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Livestream Comes to Roku

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As a leading live streaming service provider, Livestream continually seeks additional eyeballs for its live event producers and viewers. As a developer of a top-selling line of OTT devices, Roku continually seeks additional content for its device owners. Now that Livestream has announced its launch on the Roku streaming platform, the only real question is what took them so long? I spoke with company co-founder and CEO Max Haot about this and other issues.

But first the product details. If you’re a Roku owner, you can get the Livestream channel just like any other channel, by selecting it on the web or on your Roku device. Once you select the Livestream channel on the Roku, links to featured live content is shown, along with links to upcoming events in sports, music, entertainment, technology, non-profit and activism, and other categories. If your content isn’t featured, your viewers will have to search for it using one of the two search buttons—one for events, one for accounts.

The Livestream Channel on the Roku

Search works like it does on the Livestream webpage. I recently produced a webinar on Livestream entitled "Configuring your Streaming Video." I typed "config" and searched on a computer and the Roku, and Livestream found the event on both platforms.

If you’re a producer, you don’t have to do anything special to offer your content on Roku, though there are two provisos. First, as you just learned, unless you’re featured content, your viewers will have to search for your event, so you might want to provide specific advice like “to watch the event on Roku, click the 'Search by Event' button on the bottom of the Livestream homepage and search for 'Configuring Your Streaming Video'.”

The second proviso is similar to the curse of the HD camera. That is, unless you’re transmitting to Livestream at 720p, your content may look subpar when stretched to the max on a 64” LCD panel. For top quality, Haot recommends transmitting using the HD preset, which, when bundled with the two other streams required by most Livestream encoding tools, consumes 3.2Mbps of outbound bandwidth. To avoid upload bottlenecks, this would require an outbound bandwidth of around 5Mbps. I produced the "Configuring" event using High quality, a rung below HD, and the Roku playback quality was OK, but the content was easy-to-compress stuff—PowerPoint slides and a static talking head.

I spent a few minutes sampling morning shows on the Roku, and found quality very mixed. Some events appeared to be streaming to Livestream at SD resolutions and at lower data rates, and even moderate motion resulted in very evident blockiness. Other shows, most notably the 92Y channel, appeared to be sending an HD stream, and the events I sampled looked very similar to Netflix quality.

Speaking of quality, Haot says that Livestream waited to support Roku until HD streaming among Livestream producers become the norm, rather than the exception. Though some Livestream competitors had debuted on other OTT devices with lower quality video, Haot stated that Livestream waited until their producers could deliver a “Netflix-like experience” on the Roku device, which required HD streaming.

Figure 2. HD quality looked really good, but lower resolutions and data rates showed lots of blockiness.

According to Haot, Livestream partnered with Roku because the company has 6 million current users, a low $49 entry price, and an open platform that was easy to work with. Understanding that Roku represents only a healthy fraction of the connected TV market, which includes not only OTT devices but game consoles, Blu-ray players and smart TVs, Haot indicated that Livestream will announce additional partnerships in the near term. Overall, he concluded, “just as Netflix viewing has shifted from computers to connected TVs, we expect Livestream viewing to do the same.”

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