Gregor McMillan is a video production officer at Registers of Scotland, the non-ministerial government department responsible for maintaining land and property records. Earlier in the year, RoS successfully streamed their first ever Facebook Live event, and in this blog, Gregor recounts their experience and offers some tips on how to stream on a budget.
First, a bit of background
It’s a little-known fact that we have a video production unit (VPU) here at Registers of Scotland as part of the digital comms team in the Communications directorate.
The VPU studio is located in our Meadowbank House office, and consists of a stage, sofa, lighting rig, autocue, cameras and edit suits running Final Cut Pro X. It’s a resource that produces content for the entire organisation. For staff we create news package videos for the internal newsletter, business updates from the executive management team, training videos and occasionally we film workshops with guest speakers for those who can’t attend. For external audiences (professionals and the general public) the VPU has produced content that’s embedded in the RoS website, including case study videos for products, testimonials and public-interest stories.
More recently however I’ve been working closely with RoS’ social media manager, Laura Brown, to create content for our social media channels. Some content you may have already seen is the ‘On Our Registers’ video series.
Gathering the kit to live stream
How did we end up live streaming an event in the first place? At RoS we hadn’t streamed anything before, so when our events team and social media manager came to me asking if we could live stream one of our regularly held events for external stakeholders, I saw it as a terrifying and exciting challenge.
So, where to start? Well since we have a video production unit, which already has cameras and microphones, I posited that I could utilise some of the equipment that we already have. Since we own a couple of HD cameras that carry an HDMI out port, I started by Googling ‘camera streaming from HDMI out’. After clicking on various reviews and watching YouTube videos, the best solution appeared to be a small black box called the Teradek VidiU. The Teradek VidiU is a video encoder that effectively enables you to broadcast HD video directly to the web. Luckily there was a budget to buy new gear – two VidiUs were purchased because we have two cameras.
Since I was planning to live stream using two cameras, I’d have to find a multi camera switcher, or visual mixer, to achieve this. Again by Googling, there were a few options to choose from including uStream producer and Livestream studio software. However they either didn’t have a free trail, were too expensive or didn’t work with a Mac. So the option I decided to go with and test out was an iPad app called Live: Air from the Teradek website. The app itself is free to download, but has in-app purchases that allow you to remove the Teradek watermark.
Testing, 1, 2, 3.
Now that we had all the relevant components, the testing could begin. Firstly, I had to make sure that the Live: Air app could see the cameras. So I connected the VidiU boxes to WiFi and updated them to the latest software version. Then I hooked up the VidiUs to the cameras HDMI ports and turned them on. And finally I connected the iPad to the same WIFI network and launched the app. As if by magic the iPad could see the two camera feeds! The next step was to stream a test feed to Facebook. Laura kindly volunteered her Facebook page as the testing ground. After authorising the Facebook account by signing in through the app, colour bars from the cameras were streamed to her timeline. Another success, and thrilling viewing for her followers! We were now confident that we could stream an event to Facebook.
Feeling confident? We hit ‘go live!’
Always be prepared – that’s what I learned from being in the Scouts – so the night before the event we set up the cameras, microphones, laptop and iPad and tested everything again to make sure it all still worked. The event itself was fairly straightforward: one camera for the wide shot of the room, one close-up camera on a speaker, and the iPad switching between the two shots. Since the event was primarily aimed at solicitors, an email shot went out prior to the event – a great way to get those who don’t actively use Facebook to tune in. The overall stats weren’t bad at all: Reach – 552, Video views – 215, Unique views – 155. So for our first time, we’d call this a win!
So what were some of the challenges we encountered? Well, we did notice a few drop outs and the odd bit of buffering throughout the 45 minute stream… so remember that your live stream is only as good as your WIFI speed!
Obviously trying to stream a 4K image down a slow connection isn’t a good idea either. I found that changing the settings on Live: Air to a resolution of 1280×720 (720p) and a 3000 bitrate worked well for us.
Next time I’d want to put the microphones through a mini audio mixer for more control, as one mistake I made was having all the microphones up when the holding slide was displayed.
One thing I did notice is that if you schedule a live stream event to Facebook, the Live: Air app doesn’t give you an option to stream to the scheduled post. Instead it just creates a new live post on the Facebook timeline. Hopefully that’s something Teradek will address in a future version of the app.
And here’s some ideas if you struggle with budget
What are some of the alternatives then if you don’t have much money to play with? Well, there’s nothing wrong with using your smartphone to stream. People have been streaming to Periscope (and Twitter) using phones since it launched, and audiences are used to lower quality 4G streaming.
Teradek also have an iPhone app called Live: Air Remote, that allows up to two iPhones to be used as cameras with the iPad app.
If you follow us on Twitter, keep your eyes peeled for future streamed events and let us know what your experiences with live streaming have been like.