In many ways, live streaming has made everyone a content creator and just about anybody these days can be a broadcaster with a smartphone and Facebook Live.
Since the term “content provider” encompasses a range from an individual with a smartphone to a commercial broadcaster, hardware and software options now abound for every budget and every level of deliverable.
Blackmagic Design has recently introduced a suite of products that facilitate streaming at a reasonable price point without sacrifice of quality. In fact, when considered as a package, the Blackmagic products may provide a solution to virtually any provider market segment.
We’ll take a look at the products individually as well as considering how they function together.
BLACKMAGIC WEB PRESENTER
The cornerstone of the web streaming products is the $495 Blackmagic Web Presenter. In short, this small device can accept any video signal up to UHD 60p and output a 720p signal via USB connection. It then appears to the computer and to compatible streaming services as a webcam.
When connected via USB, the Web Presenter appears to the computer and streaming services as a webcam. The basic device weighs a little over a pound and is just over 5x6-inches. It accepts HDMI or up to 12G SDI input with both HDMI/SDI loop outputs, SDI program output, analog or XLR mic/line audio input and finally USB output to the computer.
Built around Teranex technology, it can downconvert any signal up to 2160 60p to 720p output and even to accept different signal formats on HDMI and SDI inputs. The base unit is controlled by a series of DIP switches that determine source and program. It is well worth the extra $85 to replace the front panel with the optional Teranex Mini Smart Panel, which allows the Web Presenter to function as a two-input live switcher. Additionally, the smart panel features a small video preview LCD display showing input standard, USB output rate, audio meters and input source (HDMI or SDI).
It is important to note that the device streams 720p at webcam compression rather than H.264. In situations where the highest possible streaming quality is required, this might not be the appropriate choice. But where webcam compression is adequate, it represents an extremely cost-effective solution as an external streaming presenter.
The addition of audio inputs add to the unit’s flexibility. It does accept audio embedded in HDMI or SDI input streams, but there very well may be situations where external line or mic sources could enhance the production values.
It couldn’t be easier to use. Connect your sources and run a USB cable to the host computer. If desired, loop SDI or HDMI out. If you need to take that output to any other SDI device (such as a switcher or SDI monitor for full-resolution viewing), run a BNC cable from the Program Out to the device. Presuming the use of the optional front plate (and for only $85, I see absolutely no reason not to add it), switch between sources.
Now, once on the computer side, the computer will see the USB input as a webcam. It is compatible with MacOS Sierra or later, Windows 8.1 or 10 64-bit, Linux and Chrome OS. It works with YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch.tv, Periscope, Skype, Open Broadcaster Software and XSplit Broadcaster. These last two products are software products—OBS freeware for Mac and XSplit for PC. These are necessary for streaming to YouTube Live, which does not directly accept webcam input as the other services supported but requires an external encoder.
I have tested and worked with it rather extensively with OBS for Mac and YouTube Live. With YouTube streaming enabled on your account, just set up a YouTube live stream, launch OBS and select the Blackmagic Web Presenter as input source. Copy and paste the YouTube authentication code from your YouTube control panel to the appropriate OBS field, click “Start Streaming” on OBS and away you go. XSplit for PC will function the same.
Web Presenter is fully functional with Wirecast 7.5, allowing the user to take advantage of Wirecast’s numerous other features including additional input sources, DVE switching, titles, keying, virtual sets and the whole host of features offered by the software package.
What I found particularly useful in live presentations was the two-input feature. I could connect a computer via HDMI to show screen contents (including a Skype interview) and switch to SDI camera source when desired.
It’s so small and portable and is ideal for simple event coverage.
My highest recommendations for an inexpensive easy-to-use web appliance that puts high quality streaming capabilities within reach of an even broader market.
BLACKMAGIC ATEM TELEVISION STUDIO HD
Also introduced with the Web Presenter is Blackmagic’s latest addition to their ATEM switcher line, the ATEM Television Studio HD. Priced at $995, it also offers a broader range of content creators access to true multisource switching with both front panel control as well as virtual control via computer.
Used alone in a simple streaming configuration, for example, the Television Studio HD accepts up to four HDMI and four SDI inputs (all with embedded audio). It has two XLR audio inputs. It can output each of the four SDI signals for ISO camera view. A BNC Program Out port takes the output to, in this case, the SDI input of the Web Presenter. There are both SDI and HDMI MultiView ports enabling any video or computer monitor to show a multiview of all of the input sources and indicating which sources currently are program.
Front panel buttons switch sources with either a simple cut or DVE effect. That effect can be set using the menu button and turning the front dial to the appropriate setting. Likewise, the user can select whether switching is via direct selection or preview-program mode.
As an important added feature, like all ATEM switchers, it allows tally and talkback to Blackmagic Studio or Ursa Mini cameras.
It is important to note that the switcher does not allow mixing of multiple video standards nor does it accept anything beyond 1080 resolution. Thus I set my demo unit to 1080i and all of my output devices to 1080i. Mixed standards would require the addition of a standards converter such as one of Blackmagic’s Teranex products.
A simple multicam webcast was a snap. I set up two cameras, one with SDI and one with HDMI outputs and added a MacBook Pro HDMI output for a computer-based presentation, then ran SDI to the Web Presenter and there for $1,500 in hardware I had a portable multicamera web broadcasting solution.
The true power of the ATEM switcher, though, is when connected via Ethernet to a computer running the Blackmagic ATEM Software Control program. This gives access to a virtual switcher panel as well as to the numerous software features Blackmagic offers. These include adjustable transitions, built-in 2D DVE, titles and graphics, real-time keying, audio mixing, and for the Blackmagic Studio camera, remote camera control. This remote camera control feature includes primary color correction similar to DaVinci Resolve and in fact is a traditional CCU.
The AUX SDI ouput can be used, as an example, to feed external devices such as projectors.
Again, setup and configuration was a simple seamless process with a rather amazing ability to be a basic switcher for those less technically inclined and at the same time a feature-packed switcher-titler-mixer-keyer-CCU etc., etc., for the advanced professional.
HYPERDECK STUDIO MINI
But wait, there’s more. The HyperDeck Studio Mini, the latest addition to BMD’s HyperDeck line. It is a professional UHD broadcast deck featuring 10-bit recording, media uploading via FTP and dual SD/UHS-II card slots. This latter feature allows the unit to be far more compact than other HyperDeck products recording to SSD media while at the same time taking advantage of the faster read/write capabilities of UHS-II SDXC cards.
What’s there to say? Pop in a couple of cards and with its front panel transport controls, it’s just like any recorder/ player. It integrates into the web ecosystem simply by taking the SDI Program output from the Web Presenter (or the ATEM Switcher for that matter) and pressing record. It could be used as a source for the Web Presenter or the Switcher. In short, it’s a versatile deck for any purpose for which you would use a video deck. Simple. It records in all ProRes formats up to ProRes 422HQ but can play back any signal up to ProRes 4444.
Any of these products can be used standalone in virtually any environment. Combined, they create a cost-effective, high-quality and highly portable live streaming system. It can find itself in the bedroom of an individual webcaster or in an elaborate production truck as a way of providing value-added content to a major broadcast production. These Blackmagic products are well worth a closer look.
Ned Soltz is an independent video shooter, editor and producer, as well as consultant and general technology guru.
Web Presenter - converts video signals for internet broadcasting
ATEM Television Studio HD – ATEM switcher
HypderDeck Studio Mini – UHD broadcast deck
Web Presenter – Accepts signals up to UHD 60p; output 720p signal; optional Teranex Mini Smart Panel
ATEM Television Studio HD – Accepts up to four HDMI and four SDI inputs; two XLR audio inputs; SDI and HDMI MultiView ports
HyperDeck Studio Mini – 10 bit recording; media uploading via FTP; dual SD/UHS-II card slots
Web Presenter - $495
ATEM Television Studio HD - $995
HyperDeck Studio Mini - $695