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How to Become an iOS-Based Broadcaster

Looking to be able to do professional-level work for my clients on location without having to disassemble my TriCaster studio (or purchasing a second TriCaster to take on the road), I found apps for iPad and iPhones that let me connect everything together wirelessly and stream it to the web via my cell phone's LTE connection.

I’ve been in broadcast television for more than 25 years. I am simply agog at what can be done with today’s technology. In the past, I did live events that required separate trucks for lighting and engineering, big-box cameras, heavy-duty fiber cable, and hours of set-up just to produce a 1-hour morning show on location.

Last year, I built my own studio based on the Newtek TriCaster and HDMI cameras. The TriCaster gives me the ability to switch multiple cameras, and gives me two playback decks, two different still stores, lower-thirds, green screen, and a whole lot more—in one compact box.

Looking to be able to do professional-level work for my clients on location without having to disassemble my TriCaster studio (or purchasing a second TriCaster to take on the road), I found apps for iPad and iPhones that let me connect everything together wirelessly and stream it to the web via my cell phone’s LTE connection.

In the end, I was able to get about 80% of everything I wanted into my new mobile production studio. The last hurdle was being able to integrate a real zoom camcorder—which, ultimately, I was able to do too.

This article will focus on iPhones, iPads, and iOS. Not because of any Apple-centric bias I have—my phone is a rugged Samsung Galaxy S6 Active. But the apps available for multicamera, live-switched production are currently available only for iOS. Likewise, this is not because iOS and Apple products are inherently better, but because the uniformity of hardware and software across numerous devices makes it far easier for the programmer.

Let’s look at all of the pieces and how they fit together.

Your Phone

Your phone can do a lot already, and it’s tempting to hold it at arm’s length and hit the “Live” button and start streaming. But that isn’t going to give you (or your clients) the professionalism you need. You’ll want better video than the selfie cam and better audio than the built-in mic, plus titles, preshow music, a countdown, and so forth. It’s not as simple as flipping the camera view and clicking record, but you can actually do all of this with your phone (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. iOS broadcasting

The two main solutions for high-end iOS-based broadcasts are Teradek Live:Air and Switcher Studio. There’s another product called SlingStudio (Figure 2, below) that offers much of the same, but also includes a hardware “base” unit that provides many capabilities that are otherwise optional. This external box is your Wi-Fi hub. It is also where you can plug in a hardwired camera and plug in media so you can record directly to flash media. None of these features are included with the other solutions directly. You have to add them on your own, at additional cost, if they are possible at all.

Figure 2. Sling Media’s SlingStudio

Telestream has also introduced Wirecast Go for iOS in both a free and an in-app purchase model. Wirecast Go is designed to push to YouTube or to any manual Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) destination. It’s built only for phones, not tablets, but I do like the way it lets you manually select layers for different media. Telestream’s website continually references the ability to switch between “shots” but never mentions a second device. “Shots” appears to be cropped frames of what’s in front of the existing camera—i.e., digital zoom. Since it’s not an actual multicamera live switcher, I won’t discuss it in depth this article.

Live:Air and Switcher Studio (Figure 3, below) are two solutions that directly leverage the capabilities of the iOS platform, and you can run them on cell phones or tablets. When going completely mobile, I highly recommend using a tablet for the main mixing surface because of its larger screen real estate. That said, phones make surprisingly good cameras. The thought that I could switch multiple cameras, do video playback, have overlays and lower-third graphics, and push my stream online—all with my phone—is something I would have never thought possible just a few years ago.

Figure 3. Switching a live event with Switcher Studio

Of course, it’s tempting to use your phone because it’s essentially free. You already have it. Camcorders, cameras, and lenses all require additional investment, come with varying learning curves, and—most of all—take up space in your traveling kit. The downside of relying on your phone for the same task is that it already does so many things. And each of those things takes a bit of processing power, which leaves less for the heavy lifting of processing HD video, doing overlays and transparency, and compressing for your delivery network—not to mention the streaming traffic of pushing an HD video feed across data.

Moreover, instant messages, texts, alerts, phone calls, pop-ups, overlays, and all that can literally stop your live broadcast cold by pushing it into the background. If you have no other choice, set your phone to “Do not Disturb” and disable as much as possible. If you can afford a dedicated device—even a used one—that’s the better way to go. Load only the video app on it. Use it for nothing else. You’ll be a lot happier.

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