How to broadcast video on a budget
To do any form of internet streaming you will need a small PC or Mac that can either have a capture card installed or plugged in via USB or Thunderbolt. Generally look at an i5 processor or better and 4GB of RAM and preferably an SSD main drive. If you’re running Windows, look at the 64 bit software as it generally makes better use of the system resources. I personally run Windows 8.1 for video work but Windows 7 will work. Apple Macs are also usable for a lot of streaming encoding work. A wired network card is preferable to Wi-Fi especially if you wish to stream HD. Laptops are capable of streaming quite well but if you’re using a USB capture card, some webcam and Bluetooth drivers can cause problems or dropouts as they can be on the same USB bus.
If you’re buying a pre-configured machine, Keep other installed software as minimal as possible and look at the start up menu for software that’s not necessary. Also be aware that some firewall and anti-virus software can slow a machine down especially on older windows platforms. I personally find Windows 8.1 very stable and fast for video based machines especially if running vMix. Some people have had trouble running USB 3.0 capture boards. This is usually down to the USB 3.0 port not fully supporting USB 3.0 standard or incorrect drivers. A quick check of some of the manufacturers’ forums will help you find real world info on what works laptop and capture board wise.
Let’s consider the video source. If you already have an existing vision mixer then you will need a capture card to match the output. If you have an older switcher it may well be composite or s video output, in which case you will need an analogue capture card. Blackmagic Decklink Studio or Intensity Extreme cards are a good start. If you’re looking to upgrade a mixer the Blackmagic TV Studio is a great mixer that can be used live as well as for streaming with its built in H264 Encoder. Also, the Blackmagic Atem 1 M/E is capable of streaming via USB 3.0 and works really well with Ustream on the Windows Platform. If you just have one camera then you can connect it to a suitable capture card. IP cameras are also usable depending on your particular set up.
Another production option is vMix, a fully featured software based vision mixer which can be run from a Windows PC. It has capture inputs using DirectShow supported cards including Blackmagic, Matrox, Viewcast and Datapath. vMix has a 60 day trial so you can check out if it works well with your set up. What I like about vMix is that it is very powerful but simple and straight forward to use, and it has a web interface that can be used with a touchscreen device like an iPad or Android tablets. It also has Very powerful playback and production capabilities, especially with multiples sources and overlays, virtual studios, video and audio playback, pictures and PowerPoint. It can run on a Laptop best with Windows 8.1 but if you build a dedicated PC you can add multiple video inputs. Best of all it can be recorded, output to screen and streamed to the internet at the same time.
There are so many capture cards to choose from, so which one? This depends on your signal and choice of streaming software, but the Blackmagic Decklink, Ultrastudio and Intensity cards are a good start and can cover all the common connections – HDMI, SDI and analogue – as well as common video standards and are supported by many streaming standards.
If you’re looking at using the USB 3.0 Blackmagic Intensity cards, some of the older USB 3.0 laptops may not work properly with the card. A quick check on the Blackmagic forums shows there is information about known working laptops. If you have a latest laptop with windows 8.1 installed then I have found that most work with very few problems. Using a Mac mini is a common way of streaming using thunderbolt interfaced Intensity cards.
So we have everything ready with hardware let’s look at the software. First what service do you want to use? Common ones are YouTube, Ustream, Livestream and Sermon.net or if you fancy, you can publish to your own servers.
Ustream is a very reliable platform I have used on many occasions. If you want to go low budget it offers a free version that can be used, but it does have adverts added to it. All you need to do is download the software for your PC/Mac, install, create a channel and you’re ready to go. Ustream is a very powerful but very simple to use solution. As a minimum, all you need is a PC and a webcam, but Ustream also supports Blackmagic capture cards. This is a good platform to start learning how to do live streams.
YouTube is also a good way of being able to stream, especially if you already have a YouTube channel and have an account that is in good standing. YouTube does need a better understanding but there is Wirecast from Telestream that is able to stream easily to YouTube and can also act as a production mixer so you can output live to screens as well as streaming to the internet. Wirecast has many powerful features, is well supported and easy to use.
It is also possible to use Flash Live Media Encoder to stream to your own website if you have sufficient bandwidth. If you use a streaming service you generally don’t have to worry about streaming in other formats but if you do your own stream you may need to stream additional formats for other devices. A lot of streaming is done using the H264/x264 codec although if using the x264 codec you can experience a loss of sync between audio and video. Another program that can be used for streaming is VLC. A lot of people don’t realise how powerful VLC is if you have some time have a look into it you’ll be surprised what it can do.
A reliable internet connection is key to making streaming work. If possible use a wired connection especially if you’re streaming in HD but it will very often work well on a Wi-Fi connection. Personally, I’m able to stream via Wi-Fi in HD with a Windows 8.1 tablet PC using Ustream whilst using a Wi-Fi display and a Blackmagic USB 3.0 Intensity SDI capture board, although there are some issues with some Wi-Fi Routers and Intel Centrino Wi-Fi systems. A little bit of time preparing ahead of your broadcast a lot can be achieved for minimal costs.
If possible minimise traffic on any other network devices whilst streaming, especially if on a low bandwidth connection and using ADSL. Be realistic when streaming: 720p is usually a good place to start but SD is just as good especially if you’re on a budget.
Ideally to make streaming work 10Mbps upload speed is a good point to start with ADSL and it will generally run at around the 6Mbps. A lot of problems with streaming can be network related mainly with routers. If possible use a router that supports QoS (Quality of Service) as this will seem to make things run a bit smoother but occasionally on some FTTH (Fibre to the home) service boxes this can cause problems.
If you spend a couple hours of experimenting and getting familiar with your equipment then you can get to a really reliable platform for streaming. If you have a generally shared connection with a Wi-Fi access point, it is a good idea to limit connections or segregate the traffic through a Wi Fi access point and your internet streaming connection especially if you’re using SOHO (Small Office Home Office) network equipment
So now you have some ideas, start small, find what works and grow your channel and with some of the systems they can grow with you. Start small, use the free trials, find what works best for you so that you can get a grasp on the technology. If you start small it makes troubleshooting easier add on what you need. And you can scale up a lot of these systems and let your creativity grow. There is everything to suit all budgets.
About the Author
Over 20 years in the entertainment industry doing various things including checking catering out on various gigs around the world while doing the odd bit of video, lighting and show control. Currently providing video and technical troubleshooting services in the Middle East whilst trying to find a decent Shawarma. You can always find the video guys in catering.