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Roundup: Simple and Affordable Videoconferencing Solutions

For this roundup, we tested three videoconferencing solutions: vMix Call, Telestream Wirecast Rendezvous, and NewTek TalkShow. In each mini-review, we cover the two critical steps—initiating the call, and then assembling the various host and guest inputs into a shot you can push out to any streaming endpoint.

Wirecast

Wirecast Rendezvous is the conference feature added to Wirecast 8, which has two versions: Studio ($695) can support up to two guests and Pro ($995) can support up to seven. You can conference in from an iOS device using the free Wirecast GO application, but Android workflows are not officially supported.

Operationally, although Wirecast has a layer-based approach, this really doesn’t impact conferencing operation. As with vMix, you’ll input each guest as a separate input, then combine the host and guest into a single shot.

You start all conferences by creating a Rendezvous session from a layer (right-click > Rendezvous Session > Create Rendezvous Session), which opens a window that provides a link you send to all participants. Hosts are notified each time an invited guest joins the conference, and a simple click invites them in. Once connected, you can either create a separate input for each guest on any layer or add them to a shot as discussed below.

If a conference drops for some reason, guests can instantly log back in using the same link. However, all links expire after 2 hours of nonuse, so there’s no way to create a permanent link you can use for recurring guests.

Figure 4 (below) shows the Rendezvous Dashboard you’ll use to control the remote callers, with the host on top and guests on the bottom. Click the gear beneath the host thumbnail to control the audio and video sources sent to the guests. In the currently shipping version, you’re limited to a specific camera input, and you can’t send the composed output, though Telestream says these features will be included in an upcoming release. Beneath each guest are icons you can use to mute the audio, shut off the video, and terminate the call.

Figure 4. Controlling a Rendezvous session

Guests log in from Chrome or Firefox and can choose their audio and video sources for the conference. Then they enter a name and join the conference. Once in, guests see the screen shown in Figure 5 (below), with all participants shown separately. Note the icons on the upper right they can use to enable/disable the audio from either source, plus the confidence monitor on the lower left. However, unlike vMix, Rendezvous has no text conferencing feature, which would be useful.

Figure 5. What the guest sees

There are multiple ways to present the conference in Wirecast, though the simplest and most logical is to integrate all cameras into a single “shot”—essentially, a virtual input you can create from multiple inputs. Once you create the shot, you preview and take it live just like any other form of content.

If you’re producing a two-person conference, check Wirecast’s title templates for the template you see in Figure 6 (below). This combines two video inputs with a frame and two titles; all you have to do is select your inputs and change the titles.

Figure 6. Creating the shot in Wirecast

While this sounds simple enough, if you’re unfamiliar with Wirecast, budget an hour or so to get this done. If you’re planning a conference with more than two speakers, add even more time since you’ll have to create the template and titles separately. This sounds silly, but the next time you see multiple speakers presented in separate windows on a news or talk show, focus on how polished the presentation is, and recognize that this is what your conference video will be compared to.

Beyond shot creation, Telestream does a fabulous job making Rendezvous easy to use, handling all audio-related mixing behind the scenes. If you’re the host, you’ll have to click the headphones on the far right of the interface to eliminate your input from what you hear over the headset, but that’s it.

Like vMix, Wirecast proved CPU-efficient during our tests. On my HP zBook, CPU consumption averaged 20 to 25% when recording 720p video to a hard disk at 4Mbps using the Intel Quick Sync codec. Dropping down to one guest reduced average CPU consumption to about 15%. As with vMix, video from the two remote sources was smooth unless we introduced extreme levels of motion into the video.

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