How to Assemble the Perfect Production Platform for Facebook Live

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On-camera controls let you log into your Facebook account before the broadcast and send the stream to your account, page, or authorised groups. You can also add a title and select a quality level. Then press the Go Live to start the broadcast. Once you’re live, the iOS app shows stream count, connection time, and bitrate.

Mevo costs $399.99, and you can read a review of the unit. In general, picture quality and operation were very good; the only frustration was that the unit didn’t connect with any of the tested iOS microphone options. Later firmware releases apparently cleared this issue, as the Mevo successfully worked with all tested external mics in later tests.

Standalone Encoder: Epiphan Webcaster X1 for Facebook Live

Standalone encoders let you connect with cameras, computers, or traditional video mixers to send streams from these devices to Facebook Live. Epiphan’s Webcaster X1 for Facebook Live ($299) is a dedicated hardware encoder that accepts HDMI audio/video input, which it sends to Facebook Live via your LAN. The unit also has an HDMI output port that you can connect to a monitor to watch the video and interact with your viewers, as well as USB ports for attaching a keyboard and mouse.

You can run the unit as an encoder only, connecting it to your Facebook Live account via a device code. Alternately, you can attach an HDMI monitor and mouse to drive the unit directly. Mouse-only operation relies on an onscreen keyboard, or you can attach your own keyboard. Once up and running, you can configure your stream, set the destination, and elect to show comments and reactions as well as the live stream on the HDMI monitor.

HDMI input allows the Webcaster X1 to broadcast from many mixers, cameras, and notebook computers. However, if you need HD-SDI or composite or component inputs or DVI/VGA, consider the GoStream Mini 100 Encoder (about $1,250), which has a Facebook Live preset to simplify operation. Otherwise, virtually all other standalone encoders can send a stream to Facebook Live, either via a preset or its standard RTMP configuration. One product worthy of note is the Matrox Monarch HDX, which is a dual channel encoder that can send a stream to Facebook Live while either recording a stream to an onboard SD card or broadcasting that stream to another service (bandwidth permitting).

On-Camera Encoders

On-camera encoders are battery-powered units that sit atop your camcorder and broadcast camera output to Facebook Live or other destinations. Two companies deliver notable products in this class, including LiveU with its Solo unit, and Teradek with the VidiU and VidiU Pro. LiveU Solo costs $1,499 and accepts both HDMI and SDI input with an SD card for local recording. The unit has two USB ports for one or two 4G LTE/3G cellular or WiMAX networks with an Ethernet port and Wi-Fi support. You can drive the unit directly using an integrated LCD panel and joystick control, or control operation via an iPhone app or over the web.

For Teradek, VidiU Pro costs $999 with HDMI input and Wi-Fi and Ethernet output, an SD slot for local recording, and a single USB port for a cellular modem. VidiU Pro also features ShareLink, which allows it to aggregate the outbound bandwidth of up to four iPhones, plus Ethernet and Wi-Fi for up to 6Mbps of outbound bandwidth. The base VidiU unit costs only $699, but it doesn’t support ShareLink and has no SD slot. You can control both units via an onboard display with a joystick, or via an IOS app.

Cloud-Based Streaming Platforms

Cloud-based streaming platforms typically ingest a single stream for rerouting to one or more streaming services or outputs, sometimes with additional processing and sometimes not. For example, Switchboard Live (formerly Joicaster) is a service that accepts one or more input streams that it can syndicate to multiple outputs, including Facebook Live, subject to the limitations discussed later. Switchboard Live allows you to stream to multiple Facebook pages simply by getting the permission of the page owner, so you don’t need to obtain its login credentials. The service also has limited stream-switching capabilities, so you can switch between multiple input streams to create the final output (read a review of Joicaster).

EasyLive offers much of the same functionality as Switchboard, but it can also add titles, graphics, scoreboards, and other overlays, with some streaming mixing via Picture-in-Picture (read a review of Easylive). In a January 2017 release, EasyLive added the ability to stream to multiple Facebook pages and perform live polling.

There are several other services that offer a variety of general-purpose streaming functionality and Facebook Live-related features. For example, Vidspresso is a live streaming platform that can stream to Facebook Live from multiple sources, add graphics and viewer comments, conduct polls, and send prompts to speakers (Figure 4). It should support remote iOS sources and split screen playback by the time you read this article.

Vidspresso offers a good range of Facebook-related features. 

Grabyo is a live video production and publishing service that specialises in distribution to social media channels. The service can broadcast multiple streams to multiple Facebook pages simultaneously with centralised, cloud-based control, and it features instant highlights published to Facebook in horizontal, square, or vertical format. Grabyo can monetise Facebook video with branded content via tagging or logo overlays, while allowing sponsors and partners access to real-time analytics and engagement metrics. All live events can be captured for VOD distribution, with trimming, text overlay, and other editing capabilities available within the platform, along with the ability to add promotional assets and calls to actions.

StreamShark’s Facebook Live integration lets customers stream to one or more Facebook pages simultaneously as well as to their own websites via Streamshark’s white labelled video player. The system can request and manage access to third-party pages via permissions, and centrally manage (provision, preview, start, stop) live streams on their clients’ Facebook pages and profiles.

Telescope’s Live Studio is a cloud production platform that can output to Facebook Live and moderate and display comments and custom graphics, push text feeds into the broadcast, perform real-time polling, and present real-time audience analytics. Groovy Gecko is another live streaming platform with output support for Facebook Live that offers features like comment moderation and display.

OVP Ooyala can output streams produced by its Ooyala Live platform to Facebook Live, with access to comments, mentions, and reactions within the Ooyala system. This makes Ooyala a highly useful solution for broadcasters seeking a single platform for live and VOD with multiple publishing points.

Finally, for those using Teradek encoders, Teradek’s Core fleet management system is a web-based system for Teradek encoders, decoders, and cellular bonding systems that lets you monitor and control streams from multiple Teradek devices from a cloud-based dashboard. In addition to recording and archiving all streams, you can push any of the input streams to one or more Facebook Live accounts using a simple drag-and-drop UI.

Conferencing Alternatives

Conferencing systems let you connect multiple webcam users from different locations into a single conversation, and several systems can output to Facebook Live. For example, BlueJeans is a popular multipoint conferencing system used by many corporations for training, presentations, and general communications (Figure 5). BlueJeans onSocial Personal ($39.95/month promotional price) can connect up to 25 remote feeds with up to nine people onscreen simultaneously with centralised layout and moderation controls. Corporate plans with up to 100 simultaneous inputs are also available.

BlueJeans onSocial brings multiple speakers to Facebook Live. 

Shindig is a more free-form system that enables up to 1,000 participants with features like question management and ticketing capabilities.

It’s All About the Analytics

Those seeking to truly optimise their Facebook Live broadcasts should consider Delmondo, a real-time analytics platform. Facebook Live analytics include audience viewership and engagement graphs for multiple live video channels, statistics like average minute audience and engagement by minute, and audience data like age, gender, location, and viewing habits, plus reports tracking ROI metrics like CPV and CPM, and separate reports for branded content presented by different advertisers.

There’s little doubt that the features discussed here will be significantly augmented by the time you read this article and throughout 2017 and beyond. Facebook has made it clear that it is serious about live video, and its significant progress in such a short time period bodes well for the platform’s future.

This article was published in the Spring 2017 European edition of Streaming Media magazine. 

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