We are now seeing an explosion of live video content streamed onto social networks thanks to lower barriers to entry, with anyone now having the ability to go live with use of a smartphone or drone. As a result, we’ve put together an overview that includes solutions offered from both manufacturers and software publishers for high-quality streams.
Streaming live has never been easier. If you have a smartphone, you can simply connect to social media, film yourself as a selfie and you’re off. Of course, the quality might be hindered from doing it like this when compared to use of a professional camera, but that is a straightforward way of going live without any prior knowledge of video production.
When it was first introduced, similar to vertical video very few saw that it would work. The statistics are there with viewing time of live video content growing rapidly, whilst the quality of the content increases. Use of Facebook, YouTube and Twitch for live video has seen its audience figures exceed the more traditional linear platforms amongst those aged 16-32. To be convinced we recommend reading this article which perfectly demonstrates that the live streams online do indeed work.
Mobile Phone or ‘Real’ Camera?
We’ll try not to dwell on the feature-set of a smartphone, but as we know it has an acceptable camera for video, and most importantly a 4G/5G connection, meaning that it can broadcast from any place with a cellular connection. On the other hand, a smartphone has to be overequipped to get an image that is acceptable – mini tripod, external mic, bluetooth headset, lights and so on. More often than not, smartphones confine you to vertical diffusion (as we have seen in this article). Facebook, for example, imposes a 9:16 image in its Android application, but not in the iOS application. Whilst these are of course all limitiations, the phone remains as the number one camera tool for live. Nonetheless, it leaves you unable to add filters to the image as well as subtitles, managing incoming comments and so on.
Professional cameras have taken a much longer time to adapt for network purposes. Beforehand, you would need a camera connected to a video switcher via SDI, which then sent the signal to a computer or dedicated encorder to get the content online. This is now no longer the case, as seen by the recent introduction of the Panasonic AG-CX350, which added an Ethernet port as an output as well as an optional Wi-Fi dongle. Whilst plenty of professional cameras have included these in the past, it has come at just the right time. When streaming over IP, you can retrieve audio and video from several sources and mix them live on a computer with OBS Studio or VMix software, thanks to the addition of the NDI protocol on the camera. Better still, the camera can stream via the LAN or USB connection and record internally simultaneously, meaning that if you are live-streaming an interview, you can also record a back-up onto SD card if you wanted to have a higher-quality version available afterwards.
To summarise the above, a professional camera can now be used for a live video stream, or as a multi-camera for live production thanks to the NDI|HX protocol found in the CX350. The benefit of using professional camera technology is the image quality and ergonomics are simply way ahead of a smartphone, whilst still being extremely straightforward to use. For more information, we recommend that you read this Panasonic documentation: How to connect AG-CX350 with Facebook Live, How to connect AG-CX350 with YouTube Live.
You can also take inspiration from this very good tutorial for an ultra-precise configuration:
Streaming with Cameras that do not have Network Capability
With technological advancements on professional cameras, we now know that it is easy to live stream straight from the camera. However, what happens when you want to use other image sources that have neither Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity? If we look at Teradek or Newtek for example, we find a wide range of boxes that can be directly connected onto your cameras and will transmit the signal with or without wires, to YouTube/Facebook. Roughly speaking, its boxes act as a gateway between video sources and network video, meaning that you can even use large-sensor cameras such as the EVA1 or VariCam LT for a live stream shoot, only with greater dynamic range and a more cinematic look.
NDI – the Revolution
As we have seen, devices are now available that are designed to transform video stream from professional cameras into an Internet streams. As a technology this is not new, with video surveillance cameras and fixed PTZ cameras having done this for some time now. What is new however is the simplicity in which it can now be implemented, thanks to the introduction of the NDI protocol, or Network Device Interface to give its full name, which provides the following benefits:
- Auto-Discovery – previously the work of a network engineer or someone with plenty of experience in network configuration, users would have to use complex utilities that helped determine the IP address of a device, calculate its flow, configure the necessary protocols to ensure that they work together and so on. With NDI, anything that is on the network and is NDI-compatible can be seen by all devices located on that network, and therefore becomes a source – be it a camera, a screen, a computer, or even a small recorder like the Atomos Ninja V and its NDI module. The beauty is that everything is automated, which saves a huge amount of time due to there not being a requirement for manual configuration whatsoever.
- Cost-saving – one of the key benefits of NDI is that everything is completed over a network. Beforehand, if running a multi-camera shoot at a location, you would need to work out cable-runs of SDI and/or HDMI. These cables are extremely expensive over long distances, and set-up time is increased. With NDI, you can complete cable runs with CAT5 cable of up to 100 metres between camera and a network switch, and with most buildings now being fully networked, this makes set-up far easier than before
- Remote operation – as everything is completed over a network, the operator for the cameras doesn’t necessarily have to be at the location of the shoot, giving you flexibility to operate anywhere across the world with an internet connection
- Full control – the protocol allows not only audio, video and tally control to pass through, but also power and camera control to PTZs, and with the CX350 you can also get full lens control too.
- Open source – NDI is an open-source protocol and is not exclusive, meaning that it is open to possibilities for growth into other products.
Proof by Example
To demonstrate this, we wanted to perform the following test – that being to produce a multi-camera shoot onto YouTube with 2 different computers, a phone and a Panasonic NDI compatible camera as sources. We will use a third computer that will mix it with the free OBS Studio software and send it to YouTube.
To do this, you must first download the following Mac/Windows compatible tools:
- The NDI Tools free tool suite
- The free OBS Studio software
- The free NDI plugin for OBS Studio
- The unfortunately paid application NewTek NDI Camera for the phone
We then carried out the following:
We installed NDI tools on all computers. The tool suite includes a utility called Newtek NDI Scan Converter. When it’s launched, it then establishes the NDI protocol, and allows you to choose on any connected computer the source to broadcast – be it an Internet browser window, a camera source, a webcam and so on. In short, everything you want to broadcast during your live stream. We also launched the application on the phone. We finally turned on the CX350, went into the network settings and configured it to NDI|HX to ensure that each devices is part of the same local network.
In OBS Studio (equipped with the NDI plug-in), simply create a scene for each source, and then in “Source for each scene'” select “NDI Source” using the “+” button. All the devices (computers and camera) in our case appear without any other intervention. In just a few minutes, we have set up a Multicam configuration – wireless and almost cable-free – and ready to broadcast on YouTube (or any other streaming platform).
All you have to do is enter the OBS Settings, the Streaming server address (which you can retrieve from your channel or page account) and the stream key.
If you want to take this even further…
- Mixers like the Panasonic HLC-100 do not require computers: they behave like traditional mixers, but also like control panels for PTZ cameras, and like PCs are able to stream directly according to the same principle as the one we have just described. It is a unique device that groups all the functions in
- Before setting up your Stream, always use a site like Speedtest (an application is also available on the phone) in order to measure the quality of the connection to the Internet and thus adapt the encoding rate.
- We recommend an Ethernet cable between the mixer or the computer that broadcasts your sources, as Wi-Fi is less table
- When you schedule a Live Stream on either Facebook or YouTube (and it has to be an OR as neither platforms allow you to stream on both simultaneously!), schedule it 30 minutes before time. Why, you ask? To allow you to test! During these 30 minutes, only you will be able to see the online stream before it starts and detect all sources of problems. If you launch it directly, any problem will be visible to your audience.
- If you want to broadcast on several networks simultaneously you can use services like io, but be careful, encoding simultaneously for several platforms requires power.