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Streaming Media West [13-14 November 2018]
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Streaming Media East 2018 [8-9 May 2018]
Content Delivery Summit [7 May 2018] 
Live Streaming Summit [8-9 May 2018]
Video Marketing Power Summit [9 May 2018]

Review: Epiphan Webcaster X2

Testing the Epiphan Webcaster X2 compact encoder on a packed schedule of interviews streamed to Facebook Live from the show floor at Streaming Media East 2018

Each year at Streaming Media East and West, while our able streaming partners from Mobeon capture our conference program and stream from our keynote rooms, my primary role is filming interviews with key speakers and other industry thought leaders in the Streaming Media booth in the exhibit hall. For years, we branded these as “Red Carpet Interviews,” which (for reasons I can’t recall) morphed into “Almost Live from Streaming Media” a few years back. Given that the first word in our name is “Streaming,” this title begged the question, “Why not drop the ‘Almost’ and just go live?”

Since I shoot these interviews with two cameras—a two-shot on the interviewer and interviewee, and a one-shot on the interviewee—my first inclination was to duplicate the setup I use for live-switching and streaming conference sessions (minus the Powerpoint feed), with my two Sony PXW-X70 cameras connected to my laptop’s USB ports via a capture device like the Epiphan AV.io or Magewell USB Capture HDMI or SDI, and using Telestream Wirecast or vMix to switch and stream the show.

Given the tight space constraints of our booth, however, I’ve found that after allocating room for two chairs for the talent, two tripods, and two lightstands alongside our magazine display doesn’t leave a lot of room for switching on a laptop. So I settled on a two-pronged approach: delivering a single-camera (two-shot) live stream to Facebook Live on site, and cutting the two-camera version after the fact.

Fortunately, compact encoding and boxes abound for no-footprint streaming, whether mounted on-camera like the first unit of this type I tested 4 years back (the Livestream Broadcaster), or the LiveU Solo or Teradek VidiU Pro we’ve deployed successfully for the booth interview streams at Streaming Media East and West, respectively, in 2017.

Enter the Epiphan Webcaster X2

For this year’s Streaming Media East, which took place May 8-9 in New York City, I cast my eye on an intriguing new entry in this space: the Epiphan Webcaster X2. I’ve worked with a handful of different Epiphan offerings in the past, including the AV.io devices mentioned earlier and the Pearl streaming appliance (since eclipsed by the Pearl 2) I reviewed in March 2016.

The Webcaster X2 caught my eye for several reasons. First was the price. At $299, it was the first device in this space to debut at that price (although it now has company with the NAB-week announcement of the Magewell Ultra Stream HDMI). The other was its HDMI out connection to a confidence monitor that also, via a USB mouse or mini-keyboard, doubles as a control screen for the X2. (The Webcaster X2 does have a “go live” button on the unit, but more interesting things happen when you connect a monitor.) Having encountered difficulties with phone or tablet-based WiFi control of streaming devices in the past (when I stream a conference keynote, I’m on dedicated ethernet so I don’t have to share bandwidth with attendees; if my phone and streaming device can’t see each other, I’m sunk), and often lost patience with the limitations of two-button, single-line LED interfaces on the little boxes, this wired option sounded like a good compromise, even if it took my setup out of the no-footprint zone.

The Webcaster X2 offers streaming to most popular platforms, including YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook Live, my platform of choice for delivering the Streaming Media East interviews. The week before I left for the conference, I connected the X2 to a Blackmagic Design VideoAssist 4K and a USB mouse, and paired it with the Streaming Media Facebook account without difficulty (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Epiphan supplies a code to pair the Webcaster X2 with your Facebook account.

As you can see in Figure 2 (below), the Webcaster X2 interface makes it easy for me to click Publishing Destination and choose among any of the Facebook conference and magazine pages I manage after the initial pairing is in place. On the Stream Details page where you choose your Facebook Page or YouTube channel, you can also type in a title and description for your video (using a mouse-enabled on-screen keyboard or attached mini-keyboard) and set your streaming bitrate and resolution. I chose 2000Kbps and 1280x720.

Figure 2. Choosing the page to stream from

You can also enable or disable Show Comments, which allows you to see comments as they come in on your attached monitor in a split-screen configuration (Figure 3, below). Figure 3 also shows, just below the monitor screens, the Start button, which you click to launch a stream.

Figure 3. Comments appear in the panel on the right. Click the image to see it at full size.

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Testing the Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K in a variety of shooting situation at a succession of four trade conferences