Saturday, June 01, 2013

Streaming audio and video - Mixlr and Livestream - and eliminating many of the non-live post production tasks

Over the past month or so I’ve been looking at easy ways to live stream video and audio from events.

At party conferences and other events, I’m well used to plugging an audio recorder into the back of a mixing desk (or an XLR splitter box) and then afterwards popping the SDHC card into a reader, loading up Audacity, chopping up the saved .WAV files into half hour chunks, compressing them, exporting to .MP3 and uploading them to Audioboo which tweets the world and allows the audio to be shared and embedded in blog posts.

It sounds cumbersome – and to an extent it is cumbersome – but you soon get into the swing of it, and as long as there's time to swap SD cards between speeches, I can have audio available online within half an hour or so of a speech finishing.

Processing long-form video in this kind of workflow is really out of the question. Compared with audio, the time to manipulate, edit, transcode and upload video content is vastly increased and prohibitive for fast turnaround projects that date quickly.

However, as I looked into ways that an event like next week’s four day Presbyterian Church in Ireland General Assembly in Derry could be streamed [update – they’re not going to stream it] I discovered that some streaming solutions not only offer real time feeds, but also get rid of a lot of my normal offline processing workflow too.

Take Mixlr.

There aren’t many audio-only streaming solutions. (It seems that the main way to stream audio is to use a video streamer with the audio over a fixed image.)

As long as 30–96kbps of bandwidth is available, it’ll stream audio from a laptop or an iOS device. With such low bandwidth, streaming over 3G is viable.

The audio can be accessed by anyone from your live profile page on Mixlr, and once the streaming session finishes, you have the option to save the content onto your showreel allowing listeners to access the content on-demand. It can be exported into third party services like Audioboo, SoundCloud or Dropbox. And if pay a $9.99 monthly premium you can download the saved showreel content too and embed the live stream into external sites and blog posts.

The minimal solution of using an iOS device like an iPod Touch over wifi will work on its own if you can place it near a PA speaker.

Or simply plug in a line level adapter to the headphone/mic socket that will allow you to take a sound feed straight from the PA desk.

So at a party conference, rather than post-processing the conference speeches after they’ve finished, I could simply stream them live – with or without notifying the world – and as long as the streams start and stop at the beginning and end of the speeches or sessions, they’ll be there parcelled up and ready to embed as soon as they finish.

No more half hour delay.

With a little more effort, this can also apply to video streaming.

Sinn Fein used the free ad-supported Ustream service to livestream this year’s ard fheis, with the unfortunate consequence that two minute adverts for nappies interrupted key moments of speeches.

Livestream seems to offer a good alternative. Again either using a camera plugged into a laptop or the using the camera on a smartphone, it will stream a variety of resolutions.

If you want to avoid all your viewers having to register for free Livestream accounts you need to pay a monthly fee of $49. And if you want to be able to embed the live content on an external website or blog, you’ll need to pay a whopping $399.

Like Mixlr, Livestream saves your streams and can make them available to watch on-demand or download. So pointing people at your event webpage on Livestream will show them the live content along with archived material from earlier in the event and can even include photos, textual commentary and other material uploaded to the event page.

Note that if you’re streaming a camera through a laptop – perhaps via a Firewire adapter or a Blackmagic Design Intensity converter – Livestream produces the initial stream(s) on your laptop. This is quite processor intensive and you’ll need a beefy machine if you want to produce both a mobile and an HD version. The bandwidth required is significantly greater than audio-only streaming: 198kbps for a mobile version, 446kbps for normal, 3Mbps for HD+medium+mobile versions.

A wired connection is recommended for Livestream, though I successfully produced a mobile resolution stream using an iPod Touch paired up to a 3G-connected iPad running a personal hotspot.


Anonymous said...

"It can be exported into third party services like Audioboo, SoundCloud or Dropbox. And if pay a $9.99 monthly premium you can download the saved showreel content too"

Surely if you export the content to these services, you can re-download from the same, negating need to pay for premium service?

Do you pay for the premium service?

Many thanks for this article Alan!

Alan in Belfast (Alan Meban) said...

I'm not paying anything.

To an extent - yes. Though if you export an hour long file to Audioboo you'll only hear the first 30 minutes (assuming you're a paying Audioboo user and have 30 mins rather than the default 3 mins).

But exporting to Dropbox seems like a good way as long as you have the bandwidth and the temporary space.

The ability to embed is probably a greater reason to pay up - though so far I've no need.