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Tutorial: Remote Live Production in the Age of COVID-19

Figure 6 (below) shows the PIXL Book Event loaded. I'm in the Program window in the top right part of the screen. You can see me talking to (and pointing at) the webcam. You can see my audio coming in right here just down and to the left of the Program window here it says "ME." Currently, the "ME" feed is going only into bus B (directly below the Program window). One of the really advantageous features that I found in the high-end version of vMix is its support for up to eight simultaneous calls. I'm using only four, but four has been proven to be a really good number even when I do corporate shows like this one.

Figure 6. The PIXL book event in vMix. Click the image to see it at full size.

To the left of "ME" you can see places for my three call-in participants, "BROOKE," "TOM," and "MIKE." If I right-click on a call-in window, a pull-down opens (Figure 7, below).

Figure 7. Choosing Call Manager

I'll click on Open Call Manager to open the Call Manager panel shown in Figure 8 (below). Here I can see my four different callers. It would be larger if there were more. It's also a chat window where I can chat with the panelists. It's also the place where callers can choose to send a message back to me during the show, because once we're live, their microphones are part of the show. But if they need to tell me something, they can tell me in the chat.

Figure 8. The Call Manager panel

On the side, I keep a web browser window with the client's Facebook page. If we look at it now, we can see some of the statistics. At this writing, the show has 6,000 minutes viewed since Tuesday evening. In a day and a half, and that’s pretty good. One remote participant had some bandwidth issues, but overall, this worked out very well to reach the intended audience.

One thing that I like to look at is the peak live viewers. We started with some pre-show, and once we began the actual show and everybody was talking, the audience grew and stayed all the way through the show. That is a key benefit of well-produced content: The audience stays. The audience stayed for a lively Q&A and then we closed the show.

In terms of building this show, I have four remote feeds. One of the really nice features of vMix that I’m able to leverage is that I can pick what a remote guest sees by choosing the video source to output, as shown in Figure 9 (below). My guests, Brooke, Tom, and Mike, all see the main program.

Figure 9. Choosing Output 1 (program) as what the remote guest sees

David (whose window you can see next to “ME” in Figure 6) was a remote producer. I sent David Output 2, a multiview window. This way, David was able to see what I'm bringing up in preview. He was able to see all of the guests. He was able to see a clock timer. It's like he was sitting next to me as I switched between the sources.

If I'm full screen on one person, David can still see how everyone is lining up within the three-box windows. These windows are cropped, so I don't want to come back to somebody if they're reaching for something and not in the box. I have a camera on me as well, so David could also see me, see what I'm doing. I also have three pre-recorded questions where the box on the left of the screen is automatically populated with Brooke, who is the author of the book.

Input 1 is Brooke. When she connects, her feed automatically populates into each of the multiviews that I have built for the show, which is really awesome. The same with the three-shot showing the publisher, the author, and a fellow author. All three of them are able to have a conversation across the windows, and the viewers can see all three of them.

I also have four overlays, or keys. If the publisher asks, with overlays I can add a call to action: "You can order this book now!" I have another overlay for the production company. I'm able to bring these overlays up on an as-needed basis over anything that's playing, like four downstream keys that can be used individually and all at the same time.

The three windows in the lower left of Figure 6 are the three video clips. This first clip was filmed vertically, but it actually came in sideways. I was able to re-position and rotate it so that it is vertical. I can zoom in a bit too. I also did a little bit of color correction, pushing it a little bit more towards blue, because it was quite warm. I made it a little more natural-looking. I'm able to do that with each of my inputs, to make them look more uniform across the whole show as opposed to just whatever the camera captured at that moment.

I have lower-thirds titles for each of the guests. I have stills that I can go to at any time. I have an opening video and a closing video. The opening video is basically a pre-show—a long (21-minute) video clip that led into the live show. About 15 minutes of it is countdown and pre-show. Then there's a section where the publisher is introducing the book. Then the author says a bit. Then we introduce to the live portion.

Audio Buses and Communication

Another key feature of vMix for remote production is the ability to communicate with the remote guests. We can text chat, of course, but if somebody is talking and they’re looking at the camera, they’re not looking at the chat area. It might even be closed or hidden on their end. So, I need to be able to talk to them, in their ear.

This is also important during rehearsal and pre-show for people who are not used to doing something like this. Calling into a remote production is very new to a lot of people, so it’s important to be able to communicate ear to ear, by voice, to understand their inflection and reassure them that this is all working well and they're doing a great job. There’s none of the body language we can rely on in an in-person interview. So additional vocal reassurance is important. With vMix, I can communicate all that with a second audio channel.

I don't have an audio mixer on my desk. All the video inputs are coming in via ethernet, and the audio from each of those sources comes with the video. The audio going back to each them is coming out of vMix.

The way I have this set up is, I've got Tom, Mike, David, and Brooke here, but none of those actually go to the master audio output. They are all on a second audio bus labeled A. I'm talking on bus B. In vMix, you can choose what audio bus is sent to the remote participants. Brooke and Tom are listening to bus B, Tom is listening to bus B. I'm talking directly into their ear on bus B. The A bus is for everyone else. When they’re on bus A, they can talk and listen to each other.

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