Producing Live Streams for Red Bull Creation

Red Bull Creation was a fun project that I recently had the pleasure of coordinating the live stream production for. The project called for an extensive video live stream production that included 14 live feeds from around the country, over a 72-hour period, non-stop.

Here’s one description of the project:

Think of it as the world’s coolest science fair – Red Bull Creation asked makers, inventors, and hackers to participate in a 72-hour frenzy of innovation, madness and ingenuity as 12 teams from around the USA engineered mind-boggling creations centred around a single theme.

RBC Live Control Center

The theme was ‘a game of games.’ Each of the 12 teams had to design and build their own physical game that could be played and exhibited in a public space. The winning team got $10,000 and a trip to this year’s World Maker Faire in New York. Three other top teams also won slots at Maker Faire.

At the TechShop Annex in San Francisco, we setup a live studio set that would act as the “nerve center” for the RBC project. Over the course of the 72-hour challenge, hosts Mike Senese and Tyler Hanson would go live, talk show style, checking in with the 12 teams to see how their builds were coming along. To accomplish this, we used a combination of Skype and Facetime conversations with team members that we fed into and switched live using our Newtek Tricaster 850.

Here’s the technical rundown.

The 12 competing teams around the country were each sent a kit that contained a Logitech C920 webcam, a Blue Snowball microphone, a tripod and a getting started guide on getting it all set up. The 12 teams each had their own Livestream channel to broadcast their builds over the 72-hour period. We had a dashboard at the nerve center that allowed us to see all 12 streams at any given moment, giving us a bird’s eye view on all teams progress.

Red Bull Creation - 12 teams

The Tricaster 850 sat in the center of our production. It was our live video switcher, graphics source, lower thirds titler, DVR, Apple AirPlay host, encoder, streamer and recorder. All content we were producing locally and remotely ultimately flowed into it before we sent it back out live on the primary Red Bull Creation Livestream feed. Two studio cameras were set up sending us 720p HD video. A Mac Mini and a PC each fed HDMI out into an AJA HDMI to SDI mini-converter, giving us HD-SDI inputs into the Tricaster. Tyler was also able to VJ music videos using his iPad. He’d cue up a YouTube video and send it to the Tricaster as a network input via Apple AirPlay over the wifi network.

When Tyler and Mike were not on set checking in with the teams live, we would pipe in various team feeds and switch them live to the main feed. We did this using the same Mac Mini and PC we used for Skype and Facetime conversations during the live shows.

Here’s a thorough accounting of the technology we used:
- 1 NewTek Tricaster 850
- 2 Sony EX1 video cameras
- 1 TVU Networks TM8100 remote cellular broadcast pack (with 10 cellphone aircards across 4 networks)
- 3 Apple Mac Minis
- 2 modern home built PCs w/Intel i7 processors
- 1 Apple iPad
- 14 Livestream channels on 2 network accounts
- 20Mb/s bi-directional Internet connection by awesome local ISP MonkeyBrains.net
- 2 AJA HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-Converters
- 8 various LCD and LED monitors
- 1 Mackie Onyx 1620i recording mixer
- 2 Sennheiser ew100 ENG G3 wireless lav mics and 1 handheld mic
- A variety of Kino Flo Diva-Lites and ARRI studio
lights
- 1 Gamelatron Robotic Orchestra
- 3 days of setup and testing

Glenn, mobile broadcaster

Some things we learned:

- Livestream’s plugin for Tricaster is buggy. We experienced major audio sync issues when enabling this. Livestream’s premium support was immediately available but unfortunately didn’t have a fix, so we just went with the old fashioned way of using a single bitrate Flash Media Encoder profile. The plugin would have allowed us to offer multiple bitrates to viewers.
- AJA’s HA5 HDMI to SDI Mini-converter doesn’t work with the latest Mac Minis with Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 chipset. AJA’s support was very responsive, but this wasn’t a known issue until we brought it to them. Apparently this model of Mac Mini has an HDMI port that is actually a DVI connection, not true HDMI. This is fine when the port is used for monitors but sucks for applications that actually require true HDMI spec video such as these mini-converters. Apparently, the higher end Mac Minis with the AMD Radeon HD graphics chipset output true HDMI, thus work fine with the AJA HA5.
- We had some serious line noise coming from one of the Mac Minis that we couldn’t readily eliminate. We acquired an inline noise filter device and that pretty much did the trick.
- The TVU Pack is a great product and worked as advertised, though we should have spent a bit more time testing it before we went live with it. We had some issues with 16:9 aspect video being squeezed to 4:3 on the other end.
- Not every YouTube video plays nicely over Apple AirPlay for some reason.
- Skype and Facetime are great ways of patching in remote guests, though quality really varies among locations and networks. Still, it was better than our initial expectations.
- Sleep really is helpful sometimes.
- You won’t explode from drinking too much Red Bull. Really.

Here’s some nice press from Wired.

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2 Responses to “Producing Live Streams for Red Bull Creation”

  1. August 17, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Why did you need the TM8100 if you had the local ISP?

    • August 18, 2012 at 3:35 am #

      Very good question! One of the 12 teams was the TechShop and they were just a couple doors down. We decided to send a host and camera crew with the TVU TM8100 remote backpack over there to check in a few times. We also used it to show a quadcopter being flown out in the parking lot.

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