Facebook Live has become a popular platform for live video streaming. For sharing live events it is out distancing the traditional content delivery networks such as Ustream.tv and miles ahead of Periscope. What makes it so appealing is that you can stream from anywhere, if you have an internet connection, to a Facebook account or page. Since all you need is a mobile device, such as a phone or tablet, it is really simple. The challenge for content creators though has been to lift the quality of the end product above the shaky hand-held phone visuals and hollow sounding hard-to-hear audio.
We produce a live show for Olds Community TV from a local bookstore which features a round-table book review and discussion – ‘Babes with Books’. In the early planning discussions we agreed that Facebook Live would be the perfect delivery platform since it would encourage some live interaction with the audience. Of course from the production standpoint we needed to use more than a phone to shoot the show with. Our first few episodes where produced using our regular live event rig: high-end cameras running SDI into a PC based vision-mixer and audio in with a mixer and complex interfaces. As a one person operation this involves time to setup everything not to mention the pain and agony of transporting and loading in the gear to the location.
Here is our traditional setup for a live event…
We recently came across an iOS (Apple based) app which might change things for us when it comes to shooting Facebook or YouTube Live events. Switcher Studio Pro is a vision mixer app that works on Apple iPads, iPhones and iPods. The switcher component works best on an iPad and connects via WiFi to other iOS devices such as iPads, iPhones or iPods which act as remote cameras. The switcher app will connect to four devices as input sources including the camera on the iPad being used as the vision mixer. Still based graphics can be pre-loaded into the camera roll on the iPad and then imported into the app for use in the show. Overlays such as bugs and lower-thirds can be used as well. The developers have created an easy direct connect to Facebook Live as a menu option. No more copying and pasting RTMP data into the encoder. Switcher Studio Pro will also record the switched show for later use video on demand. The app offers some other advanced features but for our use we went with the basic setup which we would using at other Facebook Live events.
View from the directors chair for Babes with Books . . .
We used an iPad Air as the switcher and main camera for the wide shot. An iPhone 6 as a remote and one-shot closeup camera. A great feature of the newer iOS devices – iPhone 6 and newer for example – is the camera is based on a 4K sensor. As a result, zooming the image like we did for this shot didn’t degrade like the older sensors would have. The iPhone was held in the ioGrapher handle which is a cool piece of gear in itself. I have an ioGrapher case for the iPad as well but used a different mount this time. The show was easy to switch and the app was easy to manage. This was the maiden voyage for this rig and I can see us using this more often for Facebook Live coverage.
Here is the Facebook Live version . . .
Here is the iPad based recorded version of the show which we uploaded to YouTube later (no post production!) . . .
How about audio? The audio was fed from a multi-channel mixer into the iPad via an IK iRig Pre which acts as a pre-amp as well as converting XLR connection to TRRS. External mics can also be used directly via adapters or by using a TRRS equipped mic cable which Rode and others produce. There is a problem with live streaming audio and video – sync. Typically video takes longer to process than audio so the outcome is an out of sync production for the viewers. With my regular rig this is corrected by delaying the audio (approximately 6 frames) to align it with the video. According to Switcher Studio this isn’t required with their app. This was confirmed with my initial testing. When we went live with this show however the audio was out of sync on Facebook Live but aligned in the recording to the iPad. Switcher Studio has a few suggestions to overcome this but we weren’t able to implement this during the live broadcast. I’ll try out their suggestions in future broadcasts first before lugging and setting up my delay unit at the audio mixer. I suspect that a single mic (shotgun or hand-held) from a single camera/iPad wouldn’t cause a problem but we’ll find that out as we work with this rig more often.
Here are some adapters to connect outboard audio to an iOS device (they work for Android as well) . . .
Conclusion . . .
My experience using iOS devices and Switcher Studio Pro has been mostly positive so far, except for two issues. The first being the audio sync problem described above. The second is in the finished recorded video. Since the resolution size is directly related to the bandwidth limit available at the venue you need to degrade the stream from HD down to SD and sometimes even lower to achieve a steady stream. The result is a recorded file that matches the resolution of the video streamed to Facebook Live. According to Switcher Studio there are ways around this and I’ll need to try them out to get the best workflow possible and still have a manageable production setup.
The good news? I was able to pack all my ‘camera’ & ‘switching gear’ into a backpack! No more lugging three roller cases with cameras, cables and switcher into the venue If I pick up some travel tripods I can downsize the load that much more. For this show we used three lav mics hard-wired to a mixer but even that was a manageable load. For some events I can see using a wire-less mic on the speaker/lectern or a shotgun mic or hand-held mic which would connect directly into the iPad or iPhone eliminating the need for an external mixer.
Would I use this for all events? No. Right now I’m thinking that coverage of events that need to be streamed to Facebook Live or YouTube Live fit within the limits of the iOS device camera. Events like news conferences, local town council meetings, lectures etc would be fine. Other events like sports, music concerts or shows requiring high quality output and features from advanced cameras might not work. A group in Ontario – WeeStreem – make use of a Switcher Studio setup for hockey games but the finished product lacks some elements such as replays and playback of pre-recorded clips. However, what I do like about this setup for sports is the placing of cameras around the venue for alternative angles. Placing iPods behind the net or in the end zone or aimed at the scoreboard and not requiring an operator to work them is appealing.
One thing I’d like to try out is having members of the audience provide a feed to the production. The app is free to download and does not require an added licence to act as a remote camera. Since it just needs to be on on the same WiFi network as the switcher device it would be easy to enlist a few audience members to download the app and act as another set of eyes on the action.
Here is the Switcher Studio promo video . . .