Moving Streaming Production to the Cloud
Cloud GUI Solutions
Another key element of cloud production is using a GUI to properly gauge what your video looks like. Especially if we’re switching cameras, Teradici is our preferred GUI solution. Whether it is 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000 miles away, Teradici makes you feel like you have the computer right there in front of you. TGX by Mechdyne, a solution developed for remote operators in the oil and gas industry, is another great GUI. Both Teradici and TGX do USB transport, which is helpful if you want to use a USB device going directly to your remote machine or if you were to use the Stream Deck directly, instead of going through an app like Central Control or Companion.
The Parsec GUI is probably the most popular, simply because it’s free. It’s also a great piece of software for providing real-time performance and great video quality. That said, it’s a little bit harder to get Parsec working in the cloud environment when using certain resolutions. Parsec is probably bigger in the esports world than in other verticals, largely because it caught on there first.
Another option is NICE, recently acquired by Amazon. Amazon uses NICE on its deployment, so you can get an AMI (Amazon Machine Image) for using NICE. TeamViewer and AnyDesk are kind of de facto options in cloud production. We use TeamViewer extensively ourselves, mainly because it’s so familiar. I tend to use Terradici as the GUI for the main switcher, and TeamViewer for extra machines.
Cloud Uplink Solutions
When it comes to uplink solutions for cloud production, the most popular, without a doubt, is SRT. Whether you deploy SRT via hardware or software solutions, it’s your choice to find the right piece.
One solution that we use quite frequently is Sienna.Cloud for NDI (Figure 6, below). Sienna is a high-count backhaul, designed for pushing multiple units. On our productions, we’re constantly pushing eight to 12 channels out of one server to the cloud location. Sienna allows us to carry as many as the hardware and our available bandwidth will support. Of course, it does use WebRTC or SRT; it uses a proprietary backhaul solution that Sienna developed specifically for Cloud for NDI. It makes great-looking pictures on both ends. Another advantage is that it is a two-way solution. If I wanted to have eight channels going up and four returns, or eight and one or eight and two, Sienna enables me to do it. Also, I can bring video down from the cloud very easily with very good quality. Another favorite uplink solution is LiveU’s family of encoders, particularly the four-channel LiveU 800 (see Figure 6), which allows us to give our operators a simple, easy solution. We can tell them, “Go out, plug this in, get a hard line if you can. If you can’t, just turn on the modems, and we can handle it and manage it all remotely.”
Figure 6. The LiveU 800
The Matrox Monarch EDGE is another uplink solution that we find very useful. It handles up to four channels of SRT. The EDGE is only a one-way solution, unlike the LiveU 800, which will do two-way with a return channel with the newest software update in the cloud. The Medialooks software is another viable option that provides WebRTC or SRT uplinks to the cloud. BirdDog’s Cloud app also does WebRTC and SRT for sending content to the cloud.
Lastly, Sienna has a contribution solution called Unite that is part of its NDI processing engine.
Moving Our Production Workflows to the Cloud
Around 6 years ago, when I first started moving toward cloud production, we were traveling on a private tour bus with a professional tennis tour. When we first went out on the road, we were using a crew of six to eight people, and we would work out of the bus. The first half of the bus had a built-in, custom master control center, and we had a capability of up to 24 cameras. We would rarely use that many, but for a typical shoot, we’d use eight to 12 cameras controlled out of the bus. With a crew of six to eight onsite, we had to have space for it all. As we transitioned to remote, distributed production, we were able to switch from a bus to a transit van, with a crew of three to four onsite and unlimited crew offsite (Figure 7, below). The transit van has been set up for IP-based production from the get-go.
Figure 7. The “Transit van Two Master Control” setup we developed at LiveSports LLC
Then we moved a little bit smaller. Figure 8 (below) shows the setup we call Project X. Using Project X for live sports production, we have a crew of three inside and an unlimited crew offsite. We can also do 16 channels off the switcher that’s inside.
Figure 8. LiveSports Project X
More so than our other setups, this IP-based system functions primarily as a transport—we’re not doing the switching onsite, and we’re also using robotic cameras to capture the action, which further limits our onsite crew requirements. With tennis, we may have one or two people that are operating cameras onsite, but a lot of our cameras are completely operated offsite, which makes it quite easy to distribute that workflow. You can read more about the remote and cloud workflow LiveSports LLC uses for livestreaming tennis tournaments at go2sm.com/court2cloud.
As we moved into this new world, and especially when the pandemic started, we started getting calls to do more support in the cloud for different events like Zoom Rooms and Zoom Meetings. Figure 9 (below) shows an event where we had more than 150 Zoom Rooms running in our cloud Megaport Cloud Router (MCR) setup. If you have all these meetings running, you need to be able to monitor them. For this event, we had more than 16 monitors hooked up, all 4Ks with multiple displays, to be able to preview each one of the machines that were running in the cloud. We were able to successfully produce that event with a little more than 100,000 in attendance throughout these meetings.
Figure 9. Our “Master Control Three” rig, supporting 150-plus Zoom Rooms
The best part about the cloud in this situation was that our client came to us at the last minute, as we were talking about backup solutions and so forth. They asked, “What’s our backup if something goes down here?” We already had our LiveU as a backup over cellular, so we were not only uplinking with Sienna.Cloud for NDI, but with LiveU as well. One day before the show, they asked, “If we built more, could you handle it all in the cloud?” I said, “Absolutely.”
We were able to give them that redundancy in the cloud at a point when we didn’t even have time to go down to Best Buy if we wanted to and buy 40 machines of like type or order them on Amazon for overnight delivery. But producing in the cloud gives you the capability to build out as many as you need to fit the purpose, as long as you have the resources available in your cloud.
Primary Tools Used in Cloud Production
I’ll conclude by running through some of the tools that we commonly used in the cloud, and how we use them in our workflow.
One of the most important ones, as mentioned earlier, is the Sienna NDI Processing Engine, and right behind that is the Sienna NDI router. The Vizrt Viz Vectar Plus is probably our go-to tool for video switching. vMix is kind of Swiss Army knife for remote production. There are a lot of very successful people using vMix in the cloud. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype are tools that we use to bring content into the cloud, along with the LiveU servers. We use a LiveU virtual server in our cloud infrastructure, so we see the video output of that LiveU server by NDI in our cloud.
Let’s go a little bit deeper into some of these tools. The Sienna NDI processing engine (see Figure 10) allows us to do things like adjust and remap audio, embed or de-embed, flip a format to a different format, and more. If brought in a feed via SRT and wanted to send it out via transport stream or Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP), we could definitely do every bit of that with the NDI Processing Engine. It is available both in the cloud and also on-premise. It runs under Ubuntu, so it’s very stable. We rarely have problems with the system itself. It’s also very simple to follow, because it allows you draw your signal passes to visualize operations. as shown in Figure 10. It has a built-in small video mixer with six customizable inputs that we program into our X-Keys or our a Stream Deck. We can use it to cut cameras just as we would with a normal switcher, but it’s processed in the cloud.
Figure 10. Sienna NDI Processing Engine
We end up using the Vizrt Vectar Plus probably 90% of the time when we need to do switching. Using the code base from the NewTek TriCaster, the Vectar Plus is effectively the TriCaster 2 Elite in the cloud. It allows you to spin up multiple units, so you can easily build a system that will grow as your needs increase, and you determine how far you want to go—which is one of the best arguments for moving production to the cloud.
LiveSports LLC's Jef Kethley outlines the key advantages of migrating to cloud production for live event streaming in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2021.
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