7 Best Tips on How to Improve Live Streaming Services
In live streaming business, you cannot establish your live video streaming channel as a force to reckon with if you do not follow certain tips. The hurdles involved in live streaming event production are too many and solutions are too few. Right from proper Ethernet connection to installation of proper software, almost everything seems circuitous. That there have been several incidences of failed live streaming channels suggest that there is something terribly wrong. In this article, I shall try to concentrate on a few tips that should be useful to amateurs. Hopefully, experienced professionals will imbibe certain new concepts as well.
Six years into my tenure as Streaming Media Manager at Streamhash, I elicited tips from growth hackers, industry experts and peers. Certain tips have come from my own experiences as well. Without any further ado, let us delve into the details:
Shoot in HD
HD stands for High Definition. A common misconception amongst many video enthusiasts is that HD footage is a universal standard. If this is indeed true, it is likely that everything shot in HD should appear razor sharp. Whether there is any regulation on a camera’s bitrate is anybody’s guess, the fact is High Definition footage entails both 720i/p and 1080i/p. If you are capturing an analog signal which can be either an audio or a video, capture it at the highest possible quality.
Of course, not everybody can access HD quality content. Only a portion of your viewers can watch your broadcast in HD. To watch High Definition content, users should have great bandwidth. Also, broadcasting in HD demands superior bandwidth to avoid any streaming problems at the provider end. However, this shouldn’t necessarily deter your target audiences from watching. It is easy to convert High Definition (HD) content into Standard Definition (SD) content. In other words, it is easy to convert HD content into a usable format.
Use Video Switchers
A video switcher is also called vision mixer. It is a special video production hardware deviceused to mix videos by selecting between various available video sources. This device allows technical directors to add special effects thereby creating visually interesting and dynamically appealing shows.
There are two categories of video switchers:
- Hardware – based switchers
- Software – based switchers
Hardware based switchers essentially operate on dedicated boxes and have their own control surfaces. On the other hand, software-based switchers operate on desktops or laptop computers that have built-in video capture cards. Coming to the cost aspect, software video switchers are available at affordable rates. When it comes to delivering flawless production, hardware switchers stand second to software switchers. That being said, many technical directors and producers prefer hardware switchers. This can be attributed to the impeccable responsiveness of hardware switchers and the feeling of buttons. While the incidence of software crash is very low in software switchers, its occurrence cannot be discounted.
While using video switchers, you should be capable of estimating the number of inputs required. Some examples of inputs are:
- Stage Presentation
- Video playbacks
- Animated Backgrounds
There are various kinds of video switchers available in the market. It is therefore beyond the purview of this article to make any recommendations. After loads of conversations with many experienced technical directors, I can only suggest that the best video switcher is the one which offers all the features that you require. Most importantly, it should be available within your budget. You should not live in a fool’s paradise by purchasing that video switcher which you are not comfortable using.
Software and Hardware Encoding
Before exploring this point, I would like to define the terms – Encoding and Decoding. Encoding is the process of converting a sequence of characters which can be letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols into a special format to facilitate secure and effective transmission. Decoding is just the opposite of encoding. Decoding is the process of converting encoded data stream into the original sequence of characters. There are various types of hardware and software encoders available in the market. Interestingly, there are certain kinds of video switchers which can do encoding.
An example of popular free software encoders is Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder (FLME). As a matter of fact, Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder runs on PCs and for all intents and purposes, this encoder is extremely resource hungry. The moment you run this encoder, you are required to close all the other applications. More often than not, this encoder loses sync between the audio and the video. Many technical directors resort to Wirecast, a free live webcasting software capable of broadcasting user-friendly streams. System resources will be consumed to certain extent only.
Popular live streaming providers such as YouTube, Livestream and Ustream offer free encoding software to stream their services. Examples of premium software encoders are Telestream’s Wirecast Pro and CombTech’s Vidblaster which are available for $1000.Please be informed that these software encoders can also be used as video switchers. To capture video signals form these software encoders, you require computers withbuilt-in capture cards. As an alternative option, you can get external converter boxes.
Quite a great many of premium hardware encoders are made by reputed companies such as Cisco, Digital Rapids, Haivision, Elemental and Niagara. Hardware encoders cost anywhere between $10000 and $50000. From my interactions and insightful conversations, Elemental Live seems to be the favorite of many digital media managers. And yes, I would like to re-iterate the fact that hardware encoders are more dependable than software encoders.
One object of contention has always been the degree of perfection in delivering an un-impaired webcast. No encoder is perfect. It should be noted that every encoder fails at some point or other. Some assume that encoders tagged at exorbitant prices last forever. This is a myth. Sometimes, people fail to figure out how to operate encoders. Some fail to test and some fail to understand the capabilities of encoders. Before purchasing an encoder, test it extensively in all the possible environments.
Decide the Bitrate
Absence of one universal encoding format and standard bitrate has put technical directors in a quandary. Many production assistants and technical directors give in to pressure as there is no robust technology to reach different viewers with different connection bandwidths and diverse screens. MPEG- DASH, is an adaptive breakthrough technology which is being used by Netflix and YouTube to cater to wide variety of audiences with different connection speeds. DASH stands for Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over Hyper Text Transfer Protocol.
One feasible alternative is to encode at a unique high bitrate stream which can be transcoded to many variants in the cloud. This unique high bitrate stream supports not only HTTP but alsoRTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) Flash and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) protocols. This facilitates seamless streaming on computers, mobile phones and tablets. Another feasible alternative is to generate multiple streams which undoubtedly requires expensive encoders. This expensive proposition consumes a lot of bandwidth.
Isolate Audio and Video
It is highly likely to experience certain disturbances and lacunae in audio feeds. There can be scrolling lines in video feeds as well. This can be attributed to poor electrical grounding. Fear not, there is a solution. You can minimize the incidence of such issues by isolating audio and video feeds well before the encoding stage. I use C2G composite video isolator, an affordable and feature-rich device.
Many technical directors falter in this step. This is a mandatory step. Many production assistants just skip this step. Pre-event testing will help you identify majority of problems in advance. Rather than testing in a different location with sample content, test with the actual content in the actual location. You will be able to identify the strength of actual bandwidth and actual source signal. In addition, it is easy to check if there is any lag between audio and video feeds.
During this test phase, do not forget to check the stream on all possible devices such astablets, desktops, laptops, smartphones and PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). Quantify the test results. Come up with parameters and rank your analytics. Identify all the disturbances and coherently fix the issues. Test, test and test!
Be On Time
If you wish to atone yourself for the sin of not establishing yourself as a leader in live streaming business, then you should definitely be on time. Popular live streaming channels start their webcast early. First time streamers and amateurs fail to notice this aspect. Starting your webcast 15 minutes early is highly recommended.
Another important thing is to be consistent in your broadcast. Fix the day and time of your stream. Otherwise, it will be difficult for people to follow your live streams. For instance, if you hit the screens on Tuesday at 6:00 PM one week and on Friday at 5:00 PM in the subsequent week, you will lose your viewership. People don’t give two hoots about catching up with your live streaming providers if you are lackadaisical.
Follow the 7 best tips mentioned above. If you have any doubts, queries or concerns, feel free to drop a line or two in the comments section. I shall reply in a day or two. Keep watching this space for insights on live streaming services. If you are looking to develop a YouTube clone or a Netflix clone website, you should definitely try Streamhash. My best wishes are with you and your live streaming services. Cheers!
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