How to Adapt an Existing Multicamera Switching Setup for Streaming
If you’re like many people in the live audiovisual field who have lost a lot of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you are trying to adapt to the playing field and have a lot of expensive equipment sitting around that is not being used much. In a normal year, half of my income comes from producing multicamera, live-switched events produced on location and completed in post. The “new normal” allows only for live-streamed multicamera virtual events. This shift has required me to adjust my workflow to meet my clients’ current demands in the most cost-efficient manner possible. In this tutorial, I’ll discuss the adjustments I’ve made, explaining how to adapt the gear you have—with one additional minor purchase—rather than having to invest in a whole new streaming switcher.
My Current Kit
The heart of my AV system is a Lumantek VS4 switcher (Figure 1, below). I chose it for its extensive feature set, ease of use, quality build, and low price. It has two HDMI inputs, one HD-SDI input, and one switchable HD-SDI/HDMI input for a total of four (Figure 2, below Figure 1). Each input has a scaler that will adapt it to the desired output up to 1080p60.
Figure 1. Lumantek ez-Pro VS4 Switcher
Figure 2. Lumantek VS4 rear panel I/O
Beyond the switcher, I usually run two to three cameras, a laptop or two for media playback, and a powered mixer that can handle at least five microphones and stereo audio playback. I like to record an audio feed from the mixer to each camera, as I am feeding speakers to the audience in the room. I normally feed the cameras the audio mix by putting a single UHF transmitter on a record out of the mixer, while having the cameras with receivers all tuned to that frequency. To get a master of the switched program, I normally have a Blackmagic Design Video Assist recorder on the switcher’s HDMI or HD-SDI output for a high-quality recording.
As COVID-19 has struck down almost every A/V job over the past year, production companies that weren’t focused on streaming before have had to adapt to stay in the game. Many have been adapting their existing video switching setup for streaming.
There are several products available to make this adaptation possible; some are more expensive than others. There are a number of standalone streaming appliances that don’t require a computer. They attach to the camera or switcher and connect to a network via Wi-Fi or a cellular network (using cell data). These appliances tend to cost a few hundred dollars, require a data plan, and can be difficult to configure.
The other option is a USB 3.0 device that makes any HDMI- or SDI-connected device visible as a webcam. There are several such devices available from different manufacturers, with a wide range of feature sets, from multicamera switching functions to a single HDMI input.
Choosing a device from such a wide variety of options can be mind-numbing and expensive. To begin with, I ruled out 4K support, at least as a differentiating feature that might increase cost. For the time being, I don’t really see a reason to stream more than 1080p. Considering most people are watching on mobile devices with small screens or laptops and aren’t expecting a 4K cinematic experience, 1080p is sufficient for nearly all current applications.
With that in mind, I looked for a solution that wouldn’t break the bank. AJA offers two U-TAP devices, one with HDMI input, the other with HD-SDI input, that connect to a USB 3.0 or 3.1 port to make whatever camera or switcher you plug into it appear as a webcam to the computer and allow you to stream. The U-TAP HDMI (Figure 3, below) sells for around $350.
Figure 3. The AJA U-TAP HDMI
Blackmagic Design’s Ultra Studio Recorder HDMI and HD-SDI are considerably cheaper, at $115, but they are only available in Thunderbolt, which can be an issue if you are on a Windows PC, where Thunderbolt ports are either not present or inactive. (I have two HP laptops where the Thunderbolt ports worked under Windows 7 but haven’t under Windows 10.)
Blackmagic’s nifty Web Presenter ($495) offers both HDMI and HD-SDI video inputs that you can use as a two-input switcher, as well as a single XLR mic/line input and stereo RCA inputs. The device takes in up to 1080p resolution and outputs it at up to 720p over a USB 2.0 connection.
Over the last year, Blackmagic Design has released two low-cost streaming switchers, the ATEM Mini Pro ($595) and the ATEM Mini Pro ISO ($895), which feature four HDMI inputs; the Pro adds multi-view. The ISO (Figure 4, below) adds ISO recording for each input channel.
Figure 4. The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro ISO
Matrox’s Monarch streaming devices and recorders offer basic single- or dual-channel streaming and recording for between $950 and $1,300. Once set up, the Monarchs don’t need a computer in order to stream.
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