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Review: Sunnyside Software RayCaster 1.6
Despite some minor shortcomings, RayCaster 1.6 webcasting software offers plenty of functionality and an intuitive user interface, though its FireWire-only input means it puts a significant drain on CPU resources, especially on machines with only the minimum system requirements.
Tues., Aug. 29, by Steve Mack

RayCaster 1.6 is the latest version of Sunnyside Software’s webcasting software. It provides a clean, easy-to-use interface that exposes all the functionality of the Windows Media Encoder, while also adding some nifty features that weren’t available in previous iterations.

The RayCaster is designed to use a single IEEE 1394/ FireWire input for both the audio and video source. This is an interesting approach, which has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, this makes it a perfect complement for single-camera webcasts using a DV camera. On the minus side, however, it requires a fair amount of CPU horsepower, so you’ll need a high-powered computer to run it (more on this later). Sunnyside Software is currently working on support for analog audio and video, so this may not be an issue for much longer.

The interface is RayCaster’s strong point. It’s simple, easy-to-use, and well laid-out (see Figure 1). The top half of the interface is divided into four sections, or modules, in RayCaster-speak. From left to right, there’s a source module, an encoder module, a preview module, and the control module. The bottom half of the interface (which can be hidden) is known as the statistics drawer. It provides real-time statistics for all your streams.

Figure 1 (below): RayCaster’s interface is simple, easy-to-use, and well laid-out.

Figure 1

The source module consists of a small preview screen of the input video and previews of three slides that you can switch to during your webcast. Sample slides are provided, but any graphic will work. The input video has audio meters below it, along with a fader to adjust the level of the incoming audio. A mute button underneath the video preview is a nice touch. Don’t want stray audio before your webcast begins? One click and you’re safe (and soundless).

The encoder module lists the different streams that are being encoded. To the right of each stream are two icons, one resembling a compact disc and one that looks like a lightning bolt. These are toggle buttons that turn on archiving and live broadcasting for each stream. The icons could use a little work, but the idea is great, providing clear visual feedback about which streams are live and which are being archived.

The preview module displays a thumbnail version of the encoded output, along with the bit rate of the video stream. If you’re encoding multiple streams, you can preview the quality of any of them by double-clicking the stream in the encoder module. This isn’t intuitive to me, and feels wrong. The preview controls belong in the preview module.A better approach would be to have a drop-down list of the stream previews under the preview window, or a list of radio buttons.

If the thumbnail version isn’t enough, RayCaster provides a pop-up preview window (see Figure 2). This enables you to monitor the DV input, the Active Source (if it’s not the DV camera), and any of your encoded outputs. You can choose the size of the preview video display by selecting a percentage from a drop-down menu.

Figure 2 (below): The pop-up preview window allows you to monitor the DV input, the Active Source, and any of your encoded outputs.

Figure 2