Diving into High Definition

For the past year or so, we’ve quietly started providing HD streaming for a select number of our clients. The results have been fantastic. Check out some samples from Northeastern (you can use the scrubber to move to different points in the video). Kudos to Northeastern’s Imry Halevi and his crew for their outstanding productions.

http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/northeastern.portal?mode=link&eventId=28307&broadcastType=video
http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/northeastern.portal?mode=link&eventId=37535&broadcastType=video

We’re excited to start making this functionality available for even more clients. Beginning this Fall, any school that has the required bandwidth and hardware (more on both of those in a minute) can stream in HD through our GameCentral portal. There will be an extra cost (there’s just no way around it since HD requires almost four times as much bandwidth). If you’re interested, contact us and we’ll put together a reasonable package – we’re looking at HD as an enhancement to our current service, not a means of generating tons of additional revenue.

While making the switch to HD isn’t incredibly difficult, it is important to understand and consider several requirements before diving in head-first.

1) You’ll need to have upload speeds of 3.0 Mbps or greater from any venue at which you plan to stream in HD. So, make sure to connect a laptop up to any network you plan on using and visit http://www.speedtest.net to get a good baseline reading on your bandwidth.

2) You’ll obviously need an HD video source (just because a camera connects digitally into your computer doesn’t mean it’s capable of producing HD video). True HD video needs to be transmitted at 720p, 1080i or 1080p – and this is become pretty standard on most cameras. (Most manufacturers aren’t shy about throwing a big shiny “HD” sticker on their cameras, so that’s the first clue that you’re in good shape). If you’re in the market for a new HD camera, our staff can also provide recommendations for good HD cameras ranging in budget from $750 or so all the way up to $5,000 (or beyond). If you’d like a custom recommendation, just ask!

3) If you’re using a computer (as opposed to an HD-compatible TriCaster or other device), you’ll want to make sure your machine has enough “horsepower” to handle HD encoding. Our streaming software (Wirecast) definitely uses more juice to encode at HD bit rates. It’s easy to see if your computer is up to the task – we can generate an HD settings file for you, have you start up a broadcast and check the CPU stats right inside of Wirecast. We can’t emphasize enough, however, that this needs to be tested well in advance – we don’t want you to run into any surprises on game-day!

Assuming you meet those three criterion, you’ll be all set from a logistical standpoint. But there are some other considerations. Streaming in HD is great for users who have enough bandwidth to view the stream, but you can run into problems if you’re trying to cater to users who have slower connections, or are trying to watch the broadcasts on a 3G mobile device, for instance. We’ve got a great long-term solution coming down the road, which will allow for true “transcoding” – this means you can send us a single HD-quality stream, and our servers can automatically break the stream down into lower bit-rate options based on a user’s available bandwidth. So, for instance, a viewer who only has a 1.0 Mbps connection might automatically be connected to a 750 Kbps stream.

In the meantime, many schools are utilizing Wirecast to send TWO streams to us simultaneously (one in HD, and one in standard definition). It’s as simple as having us build a settings file that can output both streams. The only hitch is that this solution does require you to create two events in the Stretch Internet CMS (one would point to the HD stream, and the other would point to the standard definition stream). The viewer then has the option to choose either stream in the portal. Again, this requirement will go away when we’ve put transcoding in place.

We’ve already heard from several schools who are ready to go for 2012-13, and it’s not too late to hop on board. Give us a shout or drop us an e-mail if you’re interested, or have questions, and we’ll be happy to help!

Happy streaming…