How to Produce a Webcast… part 5

Video Mixer

In part 4 of my how-to series, I spoke about mixing various audio sources together.  In this one I will describe how to mix your various video signals together with the mixed audio to produce a final product.

Once again, due to intensive research, I discovered a wonderful product which does exactly what I’m after.  According to their website:  “VidBlaster is a state-of-the-art live video production tool” and I would totally agree.  This single tool replaces tens of thousands of dollars worth of physical video mixing equipment into one very easy to use piece of software.  When used on an appropriately fast computer, you can produce Full-HD LIVE broadcasts. 

During the first episode of Week In Review, we had spent too much money on needed audio and video equipment that we were broke.  But by our second episode we had enough capital to purchase the Home version of VidBlaster.

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As you can see from the image on the right, our home version limits us to 7 modules.  Based on the hardware we have, here are the seven modules we chose and why:

  1. Preview allows us to monitor the signal output.  This is similar to the “headphones” connector on our audio mixer.  Since we want to produce a 720p broadcast, our preview window is sized appropriately.
  2. Audio is a module which we designate the audio source that will be feed into the broadcast.  I have chosen the rear Line In blue plug on my sound card since that is where I have the Main output of the mixer going.  We can monitor the sound level with this module and modify it as needed on the fly.
  3. Streamer is used to link our broadcast to our uStream LIVE broadcast channel.  It only has Start/Stop buttons with additional options under the right click menu.  These include our username/password and our chosen LIVE broadcaster (uStream in our case).
  4. Recorder, this module is used to capture our broadcast to a video file for later post-production within Windows Live Movie Maker (covered in part 8 of this series).  This module also includes some basic controls for starting/stopping and saving our broadcast.  It also has an option for uploading the video, but I want to add starting and ending credits which I do in post production because of the Home Edition of VidBlaster I own.  Once we have enough to purchase the Professional Edition we can add our starting and ending credits within the live broadcast itself.
  5. Camera 1 which I have configured to pull from the Microsoft Cinema camera pointed at David’s location.
  6. Camera 2 is configured to pull from my other Microsoft Cinema camera which is pointed at my location.
  7. Camera 3 is configured for Screen Capture mode.  Since we have the 7 module limitation this module changes based on how our broadcast is planned.  Currently our co-host Eric doesn’t have a computer and we are using our Skype to call his cell phone.  This configuration allows me to display YouTube videos, websites, or anything else I can call up on it on a LIVE broadcast.

Our upgrade plan is pretty easy to guess.  The Professional Edition of VidBlaster increases the module limit to 25 and with these additional modules we will be changing the configuration and adding new modules.

  1. Camera 3 will be configured to screen capture mode and has our Skype caller displayed full screen.  They are displayed on my 3rd desktop screen which points towards David so he can see our guest directly.
  2. Camera 4 will be pointed at my 2nd desktop screen also in screen capture mode.  This 2nd screen will be used for browsing webpages and such LIVE.
  3. Player 1 will have our opening credits video which was post-produced a few weeks ago.
  4. Player 2 will be used for our closing credits.  Likely these are produced for each episode since we don’t know who to thank for various content and our guests.
  5. Player XX, these additional players will be used for various videos used during the broadcast.  If we want to display a YouTube video, we will use a utility to download that video and have it on my hard drive and preloaded into a Player module.  The reason for this is it will put less of a strain on my internet connection which every bit of is needed for a good quality upload to uStream.
  6. Video Overlay 1 will be used to hold our customized title graphic for David.  It basically contains his name and job description for display at random times during the broadcast.
  7. Video Overlay 2 will be used for my customized title graphic.
  8. Video Overlay 3 is destined to hold the customized title graphic for our Skype guest/co-host.
  9. Video Effect 1 I will use to combine both Camera 1 and Camera 2 in a side-by-side or Picture-in-Picture format.  This module has nearly a dozen different formats which I may setup additional Video Effect modules for.
  10. Video Effect 2 is used to combine Camera 2 and Camera 3.
  11. Video Effect 3 is for Camera 1 and Camera 3.

As you can see, our limitations force us to find creative ways to produce our broadcast.  If you’d like to help us overcome these limitations, please donate to the Week In Review show.  All donations will go to improving the quality of the show and keeping us online and broadcasting.

Cost Sheet

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At this point you have all the tools to produce videos and broadcast them LIVE for less than $700 + tax.  From this point forward we will focus in on hosting services (parts 6, 7 and 10), as well as post production (part 8 and 9) and lastly publicizing your new show online using social networking tools (part 11).

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How to Produce a Webcast… part 4

Audio Mixer

In part 3 of this series I discussed hardware required to pull audio from our host and his potential guests.  In this part, let us discuss how we’re going to mix those two microphones with various other sources like Skype, my computer (for videos and such) and an MP3 player for some fancy background sounds.

After yet another dose of online research I discovered that an audio mixer was required in order to inject audio from multiple sources into my VidBlaster video mixer software.  This meant a trip to my local audio shop for some physical research.  Based on my previous research I knew I had to ask for a mixer that supported 2 mic inputs (mono) and 3 Line inputs (stereo).  My local shop pointed me to the mixer display room and pointed me at the 5 channel mixers.  I asked a few simple questions and quickly discovered he knew less than nothing on mixers and I was on my own.  After a while of looking around I came across the Xenyx 1002B 5-Channel compact mixer for only $108.  Hashing it out in my head I realized this will perfectly fit my needs. 

Broadcasting SetupOnce I got it home I set about calculating the wiring I would need to get everything hooked up.  Visio helped me draw the mixer out and calculate my wiring needs.  According to the diagram and looking at my hardware I determined I would need the following wires which were reasonably priced at my local RadioShack:

(2) 1/8” Stereo Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter
(1) 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Stereo Cable
(3) Mono Phono Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter 2pk
(4) 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Dual Phono Y-Cable
(2) 1/4” Mono 3-ft Shielded Cable

I wanted to be able to listen to the audio as well.  I already had a simple Logitech headset but had to add a 1/8” Stereo Jack to 1/4” Stereo Plug Adapter.  However if you are buying these parts yourself, I’d suggest something like the Cyber Acoustics Stereo Headphones, it comes with a 1/8” to 1/4” adapter.  This is only for the audio engineer to listen to the output without causing any microphone interference.

It is hard to determine an upgrade path to this device.  The cost of audio mixers allowed me to choose one that would perfectly suit my needs and provide plenty of room to grow.  For example, if I were to have a 3rd in-studio guest, I would only need to purchase a 3rd microphone and cable.  If a 4th were to arrive, a 4th mic/cable and I could push the computer signal over to where the MP3 player is.

The current setup can feasibly handle up to 5 guests, one of them being a Skype guest.  If we would like to have more than 5 guests we would need to upgrade this mixer.  Researching a bit more I would recommend using the Behringer Xenyx X2222USB for $326.  It has room for 8 microphones and includes mixer effects to make the broadcast more fun.  Beyond that I’d probably recommend the 10-mic Xenyx X2442USB or how about the 24-mic EuroDesk SX3282 mixer for some real power at $978.  Of course I’m starting to get a bit silly now… something like that would be overkill for my little 300sqft home office.  Don’t believe I can even fit 24 people into it.

But seriously though.. back to the Xenyx 1002B configuration.  I had various inputs to be dealt with…

  1. Microphone 1 for David, our host, connected to Channel 1 Line In on the mixer using the 1/4” Mono 3-ft Shielded Cable.
  2. Microphone 2 for me, connected to Channel 2 Line In on the mixer also using the 1/4” Mono 3-ft Shielded Cable.
  3. Skype caller.  Skype allows us to specify which audio playing device the Skype audio is sent.  My sound card contains a nice enough sound card that I could feed the front green speaker plug a separate audio signal from the back green speaker plug.  I configured Skype to send its signal to the front plug which is connected to Channel 5/6 on the mixer using the
  4. Mono Phono Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter 2pk and 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Dual Phono Y-Cable.  Skype audio is in stereo unlike the microphones.

  5. Computer Speakers so we could hear audio from videos I might play from YouTube for example.  The default audio device for my computer is the rear green speaker plug.  Therefore it is connected to Channel 7/8 on the mixer using the Mono Phono Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter 2pk and 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Dual Phono Y-Cable.  This is also a stereo signal.
  6. My MP3 Player (iPhone) is connected to the RCA output connecters  on Channel 9/10 on the mixer using the 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Dual Phono Y-Cable.

Next I had to deal with my various outputs…

  1. My headphones allow me to hear what everything mixed together sounds like.  Therefore they are connected in the top right plug on the mixer using the 1/8” Stereo Jack to 1/4” Stereo Plug Adapter.
  2. Main Mixer Output needs to be fed back into the computer so it can be mixed with the video within VidBlaster.  Thus the main output gets plugged into the rear Line In blue plug on the back of my computer.
  3. Main speakers allow David anybody in studio to hear signals from specific sources I configure on the mixer.  In this case, I’d like David to hear anything from the computer, our Skype guest but that’s it.  I don’t want him to hear himself or any of the in-studio microphones since that would cause horrible interference.  Thus the main speakers are connected into the Mon Send plug on the mixer using a 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Dual Phono Y-Cable and Mono Phono Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter 2pk.  See the “Red” control knobs for which sources are sent to the main speakers.
  4. Skype Caller return signal will need to be plugged into the Rear pink microphone plug.  This is the audio that our Skype caller will hear on their side and is connected to the mixer with the 1/8” Stereo Jack to 1/4” Mono Plug Adapter and the 6-ft 1/8” Stereo to Stereo Cable.  Just like the main speakers you will use the “Orange” control knobs to determine which sources our Skype caller will hear.  In our case I want them to hear all the microphones, the computer and the MP3 player.   I don’t want them to hear themselves.  Since the orange knobs are linked to the volume sliders, they will only hear the sources where the sliders are tuned up.

When I’m not broadcasting, I keep all the source slider knobs tuned down including the Main slider.  Since the computer is turned up on the Red control knob it feeds into my main speakers which are my default for the computer.  I can turn the MAIN Main speaker Red control knob if I need to adjust the volume for anything I’m doing.

Now when I’m broadcasting is when the fun starts.  For this I put on the headphones and adjust the white control knob to adjust those.  I slide up the MAIN slider which affects both my headphones and the main output for the mixer.  Then I can control which sources are listened to by moving up/down their source slider.  Prior to the show I adjust the control knobs as desired for everyone (white knob for me, orange knobs for our Skype caller, and red knobs for David).

Cost Sheet

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In part 5 of my How to Produce a Webcast series, I will discuss the video mixer software called VidBlaster.  Show you some interesting features about that software.

 

Special thanks to JVonD for his video on YouTube for assistance setting up this mixer.

How to Produce a Webcast… part 2

Video Cameras

We got off to a good start with my previous post (part 1) about choosing the right person to Host our webcast.  In this post, I’ll talk about the camera I’m using, why I chose it along with upgrade options we’re looking at if the show really takes off.

For the start of our new show Week In Review I chose to use the Microsoft LifeCam Cinema for a few reasons.  image

The first and most important for any new venture is price.  I took a trip down to my local Wal-Mart, I live in NWA and there’s a Wal-Mart every 10 miles… literally, and browsed around the electronics department.  No one in NWA can beat them on the price point, although everyone can beat them on selection when it comes to computers and computer accessories.  Anyways, I picked up two of these cameras at the low low price of $79 each.  I was under a time constraint and with the launch of the show just weeks away, I wanted time to configure, confirm and possibly return if necessary whatever I chose to sue.

The second reason for this selection is the widescreen High Definition video it produces.  I wanted to produce a high quality 720p video production and our local options are limited.  I did my research online and of the options I had the LifeCam Cinema fit the bill.  I brought it home for testing and everything worked better than expected.  The video was so crisp and clear I had to go change my shirt cause I noticed I’d spilt some of my lunch on it earlier today.

imageHere is an image of my first test.  It was directly being compared to an old webcam I was using before and demonstrates the higher quality of the broadcasted image.  Click it to view it larger and see the clarity the LifeCam Cinema provides over my older HP standard definition webcam.

The next qualification for this camera was if it would be compatible with the video mixer software I chose called VidBlaster.  I’ll go into greater depth about this software in part 5 of my series.  On a side note, the video mixer software can only accept one audio feed.  This meant that if I was using more than one camera, I could not use the microphones from each.  As a result I needed to buy an audio mixer in order to supply the mixed audio from multiple sources.  I’ll discuss further about the audio mixer in part 4 of my series.

During my research I discovered many options available for supplying the video I want.  Some were much pricier than the option I chose, however some of these are in my upgrade plans if the show takes off.

A possible upgrade path for our video equipment will include a few different pieces.

HD Camcorder:  The one I’ve researched with a reasonable price range for ourimage size production is the Canon VIXIA HF R20 Full HD Camcorder.  This $340 camera has the HD quality we’re looking for and the portability we’d like to add to the show.  We can use this portable camera to film events, then play them during our LIVE broadcast and edit them in during post-production.  Combine this with the compatible WM-V1 Wireless Microphone and we can capture HD video and audio easily when remote on location.

HDMI Capture Card:  This PCIe computer card will convert the HDMI computer signal from the camera to digital video imagethat VidBlaster can use as a video feed.  The device I’m looking at is the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro HDMI card.  At $189 at the time of research, this price fits perfectly into a reasonable upgrade budget.  Other options on the capture card can be found over at BH Photo Video.  If I’m looking to have 2 Camcorders, I can simply purchase a second capture card since I have several PCIe card slots in my video mixing computer.

Both the Camcorder and the Capture Card(s) will provide us with remote recording capabilities.  This won’t make us LIVE on remote, however it is a good start in that direction.  Another benefit gained by these two devices is the ability to have 3 in-studio video sources.  Now we can have a nice widescreen zoom able video feed from our studio couch when we have guests.

Cost Sheet

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Next we’ll look at the options I chose for capturing audio from my host and his in-studio guests.  Be sure to join us for part 3.