Once an organization decides to present streaming video on a regular basis, carving out space—and budget—for an in-house studio makes good sense. The prospect may sound daunting, but the studio doesn’t need to look like the headquarters at CNN : It can be equipped with the basics for somewhere in the $12,000-$15,000 range.
Brian Malone, CEO of video production company Malone Media, travels around the country working with companies, nonprofits and government organizations to share their messages through video. Here, he explains how with help from the IT department (and some smart hardware and software purchases), organizations can deliver streaming video on a few minutes’ notice. But first, they need a basic setup and equipment, and this article discusses approaching a DIY video studio setup while being mindful of the end budget.
If you are looking for an expanded guide on this subject, please reference our Video Studio Recommendations white paper.
DIY video studio setup: the studio
By dedicating space to streaming video presentations, creative and IT teams can control the environment and ensure quality presentations. Malone suggests choosing a space with no windows, or at least windows that can be covered up, so that daylight doesn’t interfere with artificial lighting. An employee on the in-house studio’s planning team should work in the room for a few hours to see if there’s incidental noise that could get in the way of a broadcast, like a loud, humming air conditioning unit, an elevator motor, or simply a lot of chatting and foot traffic outside. “It’s a good idea to place on ‘ON AIR’ sign outside the door as well,” Malone says, to caution workers nearby to keep the noise down and steer clear of the studio.
There’s no need to get too fancy here, but LED lighting is the best choice.
“LED lights don’t give off heat, so the on-air talent won’t be sweating,” Malone says.
There may be enough existing lighting in the room, but the creative and tech teams should test our how on-air talent looks without extra lights. Streaming video tends to look darker over the air, so the room may require more lighting. If room light is not sufficient, Malone suggests purchasing LED panel lights like this one, which are compact and portable.
These are fairly inexpensive today, so it shouldn’t break the budget to have a quality camera on hand. (As your presentations become more advanced, you might want to invest in additional cameras.) Malone advises buying a camera with the “serial digital interface (SDI) out” feature for connecting to a video encoder (more on that shortly), which allows the camera to be locked to the encoder. (This way, if someone walks into the cable, it can’t be disconnected from the encoder and therefore knock your video off the air.) It’s also a good idea to buy a camera that allows you to record onto secure digital high capacity (SDHC) or secure digital extended capacity (SDXC) memory cards, since they’re easy to buy at most consumer electronics stores.
Mics vary based on how they process sound: both the pattern on the mic that’s sensitive to sound, and how the mic responds to different frequencies. While musicians get specific with these features, most DIY-ers will simply need to focus on finding a mic that does well in a room untreated for sound. These mics should also have a foam covering (some mics have these installed internally) to prevent popping “p” noises or thumping “b.”
Handheld mics are one option. Make sure to find a cardiod patterned mic here: they’re most sensitive to sound at the front of the mic, less sensitive on the sides and don’t pick up sound in the back. This pattern is best for reducing extra noise from reverbs or background noise.
Lavalier mics are the most popular, designed specifically for speaking. They’re more subtle than handhelds, allow speakers to be hands-free, and don’t require a conscious effort to speak into the mic.
No matter what type, Malone adds that if you have multiple speakers, make sure to have multiple microphones:
“It’ll create more natural conversations,” Malone says,” if speakers don’t have to keep trading a mic around. “Mics are worthwhile investments, since they can be used elsewhere at your company.”
The encoder is a piece of hardware with several inputs for audio and video feeds, or is software based. It’s an important tool if the creative or teach team is pulling in video or audio from different sources. For example, the director of the live video event may want to add in someone who’s calling in remotely via video or audio. Hardware video encoders run around $6,000, but Malone says it’s pretty essential for a professional streaming video studio.
Software encoders are much cheaper in contrast, although require being on a good computer. This includes with sufficient RAM and processing power. Background activities, like a potential virus scanner starting up, need to also be disabled for best performance. An example software based encoder is Ustream Producer, which offers multi-camera support and a layered approach to add elements on top of the video stream, like lower thirds.
“Ask someone on your network security team to identify a port in the studio,” Malone says. That person can provision the network so that the studio always has a protected feed. This is important for a couple of reasons: If organizers are sending out an HD live video stream and suddenly consuming a lot of bandwidth — and they didn’t tell the network security folks about it — the IT team could shut down the feed, fearing it’s malicious traffic. In addition, if other employees decide to hog bandwidth during the live stream, video quality could suffer. A network port that’s dedicated to streaming video traffic solves these problems.
Video delivery solution
When seeking out software to manage the stream, Malone suggests looking for providers with a robust network and global scale. If streaming video presentations are intended for a large audience viewing from many locations, a robust network will maintain viewing quality. Security is important, since organizations will want safeguards so that unauthorized viewers can’t access the live video or copy it.
Also on Malone’s software must-have list: chat and Q&A tools, which help build engagement with viewers, and the ability to brand the webcast with an organization’s logo. On the user end, software shouldn’t require viewers to download cumbersome third-party tools in order to watch. They’re a roadblock for viewers — and like everything else in the on-site studio, the technical setup should encourage viewership.
On that note, if you are looking for more details on video distribution, especially for scalability and reliability, please read our Scaling Video Delivery to Reach Massive Audiences white paper. It discusses important aspects like improving uptime and utilizing a multi-CDN strategy as part of your video distribution, for increased global reach and scale.