Webinars: The Search For a Better Solution

Well, I have a pretty good idea of what doesn’t work. What I haven’t figured out what DOES work. So, consider this blog as a report on a “system in progress.”

BACKGROUND

Every week or so, I produce a live webinar focused on teaching something related to software or the media industry. In the past, we’ve used Adobe Connect, which we found exceedingly limiting. When we had our video production studio, we used a full production switcher and Telestream Wirecast. Now that we are in our new, studio-less offices, I’m using Citrix GoTo Webinar.

I like doing live webinars because it allows me to interact with everyone watching and, also, decreases my pre-production time. (And, truthfully, there’s nothing like the deadline of a live show to focus myself on getting the job done.)

However, the problem with both Adobe Connect and GoTo Webinar is that they support audio from either the computer or my microphone, but not both. This makes is very difficult to do anything with audio or audio software, which requires combining both computer audio and my microphone.

In fact, it makes it impossible. Which is a shame, because I really enjoy teaching audio.

OPTION 1 – PRE-RECORD

Last week, I pre-recorded my webinar, which presented Audio Fundamentals in Final Cut Pro X. This allowed me to spend extra time getting the audio mix exactly the way I wanted it, as well as fine-tuning my presentation. (In fact, many people commented on how much they liked this session.)

The problem was that when I posted the finished, compressed video to my website, about one-third of the webinar viewers were not able to watch it because the server ran out of bandwidth creating a very stuttery playback.  Sigh… I hate when stuff like this happens.

So, while the content was excellent, our distribution system was inadequate, for which I apologize.

OPTION 2 – PRE-RECORD WITH CLOUD STREAMING

In talking with my web programmers after our webinar this week, they told me we could post the pre-recorded video to the same streaming server we use for our Video Training Library. This should allow more people to watch, without the bandwidth constraints we had last week.

The benefits to this approach are:

The negatives are:

Still, pending more investigation, this may be our best option to provide the greatest control over the quality of final playback and yet reach a large audience.

OPTION 3 – WIRECAST

Last week, the folks at Telestream contacted me to ask if I was interested in reviewing the latest version of WireCast – version 8. I like WireCast, so I said “Yes!”

However, this also made me realize that, perhaps, WireCast would work to provide both audio and video as part of a live presentation. The key, as with all streaming applications, is whether it can mix both computer audio and a live mic. I’m working with the team at Telestream to see if we can use the system for this purpose.

If I was using just  a single camera and mic, or a full production studio, streaming would be easy.  The problem is that we are in the middle: more than a single camera and less than a full facility, needing to mix audio from two sources, plus stream the computer screen.

DISTRIBUTION IS A PROBLEM

However, there’s one more complexity. Sending a live stream to a large group of webinar viewers means that we need a content delivery network (CDN). I don’t have enough bandwidth here at the office to support more than one viewer. Some sort of a CDN is necessary to take the signal I originate here, then expand it so that multiple people can log on and view it without a loss in quality and with smooth playback around the world.

So, this week, I’m chatting with my programmers again to see what CDN we should use. We currently use Amazon CloudFront for our Video Training Library, but I’m not sure whether this handles live streams, or simply on-demand video.

We could use YouTube or Facebook, but, frankly, I prefer a system with more control. Both YouTube and Facebook have ulterior motives behind supporting live streaming, which I would prefer to avoid.

We also need to resolve the issue of audience questions and a live chat. This is built-into GoTo Webinar, but would need to be added to any ad hoc streaming system we create.

So, as I said at the beginning, this is a report “in progress.” I’m curious about your thoughts on WireCast and what CDNs we should consider.

And, as always, I’ll keep you informed about what we are doing.


7 Responses to Webinars: The Search For a Better Solution

  1. Richard Hale says:

    Perhaps I don’t see the whole picture but it seems to me that if you can have mike audio and computer video what’s stopping you from using a simple audio mixer for both your mike and the computer audio?

    • Larry says:

      Richard:

      Great question. I’ve tried and the problem is signal routing. The computer can’t feed audio in two directions – at least, not that I’ve found yet.

      It needs to send audio to the mixer, then bring the mixed audio back into the computer and send it to the web. The Mac OS can do one or the other, but not both.

      However, I’m still continuing to research this and will let you know what I find.

      Larry

  2. Regarding Wirecast I streamed a show on Ustream for 3 years and purchased the Ustream Producer software, which is Wirecast. The major difference is with Ustream Producer, you can only use it on Ustream. I like the software. At times I’d have a problem here or there, but it probably had more to do with me than the software. I liked it because I could use more than one camera, show slides, videos. Sometimes there was an issue with the videos but that was due I’m sure to my consumer internet speed. You can also show your desktop and have different audio sources.

  3. Hi Larry –
    You would probably be best served to choose a live streaming platform which would give you full control over the production front-end using a program such as Wirecast. The downside to live streaming is the inherent latency of 30 or more seconds, the loss of some of the cool webinar features such as Q&A and polling, and more complexity setting the system up.

    Live streaming offers better control over distribution; you can embed the player on your own website for example. The Q&A requirement is handled via live chat. Some platforms have it built-in while others suggest using a third-party embeddable chat box.

    As far as your production set-up goes the typical approach is to have two separate computers; one for demonstration and the other for the streaming. One possible arrangement would be to take the HDMI out of your demonstration computer (including computer audio)into the streaming laptop, such as a MacBook Pro with two thunderbolt ports. Use a Black Magic Design UltraStudio Mini Recorder ($145) to capture the HDMI stream. Use the other available thunderbolt port on the streaming computer (along with another Mini Recorder capture device) to bring in your camera feed. If your camera has an XLR audio input you can connect your microphone to that and the audio is now embedded and in sync with your video feed. Wirecast can now handle the switching of the demonstration computer and your camera. Wirecast also has a built-in digital mixer to balance your mic level with the computer audio. Wirecast will allow you to control your quality / encoding settings and uplink to the CDN of your choice. You might want to look at a proprietary service such as dacast.com. They have affordable pricing and offer an easy to use back-end. Another good service is livestream.com. They offer unlimited bandwidth but the downside is that if you want to embed the player on your own website the price tag goes way up.

    I hope some of this information is helpful!

    • Larry says:

      Greg:

      These comments are EXCELLENT! I had not considered using two computers, mainly because I only have one computer in my studio. Hmmm…

      Thanks, I’m off to do some homework.

      Larry

  4. Warren Nelson says:

    Wow! You made me feel better! I’m not alone! 🙂

    So, I needed to record a whole bunch of GoToMeeting interviews for our website.

    Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t record my own audio! sigh

    But, I found Loopback (https://rogueamoeba.com/loopback/). Takes a little fiddling but it works like a charm! And I use it with QuickTime rather than any of the more sophisticated screen capture software.

    Basically, you just add the app you’re using as an audio source and then any there device sources (Internal mic or other source) and off you go! AND you can route to any output!

    Since you’re only recording yourself and Final Cut or Premier, you should be golden!

    Or, I could be completely misunderstanding your problem! LOL

    Finally, it works great for recording interviews but the quality of video and audio is completely dependent, as you might guess, on the interviewees webcams and video. Also, GTM can’t always maintain sync between video and audio from external sources. But that’s easily cleaned up in post.

    Here’s the deal, when you get this all figured, I can’t wait! 🙂 You’ve got a lot of smart people in your audience!

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