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Integrating NDI Sources From Conferencing Platforms

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Most live-event video production during COVID has rapidly accelerated the use of NDI output from popular conferencing tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, particularly for one-to-many broadcasts in which remote contributors are more the norm than the exception. While this article won’t explore the technical details of NDI video sources such as compression and resolution, it will explain how to enable NDI in Zoom and Microsoft Teams for higher-quality input sources into your live-streaming workflow.

(Note that Skype also enables NDI output quickly and easily from the application’s preferences. If you’re looking for a quick way to use free conferencing technology with your live-streaming workflow, consider Skype. Skype does, however, place a small Skype logo watermark in the corner of the NDI output.)

Bringing Off-Site Presenters Into On-Site Streamed Events

Before we jump into the NDI setup in Microsoft Teams and Zoom, let’s describe a typical live on-site event with one or more presenters physically present in the venue’s staging area. As shown in Figure 1 (below), the video and audio feeds are created from camera and microphone capture on-site and are managed with a hardware or software video switcher.

Figure 1. Typical on-site live event and distribution of stream

But what do you do when you need to bring presenters who are not physically present into a live stream? You have a few options to choose from:

  1. Keep the entire event in the conferencing platform. With this approach, you don’t use any traditional video-switching hardware or software. You simply use the conferencing platform to host the event, including all presenters and participants. Typically, this approach is done with a webinar format designed to allow hosts (or technical directors) to control the flow of the presentations, and participants have limited A/V input into the session and use mostly text chat to interact with presenters and hosts.
  2. Live stream the event from the conferencing platform directly to your streaming destination. This could mean streaming to YouTube, Facebook, or your own custom player embedded on a website. Zoom’s products enable you to stream directly to these platforms or your own Real-Time Messaging Protocol destination, but other platforms may not have this feature.
  3. Capture the HDMI video output from a desktop or laptop computer with video-switching hardware or software. Depending on how much control you’d like to have over sources in the conferencing platform, you can dedicate one computer per presenter (or screen share), using fullscreen options in the conferencing application. Each computer acts as a dedicated source you can control in your video-switching hardware or software. To learn more about this option, check out my article, Managing Inputs and Outputs for Video Conferencing and Webcasts.
  4. Enable NDI output from your conferencing platform. In this scenario, you assign each source in the conferencing platform to an input in your video switcher. As previously mentioned, NDI is available in Microsoft Teams and Zoom products. I’ll explore this option in more detail for the remainder of this article.

Enabling NDI for Microsoft Teams

If you (or your live-event customer) have a Microsoft Office 365 account, chances are you already have access to Microsoft Teams meetings. Figure 2 (below) shows a workflow for integrating Microsoft Teams with your live-event productions.

Figure 2. Microsoft Teams integration with live-event production

Microsoft Teams, like Skype, has an easily enabled NDI feature, but you do need to have administrator access to the Microsoft Teams settings. At the time of this writing, you can access the meetings policies here.

The default policies (Figure 3, below) may not be configured for NDI broadcasting. To enable NDI broadcasting for everyone in the organization, click the “Global (Org-wide default)” policy.

Figure 3. Default policies for Microsoft Teams meetings. Click the image to see it at full size.

In this policy, scroll down to the “Audio & video” section (Figure 4, below) and switch the “Local broadcasting” option to “On.” (Admittedly, this option mentions NDI only in the information icon rollover description.) After you have enabled this setting, scroll to the bottom of the policy page and click Save. Now you have enabled NDI broadcasting for your organization’s Microsoft Teams meetings.

Figure 4. Audio and video settings for the Global (Org-wide default) policy. Click the image to see it full size.

While it’s easiest to enable NDI for everyone in the organization, your Microsoft Teams administrator may only want to enable the local broadcasting option for specific users who operate in a technical director capacity within the organization.

You should also check the Microsoft Teams application permissions for each presenter in the meeting. Open “Preferences (Mac)” or the Settings option in the “Settings and More …” menu next to your profile icon in the Microsoft Teams dashboard window (Windows). In the “App permissions” section (Figure 5, below), enable the Production Capabilities toggle for NDI.

Figure 5. App permissions for Microsoft Teams

When you’re in a Microsoft Teams meeting hosted by the organization that has enabled NDI broadcasting, you can start broadcasting live feeds from your meeting by clicking the More button in the top toolbar of the Microsoft Teams interface and choosing “Broadcast over NDI” in the menu (Figure 6, below). (Note that Microsoft Teams does not alert participants in a meeting that their audio and video are being broadcasted over NDI. Make sure all attendees are aware that their audio and video are being utilized for recording and/or streaming purposes.)

Figure 6. The Broadcast over NDI option in the More menu of Microsoft Teams

At this point, you should be able to shift to your NDI-enabled video-switching software (or hardware) and see the available NDI feeds. Microsoft Teams automatically creates an Active Speaker feed as well as individual feeds for any participant who has given permission for local broadcasting. Figure 7 (below) shows feeds as OBS displays them for an NDI Source.

Figure 7. NDI Source settings in OBS showing Microsoft Teams sources

Depending on your meeting layout, you may have other NDI feeds available as well. Screen shares will show up as separate NDI feeds. Microsoft lists other streams that could be available over NDI here.

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