life, tools, toys
On july 13th, 2020 the monthly ambioSonics live session took place at GlockenbachWerkstatt in Muenchen.
Due to the Corona-restrictions no audience was allowed to join in - so we tried to find an alternative to noodling away an evening just for ourselves.
Pretty early in the preparation for the event it was suggested that we should stream the session live to the Internet. After some checking of the available streaming-platform-options it was decided that we would stick with Youtube for this stream as we had done some time before already.
Youtube-streaming using a pretty low-level-account (just a little more than 200 subscribers) still has some minor disadvantages - for example with less than 1000 subscribers streaming from a mobile-device is not (longer) allowed. However, this disadvantage actually became a point in our favour, as we now had to use a desktop-computer/laptop anyway for the stream, and this called for a multi-camera-setup naturally. And other features of Youtube - like the automatic saving of the stream for later review and even editing - were a big plus over the other possible streamingplatform-solutions anyway.
The initial setup
Again checking the options i went for OBS as streaming software. Pretty quick it became apparent that while my trusty 2011 MacBook did try its best to satisfy the need of OBS and a multiple camera setup, it was simply not up to the task; luckily after asking around i was offered to use a current MacBook Pro for three weeks - that left two weeks to prepare and actually run the stream, and then another week to have it cool down before i had to return the thing (as if i would ever let go of it again!).
As with every project there are not only a million things to remind and learn, but also a lot of gear to find, aquire and learn to handle. No different with this project. As the main streaming hub was taken care of the next piece of gear was...
First i thought that my Lumix G70 and a GoPro Hero4 black would make a great couple feeding OBS. There was an obstacle however: none of those two cameras supported streaming directly via USB. The solution was not impossible, but nevertheless pretty expensive - that is why i initially bought just one Elgate CamLink 4K, planing to use an HMDI-switcher between the cameras and the CamLink. Ah!, and i had to get some HMDI-to-USB-cables also.
While this technically did work, there was unfortunately a huge latency introduced by the HDMI-switcher - so it was not practical at all to use it in this setup. I also learned that connecting just one camera to the CamLink, the GoPro provided pretty good performance regarding latency, while the G70 was still way too slow. And the difference between the two again was not usable for a livestream. This meant that the G70 was out of the game. So it was clear that i had to find another GoPro and that i had to get another CamLink.
Luckily i did find another GoPro on eBay classified ads, but - also luckily - the CamLink at this time was not only sold out everywhere, but prospected delivery dates were weeks after the livestream should happen. So i had to find another solution and actually found some cheap chinese HDMI-to-USB-converters (priced less than 1/4th of the CamLink), which during the tests performed actually much better than the CamLink also, especially with the GoPros.
At the same time as i bought the second GoPro i also found out about an app that allows to use iOS-devices (from iPhone 6 upwards) as USB- (and WIFI-) cameras for OBS: https://obs.camera . Not to brag about, but as we are heavy users of iOS-devices, i quickly collected another four devices as cameras for the stream, making it a total of six cameras: two GoPros plus four iOS-devices.
The power supply
As the ambioSonics sessions usually run for about 3-4 hours, there was no way to rely on the batteries capacities of the devices only - they had to be power-fed during the stream. The solution for the GoPros was pretty easy: a regular powered hub could be used, which was only powered but not connected to a computer; the GoPros would show an USB-connected-message for a few seconds and then would work perfectly as cameras, outputting their image via the HDMI-port. First problem solved.
The second one - powering the iOS-devices during the stream - was a little more daring enterprise. While the MacBook was able to power one connected iOS-device, it failed when four devices were connected. Also connecting the four devices to a regular powered hub did not work, as they drew much to much current and the batteries depleted quickly.
The new quest was to find powered hubs, that connected via USB-C to the MacBook and would charge more than two devices at a time, while providing enough performance to feed the streams to the MacBook. Amazon-basic to the rescue: they did offer USB-C-hubs with the ability to connect and charge three iOS-devices simultaneously, while providing another seven USB-3 ports also. As the MacBook Pro offers four USB-C ports - one used for power-in, one used for a hub that would provide the required ethernet-cable-connection - it would leave another two ports for two of those super-basic-hubs, providing all the needed connections and power - yeah!
Do i have to mention that another couple or more of cables - USB-to-Lightning - were required also? Three meter ones were the longest i could find that worked flawlessly between the hubs and the iOS-devices during the test - by their length determining the maximum distance between the streaming-hub and the musicians.
The other stuff
A hundred or more little thingies were required also - to attach cables, to put up tripods for the six cameras, stands and fixings to hold iPhones, iPads and GoPros on those tripods etc. One bigger item also joined the stuff, and without it the stream would never-ever had succeeded in the way it did: an Elgate StreamDeck was also added early to the setup.
But that is just the hardware. After the big picture had formed - using OBS with six cameras - the software - or rather the different softwares - had to be configured and prepared.
Besides OBS the main players softwarewise were the StreamDeck-software and a little program called DiscoBrick, which delivered the music-dependant (rhythm and frequency) background-animations to many of the prepared scenes. Static images were prepared with GraphicConverter, GIMP, Affinity Designer and others and then added to a vast array of scenes, all somehow dependant on each other.
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