For years, I would haul around a video switcher, audio mixer, streaming encoder, power strips, cameras and microphones to capture and stream events. One camera typically aimed at the speaker, one camera focused on the audience, another camera capturing a wide shot of the event, and the fourth video feed would be the presenter’s laptop or presentation. These four video feeds get connected to my video switcher which has frame buffers to allow for hitless switching. The audio feeds from the cameras, plus the feed from the PA system get connected to my audio mixer. The output of the video switch (“Production Board”), and the output of my audio mixer, goes to my encoder which can both stream and record.

As the event unfolds, I select cameras. The switcher has a A/B side-by-side effect and a Picture-in-Picture effect. I use these effects when the presenter starts his talk and uses PowerPoint. To keep it interesting, I make quick cuts to the audience from time-to-time, and cuts to the wide shot of the stage.

The audio is from the speaker’s microphone, but I mix in the audience applauce from a camera microphone when appropriate.

There is a handheld microphone that is passed to the audience to ask questions. I cut to the audience camera as they speak, and if the presenter referrs to a slide again, I cut to that.

If my cuts are not right for some reason, I know I can grab the files from each camera and later edit the production, as long as I remembered to start the recording in each camera too.

A Better Way

There are all-in-one audio/video switchers that have a built-in encoder, but they are rather expensive and complex. What I really want is an encoder with built-in mixing and switching, not a switcher with a built-in encoder. I want to stream and record each video independently, and also stream and record the produced output. I want a simple built-in audio mixer, and some simple buttons to switch feeds and to produce desired Picture-in-Picture effects. Oh, and I want it to fit in my coat pocket.

SPIDER
Spider is exactly what I want. Four HDMI video inputs each with optional analog input. Each input has its own independent encoder, so not only can I stream each input but I can also record each input in .mp4, .ts, .mov, or even .avi format. Each live stream can be a push to Arcus, DEVOS, YouTube, Facebook, or virtually any streaming service. Each input could also be delivered on the network as a HLS, RTSP, or UDP/Multicast stream. Each one. Cool! If someone wants to monitor just the audience camera backstage on their cell phone, they can.

The selected video, or the Picture-in-Picture, is encoded by a fifth buit-in encoder which can also stream and record the same as each of the inputs. Built-in text and graphics overlay for each input and for the program output too.

One HDMI output provides a quad view of the four inputs so I know which camera to switch to, and one HDMI output shows the production feed that I’m streaming and recording.

I don’t need to worry about disk space for recording because it is done via USB 3.0 to my portable drive. A 2TB drive costs under $200 now, and I have several.

I can run the whole show using only the buttons, or I can plug in keyboard/mouse and configure and control it from the monitor. Or I use the Spider’s web page user interface from my laptop or tablet.

The Spider is amazing, and you can learn more about it here.

Value

Back in 1997, I set out to build the world’s first video appliance. Together with an incredible team, we produced the “video brick” — a stand-alone appliance that compressed and streamed live audio/video. We built a company around the notion of simplicity and plug-and-play reliable appliances, and it really took off. No “blue screen of death”, no virus threats, simple and reliable, but packed with advanced features most customers would grow into. Streaming locally via multicast and on the public Interent using Windows Media or MPEG-4, the appliances became a staple of the industry.

With success comes competition. The leader always has arrows in their back. As expected, low cost cheap encoders begain to appear. In Network Cameras, in software, and in under $1000 boxes. Some very good, some just terrible.

When YouTube and others begain to support live streaming, consumer volumes became possible and even cheaper encoders begain to appear. Free Open Source software encoders became popular and new uses, such as streaming video games, became not only possible but formed a whole new industry. Much of the attention shifted to software encoding giving the user the illustion of “free” because they don’t count the cost of the computer required to run the software. Quite sensible when you stream events from your computer, but perhaps not so sensible for more constant and dedicated uses. And while there are great systems based on a PC with special PCIe cards, nothing beats a fully embedded dedicated system.

Dedicated appliance encoders are great, and there are several good ones. But I am confident you will find the Spider to be the best choice for simplicity, quality, flexibility, and most importantly, for value.

Cheers,

Rich Mavrogeanes

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