The equipment you need for a livestream
If you've never experienced a professional production up close, live streaming can be a black box for you. In this blog post we give you a look behind the scenes and show you the equipment we use for our productions.
In this blogpost...
...we give you an overview of the necessary equipment for a succesful livestream.
...we show you pictures of our setup, so that you can visually see what we are talking about.
The hardware used can roughly be divided into the following categories: cameras and camera support, audio system, video signal direction and processing, network, lighting, crew support, transport.
In what follows, we discuss the main components of the livestreaming chain. Because this can quickly become very technical, we include photos that indicate which item we are discussing. In doing so, we hope to be able to give everyone a good idea of what is in our van when we arrive at your company.
It's important to note that we are looking at the setup for an average-sized live stream in this blogpost. Depending on the wishes and needs of the customer, we will take less (or more!) material with us on site.
Camera and camera support
Naturally, everything starts with the cameras. These are the eye of the people at home. In our production we use the Sony HXR NX80 and/or the Sony PXW Z90. These are compact cameras with a lot of built-in functionalities. They are also used in some reports by the VRT. They have connections for an external microphone if we want to use audio from the camera itself.
We place this camera on a tripod. This tripod must have a video head (also called fluid head). This makes it possible to make smooth movements without creating a jerky image, which is very disturbing for the viewers at home. An operator can stand at this tripod when the camera has to follow the speaker. A camera on a tripod can also be static, for example to create an overview shot. Finally, when we use a mobile camera operator, they take the camera on their shoulder with a shoulder tripod. The shoulder provides extra support, again to make sure the footage is smooth.
These video feeds must be routed to our control tower. This can be wireless or wired. For wired connections, we transport the video signal over SDI cables. These are very reliable (much more reliable than HDMI cables) and can be up to a few hundred meters in length. We ourselves have 600 meters of SDI cable in house, and we hire additional ones for larger assignments.
For wireless connections, we look at transmitters like the Accsoon CineEye 2S Pro or the Teradek Bolt Pro 500. Wireless connections have the advantage of being much more flexible. Moving a camera is done much more quickly, and we do not have to move the entire cable. We therefore prefer a wireless connection whenever possible.
Audio is actually even more important than video. Listening to a recording with mediocre video quality (or even without video like on the radio or on a podcast) is still pleasant, the other way around this is no longer the case. Therefore, it is important to use a professional system that can support multiple audio signals without interference. We use the Sennheiser G4 family. This is widely used in a theater environment, concert environment or livestream environment.
There are three types of microphones that are most commonly used: a lavalier, a headset and a handheld microphone. Which one you wish to use mainly depends on your own preference. When there is a lot of ambient noise however, it is recommended to use a handheld microphone or a headset, as the lavalier records a lot of ambient noise.
This microphone is connected to a transmitter. The handheld microphone has a built-in transmitter, the lavalier and the headset are attached to a transmitter that you wear around your hip. Wireless microphones ensure that have complete freedom of movement.
The next stop is the receiver: the signal transmitted by your microphone has to be picked up somewhere. These receivers are built into our control tower. The receivers send the signal to the mixing console. The mixing console is operated by one of our crew members who monitors and adjust all audio signals during the entire stream. For example, it can happen that someone suddenly starts to speak much louder or a microphone starts to beep, then we have to react quickly.
This audio signal is sent to our streaming PC. This is where the video signal and the audio signal come together.
Switching the show
The video signal arrives at our control tower. This tower is fully mobile so we can easily take it with us to the client. The video signals enter a so-called SDI matrix. The outputs of this matrix are connected to all our control equipment. With the matrix we can indicate which video signal is sent where. You can compare it to an analog telephone switchboard that was used back in the days to route a telephone signal.
These video signals are sent to the switcher. With this device, an operator can control the various video feeds and decide which one will be shown to the viewers. All video feeds are visible on a screen, the so-called multiview. The operator always has a complete overview of what each camera sees.
The next stop is the streaming PC. This is where the final video signal and the audio signal come together. Graphics are also added here. Graphics can include speaker names, company and partner logos, QR codes so that people at home can complete a poll, etc.
Finally, the signal is sent to the internet, for the world to see!
Connecting to the internet
Livestreaming isn't possible without internet. We use a wired internet line as the main connection. Streaming over Wi-Fi is usually not a good idea. When there are many people on the Wi-Fi network, the connection may become slow and unstable, which makes it difficult to send the video signal to the internet in good quality. A wired connection is therefore always preferred over a WiFi connection.
It's a good idea to have a backup connection ready as well. It doesn't happen often that the internet goes down, but when it happens, your viewers at home will be looking at a black screen. So better safe than sorry, that's why we recommend to use a backup system.
At major sporting events, multiple backups are often used. In addition to a wired internet line and a 4G router, we also used a Starlink satellite dish for the 24-hour relay race organized by LOKO in Leuven. This allowed us to send the signal to the internet via satellite.
Putting your speakers in the spotlight
The light at your venue has a direct impact on how your video feed will look for the viewers at home. Even when you have exceptionally good cameras, without a well-lit stage it is not possible to deliver a qualitative image.
Sometimes there is already sufficient lighting in a room, or spotlights might even be installed at a venue. This makes it of course very easy for the livestream team, as they can use infrastructure that is already installed. Often, however, this is not the case. That's why we have a set of mobile spotlights that we can easily take with us to the customer. We prefer the Aperture brand for this, because of their powerful light in a compact housing. For example, we often use four of the Aperture Amaran 200x to illuminate a small stage.
Accent lights can be used to give your stage a more professional look in an easy way. We have a number of colored uplights available for this. These can be set to the color of your company or the theme of the event.
We have two 55 inch flat screens that we can easily take with us. These can be used to show a number of online guests (very useful in a hybrid event), show slides for both the speaker and the audience, display logos, etc. We usually avoid a beamer, given the image this produces rarely looks pretty.
Power and battery management
A lot of electronics are required to create a beautiful livestream. All these electronics need a power supply. For the cameras, we prefer to work with batteries whenever possible. This gives more flexibility and allows us to easily move a camera during the stream if necessary.
We plug our larger equipment directly into a socket. At larger events it is possible to bring a backup battery or generator, so that we can continue the stream if the power goes out.
Our mobile spotlights are plugged directly into a power outlet. Since there is not always a socket nearby, we bring a couple of power cables that are 25 to 40 meters long.
Communication system for the crew
Depending on the type of stream and the package that the customer prefers, we come to the client with a team of two to five people. It is important that we are always on the same page during a stream. Therefore we use an intercom system, more specifically the Eartec Ultralite Headset system. This is completely wireless and ensures smooth communication.
So. Many. Flightcases. We described a whole list of items so far that are necessary for a live stream. Despite the fact that we have built our setup as compact as possible, our van is completely full when we execute a live stream with all the bells and whistles.
In order to protect the material during transit and to ensure that the set-up and breakdown takes place in a structured and efficient manner, we have a set of custom flightcases. When we arrive on location, we roll them to the venue and we can get started right away!
Organizing a live stream requires a lot of hardware (in addition to a talented team). All the individual parts described above form a chain. Different livestream companies approach this in different ways, although the major categories (the headings in this blog post) are generally the same.
If you still have questions after reading this blog post, you can contact us via our contact page! We are happy to help you.