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How to Webcast with YouTube Live

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The preview and going live functionality works fairly well, but not flawlessly. Preview took several minutes to get going, and I had to refresh the page to make it work. Once preview started, however, it streamed continuously without interruption. In my tests, though I was transmitting a 720p stream to the service, the preview stream maxed at 360p, which makes sense from YouTube’s standpoint, and is adequate for the preview function, but makes you wonder what happens when you go live. I checked, and the actual broadcast maxed at 720p, as advertised. Overall, the preview function provides a nice mechanism for fine-tuning lighting, audio, and video settings, which I did for about two hours before the actual event. 

Going live was a bit of a leap of faith, which is endemic to all live streaming services, though not to the same degree. Specifically, there was about 45 seconds of latency between broadcast and playback, compared to about 10 to 15 seconds for other services that I’ve used. Once I clicked the Start Streaming button, I saw nothing for 45 seconds in my Public View window, but had to start talking right away and assume it would all neatly show up 45 seconds later. It did, and overall, the webcast went off without a hitch.

Creating and Encoding the Webcast

So far, we’ve talked solely about the plumbing that enabled the webcast, not the webcast itself. I produced the webcast in Wirecast, and the video stream consisted of three elements shown in Figure 12: the PowerPoint on the left, the picture-in-picture video on the right, and the audio feed from the camera. You see the two video components in the preview panel in Figure 12, with the audio inserted as stream C in the sources panel on the lower left.

 

Figure 12. Building the webinar in Wirecast

To give credit where credit is due, the idea came from Streaming Media Producer editor Stephen Nathans, who had crafted a composition similar to this in Adobe Premiere for presenting seminars from Streaming Media conferences. During the week before my webinar, he and I chatted about how to create a similar look to present the Streaming Media conferences live, which prompted me to compose this shot in Wirecast, which took all of about two minutes.

For the record, I produced the event on an ultra quiet HP Z400 workstation, with HDMI audio/video captured by a Viewcast 820e card from my Panasonic AG-1HMC150 camcorder. I used an Audio2000S wireless lavalier microphone to supply audio to the camcorder. The PowerPoint slides came from a MacBook Pro communicating to Wirecast via Telestream’s free Desktop Presenter module that links the two computers over Wi-Fi. It’s a pretty slick setup. Though you can’t produce it in the free Wirecast for YouTube version, I’m pretty sure that the $199 upgrade price gets you these capabilities. If not, the $495 retail version of Wirecast that I used obviously can. 

You can view the webinar itself, with Figure 13 showing how the archived version of the webinar looks on YouTube. As you can see, the blank area behind the video is simply presented as black, and doesn’t show the checkerboard pattern shown in Figure 12. I’m sure Nathans will figure out a better use for that black area; perhaps some logos or sponsored advertisements, which is a thought for my next webinar. Overall, this layout seemed a nice way to integrate the extensive information shown on the slides with the talking head.

Figure 13. The archived webinar on YouTube

In the making it look easy department, Figure 14 shows the physical setup. On the right (my left), you can clearly see the two lights -- one a CFL softbox lighting the background  and the other an Adorama LED panel serving as one of two dual key lights -- on me. I duplicated this with two CFL softboxes on the left (my right), though they are much harder to see. The HP LP3065 31-inch monitor in front of me is from the Z400, and displayed the Wirecast controls, including the preview window with the PowerPoint slides that I cued during the broadcast. The Mac with the actual slides is on my right, with an HP 8760w notebook on my left which I used to preview the webcast before I kicked it off.

Figure 14. Here’s the physical setup.

Perhaps the lighting and computer setup is overkill, but with video it’s always in for a penny, in for a pound, and if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing. Insert your own platitude here. Since sub-par audio/video quality will definitely detract from the effectiveness of your webinar, it’s worth doing everything you can to ensure high quality throughout.

After the Webinar

Enough about me, let’s get back to YouTube. After the webinar, you get immediate access to the statistics shown in Figure 15, which includes peak concurrent views, the number of playbacks, and the data rates in which the video was viewed, with various filtering options, including the ability to filter views by source page (YouTube or your own embedded player). At a peak of 37 concurrent viewers, I didn’t expect to strain the YouTube delivery infrastructure. There were no complaints from the viewers during the event, which hopefully indicates that there were no serious problems.

Figure 15. The analytics enabled by YouTube Live

During the event, my eldest daughter monitored the event successfully on both an iPhone and iPad, though the event wouldn’t load on her old Android phone, an HTC Rhyme. I did test playback of another live event on my Toshiba Thrive Android tablet, which worked fine, so the problem isn’t all Android devices and (don’t tell my daughter I said this) could have been user error. If Android playback is important to you, test it yourself once you get access to the YouTube Live system.

Once the event is over, it immediately becomes available for on-demand playback, and you can edit the video using the same controls available for uploaded videos.

Impressions Please

YouTube Live is technically advanced, one of the few live systems that includes on-the-fly transcoding of the input stream, with proven support for iOS and desktops (and probable support for Android, just not proven by me). The service is advertising supported, so you may not like the advertisements that appear on or near your video, though I saw no advertisements on the player embedded in my website. While YouTube branding appears on all players, that certainly that doesn’t carry the stigma that it used to, given the legions of top websites that use YouTube to deliver many of their on-demand streams.

While I shudder at the thought of trying to reach YouTube tech support in the event of a problem, the company has done an extremely good job at making its service useable, and other than the minor preview issues mentioned I had no problems at all. The biggest problem for most producers is that YouTube hasn’t opened the service for everyone, though in the long run it’s better to roll out the system slowly to ensure consistent performance.

A comprehensive comparison between YouTube Live and systems like Livestream and Ustream will need to wait until YouTube Live becomes commercially available to all users. At this point, we don’t know if the service will be free or what the final feature set will be. I can say, however, that I was impressed; YouTube has created a highly usable system that worked well in my limited application.

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