Updated 18 May 2020.
This article was written back in March and is aimed at video professionals who are new to streaming.
One thing’s for sure about the Coronavirus outbreak: it is increasing the number of remote meetings. A friend of mine does training for corporate video production. This type of training is very hands-on and interactive: Participants need to see how equipment is being used, what’s being displayed on a camera screen, what buttons to press, etc. With many companies issuing work from home directives, we started to think about what it would take to deliver something that approaches hands-on training remotely. Our goals were to keep things as simple as possible, keep the number of people required to a minimum, and not need massive up-front investment. Here’s what we came up with…
In the spirit of keeping things simple, we decided that two cameras would meet our needs. One gives us a wide-shot. The other is for close-ups. To keep operators to a minimum, we decided to keep them both fixed on tripods. The close-up camera has a confidence monitor facing my friend. He can bring the training devices up to the camera, and immediately see if they are in shot and in focus. If we wanted to add a camera operator, they could manage the close-up camera and do over-the-shoulder shots.
Being in corporate video, my friend has a great assortment of high-quality video gear. For the wide-shot camera, we opted to use a Panasonic GH5 with a 12–35mm lens. We chose a Panasonic DVX200 for the close-up camera because of its vastly better autofocus.
For audio, we used a Sennheiser AVX-ME2 lav. This is a great little all-digital wireless microphone setup, and he uses it on many of his shoots. Because it is all-digital, it has none of the hunting for a free frequency faffing about that you need to do with traditional UHF units. The receiver is integrated into the XLR connector and plugs directly into the camera. Since the DVX200 has built-in XLR inputs, we connected the Sennheiser to this camera. So for our production, the audio will always be from this camera.
With the camera and audio gear sorted out, we now need to turn our attention to getting all of this into a computer. I’ve had good success with USB capture devices designed for game streaming, and use them all the time at the Seattle Video Tech Meetup. The ones I’ve used are by ClonerAlliance. Although there are different types, they all perform the same primary function: Capture an HDMI at up to 1080p60 and appear like a webcam to the computer. Some can also record locally to a flash memory card, and some have an HDMI output so that you pass through the HDMI input to a monitor or other display device. For our purposes, we chose ones that have the HDMI passthrough so that we can drive the confidence monitor.
If you have a production switcher, you could run both cameras through this and take the program output into the computer using a single USB capture device. My friend does not have one, so we need to switch sources in software.
If you’re broadcasting to a large audience, with limited interaction using a streaming service like YouTube Live or Facebook Live is a good option. You could even look at game streaming services like Twitch or Mixer. These are one-stop-shop services that are pretty easy to set up.
While both Facebook Live and YouTube Live can live stream directly from a web browser, you have to choose the audio and video devices before you start the stream. You can’t change them once you’ve started your stream, so you need to either use a hardware or software switcher. If you’re using a hardware switcher, you can use the browser-based streaming function in Facebook Live and YouTube Live. You would select the “webcam” (really the USB video capture device) that your switcher is connected to since this won’t change for the duration of the stream. If you don’t have a hardware switcher, use OBS, Telestream Wirecast or ManyCam, and create a suitable output for the streaming service. I won’t go into more detail on this, because this is standard functionality for both of these applications.
For our training situation, interaction with the audience with minimal latency is essential: My friend needs to be able to respond to audience questions in real-time. Our best option here is to use video conferencing software like Zoom, Webex, Hangouts, Teams, Slack, etc. The cheapskate way to switch cameras is just to switch video sources in the conferencing software. We found this easiest to do in Zoom because the video sources are readily accessible without going into multiple menus.
For higher production values, it is hard to beat a software production switcher like OBS or Wirecast. Wirecast is the easiest to use and works the same across Mac and Windows. It has a Virtual Camera Out that creates a “virtual webcam.” You use this in the conferencing software as the input, but do all the switching in Wirecast (hat tip to Colleen at Facebook for telling me about this.) OBS has a similar feature called OBS-VirtualCam but only on the Windows version. On a Mac, you can try the new VirtualCam port, or you could use OBS to stream to ffmpeg and write to a virtual device using ffmpeg (hat tip to Zach for telling me about this.) The fact that you are reading this article means that you are probably not going to do this, so just use Wirecast (or ManyCam but the rest of the article refers to Wirecast). With this approach, you don’t care how easy it is to switch video sources in the conferencing software, because you’re doing so using Wirecast. This set up maybe a bit more taxing for a single operator since a lot is going on. You might need one person to operate Wirecast, and another person to monitor the conferencing session, especially if you expect there to be chat window activity.
One last note: it appears that Zoom is now blocking virtual webcams. There is a workaround that requires some command-line fiddling. See this page.
- You may need quite long HDMI cables. These are thick gauge, so watch out for the strain they put on the camera.
- Disable the auto-shutoff of your cameras. You won’t be recording on them, so they will go to sleep after a few minutes.
- Use an AC adapter with your gear.
- This is maybe the one time you want to set full auto mode on your gear.
- If you’re using a Mac with USB-C, make sure that you are using a high-wattage AC adapter because those USB video capture cards suck power. I’ve been in situations using a smaller lower wattage adapter and seen the power drop while it is plugged into the wall!
- Do a few dry runs with the software and deliver to different devices to check the experience. I found that on an iPhone XS, Zoom seems to cut edges off the image to make it fit on the screen. You should take this into account when you create your layouts in Wirecast.
- Most video conferencing software flips the image horizontally. Some let you control this, and some do not. Wirecast enables you to specify whether you want its output flipped or not. But you need to do this before you start the virtual camera output.
Finally, test, test, and test again. When it is all working, don’t **** with it — no updates, and no changes before you stream. It is only live once, right?