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Joicaster Review: A Simple Platform for Live Video Distribution

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Everything comes together in the Dashboard, which is the site’s main interface (Figure 4). Click the broadcast that you scheduled on the right, and the broadcast information goes live on the page. Click Encoder Settings on the middle left to access the server URL and stream name to insert into your live encoder. Next, click Advanced Broadcast Settings on the middle right to adjust any of these options set when you create the broadcast.

Assuming that all login and server information input into your live encoder is correct, once you start your encoder, you should see video in the confidence monitor shown in Figure 4. Click Broadcast Now on the upper right to start streaming. Note that you can drive all these operations on a smartphone or tablet, except that you won’t see the confidence stream, which is Flash-based. Joicaster plans to convert that to HTML5 during the first half of 2016.

While the concept is relatively simple, Joicaster adds many nice touches to the mix. For example, you can add, start, stop, and delete stream profiles during the broadcast, and many sites will display the number of viewers watching on that site. Again, this is an integration thing; some target sites make it easy to retrieve viewer data, which Joicaster captures and displays, while others don’t.

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Figure 4. Your broadcast comes together in the Dashboard page. 

Joicaster has its own embeddable player (Figure 5) that displays all live sources in the upper right-hand corner. Technically, Joicaster aggregates the embed codes of all target sites into a single code. As viewers join the event from the embedded player, Joicaster assigns the services in a round-robin function, distributing the load among the providers. If the viewer prefers one player over another, he or she can click to change to that player. If service gets sketchy or stops from one provider, the viewer can simply switch to another, which is a nice redundancy feature.

Joicaster also aggregates chats from some supported sites, including YouTube (but not Ustream) into the Dashboard, so you have one location to check for these chats. Joicaster will support more sites over time. The service also provides an embeddable chat wizard that allows viewers to comment and see comments coming in from other viewers using the supported sites. If a specific target site isn’t supported, you’ll have to monitor comments directly on that site.

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Figure 5. The embeddable player allows the user to watch from different sites selected on the upper right (two YouTube accounts, and one Ustream).

Operation

I tested Joicaster using a Matrox Monarch HDX to push a stream to Joicaster, which syndicated the stream to two YouTube accounts, a Ustream account, and an Onstream Media Webinar account. Today, Joicaster doesn’t process the stream in any way, it simply routes it to those various locations. In the future, Joicaster plans to add cloud transcoding capabilities that would let you feed a high-bandwidth stream in, and direct lower-quality streams to some providers.

To explain, YouTube Live and Onstream convert the input stream into multiple outputs for serving viewers on a variety of connections, so a single high-quality input works well for these sites. However, other sites simply redistribute the input stream without transcoding, so a high-quality stream might not reach viewers watching on slower connections. In the future, Joicaster will let you customize stream input by target platform, but that isn’t available yet.

In my tests, the latency from the source to the Joicaster confidence monitor was only about 4 seconds, to which Ustream added an additional 11 seconds (15 seconds total latency) while YouTube added 14 seconds (18 total). The encoder-to-Joicaster latency is pretty low, while Ustream and YouTube Live were about the same as you would expect when transmitting directly to the service.

At this point, Joicaster can send only a single stream to a service, so it works best with services, such as YouTube, Ustream, and Brightcove/Zencoder, that transmix the single input stream into multiple outputs for adaptive streaming. The only significant destination site that Joicaster doesn’t support is Livestream, which traditionally has been very picky when choosing its partners. Joicaster is working to add Livestream and other targets.

Regarding analytics, as mentioned, Joicaster can display the number of viewers on many supporting platforms, but that’s about it. Otherwise, Joicaster can pull viewership and related data from YouTube, but that’s only available to enterprise customers.

Overall, my impressions were extremely positive. Joicaster is a Techstars cloud-funded company that I first ran into at Streaming Media East in 2015. It’s done a great job making its site and service simple to use and engaging, while performing a valuable function very well. After all, with so many live streaming outlets available, why not support more than one? Joicaster makes it simple and affordable.

This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Review: Joicaster.”

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