Clients approach our company with the goal of putting on a big event and rewarding their audiences with a great show. Usually we need to provide multiple broadcast cameras, video switching with Tricaster systems, projectors, and large screen monitors. Invariably, the project drifts towards the new kid on the block, streaming.
Streaming is still a dark art for many experienced event producers. Most aren’t sure what exactly you really need to successfully stream. Well, here is a short introduction to help with that mystery.
It is possible to stream from the Tricaster interface, but if you are really serious, you should budget in the use of a separate encoder. This is a dedicated computer which takes your master video feed and compresses it live to be pushed out to a streaming provider like Ustream or YouTube Live. That provider will create a unique address and name to receive the pushed video.
I wrote a previous blog article comparing three streaming providers, but one thing to keep in mind is the flexibility with testing and how the channel reacts if the stream connection is temporarily lost. I recently tested a streaming provider which would end and begin archiving the stream as soon as the connection was severed. That means, if someone manages to kick out the ethernet cable (it happens) I would need to take many extra steps to reconstruct the broadcast settings of my encoder. Ustream on the other hand, will take a stream from your encoder whenever it is being sent, so the accidents behind the pipe and drape don’t ruin the show.
Secure connections are essential for streaming. It is important to use a dedicated hardline connection to the internet which is not protected by a firewall. These protections will cause complicated issues for the stream that aren’t easy to solve quickly. Many Hotels outsource their internet services which have 48 hour response times. If your production is going to happen at one of these hotels, try and get in there and test before hand. You can always test YouTube with your laptop as an absolute bare minimum, but not on the wifi.
To optimize the quality of your stream, various audio and video tests must be performed. Check to see if the video is in sync with the audio. The video usually ends up getting delayed behind the audio as the computing power required to process and move those signals around require more steps. Audio is amplified and duplicated much faster so that audio signal must be deliberately delayed anywhere from 35 to 100 milliseconds, sometimes more.
Adequate lighting is necessary to not only create a beautiful event for your audience, but also to prevent signal noise in the cameras from bogging down your encoder. The encoder is trying to optimize video quality for a small bit rate so it looks for areas of the picture which don’t change between frames. In those areas, it repeats the information from previous frames, thus reducing the amount of new information being sent each frame. However, if the signal noise of your video is high as a result of digital grain and low light, the compression believes this is new information for each frame. As a result, the compression is inefficiently sending new information for areas of the frame which really aren’t changing.
Finally, consider the music your audio team will be using to walk people on and off stage. If you are streaming to YouTube, you will get kicked off and potentially banned from streaming when their automatic algorithms detect copyrighted material. Ustream and Livestream operate on community guidelines, so you can get away with this when it happens, but don’t assume they will always be forgiving. Your technical director will have to separately cue in audio for the stream and not rely on house audio.
It may seem like a lot of extra steps and really, this is only the beginning of creating a good stream. It gets even more complicated if you are hoping to create on demand video, stream multiple bit rates to multiple channels, or stream internationally while using U.S. based providers.
Our best advice is to take it one step at a time and call the professionals. We’ve built some awesome encoding machines and would love to help you figure out how to make your next show awesome.
Photographs by Scott Snell