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Review: BoinxTV
While video overlay programs exist for Windows PCs, most are fairly basic and can't match the features found in BoinxTV for the Mac, which just might be the video bargain of the year.
Thurs., Jan. 14, by Sherm Schlar

This article first appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

Driven by consumer demand and recent advances in video processing, the production quality of streamed video has begun to rival that of broadcast television. While hardware-based video switches and title generators have been around for years, a new breed of software-based video processors has begun to emerge. Leading the pack is BoinxTV, an affordable software application from Boinx Software (www.boinx.com) that transforms a desktop Mac into a full-blown TV production studio.

Like conventional switchers or mixing boards, the BoinxTV platform accepts a variety of video and audio inputs. In its most basic configuration, BoinxTV uses Mac’s built-in iSight camera and microphone as inputs. More sophisticated users can connect up multiple webcams and camcorders to the BoinxTV system in a variety of ways, including USB, FireWire, HDMI, SDI, and composite video. External microphones and audio mixers can also be easily connected. These video and audio devices are then defined in BoinxTV as "sources," which can be switched in or out of the program at will. Sources are assigned to individual layers within the program so that video overlay effects such as picture-in-picture (PIP) are possible. The software can support up to 50 separate layers and includes a wide variety of built-in special effects such as text and graphics overlays, text crawls (news), RSS feeds, custom backgrounds, video filters, and so forth. The BoinxTV software mixes all these inputs and layers together and renders them in a single video/audio window on the Mac’s screen (Figure 1). This video window can then be delivered or streamed to the viewer in a variety of ways.

Figure 1
Figure 1. The BoinxTVcontrol panel

There are three operational modes for BoinxTV: Live to Disk, Live to Internet, and Live to Stage. The Live to Disk mode is used to record live events to a hard drive for later playback. This approach helps reduce production costs by allowing the attendant to handle all the video and audio mixing and editing on-the-fly rather than in a more time-consuming and expensive postproduction mode. Movies are recorded and stored locally as Apple QuickTime .MOV files. Using BoinxTV’s built-in transcoding software, these can be exported in a variety of popular formats, including MPEG-4, Windows Media, AVI, FLC, DivX, and more. These files can also be formatted for portable devices such as iPods, iPhones, and 3G mobile phones.

Software Encoding
BoinxTV supports live streaming in its Live to Internet mode. The mixed video output from the BoinxTV output window on the computer screen can be streamed using either software or hardware. The main advantage of using software encoding is the low cost. The software approach uses a licensed third-party screen capture program named GrabberRaster (http://b-l-a-c-k-o-p.com/ GrabberRaster.html), which takes the BoinxTV video window and turns it into a virtual device or camera that is then recognized by the Mac’s operating system. While the GrabberRaster program works well once it’s installed and configured, the documentation is weak and confusing. Boinx offers a video tutorial on how to use GrabberRaster, but this too was somewhat incomplete. A freeware alternative to GrabberRaster is CamTwist (http://allocinit.com/index.php?title=CamTwist), a techie-oriented program designed to add special effects to video chats. CamTwist can also stream to free Flash-based public video sites such as Ustream, Stickam, and Justin.tv.

With GrabberRaster, the output from the virtual camera is fed into a software encoder such as Apple’s free QuickTime (QT) Broadcaster (www.apple.com/quicktime/broadcaster) and pushed to any content delivery network (CDN) that supports QuickTime streaming. For higher video quality and better compression, QuickTime Broadcaster uses H.264 as its native encoding format. For my live internet testing, I used the NetBroadcasting.TV (www.netbroadcasting.tv) CDN, which transcoded my QuickTime stream into Flash video for playback on any Flash video-enabled client, i.e., Windows PC, Mac, and Linux machine. Setup for the NetBroadcasting.TV CDN within QT Broadcaster was quick and easy, and the network performed faultlessly during my testing.