All-in-One Streaming Tools Let You Do It All—But Should You?
Technology can be used to make things easier. One device becomes capable of doing all the things that used to require separate devices, technologies, or systems. Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007, touting it as the integration of the iPod (personal media playback), a cell phone (communication) and the internet (getting information). It wasn't the first device to do this, but it has been one of the most successful.
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?
I have worked large productions where the lead video engineer switching between cameras (V1) will work with a V2 to assist, as well as someone to provide video playback, someone else to run graphics, a third person to oversee PowerPoint, a fourth to manage "records." Each of these other roles may require multiple devices. Graphics may have two laptops with either redundant graphics or two different sets of graphics. Playback would have two decks. Two for PowerPoint. Two, 3, 4, or more for records.
There's the audio engineer A1, who will have an assistant A2 as well as other helpers to run mics to those who need them, run cables, troubleshoot, manage batteries during long events, and more. There are one or more people standing at the stage to make sure mics are on and in place, while A1 is at the “Front of House” (which is actually the back of the auditorium) mixing the show.
There may be a social team to manage comments on social streams, block spammers, and highlight good comments to bring into the show. Not to mention the “Technical Assistants” who provide technical assistance to those in the audience who are having problems.
There’s many more, like camera shaders, producers, director, camera operators... but the point is, a big live production takes many hands.
This year, we saw Magewell enter the “All-in-One” (AIO) production solution market. These AIO solutions promise to enable one person to switch cameras, run graphics, manage video playback, adjust audio, launch streams, monitor viewer comments, manage recordings, and more from a single device they hold in their hands. At IBC, I saw Hollyland, RGBlink, and Spirolink toss their hats into the ring as well. But this is not a new market. The first such tablet was kickstarted by YoloLiv back in 2017.
Some might also want to include the latest Blackmagic Design ATEM video switchers in this category, with their ability to paint and switch cameras, do multiviews, mix audio, record, stream, and manage media in a single appliance. However, I’d argue that it’s a challenge to do all of this using only the buttons on the ATEM. Moreover, BMD recognizes this and has software that lets you distribute each of these tasks to different operators, using separate computers, all networked to the AIO device. If it takes an additional 6 laptops, is it still an AIO? I say no.
However, I think BMD has it right.
While you can put all those tasks in the hands of one person, what that really means is the percentage of the time their mind is focused on each task is divided by the number of tasks they are trying to manage. If you’re directing the show, switching the cameras, mixing the audio, running titles and onscreen graphics, updating a sports scoreboard, and reviewing viewer comments to include, that's already 6 tasks, so you’re only devoting one sixth of your attention to any one of those tasks. And if you’re reviewing viewer comments, or adjusting audio, you’re not watching what the cameras are capturing.
If it’s a simple talking head with minimal everything else, a single-op AIO may be fine, as there’s very little to adjust or track during the show. But the more complex a show is, the more beneficial it is to distribute tasks to other people. If there’s a problem with the PowerPoint, the crew member assigned to the presentation can work on fixing it while everyone else continues forward with the live show. If you’re running a one-person show, you have to stop everything to fix the problem.
So, while one person can possibly do it all, and the tech has evolved to enable it, keep in mind that there are times when it’s best to distribute the work among many people. Consider these AIO production solutions as one of the tools in the Producer’s Toolbox, and use the right tool for the right task.
While the All-In-One live production and streaming 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.
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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