Web Streaming Primer

Posted on by Larry

Suddenly, as we work through what “lock-down” means in the age of the coronavirus, we each need to find new ways to reach our customers. There’s no better way to do this than with web streaming. But, there’s streaming and then there’s “streaming.” As you might expect, the answer isn’t as easy or simple as we might like – because each of us has different needs.

For example, Nathan is a piano teacher. “I want to do some live streaming,” Nathan told me. “Show my students, who are mostly kids, my hands playing the piano, let them listen to my playing, then see my face as I explain what they need to do. Ideally, I need to see and hear them as well. What’s the easiest way to do this?”

I did my first live stream in 2007. Since then, I’ve done hundreds; both audio-only and video. Today, streaming is easier than ever. However, depending upon what you want to do, streaming may not be “easy.”

The challenge is the audio. Let me give you some examples.

DEFINITION: Stream. An audio or video feed originating from your computer or smartphone. It can be viewed by one person or many at the same time.

SOMETHING SIMPLE

The easiest way to stream is FaceTime. This is a one-on-one secure conversation which allows you to switch between the front and back cameras on your cell phone. And, because the phone is close to your mouth, the mic on your phone will pick up good audio.

NOTE: The new FaceTime Group chat means you can talk to several people at once.

The next easiest way to stream is Skype. This free service allows audio-only or video and audio streaming between two or more people.

The good news is that these systems work, are free and can connect two or more people at once. However, as your needs get more complex, or you don’t know the people you need to reach, you can quickly outgrow these options.

Tools

STREAMING TO A GROUP

One-to-many streaming is similar to teaching a class. There’s the person talking and lots of people listening. My university uses Zoom for its online classes and Blue Jeans for staff meetings.

I have used GoToWebinar for all my webinars for the last six years. (I used Adobe Connect before that, but Adobe’s service has too many problems for me to recommend it anymore.)

Streaming services that I’ve used recently include:

THE CHALLENGE IS AUDIO

If all you want is to have one person talk, any of these services will be fine. The challenge comes in integrating other audio, specifically computer audio, with your voice. This is really, really difficult.

Each of these services allows you to pick one audio source. You can pick your mic, or computer audio or an external mixer, but not all at the same time. For me, this makes creating webinars that discuss audio, audio editing or mixing impossible to present live.

The situation is not hopeless, but it does require more gear. Here are three scenarios, depending upon your needs.

Scenario 1: Microphone and computer audio with one computer camera and/or screen recording

The best option, with the least pain, is to record your presentation, allowing you to record both the mic and computer audio, then post it for people to watch after you’ve finished editing it.

Benefits: Greatest flexibility in correcting errors and polishing the performance.
Limitations: The extra time needed for editing, a place to post the video, and security for sessions you want to keep private. Some screen capture software only records H.264, which is harder to edit.

Tools (You won’t need all of these.)

Scenario 2: All external audio with a live computer camera

This provides the greatest audio flexibility, from small projects to large productions. Use as many mics as you need, run them into a mixer, convert the output of the mixer into a digital stream, combined with the camera on your computer, and livestream the results.

If you don’t have a mixer, the RødeCaster Pro is an excellent choice. It’s built-in preamps and audio processing are state of the art and it automatically digitizes your signal. If you have a mixer with only an analog output, the FocusRite will convert it to digital. Both connect to your computer via USB.

Personally, this is the technique I used every week with my podcast, Digital Production Buzz. Each live show was streamed live via Mixlr; which is a service I recommend. The show had two live hosts, with a separate computer playing recorded segments and commercials which were inserted into the live show.

NOTE: Here’s a detailed description of my podcast production setup.

Essentially, this was a radio station in a box, able to go live from anywhere in the world, with a single video camera providing general coverage of the show.

Benefits: Unlimited audio flexibility. Works great live.
Limitations: Requires microphones and audio mixer.

Tools (You won’t need all of these.)

Scenario 3: External Audio with Multiple Cameras

This provides the ultimate in flexibility, but also requires the most gear. This allows you to use multiple cameras, multiple microphones, even multiple talent to provide a “network-grade” video production.

This also means you need to start thinking like a video producer and plan for sets, talent, hair, make-up… all the trappings of a full-production.

Benefits: There’s nothing you can’t do technically with this setup.
Limitations: It requires the most gear, more focus on the tech and more money to get started. This also requires a focus on creating professional-level content.

Tools (You won’t need all of these.)

In all cases, you need to plan for distribution. Creating the stream is the first part, but delivering it to multiple end users at the same time means you need access to a streaming server. At this point things get murkier. You can use services like:

But you may also want to consider your own service. Here’s a Wikipedia page with lots more info. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_streaming

Other options:

SUMMARY

My advice is to start simply. If your audio needs are complex, record your presentation. This vastly simplifies the gear you need, distribution and costs. It also allows you to practice and refine your presentation without an audience watching over your shoulder.

At the next level, keep your video needs simple, but expand into an audio mixer. This provides highly-engaging audio with simple video.

At the top level, multiple cameras require the ability to switch between them. This requires the most hardware and careful testing to make sure everything works the way you expect before presenting your first live production.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.


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20 Responses to Web Streaming Primer

  1. uftou la touffe says:

    Hi. Thanks for the article. Lots of good tips.

    Just a quick correction, for the zoom streaming service you put the wrong url. It’s not http://zoom-na.com but https://zoom.us/

    Uftou

  2. Dennis says:

    The url for Zoom should be zoom.com not zoom-na.com for posting video.

  3. Ray Naylor says:

    Larry, thanks for this. I just started streaming. I’m using OBS which allows me to show videos including Motion produced ones, images, and other stuff I haven’t learned yet (learning curve), external mic and guitar cable (through mixer then audio interface), and a webcam (I’ve ordered Black Magic Mini Recorder so I use my Camcorder instead of webcam). I’m streaming on Facebook. It’s been fun learning how to do this, and sometimes frustrating. But still fun.

  4. Don’t forget the BMD ATEM Mini as a 4 camera live web switcher. It’s USB C port encodes the video like it is a web cam so the free OBS can uplink the video to Facebook or YouTube live.

  5. Greg Shaw says:

    Larry,
    more elaborate presentations can be achieved in Zoom by hosting on one computer (with host mic and face (video)), and media on a second computer joined into the meeting. Second computer uses ‘share screen’ to present media (including video with audio). This solves the program audio versus host mic audio dilemma. Host can “pin” the shared screen to lock it, so view doesn’t shift to another participant speaking.

    -Greg

  6. Dear Larry, Love the tips. Our church discovered Ecamm Live and are up and running streaming in just 2 sessions. You can export a multipage PDF from “Keynote” with song lyrics on a lower third opaque rectangle and text block over a “no color” background that ‘Ecamm Live” can remove the background and leave just the lower third. Import the PDF as an “overlay” on to a scene. Mouse over and select the PDF, right click on the lower right corner of the page window and select “PDF OPtions” > “Transparent Background”. You could also remove all of the background color by cropping the multiple pages in Acrobat, if it is white, save and then import to Ecamm but that is extra steps.

  7. Brian Tario says:

    Timely article Larry! I’m curious if you have a suggestion for the following scenario:
    GOAL: Facebook Live from an iPhone (small audience, under 100), but using audio output of a mixer (so VO mic and music can be mixed).
    QUESTION: Are you aware of a product that has an audio input (any plug is fine) and outputs via lightning jack? Bonus if it also has a power pass-through for keeping the phone charged. Obviously the video is coming from the iPhone’s camera.
    It seems like a pretty basic device, but I’m not having any luck finding one…thanks in advance!

    • Brian:

      Contact the team at Switcher Studio and get their advice. Their whole system is iPhone based.

      Larry

      • Brian Tario says:

        Thanks for the speedy response Larry. Great suggestion on the Switcher Studio folks. I was super impressed with their products at a SuperMeet a few years ago. Just never had a use for any of it until now.

    • A hardware piece that would work is the Saramonic SmartRig+ Di. It has 2 Chanels with Gain Control, Phantom Power and outputs to a Lightning connector. The inputs are 2 combo XLR and 1/4 inch jacks and 2 1/8 inch mic inputs. It has a Mono/Stereo switch and a headphone output for monitoring. Available for $179 from B&H and Adorama.

  8. Been using Skype for a Church Service for 2 weeks now. Works well. All participants either log-in with Skype group invite web address or I invite them live when they are online. Created the group under Meet Now in Skype. There is no time limit. This is the reason we are not using Zoom. The “FREE” version has a time limit of 40 minutes. The host has to be a “Paid” member to host for more than 40 minutes. The least expensive plan is $15 a month. With Skype anyone can host up to 50 participants.

  9. Question from a client: Would you be able to provide guidance to get Spanish subtitles onto our FB live streamed videos????

    • Larry says:

      Bonnie:

      The language is not important. Key questions are whether captions are generated for a live presentation or added later in editing. Live is harder and requires more gear.

      Telestream Wirecast supports live caption inserting, while any of the major NLEs can add captions during post.

      Larry

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