In this tutorial you'll learn how to live-stream an event using Telestream Wirecast, and I'll show you some of the hardware, software, and service providers that you need for a successful live video stream.
What You Need
Wirecast works with a wide range of computer hardware and peripherals, but some setups are better suited to live streaming than others. You'll also need to make a few decisions about how people will consume your stream before you start.
Distribution: a Streaming Host or Content Delivery Network
The first thing you should consider is how many viewers you'll have and how to distribute the stream to your viewers. If you have 200 people watching and they all connect directly to your computer, your internet connection will undoubtedly choke and fail.
A much better solution is to use a streaming host or CDN (content delivery network—a set of servers tuned to efficiently deliver content to viewers across the globe) to distribute your video feed. Basically, you send one copy of the stream up to the streaming host server, and they handle all the viewer connections, ensuring that everyone gets a good quality signal without choking your bandwidth.
If you feel like geeking out and building your own streaming server, you certainly can. But if that's you, you're probably not reading this post anyway! A few user-friendly options include Youtube (if you have at least 100 subscribers to your channel), facebook live, and Ustream.tv. These three options are ad-supported and have some other limitations, but there are dozens of stream hosting services available with just about every option you can imagine, including things like paid plans without ads or password protection. Sermon.net is another option geared specifically towards churches and houses of worship, for example.
Decent Computer Hardware
Hardware really makes a difference; after all, you're asking your computer to resize a live video feed, possibly add overlays and special effects, scale, recompress, and upload—all at the same time without delay. Though you don’t need the latest-and-greatest top-of-the-line equipment, a recent mid-range computer is a minimum requirement. At the very least, you'll need 2GB of RAM, but the more, the better. Your CPU should be at least a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, but an i3, i5, i7, or better would be good.
Audio Capture Hardware
Viewers will grit their teeth and watch a bad video if the audio is good, but terrible or distant-sounding audio will make them turn off, even if you have great video quality. If at all possible, use a lapel or headset microphone for a moving source or a good quality mic close to a stationary source. Dave Bode's course on audio production for interviews is a great place to start.
- Audio ProductionInterview Recording: How to Choose and Use a Lav MicDavid Bode
- Wireless AudioHow to Use Sennheiser G3 EW100 Wireless Lav Mic KitsRob Mayzes
If you’re in a venue with a soundboard, connecting directly into the soundboard would give you the best audio possible. In this case, take a look at the soundboard to see what output options it has.
If you’re lucky enough to have a digital soundboard with digital audio, USB, or Firewire output, by all means use that. Otherwise, connect your computer's audio input port to the soundboard using one of the analog options pictured below. An electronics supply store can find any combination of these cables that you may need to connect to your soundboard.
Video Cameras and Accessories
Optics make all the difference for video quality. A built-in or add-on webcam could work but likely won’t be very clear, especially if the subject is more than a few feet away. A consumer-grade camera (with a HDMI output) would work better. Your best bet is to get a professional camcorder or a PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera. Consider a PTZ camera if you're recording a recurring event like a class, lecture, business meeting, or sermon. The remote-control features and automation PTZ cameras offer are fantastic, but the this type of camera is usually meant to be installed fairly permanently, so they're not for every situation.
You’ll also need a converter box like the Blackmagic Intensity or Magewell XI100 to convert the video feed to a format your computer will handle. A more advanced "production switcher" is a very helpful tool for managing multiple cameras and audio feeds.
- VideoWhich Camera to Use for Recording Better Webcam VideoDavid Bode
- Video ProductionHow to Capture Video of a Live Keynote SpeechCindy Burgess
Adequate lighting is just as important as your camera, maybe even more important: your camera needs enough light to make a picture or things won't look very good at all. Practical lighting solutions don't have to break the bank, either! You can make simple lights that will work in a variety of situations, or invest in more professional solutions.
- LightingVideo Lights For All: How to Build a Complete 3 Head Kit on a $100 BudgetDavid Bode
- LightingHow to Make Your Own Desktop V-Card Video LightsDavid Bode
Lots of Bandwidth
Your bandwidth may also be a limiting factor—start with your streaming host’s recommendation for quality settings, and test and tweak the export settings as needed. In general, you'll need at least a high-speed DSL for a small (640x480) framesize. For any HD video, you'll want at least 2MBps upload, and you'll want to keep other people from using it as much as possible during the event.
If you have access to the router, it's worth checking to see if you can change the quality of service (QoS) settings to give priority bandwidth to your stream. Every router is different, but most decent, recent routers include some kind of QoS mode.
Telestream Wirecast Software
Now for the fun part. Wirecast is a wonderful piece of software; although it’s somewhat expensive (starts at $495), it’s worth every penny if you’re producing live-streams often. If you want HD video, you can pay $99 more; Wirecast Pro also provides 3D virtual sets, scoreboards, and more, for $995.
“What makes Wirecast so good?” Glad you asked!
It can handle a number of live audio and video sources, including multiple cameras and audio feeds, live shots of another computer’s desktops (great for slideshows and Skype calls), pre-recorded audio/video files, and more.
Wirecast can also add motion and still title overlays on top of live video and let you edit the live stream on the fly with a number of color correction filters and other effects. If you don’t like any of the the built-in overlays, you can build your own with image editing software and import them as photos. Envato Market has a huge selection of broadcast presets and templates to work from.
In addition to all the input, overlay, and editing features, Wirecast comes with a dizzying array of encoder presets, covering a range of video frame sizes, bitrates, and other options. You can send the audio/video stream to a number of streaming hosts any of the presets, or customize to fit your exact needs. Some streaming hosts use Flash-formatted video and some use H.264, which is more friendly for mobile devices. Others accept Flash and transcosde it to H.264 on-the-fly for mobile devices.
More than just providing a live stream, Wirecast can record the entire event straight to your hard drive as a MPEG-4 or Flash video file, for easy archival or post-production work. (Note: you'll want to record in the same format that you stream or you'll double the workload on your computer.)
When setting up Wirecast for the first time, try some of the built-in encoder presets. If possible, watch the stream on several different devices to see how it looks both large and small; check it in a range of settings from full-screen on a large desktop monitor to a mobile device. Then tweak the encoder settings a bit to fit your needs.
Keep in mind that every additional output may require a lot of processing horsepower, so you don’t want to get too crazy with options. However, it is nice to provide the option of a high- and low-bandwidth stream, and some “viewers” like an audio-only stream, especially if they’re watching on a smartphone with a limited data plan.
How to Stream a Live Event With Wirecast
Part of what sets Wirecast apart is the way it handles all the little touches that elevate a stream from OK to awesome. Let's go through our pre-broadcast checklist:
Create an Event Intro Slide
In my opinion, it’s nice to have a intro slide and background music broadcasting at least five minutes before the live event to give people a time buffer to tune in, rather than trying to start the stream exactly when you start broadcasting.
The left half of the window is the Preview pane and shows you the next shot you have queued up. The right-hand side is the live view, showing what is going out to the livestream and video file, if recording is turned on. If you don’t see the Preview pane at first, go to Layout > Preview to turn it on.
Prepare Your Video Overlays
An overlay is a bit of text or graphics that provides additional information about what's happening on screen, like a presenter's name or the current score in a game.
Prepare your overlays in advance and add them to the layers in the bottom left panel. This will allow you to layer overlays on top of video or still shots on the fly during the broadcast. Once they're ready, press the Go button to make them live (or use the auto-live feature to automatically make a shot live
when clicking on it).
Wirecast has a lot of other tricks, too many to cover here, but I will touch on a couple that I find particularly useful: "two-shots" and "post-ludes".
A two-shot shows two videos on the screen, side-by-side. The two-shot can be helpful in cases where you need to show both the main camera feed and some supplementary images or video at the same time.
The postlude is just like your intro slide, but at the end. Having a nicely prepared slide allows you to end the broadcast smoothly, avoiding an abrupt termination and maybe giving some extra information to your viewers, like the time of the next broadcast or where to find more information.
Start Your Broadcast
OK, you're ready! Now hit Broadcast to start your stream.
Be sure to check your audio levels during the event, and try to check the stream on various devices to see how the feed is performing.
In this tutorial we looked at a lot information about live-streaming: how to distribute the final stream, how to get the video and audio feeds into your Mac, and how Wirecast can handle the video. As you can see, Wirecast is a powerful program with plenty of features to help you produce a high-quality, interesting live-stream. If this has whet your appetite to try live-streaming, leave your thoughts, tips and questions in the comments below.