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Head-to-Head: Switcher Studio vs. Teradek Live:Air Action

Two leading multicam webcasting iOS apps compared


Both Live:Air Action and Switcher Studio love iOS devices. Grab some older used iPhones and even iPods and you can carry a veritable multi-cam studio in your jacket. Live:Air Action will accept up to 6 camera feeds. Switcher Studio will handle as many as 9! In all my years, I've never thought I'd need 9 cameras, but I've seen producers cover city council meetings and make great use of all 9 cameras.

Teradek has made production hardware for the video industry for many years and as such, they also make hardware interfaces that work with Solo and Live:Air Action. This means you can leverage any HDMI or SDI source whether it be a DSLR, a camcorder with a big lens, or even the HDMI out of a laptop. These sources can be wireless or wired, depending on the hardware used.

I have leveraged this feature to incorporate a good camcorder with a 20x optical zoom for a conference. There is no substitute for a good optical zoom, and a camera operator to cover a live event. As the presenter moves around on stage, brings other people up with him, the optical zoom enables me to vary the shot and always have the wide or close shot I want.

With Switcher Studio, you can zoom a little bit. With 4K cameras, the zoom will crop in on the sensor and you'll still have HD resolution, but you can also push past that point and end up with a lower-resolution digital zoom. With my 4K iPhone SE, I seem to get to about 2x before I don't really want to zoom in any further, so I use a set of wide and telephoto lenses with my iPhones.

Switcher Studio's other strength is the ability to use software to ingest the screens from Windows or Mac computers, as well as iOS devices. This is very handy for bringing in a Skype call, slide presentation, or screen tutorial, with no additional hardware cost or complexity. If it's on your network, Switcher Studio can grab it. Users have leveraged this ability to have other apps on computers or iPhones do what Switcher Studio can't do, and then share the screen with Switcher Studio.

Also, Switcher Studio has hooks for other devices, like an Osmo gimbal that can hold a phone. When the phone is paired with the gimbal, you can remotely pan and tilt the gimbal from inside the Switcher Studio mixing app. This is a great feature that lets you change the shot on a remote camera without adding a camera operator. This is especially handy for panning a camera around for different audience shots.

In the mixer, Live:Air Action caps the number of still image files that you can store in the app at 16; my iPad Pro topped out at 11. This was less than I needed for all the sessions at a conference before noon, so I used the breaks to swap out the stills that I was using at the head and tail of each session recording.

Switcher Studio seemingly has no limit. I've added and added stills until it was nearly impossible to find what I wanted because I had a couple dozen images loaded. To make it easier to find your files, Switcher Studio lets you drag and drop to reorganize items in the bin.

Unfortunately, you can't label stored files in either app. If you have a bunch of video clips that start with a black screen, you will have a hard time knowing which is which, as you'll have a dozen black rectangles to choose from. Both apps need to provide a way to manually select a keyframe, or a way to label the clips/images in these apps.

Titles and Effects

Switcher Studio wins the titling and effects category. The app has several built-in full screen graphics that you can customize, as well as 6 fully animated and customizable lower-third graphics (Figure 8, below). You can change the location, and even the colors on those graphics that offer color. These titles add some nice polish with the way they animate on and off. Several also offer some transparency, letting the background continue to be partially visible.

Figure 8. Animated titles in Switcher Studio

Live:Air Action has three lower-third designs. You can change the text, and reposition the titles on the screen, but I've needed them to be longer, or shorter, depending on a person's name, and there's no way to adjust that. You also can't change the colors. Live:Air Action's lower-thirds need an update. There's also full-screen text, but it's not as useful as it could be.

Switcher Studio also has more polished effects. Live:Air Action has a dissolve, zoom dissolve, a slide from left, and a rotate zoom dissolve. For those so inclined, Switcher Studio also offers a wipe, a basic cube, and a “twist” effect that I imagine seldom gets used. But it also offers several, easy-to-customize PiP settings, such as a Dashboard that will put up to four live cameras across the screen, in an arc, with a reflection. It's pretty nice. The app also features split-screen, Flap, slots, and basic PiP.

Switcher Studio's polish is evident in such simple things as the “basic” PIP (see Figure 6), where you can customize the ratio of the PiP, border color, thickness, roundness of the corners, horizontal cropping, vertical cropping, position and scale on the screen, and even the Yaw, Pitch, and Roll, giving it some 3D-ness.

Best of all, you can specify all these parameters in a Multi-view Type ahead of time, and then just populate A and B and hit Go. Pre-built multi-layer setups are huge.

Teradek Live:Air Action has these too, called Scenes. In Live:Air Action you can see the layers as you manipulate them, and even put in a background, and overlay on top, and save all of that as a Scene, accessed with a single tap. This is actually more powerful with backgrounds and overlays, and calling up the finished scene is simpler. But it has less finesse on the tiny details, and building it can be a bit cumbersome and fiddly. However, add an animated gif, and you have some real network-looking video going on.

Real-World Use

Having used both Live:Air Action and Switcher Studio on various projects over the past few months, I have to say that I expect both to remain in my arsenal for use on different types of projects, as each has very specific strengths. When I needed to incorporate a real camera, I used Live:Air Action. I used hardware interfaces for the camcorder and the video out of the presenter's laptop. I then added two phones for other views.

When I needed the ability to have the cameras move for a panel discussion, and I expected to do a lot of titles on the fly, I chose Switcher Studio. Using a remote head allowed me to have a single camera cover four panelists. A remote head at the back of the room allowed me to swing around and get someone in the audience who ended up speaking for a bit. Plus, I was able to run the lower-thirds during the show, so there was no real post-production to speak of.

If I need to incorporate a person over Skype, or maybe several laptop feeds, I’ll use Switcher Studio. If I expect I’ll need to play several videos to play back with no way of previewing the audio and not enough time to process them all to have the same audio level, it'll have to be Live:Air Action for the internal audio mixer.

If I have camera operators, I'll likely use real cameras and Live:Air Action. If it's a cost-conscious client and I need to make what I have look better, I'll leverage some remote camera control tools in Switcher Studio. If I need a 4K master of a live streamed event, I can use Switcher Studio and my 4K-capable iPhones, or record locally in my 4K camcorders and use Teradek Clips to stream HD.

Both apps are designed for streaming and using camera feeds over WiFi. As such, you're not dealing with 50 or 100 Mbps streams here. Data rates top out at 10 or 6 Mbps (see the chart in Figure 4 and Figure 5 on for feature comparisons), and a very busy image can easily overwhelm that data rate in your master record. This is where the higher data rate of the internal recording in the iPhones is an advantage, unless you're doing full days of conferences, in which case you might just want to record a high-quality master and be done with it.

Both apps are iOS-based video mixing and streaming tools, but they are not the same. They are different enough that each provides a unique feature set that will serve better than the other in certain contexts. This enables me to choose the right tool for the job. When more apps come to the market, this will only serve to provide streaming producers with even more solutions to produce their live shows.

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