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See it Now: Web-Based Live Streaming Services Reviewed

It all started with an empty coffee pot. In 1991 researchers working at Cambridge University would visit the communal coffee pot only to find it empty. Caffeine-fueled geeks working late into the night pointed a camera at the machine and wrote some code to capture the images and distribute it on the network. The "webcam" was born. Jump ahead 18 years. Now, live video online is as integral to our lives as caffeine. We watch presidential inaugurations live on Ustream; CNN pulls in live "iReport" video feeds from viewers; live video conferencing and chat is part of our work life; and software and devices have made it easy for anyone to broadcast video on the internet. We have gone from looking at a coffee cup in England to watching 190 minutes of online video a month, according to Nielsen. Online video is here to stay, and more and more of it is live.

But how do we choose the right tool? Whether you're a corporation looking for an enterprise-level solution or a college kid who wants to chat with your buddies, there are a bunch of different platforms to choose from. After researching a slew of different websites, I selected 11 live video services to compare and contrast.

The Rules
Traditionally, live webcasts for broad audiences have been planned far in advance and require specialized equipment and personnel, and Streaming Media covers that realm regularly. But the latest trend in live streaming is toward increased speed from concept to delivery; it's consumer-driven, and it requires only the most basic equipment. Now, even larger organizations are moving toward this model. So my criteria for selecting the sites reviewed here were simple:

1. It must be able to live stream video from a webcam.
2. It must be able to record while streaming.
3. It must be able to embed the recorded video into another site.

Eleven services met my criteria:

• blogTV
• Justin.tv
• Kyte
• LiveCast
• Livestream
• make.tv
• Stickam
• Twitcam
• ubroadcast
• Ustream
• Yaika

I tested multiple video recording/sharing sites that did not fit the specific criteria for this article, but I wanted to include the list so you can check them out on your own:

• Flixwagon
• Qik
• LiveVideo.com
• Veetle
• TwitVid
• 12seconds.tv
• Glomera
• Mobatalk
• yfrog

Video samples are available on the pages that follow, and you can also download a chart comparing features by clicking here.

The Equipment
The equipment I used is slightly more powerful than what's become standard fare for an average internet user, but not by much. My laptop is a MacBook Pro 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM and the built-in iSight Camera. I used an Audio-Technica AT3035 microphone with an ART USB Dual Pre USB Preamp and a basic set of headphones for the audio portion. For the browser, I used the latest version of Firefox.

I recorded all videos under the same conditions and attempted to use a similar script but with the site names changed to protect the innocent.

Grab a cup of coffee and let the comparisons begin.

blogTV (www.blogtv.com)
Launched in June 2007, this free video broadcasting platform allows users to easily launch their own channel, split screens with another user, and manage viewer interaction.

test for streamingmedia - Broadcast your self LIVE

• Easy-to-use interface
• Twitter chat integrated
• Scheduled showtimes so users know when to connect
• Broadcast in high quality using Adobe Flash Media Encoder 3

• Banner and screen ads are a bit intrusive
• Social integration includes Facebook-style "gifties"
• Most popular channels appear to be scantily clad "confession" shows (not necessarily cold if that's what you're looking for in a live video service)

Best For
If you have a rabid, regular fan base or would like to build one, then blogTV would probably be a great social network to live broadcast your show.

Justin.tv (www.justin.tv)
With more than 5 million registered users and more than 41 million unique visitors a month, Justin.tv definitely lives up to its claim as "the largest online community for people to broadcast, watch and interact around live video." It continues to lead by recently opening up its API to encourage third-party development on top of its platform. Integration with Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace keeps it hot on the social side, while entertainment and gaming news prove it can be used as a business tool.

Watch live video from thinkjose on Justin.tv

• Seamless one-click live broadcasting
• One of the cleanest designs I tested
• Ease of use, with nice big buttons, fonts, etc.
• Platform feels very solid
• Only tool I tested with no errors or drops

• Launched Twitter video tool called Camtweet.com, which is simple but lacking features available in other Twitter tools
• Lots of adorable live kitten and puppy cams (nice if you're into burning some time online)
• Leader in this space, but overall, feels like it is falling behind some of the other competitors

Best For
Internationally, Justin.tv is the hot space to stream your live videos, but be aware that in some countries you have to purchase a Pro account to view any of the videos during peak times.

Kyte (www.kyte.tv)
Kyte is a mobile and online video platform that offers companies a variety of community building tools. Shoot or stream videos from your laptop, iPhone 3GS, or other mobile device and then edit and share them on your channel. Kyte is definitely focused on the business community, but the social side of the site draws in artists such as rapper 50 Cent and The All-American Rejects. The lines are blurring between B2B and B2C, and Kyte happily offers multiple tools to both sides to create content.

• Mobile as well as computer-based tools mean you can live stream from anywhere
• Simple chat and interaction tools
• Clients include individuals and large organizations such as ESPN; probably has a tool for you

• Streaming video was easy, but Kyte Studio tool was confusing
• Good focus on business users, which may be hurting its social status with individuals
• Two domains—www.kyte.tv (more individual- focused) and kyte.com (more business focused)— and seven product offerings; sometimes unclear on which tools to use

Best For
Small to large-sized businesses looking for a turnkey live streaming solution would benefit from using Kyte. It also has a strong base of users in the music industry and entertainment media.

LiveCast (www.livecast.com)
Since 2005, LiveCast has been working with streaming content from mobile devices to the web and establishing itself as a leading company in enterprise and consumer video. Its focus has been on medium- to large-sized businesses and mobile-to-mobile streaming. But it is starting to launch some more consumer-focused tools and allowing anyone to set up an account and stream live video. I tested the downloadable LiveCast tool in beta for Mac, and the quality dial definitely went up to 11, with video quality up to 10Mbps.

• Great focus on mobile and enterprise solutions
• High-quality options
• Location-based tools map where you are

• Clunky website and download tool (Mac version is still in beta)
• Supports only Windows Media or QuickTime to view videos, but includes a Flash embed tool for recorded videos

Best For
Medium- to large-sized business looking for mobile-to-web or mobile-to-mobile video platform would benefit from using LiveCast.

Livestream (www.livestream.com)
A little older than 2 years, the company formerly known as Mogulus has gone from streaming videos from your mobile phone to building an online production studio. Basic browser tools let individuals create their own live channels, edit the look and feel extensively, and cue up live contributors or existing videos. The depth of the tools really makes you feel like a producer in a TV station with control over an insane number of details. What started out as a fun way to broadcast video online has moved into a very professional tool used by media outlets such as USA TODAY, NPR, and C-SPAN.

• Nice progression of easy-to-use Webcaster to more feature-rich Studio, and then kitchen-sink Procaster
• Best collection of player customization tools
• Multiple producers and multiple cameras make it easy to share control
• Sometimes all the features can make it tough to navigate
• Lacks social media integration found in other sites• Procaster is Windows download only (Mac is coming soon)
Best For
If you're looking for an easy-to-customize player; great features for switching, cueing, and video management; and as close to a production truck in your browser as you can get, Livestream is for you.

make.tv (www.make.tv)
make.tv is making it easier for teams to stream live videos with more creative control. Similar to some other sites, it allows the cueing of multiple cameras and lets teams access and create content at the same time. It also offers live chat between producers and a few more creative video effects such as screen resizing, picture-in-picture, and audio clip cueing. One of the nice things about this site is the in-depth video tutorials that let you see exactly how to use the tool.

• Great tutorial videos
• Nice team workflow tools such as voice chat, assigned tasks, etc.

• Usability was poor in the broadcast tool (good thing they had those tutorial videos)
• Lacking chat and other social features

Best For
make.tv is great for a team of people working on a live video show together who want more creative control and workflow tools.

Stickam (www.stickam.com)
Billing itself as "the live community," Stickam offers video chat, live shows, and instant live streaming video tools. With well-known users such as Leo Laporte's This Week in Tech and G4 TV, it's no wonder that this site has a broad following. The Go Live button requires a simple click to launch yourself into the online video world. Updates such as Twitter chat integration, mobile streaming, and Stickam's open API will continue to make this a community of video creators and consumers.

• Separating video chat with 12 cameras at once from the live streaming content is helpful
• Go Live and chat functions are easy to use
• Strong support for the radio community

• I could do without the teen angst and single chat room folks (but this is the internet)
• Audio issues with multiple cameras cued up

Best For
Stickam is a great launchpad for those in the technology, media, or entertainment space, or if you need a place for 12 people to video chat at once.

Twitcam (www.twitcam.com)
Recently launched by Livestream, this Twitter live video tool is über easy! Sign in with your Twitter username, allow Flash to use your camera, and you're streaming live. Invite your friends on Twitter and archive your video for later—that's it.

• Easy, easy, easy
• Video looks great
• Auto-plays recorded videos you embed on other sites (very annoying)
• So easy; integration with other social networks would be nice (but that may be part of its success)

Best For
Are you on Twitter? Want to live broadcast video? Twitcam is for you! Also, this line is less than 140 characters. :)

ubroadcast (www.ubroadcast.com)
A fairly recent entry into the market, ubroadcast added live streaming video to its established audio streaming platform in July 2009. Overall, it's a very clean and easy-to-use system that allows for a picture-in-picture co-host and recording tools. Plans for the near future include a pay-per-view option that will allow you to set the price for your live streamed content.

There is no option to turn off autoplay so you have to click here to watch this one.

• Clean and easy to use, great co-host picture-in- picture tool

• Embedded video auto-plays with ads (very annoying)
• Too new; not much content there (I'm sure folks will populate it soon)

Best For
This site is best for individuals and businesses alike, especially when they launch the pay-per-view feature.

Ustream (www.ustream.tv)
Events such as the presidential inauguration and celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have given Ustream a lot of buzz this year. The live video service has co-hosting, multiple stream viewing, lots of social interaction, and mobile interaction across many platforms. Also, with its API, you can automatically upload your recordings to sites such as blip.tv; Ustream also offers an enterprise-grade version called Watershed that's used by the likes of Disney and Duke University.

• Great cross section of broadcasters and viewers
• Nice features such as polls, social stream, and advanced video and audio controls
• Broadcast tool has too many pop outs
• The difference between a highlight, a show, and a page can be confusing

Best For
Events, celebrities, and business folks who are looking for a nice balance of social interaction and depth of tools could make great use of Ustream.

Yaika (www.yaika.com)
Based in Estonia, Yaika says it is "making life streaming fun," and it doesn't disappoint with a bright, bold design and a very-easy-to-launch broadcast tool. With just a few clicks, you are streaming live (no registration required). Add multiple cameras, record your video, and even leave video "voicemails" for your friends.

• Bright, clean user interface
• One click for video or audio streaming with no registration required

• Two of the trending tags as of this writing: "alcohol" and "smoking"
• Had to register to comment on the videos

Best For
Individuals or small business people who are looking for an easy design and who want to build a global audience would benefit from using Yaika.

All of these videos are also available for viewing on the author's blog.

Jose Castillo's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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