Live streaming video over the Internet can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and what you need the end-user experience to be like.
In this quick and simple guide I cover the different stages and tools you need for live streaming as of 2017 and a few scenarios and examples of selecting the right hardware and software for different projects.
In this first video I cover the basics of live streaming video over the Internet:
Here’s a quick breakdown of what I’ve covered, we start by working backwards:
This can be a simple player or an entire platform. Examples of the latter are YouTube, Facebook Live, UStream (IBM Live), LiveStream, etc.
You can also have your own player, and feed it live video. This is useful if you want to restrict access or control the entire process without giving away your feed, audience, etc., to another platform.
By “service” I mean the technology and tools you’ll use to deliver video to the player. If you’re using a free platform you don’t need this, as the platform takes care of all the bandwidth costs (the biggest expense in live streaming).
If you want to do it your way you’ll need to either host your own server physically (definitely not recommended) or in the cloud. Probably the most reliable and inexpensive means to the latter is via the Amazon Web Services suite of tools.
You can also do everything piecemeal, while having a backbone deliver your video for you. The most popular examples of these backbones, called Content Delivery Networks (CDN), are Akamai, Brightcove, etc. They are like wholesalers. You don’t want to approach them unless you are using serious bandwidth and have the finances to pay for it.
For those starting out, these things can get technically unsurmountable, so most people start with turnkey solutions like Wowza, Teradek Core, and so on. You’ll need to decide on a monthly plan based on your bandwidth and the services you specifically need. All you need to do is pay, and they take care of the rest. You manage everything through their portals.
To more about servers, read this article on Streaming Servers.
The connection is how you upload videos to the Internet. There are specific enterprise solutions, but for most people only these four are available widely:
- Ethernet (including fiber, over Cat5/Cat6/Cat7 cables)
- Mobile (3G/4G/5G, etc.)
- Aggregation – the technology of combining different solutions to increase bandwidth. E.g., you can combine one ethernet connection, two mobile phones to increase your total upload speed. This is what you need for a stable live streaming experience.
What are you streaming? Currently the most popular are:
- 1080p (24, 25 or 30 fps)
- 1080p60 – for sports, action, etc.
- 720p60 – for general use
- UHD – not so widespread but doable if your audience has the bandwidth
Streaming is not as simple as it first appears. Can you get the video to change bit rates depending on the Internet speeds of the end user? To know more about this, read the following two articles:
This is the specific hardware you’ll use to upload video over the Internet. It can be as simple as a computer modem or mobile phone, or a dedicated device. Most devices I’ve covered in the video do more than just a simple upload, so I’ll cover them in the next sections.
This is the part where you convert the uncompressed HDMI or SDI feed, or your mixed audio and video, into a compressed format for Internet delivery. You can use a specific hardware only for encoding purposes.
To know more about compression, read this article on how to compress video for the Internet.
Effects and AV Mixing
You can do a ton of things to the video. Some common examples:
- Graphics overlays, logos, etc.
- Subtitles and Captions
- Different audio (different languages, etc.) depending on audience’s choice.
- Real-time chroma keying
If you’re serious about live streaming you’ll need these options somewhere down the line, so it’s a good idea to think about them right from the beginning.
Mixing involves combining multiple video feeds and switching between them. The device that does this is a Switcher. Common examples include the Blackmagic Design ATEM series, Roland, NewTek Tricaster, etc.
You can also switch streams using software. Some examples include Telestream Wirecast, OBS, XSplit, etc.
What kind of videos can you mix? Here are some common scenarios:
- Camera feeds, either HDMI or SDI
- Screen captures or presentations from a laptop (over HDMI usually)
- Games or streams from an entertainment device
To know more about how important switching is, read What is Multiplexing?
Ingest is the act of getting your camera feed into the computer or hardware switcher. There are many ways you can do this:
- Directly to USB or Thunderbolt, like Webcams
- PCI (HDMI or SDI)
- Wirelessly, like the JVC LS300 camera, etc.
- Dedicated hardware like the Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder, Magewell HDMI or SDI to USB 3.0, etc.
To begin with, make sure you have a clean feed HDMI or SDI from your camera. It ideally should be in the resolution and frame rate of your final video if possible. Some switchers and devices don’t accept multiple resolutions and frame rates, so beware!
Many solutions here do more than one thing, so try to find a solution that does whatever it does well. It only takes one point of failure to bring your entire live streaming show crashing down.
In this second video I’ll run through a few scenarios so you can understand how to navigate this labyrinth:
#1 The simplest setup – Just your mobile phone
It doesn’t get any simpler than this:
On the other hand, it doesn’t get as limited as this either! Hopefully in the future this is all you’ll need, but as of 2017, the mobile phone just doesn’t cut it for professional live streaming.
#2 Use your computer and a camera
The next step up is use a powerful computer and a standalone camera. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities:
The disadvantages are that it’s not very mobile or ‘run and gun’, and you’re at the mercy of software.
#3 Add a simple switcher and uploader with your computer
The next step up is to pass on some of the responsibilities to your hardware box. In #2 all it did was convert video to H.264. With the Web Presenter you can also switch between multiple HDMI feeds, and have a dedicated audio-in:
The biggest disadvantage of this setup is you can’t stream to more than one place at the same time. And, it’s limited to 720p. And, it’s ac power only.
#4 Use a dedicated box to capture, encode and stream video
What if you don’t want a computer? You can replace all of #3 with this:
The Aja Helo does pretty much everything, except switching (it has only one input either SDI or HDMI not both). However, it’s limited to Ethernet, so no mobile.
#5 Use a dedicated box and switcher combo to stream video outdoors
This is what I’m considering for the wolfcrow live streaming setup:
There are four parts to this:
- The Roland V-1SDI switcher – this allows me to take both SDI and HDMI feeds. One of the HDMI ports is also a scalar which can make up for any differences in resolution. It can be DC powered and is ready for field use.
- The Teradek Cube 655 – this is a powerful device that can accept the final feed and encode it into a stream, and upload it in different ways – Ethernet, mobile, Wi-Fi and aggregation.
- Teradek Core (or maybe Wowza) – this accepts the stream and re-encodes it for different platforms, all in the cloud.
- A multi-view monitor – this monitor accepts an HDMI feed with all the feeds displayed in tiled windows, and you can see what you’re switching. It can be an external field monitor or a large monitor, whatever you want.
I still haven’t decided on which setup I’m going for, simply because I haven’t decided whether live streaming is financially worth it at this point in time. When I do make up my mind, you’ll know!
What do you think?