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How to put together: a cost-effective portable streaming kit.

About 18 months ago, my company was hired to capture and stream the World Latin Dance Cup. For that job I needed to bring a full switching system plus cameras in a carry-on bag. It was quite challenging because typical switchers and broadcast-style cameras are too big for a carry-on.

I replaced the broadcast cameras with relatively compact Sony EX1s and EX1Rs, and assembled a desktop system based on Telestream Wirecast Pro and the Matrox VS4 card (Figure 1). Not only was this a low-cost solution--roughly $4,500--but it allowed me to capture multiple camera feeds with the VS4, and switch them in the desktop system using Wirecast Pro. And it enabled me to pack that up, put all the cameras inside a carry-on bag, and fly from L.A. to the location in Florida to stream a full event with a minimal crew.

After that event, I thought, "Hey, look, the tools are there. How can I travel a little bit more lightly?" In this article, I'm going to describe a range of devices that have helped me to put together a kit that's more affordable and much more agile.

Building Your Own System

When assembling your own portable streaming solution, one of the key components that you should look at is the software. In addition to working with conventional switchers and mixers and stand-alone hardware encoders, there are built-in software and hardware encoders that deliver many of the same capabilities in a desktop or laptop system, eliminating the need to travel with additional hardware.

Telestream Wirecast Pro

Telestream Wirecast Pro 5 ($995) is a powerful and versatile application that runs on both Macs and PCs. The new version features x264 encoding with improved H.264 playback and stream delay.

Wirecast is especially helpful for making your kit more versatile and agile for three reasons:

* It can accommodate different platforms.

* You can create customized solutions around it.

* You can build your own boxes based on the size and type of the hardware you want to deploy.

In short, you can mix and match. But you need to be mindful of several technical aspects of component integration when building a custom system around your software of choice. If you don't have the time and the wherewithal to customize or simply don't want to tinker, there are prebuilt solutions available, which I'll discus later in this article.

Matrox VS4

In addition to Wirecast, I recommend looking into a card called the Matrox VS4, which was instrumental in my company's production of the World Cup Dance event. With the Matrox VS4 installed, standard PCs can have four simultaneous HD-SDI inputs and at the same time also output ISO records, where you can record the individual feeds to a local disk. Prior to the availability of the VS4, we hadn't seen this degree of hardware and software integration available for capturing video from multiple sources and switching, recording, and streaming from a standard PC. There wasn't a solution that offered the multiple camera inputs and the software integration to switch between four different sources, record a separate line cut, and then also output independent records of all the different streams.

The ability to record each stream becomes quite important in a live event if you find yourself overextended and run out of SD, P2, or SxS cards. When this happened to my company, because we had recorded the ISOs on the Matrox VS4 to a local disk, we were able to capture the entire event without any issues whatsoever.

Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad

It's worth noting that although Wirecast Pro is a cross-platform application, the Matrox VS4 card is currently PC-only. Another card that delivers some of the same capabilities I'm describing here is the Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad. The DeckLink Quad is a Mac- and PC-compatible card that offers HD-SDI I/O for four separate streams.

The DeckLink Quad doesn't allow ISO records like the Matrox VS4 does, but you can send the output out to various recorders, such as the Atomos Samurai or the Blackmagic HyperDeck Shuttle. But basically this is a switching card that will interface with the Wirecast software. DeckLink also supports other applications such as vMix for switching between the different SDI camera inputs.

Choosing a Compact Camera

Most of us want to have the flexibility to travel light and function as a one-man (or woman) band if necessary. One piece of gear that can make your kit much more portable is a compact camera. There are a variety of cameras in various price ranges that will help you travel light but still meet your needs as a professional producer of live-switched, streamed events.

There are some circumstances in which a GoPro will work, and some higher-end consumer cameras such as the Sony PJ790 Handycam (roughly $1,500), the Canon VIXIA HFD30, and the Panasonic HC-X920 ($800) can capture great images.

The downside of consumer cameras is that they offer poor control of the image. On many location shoots, you need full control of the iris, color adjustments, focus, and so forth that consumer cameras won't give you. I highly recommend using professional cameras, even though they take up more space.

Cameras with HD-SDI outputs and switchers that take HD-SDI will give you much more confidence in a live streaming situation where a consistent, strong signal is paramount, especially over long cable runs. If your cameras are HDMI-only, Blackmagic Design and AJA offer HMDI-to-SDI that will make up some of the difference.

HD-SDI-capable cameras used to be very cost-prohibitive, but some new, compact cameras not only capture great video, but also offer professional-level image control and connectivity as well as portability. At $2,499, the Canon XA25 is one of the lower-cost cameras that feature HD-SDI output. Sony's HXR-NX5U and Panasonic's AG-AC160A feature HD-SDI and sell for a street price of roughly $3,500; Panasonic's AG-HPX250 ($5,200, shown in Figure 2) offers not only HD-SDI, it has the ability to FTP files over Wi-Fi.

The new version of the Sony EX1R, the PMW200 ($6,299), offers HD-SDI connectivity and records MPEG HD422 to SxS cards at 50Mbps. If you're trying to work within a budget, I'd recommend purchasing a used Sony EX1 or EX3. The pricing on those is roughly $3,000-$5,000, depending on what type of kit is offered with it. If you're thinking of upping your game, I recommend those cameras because they're workhorses; they're quite stable; and you can get the quality that you need without having to spend a lot of money.

Portable Production

My ultimate goal is to be able to produce content with as little gear as possible. Eventually, we're going to get there; at some point in the future we'll be doing multicamera productions with our iPads or equivalent. But until that time comes, I recommend some other workflows based on laptop switchers.

My Wirecast Pro-Retina system, which fits in a large backpack, allows me to show up at a site or venue, set it up quickly, and put a full show together. The portable setup shown in Figure 3 features the Canon XA25s running SDI cables to the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorders, and from that out via Thunderbolt into the MacBook Pro 15" Retina system. I recommend the latest MacBook system because it has great processing power and it can handle three simultaneous streams that you can switch between. Because there are only the two Thunderbolt connections, you'd need a Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle 3.0 adapter. That allows you to bring in another camera input via the USB 3.0 port so you can use as many cameras as possible.

When you're using a laptop, I would not recommend recording a line cut directly to the laptop hard drive, because that takes a lot of extra processing power and resources. It's a good rule of thumb not to record to your boot drive. I recommend using the Blackmagic UltraStudio SDI and outputting it via SDI to a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle or an Atomos Samurai recorder and then also using a SanDisk Extreme (or other) SSD. Finally, you'll need to add a USB-to-Ethernet adapter for $29 to give you access to the internet so you can webcast.

Figure 4. The 1 Beyond SDI Studio Camera Bundle

1 Beyond

1 Beyond has put together the SDI
Studio Camera Bundle, a very affordable
bundle that includes everything
you need for less than $8,500 (with
individual components that, purchased
separately, would cost roughly $15,000).
In addition to the StreamMachine, the
bundle includes four high-quality metal
1/3" CMOS HD SDI cameras, which
can be purchased individually at the
price $895--an unheard-of price for a
professional HD-SDI-ready camera. 1
Beyond offers an optional PTZ (pantilt-zoom)
camera as well.



This studio bundle is designed for
individuals who don't have the time to do the research to find the
best components for every system;
1 Beyond has hand-picked and assembled every component necessary
to assemble a high-quality system.

1 Beyond has made the SDI Studio Camera Bundle (Figure 4) available
to all StreamMachine owners
(new and old) as a $4,495-$5,495 upgrade to their original systems.

The bundle includes the following:

* 4x video cameras (1 Beyond HS-1080-TM, HD-SDI
1080p with 1/2.8" Sony CMOS sensors)

* 4x lenses with manual zoom (3.5-10mm), EFL, CS
Mount, DC Auto Iris, 3M

* 1x Custom Camera Storm Case with laser-cut
foam for four HD-SDI cameras, up to eight
lenses, and more

* 4x fluid-head video tripods compatible with 1
Beyond video cameras

* 8x8 Meter (~24') HD-SDI heavy-duty BNC-BNC
cables, which can be used individually or put in
series for longer lengths

* Balanced Quad XLR mic and Line Mixer (small
portable external) with adjustable inputs and
monitoring levels; all-digital mic plugs into USB
port of any StreamMachine

* 7" LCD Field Monitor with HD-SDI and HDMI I/O
for camera setup/focus; attaches to moving
action camera with ball Swivel or can be used
with stand as output monitor

* 1x custom rolling duffel bag with pull-up handle
for four tripods, cables, and all other accessories.

* 1-year full parts and labor warranty with return
to 1 Beyond (extended warranty also available).


Ultimately, I want to automate the full production process and not have to incur additional costs by hiring a crew. In the long run, you might find it cost-effective to use robotic cameras, such as the Panasonic AW-HE120s that we used (along with multiple operated cameras) in the keynote rooms at Streaming Media West. The HE120s are fantastic because they allow you to go on location and position these compact cameras strategically around the room and then operate them remotely. I can operate three remote cameras at one time. At $8,500 per camera, they're not cheap, but compare that to the cost of hiring three camera operators for 1 to 3 days at every event you work.

Ultra-Portable Switchers

Besides a laptop or desktop solution that you assemble on your own, like those I described earlier, there are other systems that give you a complete, prebuilt streaming solution in a single unit.

1 Beyond

The 1 Beyond StreamMachine is about the size of a lunchbox. It's quite portable, it fits in a carry-on, and we used it as a primary encoder at one of the events that we streamed from Streaming Media West.

For software, the StreamMachine Pro uses Telestream Wirecast Pro, and it comes with the Matrox VS4 card, so it has four SDI inputs. In addition to recording four ISOs, you can also record additional backups because it has two hard drive systems in place, allowing you to both record the individual feeds plus the line cut, and it does it without breaking a sweat. It features video de-interlacing and scaling, frame resizing, and full 1080p streaming capabilities. It also has an iPad interface, which allows you to cut between the different cameras and bring up graphics and lower thirds. It's all done wirelessly within its own network, giving you full control of this unit without having to bring a large monitor or any additional gear.

What's also interesting about the 1 Beyond unit is that it's powered by both AC and DC, so you use a portable battery such as an Anton/Bauer, and carry it around for several hours, and then you're ready to switch and stream wherever you are.

The StreamMachine SR4 (starting at $3,595) incorporates the Blackmagic DeckLink Quad Card. It includes Wirecast Studio and an unrestricted iPad app that allows for full computer switching and control. This unit is designed to primarily switch, stream, and record a single multicamera feed. The Stream Machine combined with the Matrox VS4 card has more features, such as what is described in the 1 Beyond sidebar on page 44.

Paladin

Paladin is a new startup with a different approach to streaming. Its creators come from the video game industry, and they bring a new media/entertainment approach to streaming. The Paladin is a compact unit with a screen and switcher all enclosed in the case, and it works with all the different software out there--Wirecast, VidBlaster, vMix, and so on (although it comes with Wirecast preinstalled). It has four SDI inputs and more kinds of wireless capability as it evolves to allow you to stream via mobile. Versatile systems such as the Paladin will be especially important down the road as streaming becomes more participatory. Because Paladin comes from the video game industry, it will have more surprises for us in terms of the interactive ways media is delivered.

You'll be pleasantly surprised by how small the Paladin is. It looks like a portable game system, but inside the low-profile housing unit itself lies a highly tuned PC equipped with the Blackmagic DeckLink Quad card discussed earlier in this article.

You can purchase the unit by itself for $5,295, but it's also available in a flypack configuration (Figure 5), including the Paladin plus a monitor in one small case, along with Wirecast Pro 5. The case can also fit two cameras, keyboard, mouse, and cables. The cost is $6,290.

Pelican also offers an All-in-One Carry-On Kit that fits two cameras, two tripods, keyboard, screen, mouse, cables, the Paladin, and Mushroom Networks Streamer. This brings your entire studio into one portable case that can fit into your overhead bin. Paladin recommends purchasing either Canon VIXIA cameras or the Canon XA25 as part of your package.

Paladin has created an app called Paladin Producer, available as a free download in the app store that allows for iPad control of Wirecast. In addition there is a Paladin Operator app that works with Wirecast Web Streamer, Vmix, and VidBlaster to aggregate and select between iPhones as video sources that will be coming out in the second half of 2014.

Markets

One thing to note is that these portables are designed to address specific markets. Although both offerings are versatile and quite powerful, nothing can replace the features of dedicated gear for large events and venues. That being said, these systems can hold their own at small-to-medium and even large-sized events.

Paladin is targeting prosumers who want to produce professional live streams but don't have big budgets, big teams, or professional training. Paladin's target market could include houses of worship and in-house corporate media departments. The company is also focusing on video production companies and organizations looking to stream sporting events, training, and other educational activities. Paladins have even been used for events with close to 1,000 people in attendance.

1 Beyond is also targeting the worship market, as well as distance learning; high school, college, and professional sports; and corporate media, including communications and teleconferencing. In additional to its portable studio bundle, 1 Beyond has also added a PTZ camera for teleconferencing and live event recording.

Overall, I like both companies' approaches, since each one has a unique vision of how to provide a solution for on-the-go streaming. Paladin has a build-it-yourself philosophy in which the Paladin switcher is the hub, and users can add and customize equipment as needed for each job they undertake. 1 Beyond, on the other hand, offers a complete turnkey kit that includes everything you need in one hard case and duffel bag.

One thing to note is that the Paladin and its counterpart, the 1 Beyond StreamMachine SR-4--both of which leverage the Blackmagic DeckLink Quad card--do not offer the ability to ISO record each individual feed. There may be some clients or projects that won't require this feature. But if you need ISO records of individual camera feeds, you can add a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Shuttle Pro or an Atomos Samurai to the kit, which then would allow you to record each feed individually. The 1 Beyond Stream Machine Pro, which uses the Matrox VS4, does offer ISO records at an additional cost of approximately $1,000.

On-Camera Streaming Devices

When you go to stream on location, the most common problem is finding out that you have no bandwidth. In one such case I was doing an eight-camera shoot at an interactive fashion show at the famous Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills. An emerging fashion brand contacted me and said, "Look, we want to have eight streams going on, and we want you there." So I went to get a site survey, and found out it had only 460Kbps upstream, and was told, "Well, we've already planned everything, and obviously you're the last guy to call, and the last minute, but we want to do this production, and we've got to stream it out."

I was put in a situation in which I had to come up with a solution, and the Teradek Cube ($1,690-1,990, shown in Figure 6), a compact, on-camera encoder that connects via HD-SDI and provides high-profile H.264 compression and support resolutions up to 1080p over 2.4/5Ghz Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and 3G/4G/LTE cellular networks via a USB modem, proved a lifesaver. I used it with the Teradek Bond ($3,990), a 4G LTE cellular bonding solution that enabled me to put five or six cards together and get some pretty good upstream bandwidth.

Fortunately, we were able to get by on anywhere from 6 to 10Mbps for the eight streams. The streams came off flawlessly, everybody was happy, and the production went pretty much without a hitch.

So when you're in a limited-bandwidth situation--and it happens quite a bit, because hotels that you think would have fantastic bandwidth often offer little or none, or what they do have is shared with so many guests that there's little left over to support a consistent stream--it's nice to know that there are solutions such as the Teradek Cube that can get you out of a jam. Cube notwithstanding, you need to know what kind of bandwidth you'll be working with before you show up to shoot. When you book an event, I recommend doing a site survey at least 1-2 weeks in advance, and if you have any type of Wi-Fi cards or 4G cards, bring them and do a speed test to see if you have enough bandwidth. It will save you a lot of headaches.

I encountered a similar problem when I received a call from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (which does the Walk of Fame in Hollywood). The chamber wanted me to stream them inducting Slash from Guns 'n' Roses to the Walk of Fame, with an introduction from Charlie Sheen. They wanted me to stream the event from a very small location, a staging area where each member of the media was given just enough room for a camera and a tripod. Any additional gear I bought for streaming had to fit into that space.

Knowing in advance how little space I'd have to work with, I brought a compact camera, a Canon XF105, a monopod, and a Teradek Cube mounted on top, and I crowded into this space, elbow to elbow with all the press from all over the world. This setup proved very effective in allowing me to deliver a stream despite limited space, limited bandwidth, and a limited budget as well.

The Teradek VidiU ($699) is a more consumer-type solution with HDMI inputs. It provides most of the same capabilities as the Cube, except that it's geared toward small organizations and nonprofessionals who want you to be able to put a streaming device on top of their camera and then shoot and stream away. So they're trying to go after more of a consumer market.

Recoding a High-Quality Feed

Another interesting new solution for portable, budget-conscious live production when you need maximum functionality in a minimum footprint is the Matrox Monarch HD (Figure 7), an HDMI-connected unit that allows you to record and stream simultaneously. This gives you the safety of having an archive of what you're actually streaming. This is something that I intend to have in my kit as just a backup in the event that I'm in a location or a situation where I need an additional encoder for under $1,000. I've asked Matrox about HD-SDI inputs for the Monarch HD but they're not available yet.

In addition to outfitting your kit with cameras and switchers and so forth, you always want to have an archive of what you recorded, and there are portable devices that allow you to take either HDMI inputs or SDI inputs and record them onto an SSD or a hard drive, in a high-quality, low-compression format such as QuickTime ProRes 422. Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle and Atomos Samurai are two versatile devices that allow you to record 10-bit files in DNxHD and all the varying degrees of ProRes, including ProRes 422, HQ, and LT. The other great thing about the Atomos Samurais is that they do have monitors, which you can actually watch what you're recording, you can monitor the sound as well.

Streamlining Your Streaming Kit

How you assemble your portable streaming kit, and which components you choose and use, depend largely on your needs and what your clients want. You may even find yourself developing different kits for different types of jobs as you diversify your offerings and find yourself working in a wider variety of streaming scenarios.

I believe that ultra-portable systems and other fluid, carry-on-compact kits are the future of streaming production because they enable you to literally produce professional live shows on the go. My goal is to be able to go on location and produce a multicamera show using the other cameras that I described earlier and switch it live, with as few as one or two camera ops/production crew.

Finally, if you're looking for an all-inclusive portable streaming solution, I'd highly recommend considering something from a reseller, because you know they've spent a lot of time testing the equipment, and you don't have to worry about substandard components. The cost is a bit more than what you would pay if you built your own system, but it'll pay for itself and save you from a lot of headaches in the long run.

Mark Alamares creates and produces content for various platforms, including app and content development for films, television, and video games. He has worked with major internet, game, and film studios, as well as major clients for live streaming events. His company, Mobeon, is the streaming partner for Streaming Media West 2013 and Streaming Media East 2014.
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Author:Alamares, Mark
Publication:Streaming Media
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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