As many of you know I use Vmix to produce my videos here on the channel. It’s by far the most efficient and highly optimized piece of Windows software ever made. It’s absolutely incredible.
My appreciation of it went further this week during one of my Prime Day live streams. I figured I would do an evening overview of the three TV boxes on sale this week (Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV) and I wanted to get all three running together in 4k simultaneously along with my three 4k studio cameras. You can see the stream here.
My current production machine is a home-built i9-9900KF based Intel machine with 32GB of RAM and a recently added RTX 2080ti GPU. For video capture I have a Blackmagic Decklink Quad HDMI card which can capture four 4k sources simultaneously. I brought the cameras and the Apple TV in through the Decklink card.
But Lon, you had 6 sources! Yes and thanks to the modern miracle of NDI I was able to bring in those additional two sources using a Newtek Spark box and a Kilo U40 (affiliate link). These boxes take HDMI video in and output a lossless video signal that can get ingested into Vmix with minimal latency. Those two sources generated about 500 megabits of bandwidth but Vmix easily kept up.
The most amazing thing about this set up is that my system still had plenty or room left for more. I also connected a 4k display to the back of my GPU and was able independently switch what appeared on that screen. Check out this short I made once everything was set up.
Virtual Set technology is moving in some exciting new directions. It all began with the Mandalorian and their use of the ILM “Volume” to merge virtual sets with physical ones. What makes these virtual sets so unique is that the images are not added later in post-production but are there in realtime with the actors during the shoot. It adds new levels of realism as the light from the volume reflects off of costumes and other props naturally. The set also aligns with the camera’s point of view allowing for camera movements and depth making the background look almost three dimensional.
But Star Wars is not the only production making use of this. According to this Twitter post, Star Trek Strange New Worlds has a volume of its own to do similar effects. This might be why the production looks so much more expansive than the other recent Star Trek shows on Paramount+.
What I’m most excited about is this technology making its way to small creators. Many of us with gaming PCs have the processing power already – it’s just a matter of packaging this display technology into something smaller and affordable for us basement dwelling YouTubers.
This weekend I had some time to see if switching to a 4k workflow was feasible. Before doing this I had to upgrade the GPU in my production machine, fix a network problem that you’ll see in another video I uploaded this week, and of course ensure that our editing workflow could handle larger files and resolutions.
As many of you know I shoot my videos the same way livestreamers work in that I shoot everything live to disk vs having to edit everything together later. So while I own cameras that can do 4k, processing and recording multiple 4k streams in realtime with no frame drops needed some additional hardware. I was also reluctant to throw a wrench in a very smooth and efficient workflow – especially one that likely won’t result in increased viewership.
But the stars aligned this weekend – I was ahead on content and had a good runway of opportunity now that all of the hardware upgrades were done to the production machine.
The best part is that because I use the same workflow for live and recorded productions I am now able to livestream in 4k too! Check out what it looks like here on YouTube. Right now I’m sending YouTube a 4k 30fps stream at 30 megabits per second. I will continue to stream to Amazon too but they are limited to 720p at 2.5 megabits per second. Still I think the Amazon stream looks better downscaling from 4k vs. 1080. Check out the Amazon version here.
There is still one 1080p video left in the hopper. I’ll be going 4k from now on provided I don’t have any deal breaking gotchya’s in the week ahead.
The streams will not be one-off events but done on a regular basis
These are hybrid events that have an in-person audience along with people watching the presentation remotely
The presenter usually has a Powerpoint that needs to be shared with both the in-person and livestream audience simultaneously
They don’t have a huge budget for consulting or gear
I’ve found that Zoom paired up with an ATEM Mini tends to work best for these sorts of events primarily because it’s easy for both the presenters and the audience to set up and use. When you’re ready to go for the gusto an upgrade to Vmix is a great next step.
I don’t do much consulting work these days but every once and awhile I help an organization (usually a non-profit) livestream an event or meeting. My approach is to train people in the use of the software and equipment so they can be empowered to go live whenever they need to without the need for additional staffing or expensive consultants.
I’ve found that most organizations don’t need to do something for mass consumption but rather for small to medium sized groups of members, congregants, etc. In those instances Zoom really can’t be beat for that purpose.
Zoom automates a lot of the stuff that can add to complexities on other platforms (especially when it comes to video encoding and audio levels), and it’s very forgiving when there’s a technical hiccup that happens locally or over the Internet. Zoom also has a webinar package that prevents unmuted participants from disrupting meetings. The biggest issues I’ve encountered with it usually involve scheduling meetings and getting the right Zoom links out to participants.
One of the things I recommend for volunteer organizations is that they have one person in charge of the video switching and another in charge of the Zoom (I call them a Zoom operator). The reason is that if they’re not opting for the more expensive Zoom webinar package they need to police the participants and be ready with the mute button! It’s also helpful for that person to monitor the chat for AV issues but also questions coming from the audience.
As far as hardware is concerned I like the following:
The ATEM Mini
I love the ATEM Minis. They are super affordable and amazingly full featured. They come in three flavors with the lowest cost option starting at around $295. They allow for live switching of HDMI video sources along with titling, green screen, overlays, and all sorts of neat stuff. The best part is that once it’s configured it boots up and works the same way every time – all a volunteer needs to do is push buttons.
The ATEM interfaces with a PC via its USB port and the video output shows up as a webcam on the host computer. It plugs right into Zoom and works reliably every time. Can’t beat it.
As for cameras there are many options – pretty much anything with an HDMI output will work so often I recommend people start with what they already have. You can also run computers through the ATEM’s HDMI ports to get its output on screen.
For those with a little more money PTZ (pan, tilt zoom) cameras are a great choice. I like cameras from Birddog and PTZ Optics – both offer cameras that can be controlled remotely and support video output via HDMI along with NDIfor more advanced video production switchers.
Audio & Microphones
Microphones can be a bit trickier. The ATEM has analog audio inputs so you can plug mics directly into it if your cameras don’t have external mic support.
If you have deep pockets I love the Sennheiser AVX system which is a wireless system that has both handheld and lavalier microphones available. See my full review here. It’s truly a bulletproof system. I’ve used this system for about six years now and have never, ever had a problem with it – even in busy places like CES and other large events.
More recently I looked at the DJI Mic system from the popular drone maker. It’s a wireless microphone system that integrates the mics along with a recorder and wireless transmitter. It’s super simple to use and a low cost alternative to the AVX system.
I always recommend groups start with the “minimally viable product” and slowly build up their capacity based on need. All too often I see groups budgeting for huge equipment buys that go underutilized. Many groups don’t need a broadcast level production but rather need something that just works to get the word out to their staff, membership, congregants, etc.
When you are ready to take the next step I recommend going with Vmix. It’s a software video production tool that delivers performance on par with super expensive Tricasters at a fraction of the cost. It runs great on gaming laptops for portable productions.
In the photo at the top of this post we were running Vmix on a Lenovo Y740 laptop for a high school graduation stream. We used NDIto bring in three camera feeds into the laptop so we didn’t need to use any capture cards! I detail the whole production here:
No Right or Wrong Way..
The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to stream something. If it works and your audience gets the information they need you’re good! Starting off in the simplest way possible will grow your confidence, give you some ideas as to how to improve the next stream, and help build your skillset as you progress.
I left that out of the initial review as the sound quality of the external mic will vary based on the mic being used! While it’s easy to demonstrate the built-in mics as every user will experience the same thing, it’s much harder to give a clear example when there are so many different types of mics that can be plugged in.
But I had a ton of questions about it and many more “thumbs ups” on those questions. Thankfully I had a great livestream the other day where we tested the feature and I was able to pull the video from that.
If YouTube would allow us mere mortals to replace an already posted video I would have totally done that here. But hopefully those looking for a demo will be able to find it on the Extra’s channel.
DJI is known for their great drones and camera systems but they are venturing into a new area of content creation: audio. This very simple new wireless microphone system has two transmitters with built in mics. It instantly provides dual or single channel audio for interviews to smartphones, cameras, and PCs. Just make sure you don’t lose all of the little parts it comes with.
The system works similar to a pair of Airpods in that the included case also charges the components. The system can operate for about 5 hours on a charge. Unfortunately the batteries are built-in and not swappable or replaceable but USB-C ports on the receiver and transmitters allow for external power or batteries.
The receiver connects to cameras with a 3.5mm line out and to smartphones with included USB-C and lightning adapters. Those are the tiny pieces you don’t want to lose.
The transmitters each have internal storage that can hold about 15 hours of audio. This is a good safety net should something go wrong in the field so you can fix audio issues in post production. There’s also an option to record a -6db safety track to prevent clipping for your louder guests. The units connect to a PC via their USB-C ports and the storage will pop up like a USB thumb drive. But it stores the audio in 30 minute increments. The recordings are seamless but a two hour production will result in four 30 minute files that you’ll have to stitch together.
Audio quality is decent out of the built in Mics but they are omnidirectional and as such will pick up a lot of ambient noise. They also sounded bassier and a little muffled as compared to my more expensive Sennheiser lavalier mics. The DJI microphones will not work well in noisy environments like busy streets, convention floors, etc. The transmitters work over the very busy 2.4ghz radio spectrum and will be prone to interference in busier environments like urban offices, etc.
Each transmitter has a 3.5mm audio input for attaching an external microphone. I was able to get my Sennheiser lavalier to connect through the DJI system without issues.
For a first generation product this feels incredible polished. So much so that I am going to hang onto these for when I need something simple for a field production involving my smartphones.
Blackmagic makes great production gear that works well in low budget operations like mine but also at the professional broadcast level. I use a lot of their stuff for my day-to-day operations.
One of their newest products is this oddity called the “Cloud Pod” (compensated affiliate link) and is the subject of my latest video.
The Cloud Pod is a very simple network attached storage device (NAS) that allows for two USB-C portable SSDs to be connected and turned into network accessible drives.
It uses a 10 gig network connection (see my multigigabit coverage here) but it also appears to step down to slower speeds including 2.5 gig connections. It’s hindered by the slower USB Gen 1 speeds that max out at 5 gigabits per second. Most portable SSDs these days use faster Gen 2 connections that can achieve 10 gigabits per second. The result is that your drive on the Cloud Pod will perform at half the speed it does when directly connected to a computer. That said the USB ports don’t share a bus so each can deliver its full performance simultaneously (about 400 megabytes per second each).
The Cloud Pod has no security – no usernames, no passwords, nada. So devices on the same network that have SMB support (like everything) can access the Cloud Pod and read and write data from it. You can limit the device to read-only but it applies that rule to both drives.
It has a really cool status screen that it outputs through an HDMI output on the back to a display. Oddly there is no web control panel to monitor the device – you’ll only see status if you plug a monitor into it. The HDMI is an output only for the status screen – it doesn’t support ingest.
I was able to edit a 2 camera 4k 60 multicam project over a 10 gig connection with about the same performance I get when directly connected to the SSDs. But I was maxing out the connection with original media so a third camera angle would have created issues unless I switched to lower res proxy files. It supports syncing to Dropbox which might be useful for sending proxies to remote users. It says it supported Google Drive on the box but the software doesn’t yet support it.
The target market for this one is quite limited but I can see it being useful for a small production team. Just be super careful who has access to your local network because there is no way to restrict who can read, write, and change files on the drive.
Buy one on Amazon (compensated affiliate link). – The Yolobox Mini combines a streaming video encoder, recorder, and monitor in a single device. It’s pricey but compared to other devices like it in the production world it’s actually pretty reasonable. See more production videos. and subscribe!