This past month I took on a gig to shot a live webinar, and got a crash course in the world of live streaming. I wrote this blog both to share my experiences with figuring out how to get the live stream working, in case it might help anyone else that gets into a similar situation.
The goal was to live stream a presentation on Lighter-Than-Air Ships (a category of aircrafts that include things like dirigibles or blimps). When I took this job, I had very little past experience with live video, but I knew I could figure it out if I just did some research and a little prep work. The parameters of this project included that we were limited to a webinar specific software (like Skype, but specifically designed for this purpose) due to the clients request, but other than that, we had freedom to use whichever cameras and equipment were at our disposal. I shoot with a Cannon C100 Markii, so my first thought was just to figure out how to send the video feed to my computer, send it into the webinar software, and I'd be good to go. It ended up being not so simple.
Complication Number 1: Video Cameras Not Designed to Live Stream Really Don't Like Connecting To Your Computer
I found out right away, sending my camera feed to my laptop would not be as simple as sending the feed through a handy HDMI cable (initially in my head, it was definitely that easy). I found out I needed a signal converter to take the feed from my camera, and convert it to something my laptop could read. With a little research, I found that the Black Magic Intensity Shuttle (https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/intensity/) would do the trick for me.
Complication Number 2: The Video Conferencing Program Did Not Recognize My Camera Signal
The Intensity Shuttle worked its' signal conversion magic, and I now had a signal going from my camera to my laptop! I thought I was good to go. The Webinar Software had feature where you could specify a camera other than the default of your built-in webcam on your laptop. However, I think the software was specifically designed just for webcams and small cameras; the video signal from you camera was too complex for it to recognize. So, my next conclusion was that if I could just play the live feed from my camera so that it displayed full screen on my laptop, I could screen share my laptop display, and the webinar viewers would still get the same picture as if I was able to connect straight to the software. Sounded simple enough.
Complication Number 3: Finding An Application That Plays My Camera Feed On My Screen
This seemed like it should be a reasonably easy thing to find. I just needed an application that played the feed from my camera on my laptop, so my laptop would essentially become a fancy camera monitor.. I tried the basic ones, VLC Player, Quicktime, an app that came on a CD with my C100, but to no avail. I then tried dozens of apps I found through a myriad of online searches. I found that all of them either wouldn't recognize the feed at first, and then, if they did, I couldn't always play them at full screen. Some apps would play the full screen, but with a watermark unless I bought the full version (sadly there was no budget for this), or wouldn't be able have the picture as full screen. Because the goal was to share a feed of my screen to the webinar viewers, I ablsolutley couldn't make do with something that was not full screen or had a huge logo over the picture. Finally, I tried a colour correction software, and low and behold, it went full screen! Finally, I thought, we could make this happen!
Complication Number 4: DELAY
The screen sharing solution ended up having so much delay it made it unusable. It both caused the picture not to sync with the audio, but also played back the screen share from my laptop screen in such a jittery, unclear way, it was sadly unusable. I was back to the drawing board.
Solution Number 1: When In Doubt, Just Buy The Simplest Tool For The Job
We came to the conclusion that my C100 might just not be the right tool for the job in this set of circumstances. Instead, we decided that a webcam that would plug right into the webinar software with no complications would be the way to go. It worked like charm with the conferencing software. Not nearly as nice of a picture as the C100, but it would do. We had some troubles hooking it up to the tripod (we wanted pan and tilt capability still) as it was designed to pretty much sit on top of a laptop only, but we were innovative with out mounting solution. Here's our totally not unusual, very professional mounting solution for the webcam to the tripod:
(Yes, that is the small webcam sitting on top of my powered down C100. The C100 worked for the extra hight we wanted, plus there was the fun bonus of anyone looking at me got to think that I don't know how to point a camera in the right direction!)
So, after all that, we made it work, and the Webinar ended up being a success! I think there were about 75 people watching it in total (not counting the fact that some of the people watching it were watching it with groups of other people, so I would imagine it would have been closer to around 150 people). From all of that, I've learned that with live streaming, it's probably most efficient, to either use a webcam, or even a phone that is built with that capability in mind, or go full out with a telecaster, and the whole deal. The C100 with the Black Magic Intensity Shuttle may have worked had we used another webinar program, however, for the price of the camera and rental of the converter, I honestly think simple might just be the best solution. At the end of the day, a webinar is all about the content, not the flashy visuals, so I think that putting time into content, is probably most valuable.
(I also wanted to note I didn't use the name of the conferencing software because it's a perfectly reasonable tool for what it does, just not for what we had in mind. I don't want to give it a bad name because it couldn't handle something it wasn't set up to do.)