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$10K Buys a Mobile System for Interactive Streaming and Live VR

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Producing a live event involves quite a bit of logistics and equipment due to the sheer size of the production. Usually, the larger the event, the more gear you’ll need.

I’ve always wanted to simplify the amount of necessary production gear to the point where it could all fit into a very small backpack. I’ve long looked forward to the day when equipment would all scale to the size of a mobile phone and, ultimately, a wearable device. We are now approaching that reality.

Several manufacturers including HP, Dell, MSI, and ZOTAC have released high-end computer systems in a backpack-sized form factor that are powering virtual reality (VR) headsets. This allows tetherless operation for VR. These backpack PCs feature powerful processors and GPUs that are perfect for high-quality encoding, and they add mobility and versatility for interactive multicamera live streaming. They also feature a wireless display, keyboard, and mouse, allowing you to operate the laptop as a regular computer within the headset.

Although there are apps that can live stream or turn your smartphone or tablet into a production switcher, I prefer to focus on robust multicamera and portable solutions that can create advanced experiences on a greater scale.

Mobile streaming presents a new paradigm for live streaming. Imagine being able to switch with a compact unit with several wireless cameras or mobile phones that can be mounted on helmets or placed at different locations. You currently have the ability to switch multiple cameras if you connect a VR backpack to a battery-powered Roland V-1SDI 4-Channel HD Video Switcher (battery cable required). It has three SDI and two HDMI inputs that allow for multiple camera and computer sources. You can even attach a VR rig to the VR backpack. Cameras or mobile phones can be placed in different locations to transmit wirelessly and serve as additional inputs.

This allows you to create content in real time, in the field, with minimal encumbrances. You’ll basically have the freedom to stream from anywhere a cell connection is available.

The cost of a mobile streaming system is around $10,000. Here’s the cost breakdown:

  • Three action or mini-broadcast cameras (GoPro or Marshall Electronics), $500 each
  • One backpack VR, $2,500; encoding software (Telestream Wirecast Pro), $1,000
  • Battery-powered video switcher (Roland V-1SDI), $1,500; mobile battery pack (Anton/Bauer or IDX), $500
  • Mini-monitor/digital recorder (Atomos Blade or Blackmagic Design Video Assist), $500
  • Cellular bonding unit (LiveU or Teradek), $3,000–$4000
  • Cables and connectors as needed

Just as portable video and handheld film cameras ushered in a creative revolution during the ’50s, ’60s, and especially the ’70s (when film crews took their cameras to the streets), mobile streaming has the potential to provide an equal or greater creative effect in streaming.

These real-time events or shows would leverage the live aspect of streaming and create a premium event with viewer participation with instantaneous feedback via social media. Users can also provide comments, specific directions, or information to the operator/broadcaster in real time. Social media integration and interactive user engagement through polling, voting, and other added elements could further enhance the stream. As with game streaming, the interactive stream could draw users deeper into the story and conversation.

Since we now have the technology and the costs are quite reasonable to assemble a quality, affordable, portable system, mobile streaming allows us creative freedom. We can explore, experiment, and produce new genres of entertainment, presentations, and learning.

[This article appears in the November/December 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Mobile Systems for Interactive Streaming and Live VR."]

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