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Review: Livestream Studio HD51

Livestream Studio HD51, the latest production switcher from Livestream, adds HDMI as an available input, and packs several key features recently added to Livestream's Studio software including PiP and the ability to input remote desktops from other Windows computers and live Livestream feeds as video sources.

Livestream Studio HD51 is the latest in a line of production switchers from Livestream. Two aspects of the product are compelling: First is that HDMI is now an available input, which will appeal to producers who haven’t yet upgraded to SDI. Second are the features that Livestream has added to the Studio software itself over the last twelve months, which includes picture-in-picture capabilities, and the ability to input remote desktops from other Windows computers and live Livestream feeds as video sources. In this review, I’ll start with the hardware functionality in the HD51 and then fill you in on what’s new with Studio.

Meet the Hardware

The HD51 is a rackmountable, desktop-sized enclosure with USB connectors and headphone jack on the front panel, and all serious I/O in the back. The front of the unit (Figure 1, below) also has ten slashes with red light shining through, which looks cool and also provides sufficient light to run the low-profile Livestream Studio keyboard when the lights are turned down low.

Figure 1. The front of the Livestream Studio HD51 video switcher. Click the image to see it at full size.

The HD51 runs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, driven by a 3.2 GHz 6-core (12 with HTT enabled, which it is) i7-3930K CPU with 8GB of RAM. Graphics are supplied by an NVIDIA GeForce GT 520 card with both DVI and HDMI output, with a single 1TB Western Digital Red internal SATA drive for both the system and storage. Like most switchers, the unit is pretty loud, and best used in the back of the room or in a separate control booth.

Audio/video inputs (Figure 2, below) are provided by 5 Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorders, which can connect to either SDI or HDMI, and a single 1/8” audio input. The unit can also input audio and video from two remote sources, which can be remote desktops on the same LAN or live Livestream feeds. More on how this works below. Throw in the two media channels for disk-based audio and video, two graphics feeds and two color bars that can also supply a background color and you’re working with a total of 13 video sources. The HD51 can also input audio from any USB source that doesn’t require a driver, with all audio sources controlled via an audio mixer in the Studio software.

Figure 2. Connectivity on the back of the HD51. Click the image to see it at full size.

Hardware output is supplied by a Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Monitor, with SDI and HDMI output for IMAG or other displays. In addition, the unit can record up to four ISO streams in 100 Mbps MotionJPEG format and, of course, encode and output multiple streams to Livestream or other services. More on recording and streaming below, as well.

Monitoring and Mixing

In terms of monitoring, you can control Studio from one screen, or split off various windows for viewing on a second screen. Figure 3 (below) shows Studio in my test configuration, which involved two live cameras connected via HDMI, a live Livestream feed from the company’s Manhattan office, a PowerPoint slide brought in remotely from a separate computer in my office, and two disk-based files, the greenscreen video, and another PowerPoint tutorial in the media player on the bottom right. No, Studio doesn’t do greenscreen yet, but I was ready to test if it did.

Figure 3. The Studio software as tested on the HD51. Click the image to see it at full size.

Like most mixers, Studio uses the preview/program paradigm, with the preview the large window on the upper left and the program the large window on the upper right. All video sources are shown in the strip of inputs beneath these two large windows. Selecting an input inserts it in the Preview monitor, and you can take that live via the T-bar on the upper right, or by pressing the Spacebar. You can also take any input directly to live via keyboard shortcuts.

Let’s discuss the implementation details for some of the new features shown in Figure 3. First, you can input the screen and audio from any computer on the same LAN as Studio by downloading a free program from Livestream and running that on the target computer. Today, it’s Windows-only, but Mac support is coming. The obvious use cases are software demonstrations or PowerPoint presentations in enterprise and other deployments.

You create picture-in-picture videos in the graphics editor shown in Figure 4 (below). Operation is simple: You click the camera icon on the bottom left of the design window, which opens a rectangle tool. Draw the rectangle in the desired size and position and then choose the input via a simple drop-down list.

Figure 4. The Graphics Module template editor where you create picture-in-pictures, add text and work with graphics. Click the image to see it at full size.

Another feature is the countdown clock shown in Figure 4, and the associated controls on the right, which you can use to count down until the start of the event and the automatically transition to the selected source--a nice way to keep your audience informed about timing. You can also create dynamic images and text that you can update during the event, though I didn’t explore these options.

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