I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with my good friend and colleague Dave Cerf on researching options for live-streaming productions. A technical adviser for a popular series of live stage shows that feature projected presentations from computer desktops, Dave also has an eye toward incorporating live camera feeds and possible streaming into his shows at some point in the future. As a result, we decided to examine a cross-section of equipment for the purposes of creating live-streaming multi-camera/multi-source live-switched productions.We kept our search parameters fairly broad in order to learn more about what’s technically feasible in 2016. Just a few years ago, the prospect of a live switched/streaming production involved fairly expensive and difficult-to-use gear along with an army of specialists to operate it. To our delight, we discovered a huge variety of products enabling many different workflows and at some surprisingly reasonable price points. As with all commoditized technology, the barriers for these sorts of productions have become increasingly affordable.
Our wish list included the ability to switch between a variety of HDMI sources, including (but not limited to) computer desktops and relatively affordable HD/4K camcorders. Realizing there are many high-end broadcast solutions on the market from veteran providers such as Ross and Grass Valley, we chose to filter our search down to entry-level and mid-budget solutions. All of the products you’ll read about range from $399 for the Livestream Mevo up to $5,995 for the NewTek TriCaster Mini HD-4.
We also wanted recording capabilities, as some of the presentations weren’t intended to be streamed live. Dave’s organization was also interested in preserving shows for highlights and promotional video. We investigated the potential of live streaming both to proprietary (i.e., private) networks and more open streaming endpoint providers such as Facebook and LiveStream.
As a musician and live performer, Dave thinks about video equipment as he does instruments and sound mixer. Are they tactically pleasant to work with? Can they be operated by hands alone, allowing Dave to focus his attention on what’s happening on stage instead of the interface itself?
In no particular order, the live-switching equipment we ultimately set our sights on included the Livestream Mevo camera, TeleStream’s Wirecast webcasting software, Convergent Design’s Apollo multichannel monitor/recorder/switcher, Blackmagic’s ATEM Studio switcher and NewTek’s TriCaster Mini production systems. We found each of these solutions had much to offer, and each seemed to fit into a specific set of workflows.
Livestream Mevo Camera
The Livestream Mevo enables virtual multi-camera production by slicing a single 4K video sensor’s signal into an unlimited number of 720p HD frames. You control the “angle,” streaming and switching via an included iPhone app. The net effect is that it looks like you have any number of cameras covering a scene when in reality only a single wide-angle lens is deployed.
The basic Mevo camera includes integrated live streaming and onboard microSD offline recording for $399. The unit is truly compact, about the size of a salt shaker. The $249.99 Mevo Boost accessory adds more battery life and the ability to connect a USB 4G/LTE modem for increased streaming flexibility.
Mevo was simultaneously the most advanced piece of gear we tried in terms of design while also being the simplest in terms of setup and operation. We found the pairing from camera to phone to be challenging at first due to WiFi connectivity issues, but once it was set up and running, the operation was smooth and reliable.
You can literally turn on a Mevo, fire up the app and be streaming a multi-camera production onto the Internet in a matter of minutes, with no additional gear or crew. We mused that the Mevo pointed the way toward an entirely new medium where the camera is the equivalent of a musical instrument as you can perform with it live, plus it was the most Apple-like device of all the products we tested, with particular attention paid to its physical design and an easy out-of-box setup.
The image quality was by no means optimal given that it’s extracted from an already quite compact single 12.4-megapixel 4K sensor, but considering the trade-offs in terms of gear and crew reduction, it could be more than acceptable for a lot of situations. With a little practice, it seems you could become both the host and technical director (i.e., the one switching between camera angles) without the audience realizing that one person was controlling it all. getmevo.com
Telestream Wirecast ($495) is a software application designed to take the place of more complex switching gear by doing most of the work directly on a computer desktop. Since Wirecast is an application, it relies on external gear for source connection.
With only a laptop, you can use its screen as a source (as a ”Local Desktop Presenter” with the option to capture individual application windows), as well as a webcam connected via USB. Therefore, if you have very modest needs—say, to screencast a computer demo with occasional cuts to a webcam of the demo artist—this can be a very straightforward and affordable solution.
If you want to grow a bit more with additional HDMI and SDI sources, Wirecast supports a variety of i/o gear such as Blackmagic Ultrastudio, AJA Kona, Matrox MXO and a variety of IP cameras. Check with Telestream for up-to-date compatibility, but then again, they also have a trial, so you can just give it a shot.
Because Wirecast is self-contained and software-only, we were able to start switching between a variety of sources very quickly, making it easy to practice the art of live switching without any complicated hardware setup. This inspired Dave to create video correspondences (in lieu of email) using Wirecast’s built-in ability to record its output. The ability to compose video in real time felt like a powerful alternative (or augmentation) to the slower, more deliberate editing supported by traditional nonlinear editing software.
Telestream recently introduced Wirecast Gear, a suite of hardware offering switching control, hardware titling and support for multiple HDMI and SDI sources with support for live streaming. The Wirecast Gear lineup is somewhat similar in features to TriCaster while intended more toward live production than broadcast. I look forward to putting the Gear equipment through its paces in the near future. telestream.net
Convergent Design Apollo
Convergent Design is known primarily for its production monitors/recorders with onboard LUTs and very high-quality OLED displays for critical focus and exposure evaluation. The company has recently taken some interesting steps into the switching world with the Apollo unit ($2,995), a device that features 4 HD-SDI inputs and the ability to switch between them in a live 4-camera split view. This is very intuitive and powerful, as you can switch between the angles by simply touching the angle you want to cut to.
What’s great about the Apollo unit is that it also records the live cut, as well as the original angles as isolated clips. You can therefore go into postproduction with the live edit you’ve already created while still having access to the entirety of each original angle.
The Titan “extract” option ($1,295) adds a new wrinkle to the mix that’s analogous to the Livestream Mevo. In addition to switching between four separate cameras/HD-SDI sources, Titan can also derive virtual angles from a single 4K source. This mean you could set up a higher-end 4K camera (such as a Blackmagic Ursa Mini, RED Dragon or Sony FS5) and switch between HD frames as if you had multiple cameras.
We were very impressed with the brightness and sharpness of the Apollo’s OLED display, and Dave loved the ability to switch angles via touch and scrub playback directly on the screen. The onboard UI felt well laid out, and the image quality was high enough to stop thinking about pixels and focus on pure content creation.
Titan empowers you to make a very high-quality live multi-camera HD switched production using just a single 4K camera and monitor unit. That means a lot less gear and crew while still allowing you the option to produce work that would have required many cameras and operators to run them in the past. For corporate, commercial and event producers, Titan could be a very powerful and affordable option. convergent-design.com
Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio
The ATEM Television Studio ($995) is the entry-level production switcher in Blackmagic’s ATEM lineup offering a huge amount of inputs and outputs along with switching, titling and keying capabilities. Though geared a bit more toward the broadcasting world, the ATEM is perfectly at home in a live production environment. While the unit doesn’t feature any built-in streaming capabilities, it can be easily connected via HDMI or HD-SDI to a streaming box to become a complete solution.
The ATEM includes four HDMI inputs and four HD-SDI inputs while taking up a tiny amount of space in a compact rack-mount design. It can drive both multi-view monitors enabling you to see all sources, preview and program while outputting via HDMI and HD-SDI.
The ATEM can be controlled via Blackmagic’s ATEM 1 M/E Broadcast Panel for $4,995, or via a connected laptop running Blackmagic’s included ATEM application. I’ve used an ATEM with both the panel and the laptop, and while the panel can’t be beat for ease of use and muscle memory, the laptop you probably already have makes a fine and economical alternative.
Dave was impressed by the amount of i/o connections and features packed into the ATEM at such a low price point. Long accustomed to working with audio gear, he compared Blackmagic favorably to Mackie, in the sense that the company’s professional track record may not be quite as established as other brands, but their features and capabilities are well up to snuff. blackmagicdesign.com
NewTek TriCaster Mini
As a longtime visitor to trade shows like NAB and IBC, I’ve seen many demos from NewTek, which began as a video switching company when they introduced their Video Toaster product way back in the dark ages of 1987. By offering a primarily software-switching solution to an industry dominated for decades by analog hardware switchers, NewTek helped usher in the desktop video revolution that continues to this day.
The Tricaster Mini lineup ($5,995) continues this lineage by distilling all of NewTek’s experience into a unit roughly the size of a cereal box. It comes with connections for four HDMI sources and also includes a built-in LCD display, meaning you can travel a bit more lightly. Tricaster Mini includes titling, keying and all manner of NewTek’s vaunted transition styles.
We had hoped for some hands on time with a TriCaster Mini, but getting a demo unit from NewTek just wasn’t possible in time for this review. Having spent some time with demo units in the past, however, I can say TriCaster does justice to NewTek’s venerable pedigree and merits further investigation. newtek.com
Compatible with any camera equipped with HDMI or HD-SDI, Teradek’s Sphere ($2,990) can utilize 4- or 8-camera rigs for monitoring and live-streaming VR productions. If choosing to go with GoPro solutions, the camera can also be powered via four USB ports. With manual and automatic color and lens corrections, footage is stitched together on the fly through free Sphere iOS software that allows monitoring at less than four frames of latency with realtime composites of up to eight 1080p streams. Live streaming can be sent to any current 360. platform like YouTube. It requires a $1,000 licensing fee to live-stream to the web. teradek.com
I was struck not only by the wealth of capabilities for all of these products, but their affordable pricing. I also glimpsed many other solutions from companies such as Datavideo, Roland and others, to say nothing of the high end always encroaching toward affordability.
Our final takeaway is that if you’ve ever wondered about live and streaming production but felt daunted by costs or technical complexity, let us assure you there’s nothing to fear. There’s an abundance of products that will match your workflow needs, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.