Since NAB 1995 — 23 years ago — when Rob Glaser introduced Real Audio, the first streaming media platform, the idea of media delivered over the internet has caught fire. Today, estimates are that up to 90 percent of internet users watch videos or listen to audio online. That trend has transformed media.
Now, of course, anyone with a personal computer and an internet connection can stream media live anywhere in the world. That, in itself, is profound. These streams can be accessed by audiences on a multitude of devices, ranging from home TV sets to mobile phones. Streaming is an incredibly powerful way to reach people. No post-production is required to make it happen.
Though the concept is simple, executing it in the right way is harder. Most streaming services, in additional to providing live feeds, allow users to store and distribute the content after the live broadcast. This “on demand” mode eliminates the need for recording physical media and allows people to watch anytime they like.
The cost of live streaming depends on the requirements of the production. There’s a big difference between streaming the Olympics throughout the world and making a small church service available locally on the net. There is also the consideration of streaming both the video and audio. One needs to carefully map out the requirements and quality demands of each streaming project.
Panasonic video camera
On the most basic level, a single camera can be hooked to a computer for a live stream. This can even be done with a smartphone. It will be very basic, without a lot of production value, but when the image matters the method works. Some powerful news stories are done this way all the time.
For streaming requiring more elaborate production value, the process gets more complex and requires special equipment. Sweetwater, the pro audio dealer in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, recommends a middle ground to streaming for most of its customers. They suggest two or three cameras, a video mixer, a good audio set-up, a reliable computer and a live streaming service that fits the project’s needs.
Any professional or semi-professional camera should be able to provide HD resolution images in a live stream. Make sure, however, the encoding and connections being used by the cameras are supported by the audio-video mixer
Live stream for Acura, the car company
Note we used the word “audio” first, when describing the mixer, in the previous sentence. This is because audio is always more important than video. Viewers will not put up with poor audio, though they will tolerate mediocre images. This is a long proven rule. The right microphones positioned correctly make all the difference in the success of the production.
In getting good audio — outside of using your own microphones — one can choose to take an auxiliary feed from the house mixing board. When taking such a feed from a board, however, you add another level of risk. Any problem the third party mixer creates becomes yours as well. This can be riskier than trusting your own microphones. With a lot of (too much) experience, I only trust only my own gear, but sometimes situations require trusting others. Make sure those you trust are competent.
When we think of all-in-one mixers for streaming, we think of Roland. The company offers some of the most flexible audio-video mixers on the market, ranging from about $2500 to $6000). Sweetwater, a Roland dealer, said the mixers combine video cameras, video sources and multichannel audio all into a single unit. They also include scaling inputs to make it easier to integrate standard-definition sources, and they all accommodate both live projection and streaming.
Roland mixers also typically include USB connections intended for streaming and recording. When it’s a challenge to find a volunteer who’s technically savvy enough for audio or video, an all-in-one mixer that can also handle streaming to a computer is a good choice. In fact, for users working with volunteers, these mixers are among the safest choices that can be made.
Sweetwater recommends they users always look at the number and type of video camera inputs in the mixer, USB and additional video inputs for slide shows and other sources, USB for recording and streaming, audio I/O for mixing and sound reinforcement and additional video processing such as transitions and effects.
Once the hardware is chosen and assembled, it’s time to find the right streaming platform for the project. Some popular services in live streaming include DaCast, Ustream, Livestream and Wowza. While there are free services, such as YouTube Live or Facebook, they won’t offer as much control of the content as a commercial service.
Commercial services cost anywhere from $20 to $100 per month for entry-level service, with the average being around $50 per month. Choosing the right platform takes careful research to match your specific requirements to the company.
That’s really all that is required to stream audio and video. Providing compelling content that will attract and sustain your audience is the harder part. But the opportunity to be seen by the entire world is a very powerful and new concept. Use it wisely.
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