I’m in Las Vegas for the next several days for my first NAB Show. I’m here seeing what’s new and interesting in the world of live video technologies, equipment and distribution. Traditionally, NAB is known for being a trade show for all things broadcasting. In the old days, that meant radio and TV. Nowadays, Internet broadcasting is a big part of it. I’ll be posting updates over the coming days on what I find of interest that relates to my world, which is shooting and distributing live video across the Internet. And DRONES, because, well, DRONES! Know something I should check out? Feel free to point me there in the comments.
What is the Deconstruction? It is a game about re-thinking the world as we know it, taking it apart, making a few adjustments, then putting it back together a little awesomer-er. It’s a light-hearted competition, but it’s really more of a large-scale collaboration between friends, participants, and the public. The concept is to make the world a slightly better, more fun, and more interesting place over 48 hours.
Yes, that’s an aspirational tall order, but we pulled it off with the help of over 60 participating teams spread across six continents. The winners have yet to be officially announced, though one lucky team will walk away with a Full Spectrum laser cutter.
My role in the Deconstruction was to put together the live stream infrastructure and production. Similar to the Red Bull Creation project that I helped Jason with last year, this was to be a distributed happening. Each participating team was encouraged to live stream the builds of their creations and update their team page on the official Deconstruction site.
We setup a home base at the studios of Synergize Live here in San Francisco. Alan, who runs the space, already had much of the streaming infrastructure in place. A multi-camera studio set with a green screen, live video switchers, encoders, monitors and plenty of decent bandwidth.
The plan was to have our hosts here on set communicate often with various team members from around the globe throughout the 48 hour challenge. To do this, we needed to make a variety of technologies work well together. In the mix, on the video side, were Skype, Facetime, Google+ Hangouts, Justin.tv, Ustream, Livestream, Black Magic, Wirecast and Resolume Avenue.
We brought in several Mac Minis that would serve as media hubs for communicating directly with remote teams over Skype and Facetime. Based on our experiences with Red Bull Creation, we knew what we needed to do to make this work. We took the HDMI output of the Mac Mins and fed them into a live video switcher (a tower PC with several Black Magic video capture cards running Resolume Avenue) and did a little mix-minus magic on the incoming and outgoing audio feeds. This allowed our producers to make “calls” to remote team members and then bring them in live so the local hosts could communicate with them on the virtual set. It’s similar to what you might see on a newscast when anchors communicate with remote reporters in the field, though without expensive satellite trucks.
Remote teams could use whatever live stream platform they wanted, though we encouraged them to use Justin.tv if they didn’t already have an account somewhere. We made this choice because it’s easy for users to setup and stream for free. While free does mean Justin.tv inserts annoying pre-roll and mid-roll ads (as does Ustream) we were able to avoid seeing them by paying $10 for a Justin.tv Pro account. Ustream also allows for paid removal of ads, but from the broadcaster side at much greater expense. This gave us a way to inexpensively host team feeds and let us cut to them without having to worry about ads popping up mid broadcast.
We used Livestream’s “new Livestream” product for the main produced live stream which we embedded on the front page of the Deconstruction site. This worked reasonably well, though we weren’t happy with their text based chat system. While the new Livestream text chat looks good and is attached to the player, there is no way to embed it without the additional event page chrome. Also, their text chat requires a user to create a Livestream account and it censors links automatically, which sucks.
We did have the intention of making use of Google+ Hangouts and Hangouts on Air as our primary way to communicate with remote teams, but we ran into several roadblocks. The primary problem being that Hangouts wouldn’t recognize our capture card in the live encoder. Hangouts is really meant to work with webcams and doesn’t give you much control over input options. A second big issue is that if you push a Hangout to a Hangouts on Air, which is essentially a live YouTube feed, there is no persistent URL. Also, Hangouts are limited to 4 hours. We worked with our friends at Google to try and make this work for us, but the product just isn’t ready for the type of event we wanted to pull off. We’ll revisit Google+ Hangouts next time.
All told, we pulled off a successful global decentralized, multi-participant fun live event using an assortment of disperate technologies. Have a look at some of the final videos of what people built over those 48 hours.
OK, I admit, I’m sold on this Vine nonsense. Being a video dork, I like to experiment with new video apps to see how they might be useful or make my life more interesting. Vine delivers on that. For the uninitiated, Vine is an iOS app that enables you to record 6 second looping videos with your iPhone. Sounds stupid, I know, but read on.
This my favorite thing about Vine. You can easily hammer out a stop motion video by simply tapping the screen during the record process. Just a quick tap to capture a single frame a time. Combine this with a tripod and you’ll a master animator in no time. Ian Padgham has created some great examples.
— Ian Padgham (@origiful) January 29, 2013
— Ian Padgham (@origiful) January 28, 2013
This is a simple, yet effective trick to fade into a scene from blank white. When you’re ready to record, put your hand over the lens for a few seconds then take it away and start recording at the same time. Your iPhone will auto adjust its iris to accommodate for the current amount of light which has just changed from not much to a lot. This results in a fade from white to your scene.
Fun with fades vine.co/v/bv1vHpBVPUd
— Eddie Codel (@ekai) February 12, 2013
All Vines are loops, keep that in mind when coming up with ideas. Try ending a sequence so your last frame or clip makes a logical connection to the start of your sequence.
Don’t hurl vine.co/v/bJ3w3vvZn17
— Eddie Codel (@ekai) February 12, 2013
— reggie watts (@reggiewatts) February 15, 2013
You’re always recording audio. Take advantage of capturing snippets of sound in the same way you are capturing snippets of video. Combine the two for extra epicness!
— Dominik (@domlen) February 10, 2013
— Dominik (@domlen) February 2, 2013
Hashtags are a great way for people to discover your stuff, especially if you use ones listed on the Explore page, but do keep them relevant. No one wants to see your cat drop a load in her litter box when they click #travel. Try to limit yourself to three. No one likes a hashtag whore.
Vine saves your movies as Quicktime .mov files in your camera roll. You can upload those directly to other places like YouTube, Facebook, Path or Socialcam. Yes, the videos will only play out once, but sometimes that’s good enough. Experiment. Better yet, string them all together into one video, like this from my last 2 weeks of using Vine.
If you like what you see, feel free to add me on Vine or find me on Twitter.
Venture Beat ran this nice piece on the DEFCON 20 Documentary that I helped shoot for Jason Scott back in July of this year. He’s editing it like a madman now with an expected release date before Christmas. I’ve seen some of the rough clips, I know it’s going to be quite the visual feast with tons of in-depth interviews. If you’re into hacking culture in the slightest, this will be a must see. Here’s the teaser trailer.
While at Streaming Media West last week, I checked out some new offerings from live streaming service providers Livestream and Ustream. This post focuses on Livesteam, I’ll cover new stuff from Ustream next.
Livestream has evolved considerably over the past few years. Originally called Mogulus, Livestream rebranded itself in 2009 to their current, more memorable name. Earlier this year, Livestream took another evolutionary step with the release of what it calls New Livestream. The big difference between old (or original) and new is focus has switched from the notion of “channel” pages to what they are calling “event” pages. Channel pages were akin to TV channels, in that a producer could broadcast any number of events over time to the same channel. Though one can create multiple channel pages, many producers would set up one channel and call it a day.
The New Livestream event page switches focus to a particular scheduled event. The idea being, each event has its own URL that lives on as an archive once an event concludes. Event pages are also much more dynamic than channel pages in that producers and viewers can post text, photos and video updates that flow down the page in a familiar timeline format. The primary event video, whether live or archived, always lives at the top.
Another excellent feature that you will find with New Livestream, is DVR functionality built right into the live player. If you look at the screencap above, notice the << DVR icon in the lower right corner. Clicking this allows the viewer to rewind to any point in a live broadcast. Missed the first 5 minutes of a keynote? No problem, just scrub the slider back 5 minutes and you’re watching it from the beginning before the talk has concluded.
Pricing has also changed with New Livestream. No longer is ad-free broadcasting based on the number of viewer hours. You can now use New Livestream totally free, without ads being inserted into your content and for unlimited amounts of time in HD. That’s a pretty sweet deal. Anyone who has ever watched any amount of streaming will know how annoying and irrelevant pre-roll and mid-roll video ads are. The caveat with free is that your viewers are required to register with Livestream (also free) before watching. For $49/month they do away with that requirement, as well as give you unlimited archiving and Google Analytics integration. For $399/month, you can embed your event channel on your own site. That might seem steep, but it’s not out of line with what old Livestream used to cost for ad-free viewing with a 3000 viewer hour cap. No viewership caps on the New Livestream.
The other nice thing about the New Livestream is seamless integration with their Livestream Broadcaster product. This iconic red camera-top device, created in partnership with Teradek, allows a producer to encode and stream directly to their event page without the need of a computer. If you’re doing a single camera shoot with an HDMI compatible camera, this is a pretty sweet way to go. The Broadcaster can stream over ethernet, wifi or a single 4G cellular modem. Just select the bitrate profile you want from the menu UI and you’re ready to go.
The newest and probably coolest thing that Livestream has added to their aresenal, is the Livestream Studio HD500 production switcher. If you’ve ever used a Newtek TriCaster before, you’ll be familiar with what this box does. It’s essentially a portable, five SDI input, HD, digital switcher and encoder. It’s positioned to compete nicely with Newtek’s TriCaster 450. The HD500 hardware is your basic Intel i7 Quad Core processor based Windows 7 machine with a Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad video capture card and LCD monitor integrated into a luggable design. It does most of what you’d expect from a Tricaster; transitions, DVR playback, stills, titles, lower thirds and assignable audio sources. The encoding and streaming piece is handled by Livestream’s integrated Procaster software, with support for multi-bitrate streams.
Max Haot, Livestream’s CEO, told me they’d be releasing a software only version of the HD500 in the first quarter of 2013. I asked Max what the impetus for this is and he answered that they wanted to get this into as many hands as possible. The software version will be free for use with Livestream and a paid unlocked version will also be available that can be used with any streaming provider or CDN.
Taking a cue from Apple, Livestream is clearly moving towards an ecosystem approach, owning each critical piece of the live streaming experience. At the same time, they don’t require that a producer use any of their software or hardware, but doing so can certainly eases the pain while maximizing the gain.
I’ve been in LA for Streaming Media West the last couple of days, checking out what’s new in the world of live streaming. This morning’s panel session Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event was a good overview on what to think about when planning to live stream your event. Here’s my notes.
C201: ROUND TABLE: Best Practices for Planning Your Live Streaming Event
Moderator: Jon Orlin, Executive Producer, TechCrunch
Speaker: Alden Fertig, Product Manager, Broadcasting, Ustream
Speaker: Howard Kitto, Group CTO, PERFORM
Speaker: Adam Drescher, Partner, Suite Spot
Speaker: Jeff Varnell, EVP, Business Development, Livestream
Q: What did Ustream and Livestream do during Hurricane Sally?
Jeff V: We set up an event on Livestream. We combined user feeds. 2 million streams to all Sally content
Alden: Ustream combined national news feeds w/user feeds. Lots of viewers. Giants World Series post-win mayhem was interesting to watch.
Q: What are things you need to ask of clients before doing a planned event?
Adam: Find out what clients expectations are. Do they just care about numbers of tweets vs viewers? Location, location, location makes a big difference on what can be done.
Howard: What is the expected the production value? PERFORM does lots of downstream broadcasts of satellite feeds. Logistics as well.
Alden: Is this content that should be live vs on-demand? Is this the right event for live? Lots of aspects to live. Workflow, promotional structures need to be put in place.
Jon: Tuning into a 3-minute event probably isn’t best to do live. Just getting people to show up in time is hard.
Howard: Sports and news are best for live.
Jeff: What is the goal of the live stream? Pre-production is everything. Once live is there it has be to perfect. Only one shot to do it. Timing is important, need 2 to 4 weeks to plan things out right. Livestream has gone to event pages now, rather than channel pages. Allows us to extend campaign, mix in photos and updates.
Adam: Fashion industry also. Gucci saved money not having to fly in execs from Milan to NYC.
Q: How do you deal with producing a live event from a place with crappy Internet?
Alden: Ustream broadcasters age from home internet to fiber, satellite to dedicated bandwidth. Bundled cellular stuff is popular. It’s really good, we like it a like. We use LiveU. News and sports attract a lot of people so challenge can be that cellular networks are overloaded in those areas due to number of people present.
Jon: We’ve used bonded cellular solutions. Testing a week beforehand before people show up isn’t a good test. CES is an example.
Alden: We drove here from SF with a LiveU, didn’t lose our stream down the I-5 at all.
Adam: Test from the viewer locations is important. You don’t want customers congesting their own network while trying to watch the stream. You don’t want a surprise doing a live stream.
Howard: Old-school satellite is rock-solid, tried and true tech, works everywhere. Expensive.
Jeff: We all expect TV. Challenge is in the transmission business. 99% of importance is the encoding/uploading on the ground. Always recommend a dedicated connection on the ground.
Point-to-point internet, we can get that working in many places in the US. If budget allows, satellite. We use All Mobile Video. We are fiber-linked from the switch to our New York HQ as well.
Alden: Buy more time than you need for satellite. Recent example, Apple product announcement event went over time and got cut off right in middle of announcement. Was watching the feed and it switched immediately to bars and tones with satellite provisioning information slate.
Q: What bandwidth do you need typically?
Alden: Rule of thumb 2x what you want to stream. Really hard to say sometimes. Is it shared connection? ISPs throttle people. Might be 20Mbs all day then 400k for a few minutes.
Jeff: 2x is about right. We can do up to 4 bitrates in our player. Make sure you stream in lower-quality too.
Howard: 2-5Mbs is what we normally do.
Q: How do you make a webcast look like TV?
Adam: Work with professionals, people who have done this before. Work with broadcast directors, work with people who have broadcast industry experience. We’re working on a new climate reality project we are doing with Ustream. We have the director from the Red Bull Stratos event with us on that.
Cameras have gotten cheaper. Technology is out there that helps to make it look like a million bucks. Graphics is important, other content that can be cut in. Proper lighting, audio. Good graphics go along way.
Jeff: Most interesting is that people creating content exclusively for the web. Our Livestream Sessions in NYC – bands come in and do a live show with fans interacting with them. Kids today want to interact in real time.
Alden: It’s not TV. You have the luxury of extra time. You do want to turn on early so people can tune in and get ready. Don’t just put up a slate. Use video clips. Use a dynamic shot, maybe a wide shot of venue, slightly blurred.
Adam: Two-way conversations is key. People want to participate.
Jon: At our event, we have a GoPro to let people see behind the scenes.
Q: Sometimes the before is more important than the during?
Jeff: Live blogging element of Livestream platform lets fans socialize before event goes live. Can happen weeks before event. Add pix, videos, comments. Cool way to add content prior to event to build hype,fan interaction. Create highlights live to add VOD clips. After event, it’s all about analytics. All clients want that.
Howard: Our ultimate case study. Our live content goes our on betting sites prior to going live. People are betting prior which builds interest. Filipino Basketball is one of our biggest events. Tons of betting. Tennis as well.
Adam: Post-production is important. We did a 3-minute sizzle reel for Macy’s, over a million views.
Alden: Get VOD up as quick as possible. Right after is when it’s still hot, people still showing up.
Howard: Our stuff has to be up straight away. Adds logistical challenges.
JON: Let’s take some questions from the audience.
Audience Q: Do you use portable satellites?
Howard: We use almost exclusively. One camera + satellite.
Audience Q: What can we do before end around the player, with the player?
Alden: Social stream is big for us. Talent can request tweets.
Audience Q: What is your take on a simulated live event?
Howard: We do some of those. We will do a full match replay at a certain time broadcast as live.
Jeff: Our preference is always live content. Good social experience around a live event.
Audience Q: How do you deal with an event that went horribly wrong?
Jeff: Most common is Internet connection problems at the encoder. We had a concert where Internet was fine for 3 hours leading up. When it came to event time, it died.
Alden: We did an event with American Idol. Building lost power. Took a long time to get powered back up. Internet was down, but We had a LiveU cellular pack on-hand.
Howard: Lots of logistical things… audio track switching. Power failure, weather.
Jon: One user complaining might not be accurate. Validate that it isn’t just a single user problem.
Adam: Make sure a backup plan is in place. Backup plan with audio, video and Internet.
Audience Q: What about insurance for problems?
Adam: Buy production insurance. Find out what are they trying to insure against. Is it for the production or media side?
I threw together this quick montage of what I saw transpire in San Francisco’s Mission District shortly after the Giants clinched the World Series last night.
Today was the day that Felix Baumgartner set several records for ascending to 128,000 feet in a balloon capsule and jumping to earth 4 minutes and 20 seconds later. An epic day of achievements for Red Bull Stratos for sure.
YouTube is also claiming a new record of serving up more than 8 million concurrent live streams for the “most concurrent views ever on YouTube.” Also amazing to be sure. The previous record for this achievement goes to Akamai for serving up close to 7 million concurrents during Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration in 2009.
What’s interesting about this is that Akamai also served up a good chunk, if not all, of the live streams for today’s event. What a lot of people don’t know is that YouTube often relies on Akamai’s large footprint live CDN to handle big events. It’s not uncommon for live stream services to off-load capacity to third-party networks if an event is bigger than their own network can handle. YouTube has stellar capacity for the on-demand videos we all love, but when it comes to live events, they often extend their reach by using Akamai’s live streaming network services.
This begs the question, if Akamai served up all of YouTube’s live requests for today’s record breaking event, did Akamai just break their own record from 2009?
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.
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.
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
– 1 Gamelatron Robotic Orchestra
– 3 days of setup and testing
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.
The TL;DR version: In 2007, Justin.tv began simply with Justin Kan lifecasting himself from his startup’s dorm style living quarters in the Y-scraper. It didn’t take long for Justin’s audience to start directing the show. The founders were able to get the cost to deliver one hour of video down to half a penny, so Justin.tv pivoted to an open, ad-supported live streaming platform. Traffic grew immensely, aided by some users illegally simulcasting blacked out pro sports events from around the world. A boxing promoter and UFC went on the attack, while Michael Seibel, Justin.tv’s CEO, had to answer to Congress. Overall traffic declined as video game streaming traffic increased. Taking this cue, TwitchTV was spun off to create a streaming platform built exclusively for video gamers to broadcast game competitions. With the rise of mobile apps, Socialcam soon became another successful spin-off. Socialcam is a mobile video sharing app that leverages Justin.tv’s infrastructure, now with 44 million users. Not to be outdone, Justin had to go and found yet another startup. Exec is a service that helps match users with personal assistants to get specific tasks done.