Review: Telestream Wirecast Gear 3
Telestream created Wirecast Gear to serve as a proven and capable Windows-based hardware platform for Wirecast, its live streaming production program. The newly released Wirecast Gear 3 combines a change from Intel to AMD CPUs and a rearchitected software engine that Telestream claims “uses up to 60% less computer resources than previous versions.” In this review, I tested the new version of hardware and software to its limits and came away very impressed.
In particular, the Gear unit I tested was very efficient for 4K mixing, making it a very solid platform for productions that are projected on-site and/or streamed. As with previous Gear units, the NVIDIA-based H.264 codec requires very little in system resources, making it great for streaming and program output. However, ISO streams must be stored in either ProRes or x264, which is less efficient and unsuitable for more than one or two 4K ISO streams.
Wirecast Gear 3 comes in four configurations: 1080p and 4K for both HDMI and SDI. All come with the AMD Ryzen 5 5600x 6-core CPU running at 3.7 GHz with 16 GB of RAM running Windows 10 IoT Enterprise LTSC version 21H2. I’m not familiar with AMD chipsets, so I jumped over to AMD’s site and found that the CPU is multithreaded and features 12 threads that run at up to 3.7GHz.
At Tom’s Hardware, I learned that, in encoding-related tests, “The Ryzen 5 5600X... easily beats its nearest Intel competitor, the 10600K, across the board. The 5600X's performance in HandBrake, in both AVX-light x264 and AVX-heavy x265 flavors, is incredibly impressive as it trades blows with the more expensive 10700K.”
Encoding isn’t live switching, but it’s pretty intense processing. The author later stated that AMD’s “Zen 3 has completely disrupted Intel's desktop PC chips at every price point it competes in, and we're excited to see what the future Ryzen 3 and APUs have in store.”
At Amazon, I saw that the chip has a five-star rating with more than 10,398 reviews. Most are gaming-related, but some come from content creators as well. All of this is pretty convincing evidence that Telestream didn’t switch from Intel to AMD to increase its gross profit, but to improve performance.
You see the various models and their pricing in Figure 1 (below). All fit into a desktop-sized chassis for rackmounting or operation on a desk or other surface. HD models come with the NVIDIA Quadro T400 graphics card and the 4K models with the NVIDIA Quadro T1000; both cards supply hardware-based H.264 and (soon) HEVC encoding.
Figure 1. Gear models with pricing and specifications
All systems ship with a 250 GB NVME M.2 drive and a 1 TB SATA 3 storage drive, both SSD. For more on the various configurations, check out this spec sheet. I tested the Wirecast Gear 3 4K SDI system.
As you probably know, Wirecast is a very highly featured program with extensive and flexible design, streaming, and recording functionality. You see a simple project in Figure 2 (below), with multiple shots on the timeline on the bottom, a preview window in the middle top, and the program window on the right. Like most timelines, Wirecast presents the video from the bottom up and layers on top of another display over the bottom layers. In this fashion, the titles on layer two display over the videos and other shots in layer three.
Figure 2. The basic Wirecast interface shows shots on level 3 and titles on level 2, and the shot creation window on the upper left.
One key Wirecast strength is ease of use: You display a shot by clicking it on the timeline, which loads it into the preview window. Then you click the transition arrow button to take it live. Or, you can configure the shot to go live when you click it, which I generally prefer. To remove it from the program output, click Clear Layer on that layer and then the transition arrow button. Or, you can choose another shot on the same layer and press the transition arrow and the new content will replace the old.
Wirecast can input videos from a very wide range of sources, including:
- Capture cards in the unit
- Remote guests via WebRTC using a feature called Rendezvous
- Devices that connect via the Network Device Interface (NDI)
- Smartphones and tablets on the same network via Telestream’s free Wirecast Go apps
- Screens from computers on the same network via Telestream’s free Desktop Presenter software
- Input from webcams and other devices attached via USB
- Web pages
- Web streams for which you have the necessary credentials
- VOD content on disk
You can present all this content as-is or use chroma key controls to overlay them over a background. You also can adjust the sizing, color, brightness, rotation, and drop shadow of any content, and control remote PTZ cameras.
Telestream supplies a full range of production elements like titles, still image and video backgrounds, and background audio tracks. Plus, you can bring in data from social media platforms, and add live scoreboards and clocks and other elements.
You can display any of these individual elements at full or partial screen or assemble them in the Shot editor on the upper left of the interface. Shown in Figure 2 [LINK] is a webinar-style composition with two speakers and a PowerPoint file in the center, accessed via Desktop Presenter. The top video window is from a webcam attached to the system, the bottom from an iPhone connected via NDI.
Composing Your Shots
One fabulous new-ish feature are Shot Templates, shown in Figure 3 (below). To create the webinar composition shown in Figure 2, I loaded the 2 by 1 template (second row, third from the right) into the timeline, then clicked it to open it in the Shot Editor. Then I loaded the Desktop Presenter feed on the right and the two video windows on the left, which Wirecast resized and positioned automatically. To complete the picture, I loaded a blue background from the media library. Total composition time was about 3 minutes; prior to this feature, I could have manually created the same composition but it would have taken 20 minutes or longer by the time I got everything properly sized and positioned. Of course, the composition is completely editable so you can tweak it as you would like.
Figure 3. Shot templates make it simple to quickly create very high quality compositions with multiple inputs.
Wirecast offers much more functionality that I won’t get into, particularly audio mixing which is a make or break function of most productions. Simply stated, if you need a feature for a live production, Wirecast almost certainly has it.
Once you have the production elements collected and all shots composed, it’s time to go live. Like all video mixers, Wirecast can stream to multiple sites whether social media (Facebook/YouTube), for fee service provider (DaCast/Wowza), or any service with an RTMP or similar address. Access to the most popular sites is template-driven; for example, with YouTube and Facebook, you log into your account within the Wirecast interface and Wirecast automatically acquires the necessary details under the hood. Otherwise, you’ll have to manually copy and paste a server address and stream name into Wirecast, and supply login name and password.
When streaming to these services, Wirecast can use one of three codecs, x264, NVIDIA, and MainConcept, though Telestream indicated that MainConcept was included for legacy purposes and shouldn’t be used for most general-purpose streaming. HEVC is still not available, though Telestream plans to add NVIDIA-based hardware HEVC encoding at some point in the near future.
You can record the program output to disk in MP4 (x264/NVIDIA/MainConcept), MOV (ProRes/MJPEG), and (gulp) Windows Media format (MWV 7-9). You can record any shot or any source as an ISO stream which saves it as a discrete asset separate from the program stream. You can save ISO streams only in QuickTime format, either one of five flavors of ProRes or in H.264/x264 format, both with separate uncompressed audio.
That’s a high-level overview of Wirecast's capabilities and workflows. Now we’ll create several projects to test Wirecast Gear’s performance.
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