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Streaming Conference Video with the Canon XA25 and Livestream Broadcaster

How the Canon XA25 and Livestream Broadcaster proved a straightforward and effective no muss, no fuss solution for live streaming of a series of trade conference with little ramp-up time or gear-up budget.

Lights, Camera, Stream

I arrived in the keynote room at 7:00 AM on the first day of the conference with 90 minutes to set up and stream. With my cameras mounted and their targets framed, XLR drop connected to the XA25, and audio checked, I connected the Livestream Broadcaster to the XA25 via the HDMI output on the right side of the camera, plugged in the Ethernet cable dropped at my riser, switched on the unit, and (with an assist from venue A/V staff) gave the device's Mac address to the conference hotel (you can find the Wired and Wireless MAC addresses adjacent to the battery compartment by removing the top of the unit--see Figure 4, below--you don;t even need to take it off your camera if you've already mounted it).

Figure 4. In most instances, you'll need to provide your Livestream Broadcaster's MAC address to the venue where you're shooting to get online (although, in the events I did with it over the last couple of months, I found that wasn't always the case).

The Broadcaster recognized my Livestream account immediately (Figure 5, below); though Broadcaster works only with Livestream, setup and operation are really simple, even for non-technical users, which is a real strength.

Figure 5. Ready to stream from the Steinbeck Forum in Monterey.

Without a tremendous amount of faith in the bandwidth available to me (which was unfortunately shared with attendees), I selected Medium quality (roughly 700Kbps), scrolled to the test event I’d set up and embedded in a private Streaming Media Producer page, and tested the stream. Checking it on my laptop, it appeared to be working. When I launched the actual Monday Keynote event 15 minutes before showtime, I quickly received word from Online Searcher editor Marydee Ojala in Indianapolis that she could hear and see the stream, loud and clear. And as the webcasters age-old mantra goes, if it plays in Indianapolis, it might be playing everywhere.

I had similar success throughout most of Internet Librarian (with some not-XA25-or-Broadcaster-related audio issues on the second morning keynote, plus the battery issue mentioned below), streaming 6 more sessions, and on into the KMWorld conference in Washington, DC the following week. I shot sessions with an identical capture setup at the Streaming Media Producer Live and Gilbane Conferences in subsequent weeks (pairing a rented XA20 with a Panasonic AG-HMC40 in a second room at Streaming Media Producer Live), but with no streams scheduled, although it almost certainly would have been an equally no-muss, no-fuss operation with the Canon XA25-Livestream Broadcaster combo.

A Few Caveats

The only real functional limitation I found with the Livestream Broadcaster, other than it works only with Livestream (Teradek’s VidiU, which I haven’t used, for example, offers more choices for streaming partners), is that the unit’s battery life is regrettably short. Near the end of the second morning keynote at Internet Librarian, new batteries that I’d installed a scant 75 minutes earlier gave out with the speaker still presenting. For subsequent streams I used with the A/C adapter provided with the unit and experienced no more power issues, but that doesn’t solve the problem for anyone working out in the field without the benefit of a nearby power source at a fixed shooting location.

I’d also note that this isn’t really the ideal setup for streaming conference sessions where it’s not possible to frame a decent shot with the presenter and the slide deck sharing screen space (as in Figure 6, below). And clumsily panning back and forth when it occurs to the shooter that viewers might want to catch of a glimpse of a slide on video doesn’t strike me as a great solution, particularly in a live stream.

Figure 6. When single-camera conference presentation streaming setups work (reasonably well). It depends mostly on the positioning of the screen relative to the presenter.

Of course, it would be nice to see one of these low-cost streaming boxes add a second HDMI input and a remote-controlled A/B switch to offer the most rudimentary features of a live switcher (without switching audio sources), but I imagine that would drive up the price and introduce various technical challenges that this simplified workflow isn’t really meant to accommodate. That said, it’s obviously frustrating for viewers to watch a presenter refer to slides they can’t see, although, as I mentioned earlier, I replaced the single-camera archived streams of the presentation very quickly with two-camera versions composited in Adobe Premiere Pro, as shown in the clip below.

IL 2013 Tuesday Keynote: The New Library Patron from Steve Nathans-Kelly on Vimeo.

In several cases, with speakers who never left the podium, I was able to wrangle the media from the two cameras into my laptop, then composite, edit, and encode these presentations while capturing subsequent sessions (it helps to have your sequences prepared with titles already placed, presets for scaling and positioning, and any other graphics you plan to use already in your timeline, as shown in Figure 7, below). The composited clip above shows the second keynote I captured at Internet Librarian. After the technical issues I faced during the live stream, I needed to turn a cleaned-up version around quickly, and managed to edit, encode, and post it by noon the same day to replace the truncated single-camera live stream while simultaneously capturing two more morning sessions. But obviously if you need to focus your attention on keeping a pacing speaker in the frame--or otherwise attend to the business at hand--it becomes a bit more challenging to multitask.

Figure 5. Composited conference video template in the Premiere Pro CC timeline. Tracks V1, V2, and V6 were already in place for all the sequences (and more) shown in the Project panel on the left in advance of the show. Scaling and positioning templates for the presenter video and the slide deck evolved a bit over the first day of the conference. Click the image to see it at full size.

Quick-turn replacement clips aside, the single-camera streams I produced at the library conferences were well-received, by all reports, and a profile-heightening addition to these conferences. I was able to deliver them with virtually no time to rehearse or prepare, and the combination of the Canon XA25 and the Livestream Broadcaster made them remarkably easy for someone with little hands-on live streaming experience to pull off.

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