By Trevor Carlee
Until recently, I had no need to broadcast anything online. I also had no idea how any of it was done. Then, near the end of last year, an annual charity event called Extra Life piqued my interest.
Extra Life is a 25-hour gaming marathon to raise money for childrens’ hospitals. Gamers around the world sit down and play video games (or any kind of game really) for 25 hours while others “sponsor” their group with donations. Many of the gamers wanted to broadcast their gameplay.
Representing my video game review site, www.joeblowgamer.com, I chose to participate with a couple of friends and stream it out to the world. I started researching the right tool for the job.
I found two major competitors out there that seemed to do everything needed for broadcasting: XSplit and Telestream’s Wirecast. Unfortunately, XSplit is not only subscription-based but is also only available on PC. I work primarily on Mac and don’t enjoy being bound to subscription services especially if I have a choice.
Wirecast seemed to be the best bet but it’s price tag was $499 – a bit hefty for a one-time event. I found that if you only plan on doing one broadcast, there are other free ways of broadcasting. Granted it’s a pain to get working and isn’t nearly as seamless or sturdy, but it’ll get you through a single run.
Looking back on my set up for Extra Life (Blackmagic Media Express > Cam Twist > Flash Media Encoder) I wish I would have just thrown the money down for Wirecast and had peace of mind throughout the entire event. Especially now that I’ve been doing more and more broadcasts with Wirecast.
I’m currently using Telestream’s Wirecast 5 , and it is very powerful. You’re able to bring in content from multiple sources, layer as many elements as you want and edit your broadcast live.
On the surface, all of the options seem overwhelming, but once you get into everything it all makes sense and is actually very simple. In the main window you have a Preview Screen and a Live Screen. Underneath those screens are five Master Layers for shot selections that you’ve built.
The Master Layers work like most other programs with layers. The first layer is on top of the second and so on. For example, you can put a bunch of lower thirds into Layer 1, your main video options (footage, host, etc.) in Layer 2, and the main audio in Layer 3. With a set-up like that you can have consistent audio running the entire time (Layer 3) while easily swapping out footage and lower thirds as the show moves forward. You can only have one shot selected on each layer at a time.
Nothing goes into the Live Screen until you hit the Go Button (an arrow facing right — hard to mistake its meaning). You can also set how you want the current clip to transition to the next. There are two buttons next to the Go Button that allow you to load up one of the presets for ease of use. Transition presets include a traditional Cut, the ever-popular Smooth (crossfade), the somewhat cheesy Page Curl, and many others.
Additionally, you can set Wirecast to Auto Live which allows you to immediately send whatever shot you select to go to the Live Screen without having to load it into the Preview Screen. If the majority of your show is going back and forth between two shots, there’s also an option to have the Go Button swap the Preview and Live Screens, which is very efficient.
With the click of a button you can have almost any source up and streaming as you see fit. The software supports some capture cards like the Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle (which is what I use for streaming game footage). When Wirecast supports a capture card, you essentially have a clean source of footage as if the gameplay/footage was hard-lined into the broadcast.
However, if Wirecast doesn’t support the card or device you’re using, like the Elgato Game Capture HD, then you’re stuck setting the source to an area of your screen where the game capture software is visible. I wouldn’t want to use the Elgato for streaming in the first place because it’s USB and thus has a pretty big delay. However, I’d prefer to have the option especially if Elgato releases a Thunderbolt device in the near future.
The Desktop Presenter is the method Wirecast uses to capture programs on your screen, or even your entire monitor. It’s super easy to configure but it has a few hang ups. If you plan on streaming multiple programs, you’ll have to scale them all down to fit on your screen without overlapping. Instead of setting the boundaries of your desktop presenter dynamically to the program’s width and height, it essentially takes a snapshot of the selected program at its current size and creates a window.
This means that for the program you’re recording, if you move it, resize it or position something over it, that all shows up on your stream. Very irritating. Luckily, I have two monitors, so I can still run Wirecast at full screen on one while recording multiple programs on the other.
Ideally, Telestream will incorporate Dynamic Desktop Presenters in the future to avoid this.
[Editor’s Note: We reached out to Telestream to ask about the above and here is their response: Although you are correct in describing the general functioning of Desktop Presenter, it’s important to note that there are two flavors: Remote Desktop Presenter (a separate download from our site) and Local Desktop Presenter (included in Wirecast 5). The end result of screen capture is essentially the same, but they get there in different ways. Your description is of the Local DTP; it captures all or part of the display and you need to size the app window. Remote DTP is usually for use on another computer and allows you to bring in live screen capture from that. After you launch RDTP, you have the option of changing the screen region to be captured dynamically by grabbing and dragging hotspots to shape the part of the screen to be captured. Different method, similar result as you describe. It’s also possible to use RDTP on your own computer if you prefer capturing with that method. Finally, DTP can capture at 60fps, an important detail for gamers.]
You can also load videos, audio and images that have already been built and have them ready to cut into your stream. I found this very useful as I like to have my streams feel very professional with main titles, transitional bumpers and my own custom lower thirds.
Telestream really nailed the output settings of Wirecast 5. You can output to multiple streams at once to services like Twitch, YouTube Live, and LimeLight to name a few. You can also simultaneously set your stream to record locally so you have a back-up of your entire production.
The settings for each output are very customizable, allowing you to balance between a clear image and a fluid stream. I set an output to YouTube and Twitch simultaneously and could barely see a loss in quality. The settings also let you control your frame size, fps, average bit rate and quality. It’s all very user-friendly though, and the options don’t feel overwhelming in the slightest.
A Few Other Things
You have full control over how each of your shots looks when you double click it, and Wirecast takes you to the Edit Shot panel. In here you can set a Chroma Key; add multiple elements and layer them accordingly; add filters; and resize, crop and scale your clips. It’s really powerful and allows for sub-layering within each layer. Wirecast really affords you the opportunity to make a completely custom broadcast. They also offer plenty of templates if you don’t want to waste your time creating everything from scratch.
Another interesting thing is you can import Web streams as well. I tested this out and it worked fine. While I don’t have any need in the immediate future for this, I could see how others might find this to be useful.
This software blew me away. I had no idea this kind of capability was available to the consumers, and it immediately inspired me to create more and more content now that I have a tool to see it through with.
Wirecast is pretty easy to figure out on your own with simple buttons that are self explanatory throughout the software. However, if you do happen to struggle with the software, Telestream.net offers tutorials on their site to help get you started.
If you plan on having a consistent scheduled stream, it’s totally worth the money. There is a Wirecast Pro version for $995. Here is a comparison chart so you can decide what version fits your needs: http://www.telestream.net/wirecast/compare.htm.
Trevor Carlee, a Full Sail University graduate, currently works at Bunim/Murray Productions as post producer on The Bad Girls. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @trevorcarlee.