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How to Put Together a Cost-Effective Portable Streaming Kit (UPDATED)

Looking for practical, hands-on advice on to how to create a cost-effective, portable, multi-camera streaming system that you can use even when on location with limited internet and power options? Here, Mobeon's Mark Alamares describes a range of solutions that can bring greater agility and portability to your live streaming kit at a manageable cost.
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About 18 months ago, my company was hired to capture and stream the World Latin Dance Cup. For that job I needed to bring a full switching system plus cameras in a carry-on bag. It was quite challenging because typical switchers and broadcast-style cameras are too big for a carry-on.

I replaced the broadcast cameras with relatively compact Sony EX1s and EX1Rs, was able to put together a desktop system based on Telestream Wirecast Pro and the Matrox VS4 card. Not only was this a low-cost solution--roughly $4,500.00--but it allowed me two capture multiple camera feeds with the VS4, and switch them in the desktop system using Wirecast Pro. And it enabled me to pack that up, put all the cameras inside a carry-on bag, and fly from L.A. to the location in Florida and stream a full event with a minimal crew.

After that event, I thought, “Hey, look, the tools are there. How can I travel a little bit more lightly?” And so I’m going to introduce you to a range of devices that helped me trying to put together a kit that’s more affordable and much more agile.

Building Your Own System

When assembling your own portable streaming solution, one of the key components that you should look at is the software. In addition to working with conventional switchers and mixers and standalone hardware encoders, there are built-in software and hardware encoders that deliver many of the same
capabilities in a desktop or laptop system, eliminating the need to travel with additional hardware.

Telestream Wirecast Pro

Telestream Wirecast Pro 5 (Figure 1, below) is a powerful and versatile application that runs on both a Mac and PC. The new version features x264 encoding with improved H.264 playback and stream delay.

Figure 1. Telestream Wirecast Pro 5.

Wirecast is especially helpful for making your kit more versatile and agile for three reasons:

  • It can accommodate different platforms.
  • You can create customized solutions around it.
  • You can build your own boxes based on the size and type of the hardware you want to deploy.

In short, you can mix and match. But you need to be mindful of several technical aspects of component integration when building a custom system around your software of choice. If you don’t have the time and the wherewithal to customize or simply don’t want to tinker, there are pre-built solutions available, which I’ll discuss later in this article.

Matrox VS4

I addition to Wirecast, I recommend looking into a card called the Matrox VS4 (Figure 2, below), which was instrumental in my company's production of the World Cup Dance event. With the Matrox VS4 installed, standard PCs can have four simultaneous SDI inputs, and at the same time also output ISO records, where you can isolate (hence, ISO) the individual feeds and record them to a local disk. Prior to the availability of the VS4, we hadn't seen hardware and software integration available for capturing video from multiple sources and switching, recording, and streaming from a standard PC. There wasn’t a solution that offered the multiple camera inputs and the software integration to switch between four different sources, record a separate line cut, and then also output independent recordings of all the different streams.

Figure 2. The Matrox VS4.

The ability to record each stream becomes quite in a live event if you find yourself overextended and run out of SD, SxS, or P2 cards when you’re recording them. When this happened to my company, because we had recorded the ISOs on the Matrox VS4 to a local disk, we were able to capture the whole event without any issues whatsoever.

Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad

It’s worth noting that although Wirecast Pro is a cross-platform application, the Matrox VS4 card is currently PC-only. Another card that delivers some of the same capabilities I'm describing here is the Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad (Figure 3, below). The DeckLink Quad is a Mac- and PC-compatible card that offers HD-SDI I/O for four separate streams.

Figure 3. The Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad.

The DeckLink Quad t doesn’t allow ISO records like the Matrox VS4 does, but you can send the output out to various recorders, such as the Atomos Samurai or the Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle. But basically this is a switching card that will interface with the Wirecast software. DeckLink also supports other applications such as vMix for switching between the different SDI camera inputs.