This is part 2 of my post from earlier in the week. It’s going to explain the technical aspects of streaming from different configurations. This is the information that everybody wants, but everybody wishes wasn’t so complicated. Let’s dive in.
If you are going to make internet live streaming an integral part of your career development, you have a lot of choices in how to do it. In terms of getting your video onto the internet, you have 3 basic choices: phone, computer, or dedicated hardware.
Stream from your iOS phone or tablet – This is by far the simplest solution. Modern smartphones have cameras that rival the quality of low end mirrorless or DSLR cameras. Your smartphone is very likely a more powerful computer than your laptop or desktop. There are a wide variety of dedicated apps that primarily make live streaming on the internet a point and shoot affair. Many of the modern streaming platforms are mobile only and you can’t even participate in them from a laptop computer. If you are a solo or duo act without a lot of technical knowledge or expertise, This can be the path of least resistance.
There are quite a few downsides. These cameras typically like a bit more light than the more expensive professional cameras. This isn’t a deal breaker. Even the pro cameras will require you to intelligently paint your set with light for best results. The cell phone cameras are often automatic and hide from you settings that I find useful. My greatest annoyance in streaming from a cell phone camera is the occasional continuous searching of the autofocus is distracting. Good lighting can minimize that.
More serious is the challenging of streaming with sufficient audio quality. Arguably, the most important factor in capturing high quality sound is microphone placement (even more than microphone selection) The optimal microphone placement is often within 4 feet or less of the sound source. This level of proximity is NEVER the most desireable placement for the camera. The smartphone cameras are built into the body of the phone, as is its native microphone. But while you can add external audio, you can’t use an external camera with your phone.
iOS devices have a distinct advantage in this regard because the lightning or USB3 connector has an API that works with any CORE audio compatible device. This is a very popular standard and you have dozens of choices. They can be as simple as a Shure MV88 microphone (Which unfortunately attaches directly to the phone) to a full blown audio mixer or Digital Audio Workstation. Nice compromise choices include the Shure MV51 motiv microphone or any microphone of your choice thru the Shure X2u, a Scarlet 2i2, or any of dozens of A/D audio interfaces like you would use with ProTools or Garage band. While microphone placement is paramount, you will also find that microphone selection will give you much greater control of your sound.
if you go this route, you can’t forget about your lighting, you will need a tripod to mount your camera and probably mic stand(s) to place your microphones. If you are a very nontechnical person, this may work best for you. if you want to multistream to multiple platforms at once, it might be as easy as just setting up a second device and doing two entirely separate streams.
You can stream from your computer using OBS, SLOBS, Ecamm, or other software. This was how everyone streamed in the beginning. OBS (the Open Broadcaster System) is a free, open source software program that is very powerful. It is available for Mac, Windows, and Unix. It takes the signals from your audio and video devices and assembles them into a proper stream to feed to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or other service. These streams have quite a few possible parameters and none of the platforms want exactly the same settings. You may have to do quite a bit of experimentation before you get satisfactory results. Once you get it tweaked for your platform, your connection and your equipment, it shouldn’t be too hard to manage. You can buy plugins for OBS that will allow you to interface your iOS camera, a skype stream, or other unusual sources.
Your Macbook Pro has an integrated webcam and audio microphone. I recommend you use neither of these in your stream. You can use a USB mic like the Shure MV51 or the Blue Yeti or snowball microphone. If you are serious about your stream, you will likely use professional microphones and a high quality interface, especially if you normally use multiple mics or instruments in performance
You can get USB Webcams, but most of them aren’t great. If you want to integrate a high quality DSLR or Mirrorless camera with an HDMI or SGI output you will also need Video capture hardware. This is where things can start to get expensive. If you want to use more than one device, you will also need a video switcher.
Often the switcher and capture hardware can be found integrated into a single piece of hardware. In 2020, I think the clear leader is the Blackmagic Design Atem Mini Pro. It has 4 scaleable hdmi video inputs, 2 audio inputs with fairlight audio processing (including equalizer, Compressor, limiter, noise gate and expander.) each of the HDMI inputs has identical audio processing capabilities. I will list a bunch of hardware options in an appendix to this article. If you are using a single high quality HDMI camera you could use an Elgato Camlink 4k they aren’t cheap, but they are compact
My primary concern over OBS, beyond the complexity of the parameters is that I (like many professional musicians) have been lax about upgrading my computers. I have 6 macs that I use regularly. My primary desktop is 8 years old, my better laptop is 10 years old, my newer macbook air is a 2018, but a very lowspec computer I bought primarily for text generation. I’m not confident that either of my macs has the horsepower to field OBS with any reasonable smoothness. If your mac is less than 3 or 4 years old, runs the current max version OS, and will properly support a DAW like ProTools or Logic, then I would anticipate no problems broadcasting using OBS (unless you want to run ProTools or Logic concurrently to process your audio, in which case all bets are off.) The good news is that OBS is free and you can download it and play with it to see if it yields satisfactory results for you.
If you want a less complicated, more elegant software solution to manage your streams, investigate Switcher Studio, a very powerful iOS based software switcher than can use as many as 9 iOS iphones or ipads as cameras and will share your mac screen as well. It’s not cheap. Pricing using the popular subscription model ranges from $468 to $4200 per year, plus the cost of all those iphones, ipads, and tripods. It is very impressive. There is a free trial you can try.
If that sounds like a lot of money to you, you can use a mac program called Ecamm Live that supports a variety of video and audio encoders, does live switching, text overlays, computer screen sharing and other power effects. You can add guests over skype. eEcamm will even accept video from select Canon Cameras via USB. It looks quite a bit easier to manage than OBS, I don’t know about the hardware requirements, but again, a free trial is available. Another subscription software, it won’t break the bank at $144 to $240 per year.
You can also stream with cameras that have integrated streaming hardware. The Mevo Plus Event Camera and soon to be released next generation MEVO Start Camera are controlled from your iOS Device and connect directly to popular streaming platforms directly, bypassing considerations about the muscularity of your computer. They offer audio inputs and have a really slick free software called MEVO Mic that let you add audio from up to three iphone sources and mix it into your stream. So, if you have a really nice mic that you want to put right in front of the performers and set the camera back further you can get great sound and pretty pro looking video. They promise software soon to do live stream switching with multiple MEVO cameras. These are almost as simple to use as the run and gun smartphone streaming. Here is a Youtube review. I see the first version MEVO event cameras used on eBay for at little as $100 Aside from the weak wifi and the lack of a native audio input those first generation models are very similar and very serviceable.
In MEVO world, I think I would go for their next gen MEVO Start camera. It has enhanced microphones as well as an audio input, longer battery life, and can even be used as an input device to your computer based OBS system. It retails for $300 They promise to add multicam live videos down the road.
I saved the best for last. If you opt to use high quality HDMI DSLR or Mirrorless cameras interfaced thru the Blackmagic Atem Mini Pro, it’s a powerful switcher with Auto scaling, powerful keying, high quality Audio and a host of wonderful production effects that you usually need to pay a subscription fee to access. But it also integrates a full streaming hardware. (In fact I think they said it could simulcast to Facebook and YouTube simultaneously, but i’m not certain about that.) That means you don’t need a computer for streaming at all. It has a lot of imbedded preconfigured settings templates. If you did want even more parametric control, you can feed the output of the Atem Mini Pro to OBS. It’s quite likely you could add an extra stream thru OBS as well. In addition to all the hardware controls, you can control much deeper thru the network software for Mac or PC. (or you could spend $3500 on a hardware control surface…) I think this box is far and away the most powerful live streaming solution and probably easier to use than OBS directly. At $595 retail, it would pay for itself in a year just in the subscription fees you could save for advanced features, and then you still have equity in the box.
If you get into the world of HDMI cameras for live streaming then you have dozens of options, far beyond my ability to properly contrast here. Two widely acclaimed models are the Canon M50 and the Panasonic Lumix G7. Here is a more in depth article. And here is another great comparison.
I know it’s pretty mind boggling, feel free to contact me directly if you want to talk thru your needs. I don’t sell anything, but I would be happy to help if I can.
Don’t leave yet. There are a few other issues I feel obligated to address here that will effect your choices.
For years, I have been suggesting that it’s easier to get started with Live Streaming if you use your smartphone. Because of the point and shoot zeitgeist of it and the general superiority of the smartphone cameras over inexpensive webcams. But time marches on and i think now that you are smarter to launch your streams from the computer. The reason is that now, on the computer you get access to YouTube Live Studio. Their iphone app does not give you this. There are several very compelling reasons for this. First, you can schedule your streams, you can choose to use a persistent stream key rather than getting a unique key each time and, most importantly, you can GET YOUR STREAM URL IN ADVANCE.
I have lots of trouble getting to live streams on facebook. They say it’s starting at 4, I log on and look for it. It’s not on the artist page. It’s not on their personal page. I assume they’ve had technical difficulties and may not be online. but often, 10 minutes or so later, the stream does appear. And when I go there it looks like I missed the first 10 minutes. If you use Facebook live studio, you can get that URL hours in advance and, if you like, you can even map it to a consistent redirect link on your personal website. so your fans could always go to http://StuartKabak.com/live.html and be immediately routed to your current stream. I think it may be worth the extra work. Or you could just blast the stream url out in Whatsapp or Mailchimp.
The other reason I am drifting away from smartphone streaming is that quality has never been more important. When I was begging everyone to get on and just try streaming, you could get some watchers if you had a pulse. Now, at least in prime time, you are competing with fabulous performers and writers, flawless audio, and strong visuals. If you can, I think it’s worth upping your game, expensive cameras and mics are noticeably better.
I still believe strongly that fishing for audience in the hundred or so mobile streaming platforms like TikIok, Periscope, Live.me, Bigo and dozens of others offers you the best chance to meet new audience that will never click on your facebook live stream. Be bold, be adventurous. Try something new. You’ll need to use your smartphone for most of them, so get a decent quality mic for that phone too.
There are situations where you just can’t use a cabled microphone, like being the wandering troubadour at a farmers market or doing a yoga class where you are constantly moving around. Often microphone placement is more crucial than microphone selection. I have had good luck with a pair of Sabinetek 610 bluetooth microphones, using one as the transmitter and the other as the receiver. A similar solution is the Rode Wireless Go microphone. I chose the sabinetek because I could get it faster and I preferred the size and the versatility. Each Sabinetek can be a transmitter if you have a compatible receiving app. This isn’t all that useful yet, but I am hopeful. Neither of these mics have a lot of low end. but I think for a guitar slinger, they might be a good solution.
I hope you read to the end, because I’m going to close with an important tip. When using a mic feed thru your camera, ordinarily the audio and video are well synced. But when broadcasting thru OBS and probably other situations where the audio and video are processed separately, You will frequently find that encoding the video takes longer than the audio, leading to Sync errors (or what I like to call Milli Vanilli Syndrome) They can be very distressing to the watchers. Because of the data density, you will mostly likely find the video lags the audio by a noticeable amount, sometimes as much as 1000 milliseconds (1 second) and perhaps as little as 40ms. There is a control in the audio mixer of OBS (and probably in the Atem Mini Pro) that will delay the audio enough to bring it into sync. When you are setting up your streaming system that latency should be pretty constant based on your sources, and your encoder speed. You can align them by eye.I suggest that it’s easier if you use a metronome that gives a flash and a beep on the beat. This guy has a different, and possibly more elegant solution.
I was going to go in depth on Audio interfaces in this post, but I think I should save that for the next post. I’ve given you guys a lot to think about. I know it’s a lot to absorb, but my favorite Albert Einstein quote is “Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I hope you guys find this information helpful.