How To Set Up A Multi-Camera Live Streaming System

And the award for the most popular article on the Stretch Internet blog goes to…

High Definition, Three Camera Inputs, One Laptop, $3,500

There’s no actual award to give here other than our undying gratitude (props to guest blogger Imry Halevi!), but it does seem like a good way to kick off this article, which is an update to that ever-popular post by sports media guru Imry on a low-cost, multi-camera setup for live streaming events.

Due to its popularity, we decided to revisit the topic and make additional recommendations to the setup as it was originally presented—which has stood the test of time, by the way. It’s still the cheapest and easiest way to get the job done, but there are other options that work just as well, and might be even better, depending on your situation.

But any or all of these setup recommendations could be affected by a number of variables; they also have the potential to become outdated at the drop of a hat. Feel free to chat with us before you shell out the cash on any particular item—we’re more than happy to advise.

Multi-Camera Live Streaming Setup On A Limited Budget

In our view, there are three good options for a small-scale multi-camera production setup. The first is based around a MacBook Pro, the second incorporates a hardware mixer called ATEM Television Studio, and the third is for PC desktops.

Option #1—MacBook Pro

The process outlined in Imry’s original article is still an excellent way to go.

As Imry mentioned, Telestream’s Wirecast is the best option for multi-camera live streaming software. Since that article was published, though, a new MacBook Pro has entered the market—but we don’t recommend using it. Instead, stick with the MacBook Pro 15″ Retina Display. If you aren’t sure what model you currently have, click on the Apple icon in the upper left part of your screen and select “About This Mac” to find out.

Why? Most of the video tech on the market today is Thunderbolt 1- or Thunderbolt 2-based (the older model we’re referring to has two Thunderbolt 2 ports). The latest MacBook Pro has Thunderbolt 3, sometimes called USB-C. Currently, there’s no video technology on the market that plugs into that port directly, so you’d have to buy an expensive converter to do the job. Plus, you might find some good deals on older Apple products if you shop around.

If you’ve read our blog before, you’ve probably seen us mention BlackMagic’s UltraStudio Mini Recorder once or twice (or more…). Here again, it’s the key to filling up those two Thunderbolt ports on your MacBook Pro. It’s still the least expensive way to bring the HDMI signal into your computer, Mac or PC, keeping your setup costs low.

Bring in a third camera using a USB-based capture device. The BlackMagic Intensity Shuttle works; or, if you have a third SDI source you want to use, Magewell makes an SDI version of this capture device. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s the only way to get three SDI sources into the MacBook. One limitation we should mention: You might save money with the Intensity Shuttle, but you have to use HDMI. So unless you’re going to back-convert from SDI to HDMI, you’ll need one of the cameras to be placed within 10 feet of the broadcast setup—which works fine in some scenarios but not all.

   BlackMagic Intensity Shuttle

Multi-camera productions call for even more preplanning than usual. Use this Extensive Live Streaming Checklist to make sure your bases are covered—before it’s too late.

Alternatively, if you do use the Intensity Shuttle USB device and want to convert the HDMI signal to SDI, you can get an HDMI to SDI converter for under $100. We recommend the KanexPro HDMI-to-SDI converter, which goes for $72.95. If you have an older professional camera that has HDMI output, this is a good way to convert the signal to SDI and run it long distances.

KanexPro HDMI-to-SDI converter

Option #1: MacBook Pro

Equipment needed Camera(s), tripod, MacBook Pro, capture device, an additional USB-based capture device
Cost (*may vary based on the cameras used) $$
Pros Least expensive of portable options; simplest setup
Cons Not expandable further; limitations on additional applications being run on machine at the same time

Option #2—ATEM Television Studio

A second option utilizes BlackMagic’s ATEM Television Studio, an inexpensive video hardware mixer for live multi-camera switching.

BlackMagic ATEM Television Studio

Instead of using the computer to switch camera feeds, this entirely separate production switcher unit takes in up to four video sources, both SDI and HDMI. Because it’s a separate unit, you can get away with a base-level MacBook Pro, rather than the higher-end model you’d need for Option #1 to handle complex video processing. You’ll also still need a BlackMagic Mini Recorder as well.

The downside to this setup: It requires two computers, the additional one being used for the software that does the switching on the ATEM. There’s no need for anything pricey, though, since all you’re using it for is to actually press the button to switch—you just can’t do it on the computer that’s running Wirecast.

One other downside: This option works better with two operators. One person is in charge of switching cameras, while the second person is on the Wirecast computer, adding graphics, running commercials, etc.

A new version of the ATEM switcher is scheduled to hit the market in April. It has more buttons on the interface, so you may not need the control computer for multi-camera switching, but you will still need monitors plugged into it so you can see the camera inputs.

Option #2: ATEM Television Studio

Equipment needed Cameras, tripod, two computers (one should be a MacBook Pro, the other can be almost anything as long as it has ethernet capabilities, either on the device or via an adapter), ATEM Television Studio, capture device, 1-2 monitors for viewing cameras to switch
Cost $$$
Pros Flexibility to take in SDI or HDMI signals; expandable
Cons Requires two computers, and possibly two operators; lots of equipment to set up/tear down; need space for equipment

Option #3—PC Desktop

With a PC desktop setup, you’ll need a PCI Express card (one or more, whatever you need) to bring in the video.

There are a few different ways you could set this system up:

  • Black Magic makes a DeckLink Mini Recorder that has the same functionality as the UltraStudio Mini Recorder for the Mac. It has HDMI and SDI inputs; you can use one at a time.
  • The DeckLink Quad 2 allows four inputs. It has eight channels that you can assign as you like. The default is four in and four out, but you can rearrange them as needed (six in and two out, for example). You could actually bring in up to eight cameras—but don’t say we didn’t warn you that it will be overwhelming! The cost: about $945.
  • Magewell has a similar unit—the Pro Capture Quad SDI. It has the same functionality with four inputs and no outputs, so you can bring four SDI inputs into your desktop tower computer. The cost is slightly lower than the DeckLink at $899.

                   .                            

DeckLink Mini Recorder                            DeckLink Quad 2                          Magewell Pro Capture Quad SDI

The PC desktop option will save you a bit of money in the end, and it’s a good semi-portable setup for the right situation. For instance, if you have a press box available to you for a certain portion of the year, you can set the system up there, lock it when you’re not using it, and leave it alone until the end of the season.

A disadvantage of this setup is the loss of portability, but even the ATEM switcher from Option #2 has to be lugged around. Perhaps Oprah was waxing poetic about multi-camera live streaming when she said, “You CAN have it all. You just can’t have it all at once.”

Option #3: PC Desktop

Equipment needed Cameras, tripod, capture device, PC desktop, PCI Express Card, keyboard, mouse, 1-2 monitors
Cost $
Pros Inexpensive setup, semi-portable for the right situation
Cons Loss of complete portability, footprint

Signal Amplification

With all this talk about SDI, it seems necessary to mention signal amplification.

You can do an SDI feed up to 300 feet without amplification, but sometimes you need to go farther than that (say you want to put a camera in center field at a baseball stadium, for example). It’s possible to run cabling up to 2,700 feet using signal boosters every 300 feet.

To extend the SDI signal, we recommend Data Video’s VP-633 SDI repeater. It includes power input and will get you 600 feet; it’s the first repeater you would use, so it’s the only one that needs a power input. If you want to go 300 more feet (to 900 feet), save yourself some money and get the VP-634 for your second repeater, which is $30 cheaper and unpowered.

Data Video VP-633 SDI Repeater

Need help with your multi-camera live streaming setup?

Hopefully this information has been helpful, but if you have questions about your live streaming setup for a specific event, let’s chat! Multi-camera or not, we’ll give you honest advice about what we think would work best for your situation. We stream more than 60,000 events every year here at Stretch, so we’ve seen it all! Or, if you’d like to share your experience with one of the above setups, we’d like to hear about that, too.

In the meantime, grab a camera or two (or three), and good luck with your live stream!

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