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How to Assemble a 4K Switching and Webcasting Solution for Less Than $5K

This article will discuss how to assemble the essential components of a 4K live-switched webcasting workflow packed with as many features as you can for under $5,000.
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Back in November 2016, YouTube added 2160/60P support for webcasting on YouTube Live. Many modern professional video cameras support 4K internal recording and output, so now is a good time to explore putting together a complete 4K multicamera video switching and webcasting workflow.

In this build, my original goal was to pack as many features into my 4K workflow as I could within a $5,000 budget. As it turns out, I was able to assemble a system with 2x 4K inputs for just under $4,200 around an all-in-one video computer-based software video switcher and webcast encoder. Because I had some leftover room in the budget, I decided to offer another option to add more 4K inputs using a hardware video switcher and building a slightly less powerful webcast encoder.

This article will discuss not just what I selected and why, but what I didn’t select and why not. I have put a lot of thought into this workflow because I as I write this, I am actually purchasing these components and assembling this build. In keeping with our “4K for <$5K” goal, the only rule I am going to set for myself in this build is that the webcast signal needs to be a native 2160P signal.

Video Capture Card

Any time I look at a workflow from start to finish, I like to start by determining all of the components I will require and which part of the workflow will limit my choices the most. In this case, the most restricting component will be my video capture card, for the sole reason that there are only a few video capture cards that support 4K capture on the market today.

I’ve written another new article that discusses how to select a video capture card, so I am going to cut to the chase here and present you with the two options I considered for this build: the AJA Io 4K and the Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorder 4K.

The AJA solution costs $1,995, supports 2160/60P, and connects to a computer via Thunderbolt 2. Going this route would restrict me to a single capture card within this budget and force me to pair it with a Thunderbolt 2-enabled computer. A MacBook Pro isn’t within budget and doesn’t support the vMix software I am planning on using, so I have to limit my computer options to a Windows system. Thunderbolt is finding its way into many Windows computers via the USB-C port that supports Thunderbolt 3. However, connecting the Io 4K to a USB-C PC would require both a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter and a USB-C-to-USB-C cable.

This approach could work for those who absolutely need a portable, laptop-based solution, but for this build, instead I’m going to install two Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorder 4Ks (Figure 1, below) for $195 each. These capture cards cost 1/10 of the MSRP of the AJA solution, which leaves a lot of room in my budget for other equipment.

Figure 1. Capture card: Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorder 4K ($195 x 2)

The DeckLink Mini Recorder 4K supports both HDMI 2.0a and SDI 6G connections and is limited to 2160/30P inputs. I’m not going to max out the 2160/60P abilities of YouTube Live with this build, but most of us don’t have video cameras that can output 2160/60P anyway, and 30P is plenty for an Ultra HD (UHD) webcast. Most 4K capture cards are PCIe cards, meaning they need to be installed in a computer tower. This eliminates Apple desktop products and means I will be building a Windows desktop system.

Hardware Video Switcher Option

If you need lots of 4K video inputs, then you will want a hardware video switcher. The Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K (Figure 2, below) costs $1,695 and supports 8 total inputs, split between 4 HDMI and 4 SDI inputs. The maximum framerate at 2160P is 30fps which matches most of the popular 4K UHD video cameras on the market. You will want to take note that most UHD video camera manufacturers output UHD 4K over HDMI, while Blackmagic’s own cameras output over 6G and 12G SDI. This limits you to 4 of any one type of video camera without a 4K format converter. In this workflow, you would still need to output the 4K video to a computer with a capture card for the webcast, but your computer needs would be lower if you have only one 4K video input compared to what I am going to build.

Figure 2. Hardware switcher (optional): Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K ($1,695)

If you decide to build the same system that I am going to detail below, you will need to make a few changes to stay within the $5,000 budget, such as purchasing only one media drive, and selecting the previous generation or lower line of motherboard, CPU, and graphics card. I have outlined the part list for the ATEM build here.

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