So you are interested in getting started at your school with live streaming video. Maybe you want to make a concert or athletic event available to parents and alumni who are far from your campus. Perhaps your video club or film class wants to do television but you don’t want to go through a costly rewiring of your school to support a cable TV type broadcast system.
Of course you could always record the event and then make it available on your Web site, but an event streamed live over the internet is more exciting and engages your constituents in a different way. And anyway, who wants to edit, upload and host a multi hour video? This process is time consuming and resource intensive — and who would actually watch a recorded video of that length?
So streaming video live is where you want to go, but where do you begin? What kind of camera and other hardware do you need, which of the many live streaming services do you use? How will your audience tune in?
Your first broadcast should be a low risk affair. If it doesn’t work, nobody will care — but if you pull it off you will be a hero. Start small and simple and build from there. Pretty soon your Head of School will want to do a “State of the Union” type address live over the internet!
For a basic broadcast you’ll need a camera, a computer, an internet connection and an account on a live streaming service like Livestream or Ustream. At it’s most basic you plug your camera into your computer, connect to a streaming service via your internet connection, cue your camera and go live. Each of the streaming services gives you a channel page where your audience will tune in, or you can pull the embed code and put your broadcast on your own Web site.
For a basic broadcast your hardware needs are limited, in fact your computer might already have a webcam and mic built right in!
After a few test broadcasts with a basic set up you will realize that you need a better camera or mic. A tripod is a must for a good quality shot, but you don’t need to choose a really expensive camera since you probably aren’t going to be broadcasting at HD quality. A simple camera and a USB mic will improve your broadcast considerably. Eventually, depending on the kind of show you are planning you might want a camera that can support HD and some kind of lapel type mic (also known as a “lavaliere” or just “lav” mic).
If you can bring your audio and video signal together through your camera this will simplify things once you get to your streaming service, but most services support mixing different audio and video signals into your stream.
The choice of service you use to bring your signal to the world should be based on what kinds of features you are looking for and what limitations you are willing to settle on. The chart below compares two of the most popular services.
Both Livestream and UStream quickly bring your signal to the web, record it for ‘on-demand’ play back and integrate chat and Twitter, but they differ on some of the additional features they offer. UStream’s add free premium version called Watershed is a very good value but all UStream can do is to bring your signal to the web. If you would like to add multiple cameras or professional looking screen graphics then Livestream is for you. Later in this article I’ll talk about how to get some of these same effects out of UStream, so you could get the cheaper add free platform and retain the fancy effects.
From my point of view the two killer features of Livestream that really set it apart is the ability to mix a live feed with pre-recorded videos directly from your browser. If you wanted to have a lead-in video before your show, for example, Livestream makes it very simple. Mixing multiple cameras from your browser is also a remarkable feature. Each camera could be in a different room, or a different country, as long as they are connected to the internet you can mix live between all of them. Imagine having your sports reporter in the gymnasium, your cultural reporter in China and your anchors hosting the show from a third location! Livestream can handle all this directly from your browser.
Camtwist & BoinxTV
“But, I want to have fancy graphics and pre-roll videos,” you might be saying, “but I also want the great ad-free value of something like Watershed.” Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too, but the trade off is going to be complexity and/or cost. Livestream is great because you can do all the fancy tricks directly from your browser, while UStream doesn’t let you do this. So what we need to do is add lower third graphics, crawlers and videos to your signal before you send it up to UStream.
There are a couple of ways to do this. Camtwist for the mac (or I think ManyCam for the PC) is a free app that basically pretends to be a camera driver. Your live streaming platform will see it as a “camera” but you are able to add all sorts of things to the video signal before it goes upstream. Camtwist allows you to mix videos on your computer with any cameras connected to your machine and overlay graphics, pictures, crawlers and all sorts of effects. The Camtwist “studio” is a little cumbersome to use and also has some issues handling multiple audio sources (workarounds include using something like Audio Hijack Pro or Soundflower), but for the price it’s a remarkable piece of software. One additional thing you can do with Camtwist is stream a part of your desktop, so if you wanted to bring in a Skype conversation or show a PowerPoint presentation you could do that.
If you want a slick interface with multiple layers of video, audio, movies and chroma key check out BoinxTV for the mac. Although pricey and hardware intensive this is a fantastic desktop app for editing live video. Their solution for getting a live audio and video signal out to your streaming service is a little clunky but functional. If you have the money and hardware you can produce a very high quality program using this application.
If you’ve been streaming for any length of time you might start to notice some browser crashes. Flash encoding of live video signals is a big deal and it’s hard work for your browser. You can take some of the load off your browser, avoid crashes, and achieve a more robust broadcast by encoding the flash video signal locally on your own machine before sending the signal upstream. Check out Flash Media Encoder for the PC or Quicktime Broadcaster for the mac. These applications also let you dial in the signal quality you are broadcasting which is handy in case you need to dumb down your stream due to bandwidth restrictions on your local network.
So you are fully up and streaming to Livestream using a lav mic and studio lights, ready to cut to your reporter court-side for the post game interview, but your anchors can’t remember what they are supposed to say! For a few dollars in plywood and plastic you can build yourself a fully functional teleprompter.
You are Live in 5 — 4 — 3 — 2 — 1
If you can live with the ads and are looking for a simple and straightforward solution that can handle multiple cameras, both live and recorded video, and provide very nice looking screen graphics then Livestream is a very robust solution. For a simple platform with a low cost ad-free option check out UStream.
Perhaps you will simply open your laptop and point your webcam, or maybe you will use multiple cameras, local flash encoding and a desktop live streaming application. Whatever the technology, streaming platform or level of technical complexity, sharing events on your campus with alumni, parents and friends of the school through live broadcasting is a great idea.
Before long folks will be asking, “when is the next live broadcast?”