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Streaming Tools for COVID and Beyond

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Over the last 18 months, we have all likely retooled many of our video streaming and production techniques to cover the bases of virtual events. Now we are looking at a future that is certainly going to include a growing number of hybrid events, and we need to retool yet again for a mixture of in-person and remote presenters as well as attendees. 

As I've been brought into various trouble­shooting and optimization projects with live-streaming deployments now encompassing interest in ultra-low-latency tech stacks—including Low-Latency HTTP Live Streaming (LL-HLS) and WebRTC—a wide range of tools can come into play. Here's my short list of daily “go-to” tools to diagnose and test live and video-on-
demand (VOD) content.

  • FFmpeg: Perhaps the most popular open source video tool, FFmpeg is a command-line framework that can process just about any input source format, video codec, audio codec, or output format you will come across in day-to-day production and deployment. Among countless other examples, FFmpeg can help re-create test conditions by streaming VOD content as live content to prep for a future event or deployment. Learn more about FFmpeg at ffmpeg.org
  • VLC Media Player: When you need a versatile desktop/mobile/smart TV video player, VLC can play many live-stream formats as well as VOD formats across platforms. Download it at videolan.org/vlc
  • MediaInfo for Mac: When you have to examine the audio, video, and subtitle specifics of a VOD file, this Mac desktop tool can give you a lot of useful information in easy-to-read layouts. I particularly like the raw data view, as it provides more details. You can download this tool on macOS from the App Store (go2sm.com/mediainfo).
  • Larix Broadcaster: Developed by Softvelum, this free mobile app on Android and iOS enables you to live stream in AVC/H.264 or HEVC/H.265 with Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) and the SRT protocol, respectively. If your video ingest systems need a free broadcaster option for mobile, be sure to consider and test this player. Get more information at softvelum.com/larix/larix
  • OBS (Open Broadcaster Software)/OBS Web­RTC: Several live-streaming productions look to OBS as an easy and free way to mix live and VOD content for recording and/or live-streaming deployments, particularly for RTMP ingest. While the user interface isn't as mature as that of other commercial software, such as vMix and Telestream Wirecast, you can produce professional-looking live streams nonetheless. Users can download compiled binaries and review documentation at obsproject.com/. OBS WebRTC is a fork of OBS created by Cosmo Software to natively stream in Web­RTC to the Millicast platform as well as the open source Janus Web­RTC Server. You can download this specific version at go2sm.com/obsrtc
  • Apple's HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) Tools:This collection of command-line utilities is only available on macOS and requires an active Apple Developer membership to download. Media Stream Validator is one of the command-line tools that can consume a live or VOD HLS stream URL and examine the manifest(s) and content segments/chunks referenced within the manifest(s). Learn more at go2sm.com/applehls
  • Janus WebRTC Server/Coturn: While this selection of open source software installs as services running on a deployed server, you may likely need to test the feasibility of WebRTC workflows with respect to subsecond live-stream requirements. Janus is most easily installed on Ubuntu Linux, and Coturn provides TURN services for your Janus setup. Within a few hours, you can deploy a new Janus and Coturn server configured with custom domains and SSL certificates. Learn more about Janus at janus.conf.meetecho.com/ and Coturn at github.com/coturn/coturn
  • Switch:One of my favorite stream-analysis tools is Telestream's Switch, a sophisticated desktop video player that can provide frame-by-frame bitrate information, as well as keyframe placement. I use Switch mainly to confirm keyframe interval settings used in VOD encoding specs. Find out more at telestream.net/switch/overview.htm.

This is just a short list of the tools I use. If you have a specific tool you find helpful with your work, please feel free to let me know for future consideration.

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