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Streaming Conference Video with the Canon XA25 and Livestream Broadcaster

How the Canon XA25 and Livestream Broadcaster proved a straightforward and effective no muss, no fuss solution for live streaming of a series of trade conference with little ramp-up time or gear-up budget.
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Outside of Streaming Media, Streaming Media Producer, and the Streaming Media shows, video production at Streaming Media’s publisher, Information Today, Inc. (ITI), is still a relatively new and evolving thing. All told, ITI puts on about 20 conferences a year in the U.S. (though comprising only 7 different locations/venues--several are co-located), and 2013 was the first year we had a video production presence at all of them. Except for Streaming Media East and West, where we had a full production crew on site capturing and streaming sessions, that video presence was, well, me.

Though I’ve been associated with the video industry for about 13 years now; been privy to many of its developments fairly early on as trade journalists tend to be; gotten my hands on a lot of cool gear and editing tools; attended innumerable video conferences and training events; and interviewed, taken ridealongs with, and built relationships with some of the best in the business (in the video genres my publications have covered), video production didn’t become my job per se until sometime in 2012.

Since then, the video work I’ve done with ITI conferences has grown by leaps and bounds; I’ve produced promo clips for most of ITI’s U.S. shows and a couple of the European ones, and during the 4-events-in-6-weeks run of conferences this fall, I found myself up on risers capturing--and sometimes streaming—loads of conference sessions, in between shooting interviews and testimonials and b-roll.

Assembling a Streaming Setup: A Few False Starts

We decided very late in the game to stream the keynotes and capture a host of other sessions at Internet Librarian, the first event of the fall lineup held just before Halloween in Monterey, California. With one camera to my name (the XLR-less Sony NEX-VG20), nothing in the way of streaming gear, and no budget to buy or rent any equipment I didn’t have, I had less than two weeks to gear up for the event. I needed a second, XLR-ready camera and something to stream with.

When my first strategy fell through--to try to assemble a full-throttle, single-operator, two-cameras-plus-laptop-feed setup where I could switch and composite an image in Telestream Wirecast--an exciting possibility scuttled by a range of technical and implementation challenges, I found myself with 2 days left to make something work.

Enter the Canon XA25

Fortunately, I had one piece in place that arrived a full 3 days before I had to leave for the event: exactly the camera I wanted to use, Canon’s new XA25, introduced at NAB 2013. The XA25, HD-SDI-capable sibling to the HDMI-only XA20, is a marvel of compact camcorder engineering, an almost-palmcorder-sized camcorder with a host of pro features, including dual balanced XLR inputs, dual-slot SD card recording (you can choose dual or relay mode--relay mode can really simplify or even eliminate time-consuming and nerve-jangling mid-shoot media-wrangling if you’re shooting conference sessions all day), and of course HD-SDI out on the XA25. Note that you could do everything I'll describe in this article with the HDMI-only XA20 ($2199 at B&H); you'll need the $2,699 XA25 only if you need HD-SDI out.

Also much appreciated on my shoots were the Kelvin/color temperature-based manual White Balance controls; fast, efficient, and effective Focus Assist with HD peaking (a feature I’d really love to have on my VG20); and the XA25’s wondrous 20X zoom, which is really advantageous when you’re stuck on a riser in the back of a conference session room.

I found the zoom rocker a bit herky-jerky the first time I had a speaker surprise me by moving well outside the lateral plane, but mostly kept my hands off it while shooting after that, even after adjusting the zoom speed, which turned out to be fairly easy to do. The 20X HD optical zoom made the XA25 (Figure 1, below) an easy choice over the VG20 for capturing tight shots of the presenters from the back of the room. Basically, the XA25 delivered equivalent quality to many larger camcorders I’ve worked with in a small, easily transportable form-factor, which made it ideal for my multi-city webcast schedule. For this reason, I relegated the VG20 to screen-shooting detail, ultimately to be used as reference footage for swapping in the slide deck later on--sometime this winter when I conquer my backlog--but good enough, as it turned out, for posting same-day composited versions of sessions during the event.

Figure 1. Canon XA25

Choosing Livestream

With the XA25 ably eliminating my camera deficit, and putting me in a good position to capture sessions good quality with a refreshingly simple learning curve, I turned my attention to the streaming side of the equation, with virtually no time to spare. Subsequent attempts to put together a workflow using my own laptop with various H.264-to-USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt appendages proved unworkable for different reasons.

Resigning myself to delivering a single-camera (no slide deck) stream, with the archived stream to be replaced as soon as possible by a composited version of the streamed session, I turned my attention to Livestream Broadcaster (Figure 2, below), a $470 standalone streaming box, which attaches to a camera’s accessory shoe with a hot shoe-to-post adapter, locks into your Livestream account, and streams wirelessly (WiFi or 3G/4G) or via Ethernet without requiring a PC or any host system. I’ve had good success working with Livestream on various events in the past and have found their service easy to navigate and reliable to use.

Figure 2. Livestream Broadcaster

I managed to secure a Livestream Broadcaster unit with hours to spare before leaving for the show, connected it to my Livestream account, scheduled my streaming events (Internet Librarian’s 3 morning keynotes, and 3 afternoon sessions on the last day of the show, including the closing keynote--see Figure 3a, below), notified my Livestream followers, and I was off.

Figure 3a. My scheduled streams. These correspond to the events in my Livestream account shown in Figure 3b, below.

 

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