Videographers and broadcasters take note – the Spider encoder is more than just an encoder.

Learn what happens when a one-man-band AV guy looks for a simpler and easier streaming and recording solution for live events.

Live Streaming Before All-In-One Switcher/Encoders

I used to 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 connected to a video switcher with frame buffers for hitless switching. The audio feeds from the cameras, plus the feed from the PA system connected to the audio mixer. The output of the video switch (“Production Board”) and the output of the audio mixer to the encoder which streamed and recorded.

As the event unfolded, I selected cameras. The switcher had an A/B side-by-side effect and a Picture-in-Picture effect. I used these effects when the presenter started their talk and used PowerPoint. To keep it interesting, I made quick cuts to the audience from time-to-time, and cuts to the wide shot of the stage.

The audio came from the speaker’s microphone, but I mixed in the audience applause from a camera microphone when appropriate. As a handheld microphone was passed to the audience to ask questions, I cut to the audience camera as they speak. If the presenter refers to a slide again, I cut to that.

If my cuts were not spot on, I knew I could grab the files from each camera and edit in production (as long as I remembered to start the recording in each camera too).

Live Streaming Gets Better But Leaves Me Wanting

There are all-in-one audio/video switchers that have a built-in encoder, but they are rather expensive and complex. I thought “What I really want is an encoder with built-in mixing and switching, not a switcher with a built-in encoder.

I wanted to stream and record each video independently, and also stream and record the produced output. I wanted a simple built-in audio mixer, and some  buttons to switch feeds and to produce desired Picture-in-Picture effects. Oh, and I wanted it to fit in my coat pocket.

Scratching My Own Itch Created SPIDER

Since such a switcher/mixer/encoder/recorder didn’t exist. I made one to be exactly what I wanted and I called it SPIDER.

My dream “video production in a box” has it all:

  • 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, right? !
    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.

Understanding the Value of a Dedicated Encoder

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 Internet 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 began to appear. In Network Cameras, in software, and in under $1000 boxes. Some very good, some just terrible.

When YouTube and others began to support live streaming, consumer volumes became possible and even cheaper encoders began to appear. Free Open Source software encoders became popular and new uses, such as streaming video games, formed a whole new industry. Much of the attention shifted to software encoding. This gave the user the illusion of “free” because they didn’t count the cost of the computer required to run the software. That’s OK when streaming events from your computer, but perhaps a more robust solution is needed 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.

Recommendation

Dedicated appliance encoders are great, especially when you can have it in a powerhouse appliance like Spider. I am confident you will find the Spider to be the best choice for simplicity, quality, flexibility, and most importantly, for value. Check it out and let me know what you think. (860) 800-9922.

Cheers,
Rich Mavrogeanes