Conference live streaming in a nutshell

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Let’s first talk briefly about the hardware we used. Modern video cameras have either a HDMI output (beware there are several standards of HDMI sizes. You’ll probably need an adaptor to make it fit) or you can connect them by a Serial Digital Interface (SDI) cable. We used Blackmagic Hardware but you are not bound to any manufacturer as long as you can connect your cameras with the interface.

Blackmagic

For both events we used a Blackmagic Intensity Extreme Interface or Ultra Studio 3D which gives a SDI Input and a HDMI Input which can be linked to your computer by a thunderbolt connection. You can configure them and send data to the interface (friendly hint: The HDMI Output only sends data if the HDMI Input receives data). Any video capturing software you’d like to use can then use the signal.

If you look into an affordable but good solution for getting a HDMI or SDI Input you should look into the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder. It sells for around 150$ and gives you the basic connections you need (just without the option of having XLR or Analog Audio Inputs)

DVI Grabber

At the Frontend Conference we added a DVI Grabber to the setup to get an additional video channel fort the slides into the encoder. We simply looped the signal trough the grabber. With the right pair of adapters it’s no problem. But you need to test it first!

Software

Wirecast

Wirecast is really easy to use when you send your stream to YouTube. After creating a live event on YouTube you can select Wirecast and you’ll get a configuration file back. After loading the configuration file into Wirecast we were ready to roll.

Flash Media Live Encoder (FMLE)

Things get to a more technical level when you use FMLE. We had trial and error runs because you can define a variety of parameters for the input and output signals. Be sure to test with the cameras you use during the event because they might have another frame rate or a limitation which couldn’t be handled by your HDMI or SDI Interface (I know I repeat myself but : “TEST it before!”).

When you manage to setup everything according to your stream endpoints you’re ready to go. But the learning curve is a bit steeper than using FMLE

Streaming Services

YouTube

YouTube is by far the most comfortable way to stream online content because the Wizards guide you trough everything you need and paired with Wirecast the setup is done in no time.

Rollyourown - Wowza/Flowplayer

TEDxBern was lucky to have SwissTXT as partner. SwissTXT provided us 2 options to stream our event live. This solution allows you more flexibility in streaming but adds a bit of complexity and you need to make sure the player works in every device (unlike YouTube where most devices have a native way to play the streams they receive)

Wowza Server

The Wowza Encoding Servers were our primary solution to run the live stream. The server takes our raw stream and encodes the other streams we need to have (i.e. 720p, 340p, Mobile Streams).

Akamai

As Backup solution we had Akamai in place if something would go wrong with the streaming via the Wowza servers we could switch over to Akamai almost seamlessly and continue broadcasting by their infrastructure. One thing to remember is, that Akamai does not provide any encoding. So we need to encode the different streams on site and send this off to the CDN. This procedure needs substantially more CPU power and bandwidth than running the encoding outside of the venue. If you plan to encode your streams locally be sure to check that you have enough bandwidth.

Conclusion

Putting those things together allows you to live stream nearly anything, which has an SDI or HDMI Output. I even live streamed content from a GoPro to YouTube over the Blackmagic Interface to test the setup prior to the events.

Where to go from here?

Well this is a rather small and humble setup. If you start to like this kind of technology keep it as simple as possible. There are enough common pitfalls and bumps to take before you really master it. You will learn a lot during your first hours of streaming content live. If you are comfortable to go farther you can add complexity by adding more cameras and having a live operator which changes the cameras to make the live streaming experience better. This alone means more signal cables, the need of having a video channel mixer and a lot more.

And last but not least: If you really start with doing live streaming, be sure to have ANY Video Adaptor you can imagine at hand ;)

 

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