Streaming Media

Streaming Media on Facebook Streaming Media on Twitter Streaming Media on LinkedIn

Assembling an Affordable Streaming Solution

No streaming solution will be 100% perfect or suited to all of your needs, and they're changing week by week as the streaming world grows and develops. But asking these questions should put you well on the way to picking the right streaming solution for you.

Mobile Madness

At the bottom of the streaming appliance pyramid, you have software that enables your mobile device to get “on the air,” via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Periscope. This is basically a “come as you are” video stream with little control. Immediacy and intimacy are critical at this level. However, by adding an external microphone, a camera light, a tripod, and so forth, you can make it look and sound a bit more professional.

Some apps, like Livestream Producer for mobile, enable you to take the stream of an external camera, such as a GoPro, and stream that instead. This app makes it possible to control the live stream even when the camera is in an inconvenient spot, such as mounted on a drone. Stabilized camera-maker DJI has added Facebook support to its DJI GO app, which means you can stream live from the Inspire, Phantom, and Matrice drones, as well as the Osmo handheld camera.

At the $400 level, you get a baseball-sized 4K camera from Livestream called the Mevo that can, with a connected phone and app, stream and record. Moreover, you can select areas within the Mevo’s wide-angle 4K shot to stream as distinct 720p virtual shots. You can cut between up to nine different virtual shots using the Mevo iOS app. Professionally mixed audio can be connected to the phone. In my testing, I found this implementation a little rough around the edges, but it holds a lot of promise.

The Basics

At the next level are small, standalone, handheld boxes that have a single video in and Ethernet or Wi-Fi out. For instance, the $500 Cerevo LiveShell series of streaming appliances delivers 720p at up to 10Mbps. Supporting several CDNs, including YouTube, Ustream, and RTMP, the LiveShell Pro can even toggle recording on Ustream’s server. Because it is configurable via a web interface, any computer or mobile device can adjust the unit’s settings.

Teradek offers the VidiU line, with different models costing $500, $700, and $1,000. It offers capabilities commensurate with cost. But even the lowest-end unit can send your stream to Ustream, Livestream, or YouTube, or you can build your own streaming server. These devices can also be used as sources in Teradek’s new Live:Air iPad production suite.

The basic version of Telestream’s Wirecast Studio (Figure 1, below) software has an MSRP of $500. This software can mix multiple cameras, apply graphics and lower-thirds to the program, record, and stream. But what the $500 price doesn’t reveal is the cost of the computer needed to do all this. A basic i5-based laptop with “integrated graphics” can be heavily taxed trying to handle multiple live cameras, record internally, and stream the video.

Figure 1. Telestream Wirecast 7

Since Wirecast can leverage a PC’s graphics card (GPU) for its image processing, you can ensure smooth performance by looking for a gaming laptop with a beefy GPU. These typically cost $1,500 and up. Then you’ll need to add external hardware to be able to ingest each of the external cameras. The Epiphan HD costs around $350 per video source. So now, for a two-camera event, you’re looking at $2,700 or higher for your streaming setup.

Don’t try to use just any office machine, either. Your mobile computing device will perform best when it is dedicated to this purpose, and not also used for email, instant messaging, or other apps. This is why it’s important to consider the cost of the computer as part of your streaming solution budget. Think of it like buying a streaming appliance—you don’t check your email on a streaming appliance.

In the Air

Let me circle back to Teradek’s Live:Air solution. The Live:Air (Figure 2, below), like computer/laptop-based solutions, requires additional hardware to make it all come together. In this case, I recommend a high-end iPad Air or newer (Air 2 recommended) with a lot of storage space for internal recording because Apple does not allow removable media cards.

Figure 2. Teradek Live:Air

Moreover, the app is free, although you’ll most likely make some “in-app purchases” to get the functionality you really need. The Basic version ($50) removes the watermark and broadcast time limit. The Pro version ($100) removes the watermark and all restrictions. It also adds the ability to connect up to four Teradek or iOS devices with 1080p video and use picture-in-picture, multiview, and chroma keying. A recording in-app purchase ($100) allows you to record the program stream for archiving and post editing.

The RTSP feed ($100) in-app purchase allows you to pull RTSP feeds from IP cameras such as the Axis MT series. This is where you can really step up your camera quality, because all of the iOS devices have the same wide-angle lens. By utilizing a “real” camera, you get all of the camera control that you’d expect, and then you can leverage the app for the multicamera switch, record, and broadcast.

But, again, add it up: Begin with $500 for an iPad Air 2 with 128GB of storage. Add two refurbished iPad Mini 2’s with just 16GB of storage (if you’re not using them for recording) at $225 each. This gets you the camera and monitor. So, you have the Air 2 + two Mini 2’s + Pro + Recording + a good dual-band Wi-Fi access point for camera communication. With this kit, you get a three-camera setup—including cameras—for $1,000.

Teradek’s Live:Air is not the only such solution. There’s also Switcher Studio for iOS, which is priced at $20/month for Switcher Basic (30 minutes free a day), and Switcher Studio, which is $25/month or $300/year.

I’ve searched for but simply have not found similar app development for Android. This is a shame, because the platform is much better at allowing for removable media, and directly copying files from an Android device to external media via the MHL port. Understandably though, it’s exponentially harder to code for with the immense diversity of hardware available—hundreds of very different devices with amazing disparities. Compare this with Switcher Studio’s compatibility page, which lists only 14 devices (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. Switcher Studio’s compatibility matrix