 4K standards are progressive only. Processing interlaced and ensuring compatibility of different cameras and devices can be a challenge. 29.97 is the most compatible frame rate, considering all the different viewing device options, the cameras, the equipment, and so on. So that's what we recommend.

Encoding is also an important topic to discuss. What compression or encoding format are you going to be using for your 4K livestreams? Right now, you'll be using H.264. This is the most common format that is available now across all equipment and devices, which is especially important for your viewers. What browsers do they have? What devices? What televisions do they have? H.264 is close to universal across all of those devices that might be viewing your 4K live stream.

In the future, there are two key formats that will have benefits for 4K streaming producers and viewers: HEVC (also known as H.265), and AV1.

Cameras

Let’s talk about some of the affordable cameras that you could use for a 4K production. These are the affordable options that we have looked at. One is the Panasonic DVX200 (Figure 1, below), which has HDMI output up to 4K, 59.94 frames per second, and lists for only $4,000. With three cameras at $4000 each, you can still keep the budget for your entire kit under $20,000.

Figure 1. Panasonic’s AG-DVX200 4K Handheld Camcorder

But there are even more affordable options out there. There's the Sony PXW-Z90V (Figure 2, below), which offers HDMI out up to 4K at 30 or 29.97fps, and has an MSRP of only $2,700.

Figure 2. Sony’s PXW-Z90V

Blackmagic Design has also been selling 4K cameras for some time now. One is the Studio Camera (Figure 3, below), which does the full 12G-SDI output for around $2,000 including the lens, and then you have the Micro Studio Camera which features up to 30 frames a second for around $1,300 plus lens. So you're looking at about $1600-1700 for that.

Figure 3. Blackmagic Design Studio Camera

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