livestreaming, getting started

This post is derived from my experience recording and livestreaming community events over past few years.

With improved quality of the smartphone cameras anyone can get started recording events using nothing but that. However, keeping a phone steady requires some sort of stand or tripod mount. Plus the sound quality is often disappointing, without an external MIC. While there a MICs and even zoom lenses that connect to a cellphone, I was looking for a more flexible solution, that does not tie up my cell phone.
For that purpose, I needed to get some dedicated equipment: camera, tripod, MIC, way to stream to YouTube.


I've started with Zoom Q8, since it's one of the few cameras capable of being connected directly to my laptop via USB and recognized as a webcam. It has an amazing sound quality with included detachable stereo MIC array, two XLR/TRS inputs, and individual gain controls for every one of those inputs.
Unfortunately, despite being a phenomenal value for sound-first recording, it's fixed wide-angle lens, lack of contrast & brightness adjustments, ironic absence of zoom functionality and overall poor video quality - all makes it a bad choice for recording / streaming brightly projected presentations.
Example recording:

Looking for an improved video quality, and more overall control, including contrast & brightness, I've turned to dSLR camera world. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from. As long as it has a clean HDMI out (output video stream without OSD controls, crosshairs, etc) - it would serve the purpose. Only limiting factor is how much you want to spend on it. While salivating over Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, I've willed myself to be more reasonable and ended up finding a second-hand Panasonic GH3 in great condition on eBay. Not only it is a decent camera on it's own, with clean HDMI out. It also takes micro four thirds lenses, ensuring access to a large selection of inventory.
Example recording:

capture device

To be able to stream video from camera's HDMI out, a capture device is needed: enter Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder - at $149 MSRP, it was a least expensive ultra-portable capture device I could find that supports both HDMI (with audio) and SDI inputs. Making it perfect for taking advantage of facilities' cameras, when present (at Microsoft NERD Center, for example) and being able to capture any HDMI source. I'd like to note that UltraStudio Mini Recorder is not a UVC-webcam device, as it captures and passes on raw video.

A webcam UVC device is presented to computer as regular webcam and feeds already compressed video to your streaming software, taking care of heavy lifting required to encode video stream, relieving CPU of extra work (that would be required to encode raw video). These can even re-scale your source to match desired streaming resolution. Which means, you could deliver high quality livestream using a low powered Chromebook, in theory.

There are couple of great UVC-webcam capture devices I wish I'd have a chance to play with.

And, in a league of it's own, Teradek VidiU devices, cause they are awesome and magical. VidiU allows streaming directly over WiFi (or cell connection) to the service of your choice (YouTube, USTREAM, etc), eliminating need for computer altogether.


As with anything else, there are plenty of choices, and selecting your perfect MIC is gotta be driven by your specific needs. I recommend using a MIC with built-in gain control and high pass filter.
I'm using Rode VideoMic Pro


Get it, you need a steady camera. Pick whatever size height you need. Be mindful of it's folded size and weight. These can get expensive quickly. Chances are, you can get away with sub-$100 Manfrotto MKC3-H01 (that's what I'm using), or whatever else you find on Amazon.

streaming software

I've been using Wirecast Play for YouTube (available for both: Windows and Mac OS X), as it's fairly easy to use and mostly works. There are some quirks, like occasional glitches - but you can't beat free. Free until recently anyway. Telestream (the maker of Wirecast) is now charging $9.99 for basic version without a watermark. And it's probably worth it, as the price is pretty much the same as couple of cappuccinos would cost.

Alternatively, a free and very powerful solution has been available for some time. And now it's really worth taking a look at, as it improved greatly year over year.
OBS (Open Broadcaster Software, supports Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux) is extremely versatile and capable as is, being continuously improved by a fantastic Open Source community (146 contributors as of writing this). It's capable of combining and overlaying multiple A/V inputs, including display/window capture, video/image files, streams, capture devices and more. It support transitions, A/V filters and effects, and can stream to any RTMP destination (Facebook, YouTube, USTREAM, Twitch, etc). The interface could be a bit overwhelming to beginners, but it does the job very well, and after all you could always RTFM - it will get you started. Overall, highly recommended..

post production / editing software

Apple's Final Cut, Adobe Premier, whatever works for you and your bank account :)
However, Blackmagic is a champ by providing a free version of it's very solid non-linear editor: DaVinci Resolve.
Fantastic piece of software that will most likely serve all your amateur editing needs + available at the price of free!
Thanks Blackmagic!


It's worth mentioning, that depending on what kind of capture device you use, your laptop requirements will vary.
MacBook Air can barely handle real-time encoding, when paired with Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder. Depending on streaming resolution (720p, 1080p), I've experienced repeated frame drops, as my Air's CPU struggled to keep up.
In contrast, it's was never an issue with MacBook Pro, even without dedicated graphics card.
Using Magewell or similar devices, which offload encoding from your laptop, allows you to use almost anything that can run your capture software.