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Live Streaming in a Post-Zoom Age

Live Streaming Poster Image

Live streaming is an indispensable tool in our solidly virtual world. Between video calls, conferencing, and earnest live streaming, we're live encoding a ton of content. Not every live stream is created equal, and not every project requires multi-cam encoding. Hopefully we can walk you through the terminology and choices you'll have to deal with when considering how you'll approach the production of your next live stream.

In order of complexity, the simplest livestream most people encounter is a video call, or video conferencing. Using the likes of Zoom or Teams or some other virtual meeting application, you can use a webcam or mobile device with a camera to talk to teammates live within a virtual meeting space. Generally speaking, such streams aren't the domain of the live streaming that DF Production Services offers, but we've absolutely provided broadcast services for meeting applications. Internal presentations are sometimes desired to be more formal and professional looking, especially from the C-suite. While encoding is usually handled (and usually handicapped) by the conferencing application, we can maximize the quality of such streams by carefully controlling the background, lighting, camera, and sound capture. While the application's quality is a constant, DF Production Services has the tools and equipment needed to bring the most quality out of such a stream.

Professional Cameras
What if you want to get out of the conferencing application space? If a quality presentation is a must, with audience interaction being secondary, a dedicated streaming platform like Vimeo, Livestream, Youtube, etc. is definitely a better option. Primarily, with these options, you can entirely control the quality of the encode at the point of the stream. While video conferencing tools kneecap bitrate and framerate for the sake of low latency, you can stream at much higher bitrates with proper video frame rates up to resolutions as high as 4K. For streams we conduct, we typically try to push content between 5-8 Mbps at 30p Full HD - somewhere between 4-5x more data than what most video conferencing can support. While you still can entirely control the frame aesthetic, you now have access to the same quality available to major broadcasters. You can still even interact with audience members through dedicated video calls and question submissions, all of which can be integrated into the final stream.

There are some caveats and considerations, the biggest of which is bandwidth, or the amount of data an internet connection can handle over a period of time, usually expressed in Mbps (megabits per second). Live streaming is hungry for bandwidth, meaning any network hosting a stream needs to have a robust enough connection to support it. Generally, that's not a huge issue, especially in modern urban areas. Most businesses have at least an enterprise ISP connection, and gigabit fiber connections are becoming synonymous with big business. However, if you're trying to stream from a rural area with a poor connection, or an area burdened with a lot of internet traffic like a shared Wi-Fi network, things can get hairy. If you're trying to stream at higher bitrates, you generally want access to an unfettered connection (meaning hardwire ethernet) with an overhead of at least 50% your stream bitrate. For instance, a 5 Mbps upload should be supported by at least a 7.5 Mbps upload speed, but I'm only really comfortable with double the bandwidth.

Relying on an ISP and existing infrastructure can be an uncontrolled variable as well. ISP's sometimes throttle speed. One time, an ethernet connection provided to us for a stream failed because someone jiggled it where it terminated at the wall. Sometimes trees fall on utility lines. Things go wrong with networks, so the only sure-fire solution for consistent upstream viability is redundancy: at least one good connection to fall back on in case everything goes haywire. We try to always provide redundancy with at least one LTE connection, and for bigger projects, we buttress that redundancy with a bonded system of several LTE lines. That way, if something goes wrong, there's always somewhere for the data to go.

The worst case scenario is everything goes terribly wrong with the upstream connection. Ultimately, most budgets don't allow for every failure point to be mitigated. Redundancy is the only real solution, so no matter what we always record our live streams at multiple points - at camera, at switch, and also the program feed - so at least if the stream fails, there's a very high quality recording of the live event to post immediately after.

Expertise in streaming is about managing disparate resources and tying them all into a cohesive outbound broadcast. It's about mitigating risks and planning for failures. We'd like to tell you that we can offer a stream that 100% always works, but to do that we'd need to control every aspect of the pipeline, and we just don't. However, what we can offer is the experience to know how to deal with problems and set your broadcast up to be as robust as humanly possible. There are a lot of resources out there to help you manage your own streams, but if you'd like to fall back on experience, you can always reach out to us to help.

Happy Streaming!

- Jacob

Multi-camera array


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