How to Assemble the Perfect Production Platform for Facebook Live
Facebook Live has taken off like few platforms before it. One reason for its success was broad compatibility with existing live streaming tools and infrastructure: in particular, any product or service that could send a stream to a standard RTMP streaming server could broadcast to and through Facebook Live. However, by opening up Facebook Live’s application programming interface (API), Facebook spawned a range of integrations that both simplify and enhance its customer’s broadcasts. This article identifies some of the key products and services with these integrations in multiple product categories.
Before getting started, let’s have a quick look at the restrictions Facebook imposes on products and services that integrate with its API, which is shown in Figure 1. The first indicates that Facebook is a jealous master, saying, in effect, that Thou Shalt Not Worship at Any Other Live Platform but Facebook Live. Logistically, this means that if a product or service is streaming to Facebook Live via Facebook’s API, it can’t stream to another service via its API simultaneously and will display an error message if you try. While you may be able to use a tool’s generic RTMP interface to stream to other services, you’ll lose whatever features were integrated into that product or service via other platforms’ APIs.
The second restriction is Facebook protecting its mobile app, which is unfortunate, because as video apps go, the Facebook App is pretty basic. Essentially, Facebook is forcing you to use a lower-quality product just to protect an app that everyone is going to have anyway. As we talk about in that section, there are some workarounds here, as well.
Restrictions Facebook imposes on those who use its API.
Facebook has greatly expanded the features available via its API over the last few months, and it will likely continue to do so. That means that many more features will be available through 2017 and beyond. To start at the beginning, the simplest form of integration is a Facebook Live-specific preset that lets you log into your Facebook Live account from a product or service, saving you the trouble of copying and pasting RTMP stream addresses and credential information into your streaming tool. This level of integration usually lets you specify a page, event, or group to send the stream to, and it provides an encoding preset that meets Facebook’s requirements.
More advanced integrations allow you to choose the title and description for the event, as well as privacy settings, as you can in the Telestream Wirecast Facebook destination preset shown in Figure 2. In essence, these configuration options replace those you would use to create the broadcast if you did so within the Facebook Live user interface on the web.
The most basic form of integration
These types of features are found in the first few categories of products covered herein, including desktop and mobile video mixers, on-camera and standalone encoders, and standalone cameras. In later categories like cloud-based streaming platforms, which have significantly more CPU and other resources, we’ll see many more and different integration enhancements.
Note that in this article, I attempt to identify key tools with the most useful Facebook Live integrations. If your product isn’t mentioned, and you feel that it should have been, I apologise in advance. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I don’t miss it again, and leave a comment below so our readers are aware of it as well.
Let’s begin with a look at tools used to produce live streaming events, starting with the desktop.
Desktop Video Mixers
Desktop video mixers are tools that allow you to input audio and video from multiple sources like cameras, webcams, tablets and smartphones, and screencams; mix them into a single stream enhanced with titles and transitions; and then broadcast that stream to one or more video services like Facebook Live. To be clear, you don’t need Facebook Live integration to connect to the service; all video mixers support RTMP output, and you can create your own encoding preset to Facebook Live’s specs, which are a 720p stream constant bitrate (CBR) stream encoded with H.264/ACC with a maximum data rate of 4Mbps (with 128Kbps 44.1 Khz audio), and a keyframe interval of 2 seconds.
What you don’t get with generic encoders like OBS Studio is the ability to choose your settings and destination from the encoder, though again, you can do all that in the Facebook Live UI. Still, integrations provide a nice convenience, particularly during the early stages when you’re experimenting with the service.
There are multiple video mixers with Facebook Live integrations—let’s start with Telestream Wirecast, a Windows/Mac solution that starts at $495. Figure 1 shows the login-related features enabled by Wirecast, which includes geotagging (the Places field); the branded content sharing area (the With field); the page, group or event choices, and privacy options. Multiple presets for 30 and 60 fps video using the x264 and two hardware-accelerated codecs from NVIDIA and Intel are not shown. In the most recent update, 7.3, Wirecast added real-time viewer stats to the interface. The stats show the number of viewers, number of comments, and their various reactions, like thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
Wirecast is counterindicated when running on lower-power computers like notebooks, because it uses about 10 percent more CPU resources than competitive products. One Windows alternative is vMix, which has six versions with various configurations, and you’ll have to spend $350 for a version that supports the recommended 720p output. vMix’s Facebook Live configuration isn’t as extensive as that shown in Figure 1, which lacks geotagging and branding. Via vMix Social, a free add-on for vMix, you can integrate selected Facebook Live comments into the video stream, a sure crowd pleaser.
Those producing on a Mac should check out mimoLive from Boinx software, which is available in a dizzying array of versions and licence types (monthly, annually, etc.). As with vMix, mimoLive’s Facebook Live configuration options aren’t as extensive as Wirecast’s, but they definitely get the job done.
As smartphones and tablets get more powerful, developers come up with new ways to leverage that power. One nascent mobile product category is video mixers, which add a whole new level of portability over notebook-powered solutions. In addition to broadcasting the stream from the embedded camera, these programs can also integrate video from other sources, like smartphones or on-camera encoders, and add titles and transitions to the feed. Two product families offer programs in this category with Facebook Live integration—Switcher Studio and Teradek.
Briefly, the Switcher Studio iOS-only products are Switcher Go (for single streams), Switcher Studio (for up to four inputs from wirelessly connected iPhones or iPads), and RecoLive MultiCam, for recording video on iOS devices. The platform is available for $25/month or $299 for a complete year, with priority support included if you buy the yearly plan. Teradek offers Live:Air for iPads, and Live:Air Solo for iPhones. There are three versions of Live:Air: Free (which broadcasts with a Teradek watermark, 30-minute time limit, and limited inputs and features), Basic ($49, which removes the watermark and time restriction, but also has limited inputs and features), and Pro (which unlocks all available I/O and features like picture-in-picture and chroma key).
Teradek’s Live:Air Solo can’t broadcast to Facebook Live directly because of the restriction shown in Figure 1, though you can stream input from another iPhone to Facebook Live, or route it through Teradek Core, Teradek’s cloud server discussed later. Switcher Go doesn’t have the same problem because behind the scenes, it routes the video through its cloud service, rather than going direct to Facebook Live like Teradek.
For single smartphone streaming to Facebook Live, Switcher Go offers more features than the Facebook App, including zooming and colour and contrast adjustments. Otherwise, if you’re comparing the two product offerings, note that Tim Siglin wrote about both products for Streaming Media in “Live-Switching and Streaming From Mobile Devices.” There’s a tutorial on Live:Air operation, and you can get a nice reality check on the potential for mixing from your iOS device from Paul Schmutzler’s “In the Field: Teradek Live:Air.”
Livestream Mevo (Figure 3) is a 4K camera that makes it simple to simulate multiple-camera productions and stream them to Livestream or Facebook Live. You drive the unit via an iPhone app that lets you configure the camera and create and select camera angles. For a simple single-person talking head video, you’re better off using your iPhone itself, but for two- or three-person interviews, or more involved videos like product demos, the Mevo is ideal.
Livestream Mevo, the ideal camera for Facebook Live interviews and other productions
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