Streaming Tools for COVID and Beyond
Over the last 18 months, we have all likely retooled many of our video streaming and production techniques to cover the bases of virtual events. Now we are looking at a future that is certainly going to include a growing number of hybrid events, and we need to retool yet again for a mixture of in-person and remote presenters as well as attendees.
As I've been brought into various troubleshooting and optimization projects with live-streaming deployments now encompassing interest in ultra-low-latency tech stacks—including Low-Latency HTTP Live Streaming (LL-HLS) and WebRTC—a wide range of tools can come into play. Here's my short list of daily “go-to” tools to diagnose and test live and video-on-
demand (VOD) content.
- FFmpeg: Perhaps the most popular open source video tool, FFmpeg is a command-line framework that can process just about any input source format, video codec, audio codec, or output format you will come across in day-to-day production and deployment. Among countless other examples, FFmpeg can help re-create test conditions by streaming VOD content as live content to prep for a future event or deployment. Learn more about FFmpeg at ffmpeg.org.
- VLC Media Player: When you need a versatile desktop/mobile/smart TV video player, VLC can play many live-stream formats as well as VOD formats across platforms. Download it at videolan.org/vlc.
- MediaInfo for Mac: When you have to examine the audio, video, and subtitle specifics of a VOD file, this Mac desktop tool can give you a lot of useful information in easy-to-read layouts. I particularly like the raw data view, as it provides more details. You can download this tool on macOS from the App Store (go2sm.com/mediainfo).
- Larix Broadcaster: Developed by Softvelum, this free mobile app on Android and iOS enables you to live stream in AVC/H.264 or HEVC/H.265 with Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) and the SRT protocol, respectively. If your video ingest systems need a free broadcaster option for mobile, be sure to consider and test this player. Get more information at softvelum.com/larix/larix.
- OBS (Open Broadcaster Software)/OBS WebRTC: Several live-streaming productions look to OBS as an easy and free way to mix live and VOD content for recording and/or live-streaming deployments, particularly for RTMP ingest. While the user interface isn't as mature as that of other commercial software, such as vMix and Telestream Wirecast, you can produce professional-looking live streams nonetheless. Users can download compiled binaries and review documentation at obsproject.com/. OBS WebRTC is a fork of OBS created by Cosmo Software to natively stream in WebRTC to the Millicast platform as well as the open source Janus WebRTC Server. You can download this specific version at go2sm.com/obsrtc.
- Apple's HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) Tools:This collection of command-line utilities is only available on macOS and requires an active Apple Developer membership to download. Media Stream Validator is one of the command-line tools that can consume a live or VOD HLS stream URL and examine the manifest(s) and content segments/chunks referenced within the manifest(s). Learn more at go2sm.com/applehls.
- Janus WebRTC Server/Coturn: While this selection of open source software installs as services running on a deployed server, you may likely need to test the feasibility of WebRTC workflows with respect to subsecond live-stream requirements. Janus is most easily installed on Ubuntu Linux, and Coturn provides TURN services for your Janus setup. Within a few hours, you can deploy a new Janus and Coturn server configured with custom domains and SSL certificates. Learn more about Janus at janus.conf.meetecho.com/ and Coturn at github.com/coturn/coturn.
- Switch:One of my favorite stream-analysis tools is Telestream's Switch, a sophisticated desktop video player that can provide frame-by-frame bitrate information, as well as keyframe placement. I use Switch mainly to confirm keyframe interval settings used in VOD encoding specs. Find out more at telestream.net/switch/overview.htm.
This is just a short list of the tools I use. If you have a specific tool you find helpful with your work, please feel free to let me know for future consideration.
Strategist Chris Pfaff and BroadwayHD Founder Bonnie Comley discuss the emergence of hybrid ticketing and presentation/delivery models for Broadway and beyond since the pandemic started, and the various shapes they will take in the months and years to come, in this clip from their panel at Streaming Media Connect
Video communications consultant Andy Howard discusses the transition to videoconferencing for internal business communications over the last year and the role he expects video to play in the future after organizations beginning transitioning away from remote work in the coming months.
Blizzard Entertainment's Corey Smith discusses the shift toward full cloud remote (REMI) production in large-scale event streaming in this clip from a panel at Streaming Media East Connect 2020.
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