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How Hard Is Live Streaming?

Decided it was time to top up my understanding of PlanetStream’s live streaming service and so spent some time with the fount of all such knowledge, PlanetStream’s very own Matt Pygram.

He started off by explaining how you can simply reduce the process to three elements:

  1. A camera
  2. A computer
  3. An internet connection

The camera could be a handheld, or a broadcast quality device, or multiple devices all connected to a mixing desk. Whatever it is, that is the domain of the video producer. The camera will usually connect to the computer via a Firewire connection, which works a treat, or a video/audio composite connection (which works a treat too but requires a special decoder card in the computer), or a USB connection which is technically feasible but really inserts too much delay to make it usable.

Assuming the connection is by Firewire the computer requires Flash Media Live Encoder, which is a free download from Adobe. Just by ticking a box you can save a copy of the live transmission on the computer too. You can also use Windows Media Player but unless you have a strong reason it’s not advised as you can get delays and Flash is just better and easier to use. Also with Flash you can use the latest H.264 codec which gives exceptional quality, on both PC’s and Macs even at lower bandwidths.

The third element, the internet connection, is sometimes the limiting factor in the quality of the transmission. A decent hard-wired broadband connection should let you stream at 800 kbps (kilobits per second) which will give a very decent quality result. However don’t expect anything like that if the connection is sub-standard and a dongle may not work at all. So pay particular attention to this aspect.

The cost of live streaming is surprisingly low these days and is based on the quality of the stream in kbps, the length of the transmission in minutes and the number of viewers the stream is expected to attract. PlanetStream have a nifty bandwidth calculator that will give you a cost for a given event.

The service can be set up very quickly but it’s always advisable to set it up in advance as PlanetStream will set it up ready to test so you can iron out any issues your end before the broadcast.

Tony Burt

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