Tutorial: Remote Live Production in the Age of COVID-19
We are now in an age of remote production. I've used many kits for shoots where I bring my gear to a venue, set up, and do live production and streaming on-site. With my TriCaster kit, we deploy cameras in a room with hundreds of people and we produce live a show. That's simply not possible as I write this. In this remote production era, our subjects are at home, or maybe they go into a small office by themselves. I capture them remotely from my own home studio using their camera, and they become part of my show.
There are lots of different ways to do this, and a number of different pieces of software offer ways to bring in remote callers. Obviously, there are business conferencing solutions such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx, BlueJeans, and several others, which allow multiple people to come together and have discussions. What they don't do on their own is allow you to create produced shows for a larger audience. Applications like Zoom Meeting and Zoom Webinar allow you to assemble a panel that presents to an audience, and an audience can ask questions, chat, and respond to polls, which is very useful.
But there are times when you want to produce show for a larger audience on Facebook or YouTube or via a private CDN. You want to be able to add more production value and have more control of what is seen and heard. For that you need to leave the business meeting apps behind, and go back to live video production tools. Tricaster, vMix, Wirecast, OBS, Mimo Live, Livestream Studio, etc.
For the remote productions I do for my clients, vMix is my tool of choice specifically because of its capability for bringing multiple remote guests into the production. Vmix calls this feature vMix Call, but it's not a phone call. It's a remote camera source coming across the internet. vMix is a PC-based app, that lets you build or buy the hardware you need to suit your level of production.
Unlike Skype or Zoom, in vMix there's not a central hub that everybody is "calling" into. Each caller comes into my control room, into my computer, as a separate source. That lets me position them as I choose, with pictures-in-pictures, two or three across, or make them appear full screen as if they were individual cameras. Because that's what they are: Each person is speaking to an individual camera in front of them, and they have a headset mic, or they're using a desk mic. Effectively, everyone has their own mic and camera, and I'm producing the show via vMix.
For the remote production work I've been doing, I use the setup shown below in Figure 1. I run vMix on a high-end gaming laptop connected to three monitors. I use a second laptop to assess the stream. My vMix machine has a built-in camera, but I've added a second camera on top. I have placed a cooler under it to help keep it cool. When I'm producing a show and I have several video sources coming coming in and out, compression for streaming, recording, etc, processing all that video can make the computer get hot. Even if you're running vMix on a desktop system, you should make sure that the desktop has proper cooling and space around it.
Figure 1. My remote production streaming setup
My kit also includes an Elgato Stream Deck (Figure 2, below), which gives me a control surface that I can use to control the show without clicking on the keys and mousing around as much as I really need to.
Figure 2. The Elgato Stream Deck
Building Shows in vMix
The vMix application enables me to set up different shows and build shows for specific clients. For example, I recently streamed a lunch talk with three people at noon (Figure 3, top), and then at six o'clock the same day I did a book launch (Figure 3, bottom). These shows used completely different media sets, completely different call-ins, completely different setups, but each was built and customized in vMix.
Figure 3. Same day, two clients, two setups
vMix is a build-as-you-go application. Other solutions, like the NewTek TriCaster, use more pre-built configurations – you have an A bus and a B bus set up before you start creating your show. That's not how vMix or Wirecast or some other software-based live production tools work. I use TriCaster for lots of work I do for clients, but it's not my solution for this type of remote production because it doesn't allow as many remote call-ins as I need. To do a show like this with a TriCaster, I would need to set up a remote computer for each call-in, and then use NDI to bring in all of those feeds, and then somehow work out the complex task of getting audio back to each person. Vmix has a great solution for that as well.
When you launch vMix, you see a blank template (Figure 4, below). You've got two blank inputs, a preview and a program bus.
Figure 4. The blank template you see when you launch vMix. Click the image to see it at full size.
In the top left of the UI, as shown in Figure 5 (below), clicking on the Open button to reveal a drop-down list of presets built for previous projects. If I click on the PIXL Vook Event preset at the top of the list, the preset loads from my recent book launch loads.
Figure 5. The Open Presets pull-down