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Review: Telestream Wirecast 12

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It’s been a while since we looked at Telestream Wirecast, now up to version 12.0, and we were intrigued by some of the key new features in the latest three updates. This includes access to live captioning and restreaming to multiple platforms in Wirecast 10, both for-fee services offered with a generous 100-minute free trial. Version 11 offered stinger transitions, while version 12 added a new stock media library, audio mixing in Rendezvous, and a QR Code Generator, so you can more easily direct viewers to an external web URL. I’ll describe these in order of introduction.

For readers unfamiliar with the program, Wirecast is a Windows/Mac live video production program that can input and mix multiple audio and video inputs, add transitions, titles, and other elements, and transmit the output stream to different services and/or store an archived version off to disk. With versions starting at $695, Wirecast is cheap enough to stream simple webcam and PowerPoint tutorials or instructional videos and powerful enough for sophisticated multiple-camera live productions. [Note: Telestream changed Wirecast pricing shortly after this article went to print. There are now three tiers of Wirecast: ONE costs $249, Studio costs $449, and Pro costs $699.]

Wirecast Restream

In version 10, Telestream debuted Wirecast Web Services, a cloud-based service that includes Wirecast Live Captions and Wirecast Restream, which allows you to send a single-input stream to multiple cloud destinations. In previous versions of Wirecast, you could transmit to multiple services, but you needed sufficient processing power to encode a stream for each destination and the outbound bandwidth necessary for all streams. With Restream, you transmit a single stream into the cloud and direct that to multiple destinations, much like services like Switchboard Live.

Setup is simple. You choose and configure the services as before and select the Restream and Captions checkbox (Figure 1). Once enabled, Wirecast will encode a single “pool” encode, currently limited to 720p, transmit that to the cloud, and then distribute the streams to the selected services from the cloud. Clicking the Configure button next to the checkbox lets you enable or disable captions for any or all streams. Note that you must enable Restream to access Live Captions since the speech-to-text operation is performed in the cloud. However, you can Restream without captioning, which is important since these are both for-fee services. More on how this pricing works below.

Figure 1. Using Restream to stream to multiple destinations. Click here to see this image at full size.

I tested Restream broadcasting to Facebook Live and YouTube Live. Quality on both sites was good and glass-to-glass latency was reasonable, about 14 seconds for YouTube Live and 27 seconds for Facebook Live. I asked about latency and learned that this varies by the service, though Restream typically adds between 10-20 seconds of latency.

Telestream charges for Restream on a per-minute/per-service basis, so ten minutes streamed to four services costs you 40 minutes. You get 100 minutes free to start out. From there, Telestream offers two packages, $25/month for 500 minutes and $0.05/minute for overages, or $75/month for 2,000 minutes and $0.0375/minute.

Restream worked well in my tests and the usability was excellent. It was lovely not having to learn a completely new interface to make the function work. On the other hand, for high-volume live streamers, Restream will likely prove more expensive than third-party products like Switchboard Live which don’t share the current 720p limitation.

Live Captions

Though few casual broadcasters are legally required to caption at this point, captions are obviously highly desirable when broadcasting to deaf and hard-of-hearing people, when broadcasting to loud environments, or to viewers who might be watching with the sound turned off.

While captioning for VOD is now relatively straightforward, live captioning has always been a complex operation. Until very recently, you had to send an audio stream of your event to a human captioner who typed the captions on a stenographic keyboard, where they were then translated to full text, formatted as captions, and merged into the live stream. Workflows like this are cumbersome and expensive and therefore used only when absolutely necessary.

To enable Live Captions in Wirecast, you select the Restream and Captions checkbox in the Output Setting dialog and then Configure to enable/disable captions (Figure 1). If your presentation has multiple audio inputs, you can designate which to caption. During the event, Wirecast Web Services transcribes the audio, inserts the text into the RTMP stream as CEA-608 formatted captions, and sends the stream off to the service. Captions can only be displayed by services that can handle this format and Telestream has little control over how they are displayed.

With Facebook Live, caption display was nearly automatic, but the captions themselves were very hard to read. Speaking in a comment on the right of Figure 2, the normally quiet and reserved Anthony Burokas said it best: “It's not working like normal captions, which show the text and then change out to new text. These captions are three lines and they “change” to move a line up, but it's not a scroll. So, it takes a bit to get used to it compared to typical captions.” He was actually being kind; I found the captions nearly impossible to read; again, see for yourself. I asked about this, and Telestream said that the player controls how the captions are displayed and there was nothing they could currently do at their end.

Figure 2. Captions in Facebook Live were easy to set up but very hard to read.

Fortunately, though it was harder to configure captions in YouTube Live, the presentation was much easier to read (Figure 3). Specifically, you can’t add captions if you go instantly live on YouTube Live, only when you schedule the event for later. Then you have to dig to the bottom of the Stream Settings screen to enable closed captions and set them up as Embedded 608/708. Obviously, these are YouTube issues, not Wirecast, but if you plan to caption a YouTube Live event with Wirecast, give yourself plenty of time to figure out how to make it work. The captions worked as advertised in our live tests, but seemed quirky in our tests thereafter. You’re welcome to give the file a shot, but YouTube may be substituting in their own post-processed captions, and in any event, we’re not sure what you’ll be seeing from a caption perspective.

Figure 3. Captions in YouTube were much easier to read.

Telestream claims that Live Captions is more than 90% accurate with clean audio input, which I found pretty optimistic, with both transcriptions suffering mightily in the beginning.. Play both videos and you’ll see what I mean. The voice-to-text algorithm is machine learning-based, so should improve over time by recognizing names, technical words, and acronyms. Transcription is available in five languages, English (US and UK), French, Portuguese (Brazilian), and Spanish.

As with Restream, you get 100 minutes free with your new or upgraded version of Wirecast; thereafter, Telestream offers two plans. One is $60/month, which includes 500 minutes and a charge of $0.12/minute for overages. The second is $175/month, which includes 2,000 minutes and an $0.0875/minute overage charge.

You pay for captioning once, even if you send the captions to multiple services. So, ten minutes of captions sent to four services costs you 10 minutes at the rate you’ve selected. Also, because you must use Restream to access captioning, if you only send captions to a single service, Restream is included; there is no separate charge. If you send captions to two or more services, you’ll be charged for Restream for the second and all other services.

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