For Live Streaming Producers, Tables of Gear Are Still a Good Idea
I wrote back in December how new All-In-One streaming tools like the Magewell Director Mini can let you do it all, but should you? In that column, I focused on the distribution of tasks to different people, which enables a producer to let “someone else” solve a problem with the PowerPoint deck, or fix the spelling of a lower-third graphic. I still believe this is necessary and even preferable on some live productions, even with the growing availability of tools that make it possible for a single operator to accomplish most essential production tasks on a single device.
At the same time, I think about having been hired to help produce a company’s January marketing summit. They didn’t want to rent my “control room” hardware because they were going to “keep it simple.” But, in the end, the “simple” approach ended up involving 14 laptops and three video mixers, spread across 2+ long tables. We started with one, then expanded to two, filled that up and then overflowed onto a small additional table.
Using my setup would have enabled us to switch the recording and IMAG using one StreamDeck on one computer, reducing the number of production tools significantly. While at the time I would have liked to reduce the number of pieces we used, there are also times when I have to admit—a table full of gear can actually be the best idea.
In a discussion forum someone wrote about loading Speedify (3rd party software-based bonding) onto a consumer router using OpenWRT (a Linux operating system targeting embedded devices) They wanted the router to connect to multiple internet connections, bond the data across those connections, while also acting as a wireless access point passing NDI data between the cameras and the switcher.
My first concern was that passing a lot of NDI data can already be a pretty heavy ask. It’s better to allocated it to a dedicated switch—maybe one even specially made for NDI—and not use a consumer wireless router. But then most routers are not designed to be multi-WAN bonding systems. That’s going to increase the CPU load of the lightweight embedded hardware. But the operator was firm. They wanted to reduce the number of pieces they needed to bring so they could be as light and mobile as possible.
I thought back to two instances, one where I was using Switcher Studio for an outdoor wedding in a remote location. I had a Netgear M1 cellular hotspot/Wi-Fi router. However, I took the ethernet out and connected it to a separate router WAP. This saved my bacon because the outdoor heat in the Texas summer made the Netgear overheat and shut down. But because I had a separate WAP, all my cameras remained connected and my recording capability was unbroken. If I had relied entirely on the Netgear for my Wi-Fi glue between devices, I would have lost everything when it shut down. Having separate pieces saved me.
Another time, a studio I worked at contracted for a TriCaster for a setup in another city. We asked that A/V company about backup recordings, they said they record two different feeds in the TriCaster with no separate, external program record for backup. The boss thought that was good enough. The event went well, and when the local A/V handed over the files, they weren’t immediately reviewed. Days later, the video files wouldn’t play.
The CEO reached out to the A/V company, and they revealed that they had been using a rented TriCaster, because theirs was occupied elsewhere that day. The rental TriCaster was returned to the rental company the following Monday and the rental company cleared the media off as standard rental return procedure. We ended up having to use the Zoom recording as our recorded master, meaning way lower quality than the TriCaster would have delivered.
Later, when I built a portable production kit for the studio, I put a Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio in the rack space above the computer that did the switching for a dedicated, external program record. I also put an ATEM 1 M/E in the rack as a backup for the computer.
In our quest to make everything smaller, more integrated, and easier for one person to operate, we also need to remember the value of a table full of gear, especially when things go wrong. That vMix internal program recording—even if it’s been 100% perfect every time—still needs a backup. Having a device for bonding and multi-WAN aggregation separate from the switch that is handing multiple NDI signals in and out is a very good plan. Having that additional laptop available and ready to run NDI tools or adjust ATEM mixer settings, or even just to fix a misspelled lower-third graphic, can save the show.
While the All-In-One tools grow and mature, let’s make sure we keep backup solutions in mind to ensure a successful production—even if it still means a table full of gear.
Today, we are seeing a similar conglomeration of features and abilities in today's production hardware, enabling one person to "do it all!" This begs the question: Should you do it all?
Magewell's new Director Mini is a mini marvel. This 5.5" "all-in-one" production tool with a $1,299 street price can mix multiple inputs and do picture-in-picture graphics, audio mixing, recording, streaming, and more, as IEBA's Anthony Burokas explains in this in-depth review.
The customer wanting to watch your stream on Insta does not want a horizontal video shoehorned into a vertical frame. The customer watching the horizontal version doesn't want the vertical slice with the same thing blurred out behind it to fill the frame. Each of those customers is hungry for that particular experience. It's your job to give your customers what they are hungry for.
I had the opportunity to try and learn to surf earlier this year. I'm very glad that I took the lessons because I soon found out how hard surfing really is. While trying, failing, getting hurt, watching, and learning, I saw some parallels between my lessons on the water and the streaming business—which isn't quite as easy as it looks either.
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