Going Pro with Remote Production
As mentioned earlier, there’s a wide selection of apps you can run on your computer to switch a live show with your remote guests. However, the downside with all of these tools is that they sit on the computer in front of you and are subject to the same vagaries of power and connectivity as anything else you’re running. If your internet connection goes bad, it terminates the whole show. No connections get in, and your stream does not go out. So what’s the solution for that? You can produce in the cloud. And no, I don’t mean in Zoom, although people have done that, and Zoom does have a hook to send a feed directly to Facebook or YouTube. So it’s doable, but it’s really not designed for this. I recommend using a solution that is designed for what you’re doing: producing a show with multiple live-switched cameras, video playback, titles, graphics, and more. Use one that runs in the cloud and can push to any of the destinations you were already going to go to.
One example is StreamYard (go2sm.com/streamyard), which can handle 10 people on screen. One of them is you, the producer, so it’s really only nine guests. Restream has a similar solution called Restream Studio (restream.io/studio) that lets you switch between cameras, graphics, video, and titles, all in the cloud. These cloud tools do not make all of the remote cameras come down to you; only your screen view comes down, and you transmit only your clicks, which makes the production very light on internet bandwidth. The cloud tools can also run on a very basic computer, so the potential investment in sufficient hardware and internet bandwidth to handle eight remote callers is almost eliminated.
If you want to step up from those, there are more-configurable solutions, like Dazzl (dazzl.tv) and Gnural Net (gnuralnet.com). Even Sony now features a cloud production solution (pro.sony/en_IE/solutions/virtual-production). NewTek’s parent company, Vizrt, also offers what is essentially a TriCaster in the cloud with its Viz Vectar Plus (vizrt.com/en/products/viz-vectar-plus). Familiar show production player Shoflo has added Shoflo Studio (shoflo.tv/studio), which will handle 10 people on stage and as many as 25 total. That’s very impressive. Sienna (sienna-tv.com) and Medialooks (medialooks.com/video-transport) have a whole raft of remote contribution and NDI tools available to producers who need to integrate remote guests and content.
And finally, don’t rule out putting the app you know on a server in the cloud. There are a lot of producers who are putting vMix on Amazon servers and mixing shows in the cloud. But, of course, if you wanted to do it with Wirecast, OBS, or Livestream Studio, you certainly can.
With new open source solutions like OBS.Ninja (obs.ninja), what the app can do is really limited only by your ability to understand and implement what you want it to do. Thankfully, these tools have Reddit, Discord, and Facebook groups to assist new users who are trying to get up-to-speed and build out the functionality they need. There are tens of thousands of producers who are doing exactly what you’re doing—you just need to reach out to them for help and then help others in turn. As you advance in your knowledge, there’s always some one else right behind you who needs the assistance you got not too long ago. Be sure to help as you have been helped.
Another option to consider is a bonded internet connection. At the low end, Speedify (speedify.com) will give your computer two or more concurrent internet connections to help maintain reliability in tough situations. There are also hardware solutions that include bonding services, such as Peplink’s SpeedFusion technologies (peplink.com). But beware those that seem to offer multiple wide area network (WAN) connections to the internet, because many are just doing “load balancing”—that is, assigning different tasks to different connections and not dividing up a video stream among all of the connections at the same time. Bonding requires a server and service at the other end to put those packets that come in across multiple networks back into the order they were sent, before passing them on to the destination server. If there’s no bonding service specifically listed or being charged for, there may not be true bonding at all.
Once you’ve figured out the big stuff, then you’ll be ready to start streamlining your production workflow to make it easier and more fluid. This usually involves a control surface. Big tools like NewTek TriCaster have big control surfaces at the ready. But they are designed for certain inputs and to work a certain way that’s not applicable or adaptable to other approaches or solutions.
There are a lot of other control surfaces out there that allow you to pick what every button does, make them work the way you want, and even change things up between shows. Some of these tools include P.I. Engineering’s X-keys (xkeys.com), Skaarhoj’s broad line of “computer in a control surface” devices (skaarhoj.com), Elgato’s simple but elegant Stream Deck (elgato.com), and MIDI controllers from Akai (akaipro.com/products), Behringer (behringer.com), and Novation (novationmusic.com). You can even use USB game controllers (amzn.to/
Many tools come with their own software, like those from Skaarhoj and Elgato, but there are also third-party software coders who are making digital glue that can likely take the controller you want to use and make it work with the software you want to use. This includes apps such as Central Control (centralcontrol.io) and Bitfocus Companion (bitfocus.io). There’s also TouchOSC (hexler.net), a touchscreen-based configurator that enables you to repurpose an old iPad to provide whatever buttons, sliders, and knobs you want. And Elgato has made virtual Stream Deck Mobile so you can use an old phone when you need just a few more buttons (Figure 7, below).
Figure 7. Elgato Stream Deck Mobile
So there you have it: my current (at the time of this writing) tips, tricks, and links for the remote streaming professional. There are likely to be a few you haven’t seen before, and I’m sure there are many out there that I am not aware of either or will have discovered by the time you read this. There’s always more to learn in this business, and there are always more ways to refine our workflows and improve what we do.
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