Review: Brightcove Video Cloud Live
So far, this is all pretty straightforward, but here’s where the workflow gets a bit hinky. In order to view the server credentials (stream name and server URL), you actually have to click the Start Streaming button to start the event (Figure 3). This is confusing because (of course) you can’t actually start streaming until you have the credentials to plug into the encoder. Plus, if you click Stop Streaming, the event is over and you can’t recall it, which means a new event, new player embed codes, new everything. Even worse, once you click Start Streaming, you have only 30 minutes to actually start the live stream; otherwise the event expires.
This complicates scenarios such as on-location encoding, where a network professional might want to preconfigure an encoder before sending the video folks out to stream the event. A better approach is to simply make the server credentials available when you create the event, as most other services do.
I also found the transition from preview to live unnecessarily jarring. As most live event producers know, before the event, you want absolute assurance that the server is receiving the stream from your encoder, and that video and audio parameters are optimized for top quality. You want to see it and hear it before you go live.
Systems such as YouTube Live do a great job managing this “going live” transition, providing a live preview in the control room with a countdown clock in the live player. You have all the time you need to optimize audio and video settings in a completely private preview. When you’re ready to go live, you click the Start Streaming button. YouTube Live switches the stream over, easy peasy.
Figure 3. I had to start streaming to actually see the server credentials, which makes no sense
With Brightcove, there is no concept of a preview. Once you start streaming (which you probably did hours ago to get the server credentials), the player is live and your viewers see everything you’re broadcasting. I asked Brightcove about this, and the response was that most customers preview in a nonpublic page and then paste the embed code into the actual viewing page when they’re ready to go live.
I’m sure this works fine, but the implications are somewhat negative. Not only can’t you test the actually viewing page thoroughly before the event, you need a web professional available just before the event goes live to update the page. This may not be as simple as it sounds if the event is at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, and the encoding and video professionals don’t know how to run the content management system (CMS). It strikes me that the YouTube Live approach is simpler and easier, particularly given the embedding issues I’m about to describe.
As with the other live streaming systems I’ve tested recently, my plan for Video Cloud Live was to test the system while producing an actual webinar, giving me a small universe of users to tax and test the system. I created and configured the event in the Brightcove system the night before, but I didn’t embed the player and test the system because I hadn’t figured out the optimal strategy for the preview/going live conundrum I just discussed.
I planned to embed the live stream into my own Streaming Learning Center website, which I’ve done dozens of times with VOD streams distributed by Brightcove, so I anticipated no problems. I’ve also used embed codes from five or six other live systems -- including Livestream, Bambuser, Ustream, YouTube Live, PowerStream, and Multicast Media (now Piksel) -- without any problem. However, when I embedded the Video Cloud Live embed code into my website, my Interspire CMS truncated the code and no player appeared on the page. I quickly tested my WordPress blog with the same apparent result.
Since this was about an hour from the start of the webinar, I switched to YouTube Live to host the event. To be clear, the typical Brightcove user has access to network-savvy professionals who likely could have resolved the issue in real time and would be far too smart to delay actual testing until an hour before the event. So I wouldn’t expect the typical Brightcove user to experience the same problem. On the other hand, I never resolved my CMS issue, even with input from Brightcove technical support, though I put that issue on hold once I discovered (well after my webinar) that Streaming Media’s homegrown CMS had no problems with the Brightcove Live embed codes. So this was yet another rough edge that unfortunately limited my ability to test the system as fully as I have others.
That is really unfortunate, because once I got things up and running, the results were impressive. As background, to test the system, I simulated a live event using footage I had shot of local band Loose Strings a few months ago for a promo video (Figure 4). Again, I used Telestream Wirecast to capture and stream the footage to Video Cloud Live, with a ViewCast Osprey 820e capturing a component signal from the Canon XH A1 camcorder used to record the concert. The encoding station was an HP Z400 with an Intel W3680 four-core Xeon processor (eight with HTT enabled) sending a 720p, 30 fps stream encoded at about 2.5Mbps to the Zencoder transcoding server. On this system, average CPU load for the encoding hovered around 28%, which is well within the comfort zone.
Figure 4. The streaming control panel with the live stream and all iterations
During the simulated event, I tested playback on a variety of computers and devices. The streams played on all tested computers, with good quality, no interruptions, and perfect audio sync. Tested devices included an iPhone 4s (using both cellular and Wi-Fi), a first generation iPad (Figure 5), and a Samsung GALAXY S4.
Figure 5. Galax, Va.’s own Loose Strings band, a screen shot from the full screen playback on my iPad.
After the event, you can edit the stored feed using the simple trim controls shown in Figure 6. Once that trim is complete, Brightcove retranscodes the live event using the standard streams defined for on-demand delivery and then makes the event available for on-demand viewing.
Figure 6. Trimming the event after completion
So where does that leave us? The Zencoder transcoder and Brightcove delivery system work very well today, and I’m sure Brightcove will soon address the interface and embedding issues discussed previously. If you’re an existing Brightcove user seeking to supplement your video on demand content with live streams, Video Cloud Live should clearly be the first option that you try.
This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Review: Brightcove Video Cloud Live."
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