service, simplifying the process. Again, the high-level
message is that almost all encoders can connect to all
services, but some encoders make it easier than others.
This is the most common scenario—a simple shoot
from within a conference or meeting room, or perhaps
at an off-site location. Either way, you’re shooting with
a single camera, with access to power, connectivity,
and space to set up your gear. Here’s an overview of
CHECK THE CAMCORDER
Many camcorders now include Wi-Fi connectivity
and the ability to encode and stream directly to a service. These devices can work well, but there are several caveats.
First, most live event producers prefer wired connections over Wi-Fi, which is often is shared with other users. Outbound bandwidth is absolutely critical to
your streaming video, so if you can’t guarantee unshared access to the Wi-Fi, you may be better off with
a wired device. Note that some camcorders have USB
ports that can support either a Wi-Fi or Ethernet dongle; if you have a choice, go for the latter.
Second, note that some cameras may limit the resolution and/or data rate of the encoded video streamed
to the service, so check the specs of your camera and
make sure the output meets your goals. Finally, check
whether you can access the camera via a computer or
app to enter server credentials. If you can’t, then enter,
test, and save the credentials well before the day of the
event to ensure a crisp on-time start.
ON-CAMERA DEVICES ($700+)
If your camcorder can’t stream to a service, or doesn’t
meet your resolution or data rate goals, consider an
on-camera encoder. These start at around $700 and
can sit atop your camcorder, minimizing your space
requirements and allowing you to more easily move the
camera during the shoot. You can control most of these
devices with an app or from a browser, simplifying op-
eration, and many feature SD card slots for recording
the compressed stream, which you can pop into a com-
puter and upload after the event.
For those seeking absolute top quality, concerns include limited resolution and/or output bandwidth. When
shopping in this range (and for all subsequent external
encoders), make sure you buy a device that your camcorder can feed—that means HDMI for most consumer
camcorders, and HD-SDI for most professional models.
CONSUMER ENCODERS ($295+)
Next up are AC-powered devices that come in a
range of sizes and capabilities. If you’re a novice and
you’ll be streaming to Facebook Live or You Tube Live,
consider the Epiphan Video Webcaster X2, which can
stream to either service. You’ll connect to the service
via a simple pairing code, and operation is one-button-simple from then on. Since the unit only connects with
these two services, however, if you need to broadcast
to another service, you’re out of luck.
You can drive most other standalone encoders via
browser-based configuration screens from devices running on the same network. Common features include
separate audio inputs and the ability to record your
event to an SD card or external drive connected via
USB. Some units, like the Matrox Monarch HDX, include two separate encoders that allow you to stream
to two services simultaneously, or to stream at 720p
to one service and record locally at 1080p for archives
As with other categories, check the maximum resolution and data rate of these units, and skim reviews to
identify problems with specific services, particularly
if you’ll be streaming to smaller services or streaming
servers that the vendor may not have tested.
INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH ENCODERS ($5,000+)
This category includes features that aren’t available
in the previous category, including more advanced codecs like HEVC. For example, Wowza’s ClearCaster is
a dedicated Facebook Live appliance that can encode
in H.264, HEVC, and VP9. The unit is the only encoder
that can send 1080p video to Facebook Live, and features an HDMI output port for a monitor that shows a
Talent View with comments and other responses in real
time. ClearCaster can automatically restart the stream
should you temporarily lose power or connectivity.
If you’ll be streaming more than a single event at a
time, consider a unit like the Teradek T-RAX, which
can input up to eight separate encoders. Products
in this category come with much bigger price tags
and often larger sizes, which could mean noisy fans
that hinder usage in quiet environments. Check for a
rack-mountable form factor if you’ll be installing the
unit in a server room.
The Teradek VidiU Pro is a popular and inexpensive on-camera encoder.