Input and output management for videoconferencing platforms and webcasts

AAs we continue to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on large gatherings, event planners and producers are adjusting to increased demand for virtual events. With new constraints and customers still on a steep learning curve, it can be difficult to meet expectations for high-quality content. To cope with these challenges, webcasters around the world have had to quickly adapt to the realities of using conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and dozens of others.

The target audience for this article is anyone interested in knowing what equipment and skill sets are needed to produce a virtual live broadcast event and experience. It is beyond the scope of the article to cover all the intricacies of each platform, so for demonstration purposes I will be referring primarily to Zoom as it is the most popular conferencing system used by my peers and I. .

Determine your business needs

If you follow my Streaming media column, The Video Doctor, you know I’m all about business requirements. Building cost effective solutions that produce high quality results means being able to work within budget, schedule and resource availability. This statement is just as true for technology as it is for just about any business decision. My first step with a client looking to live stream a virtual event is to put the requirements together. I built an online survey for this type of admission (videorx.com/sondage). It takes into account location requirements, target destinations for content, logistics related to remote or on-site presenters / talents, and more. If I think it’s too much for a new stakeholder or product owner to complete the survey on their own, I’ll use it as a guide on my first call with the customer.

Design a solution

The most important detail derived from the survey is how the audience will view the event live. Usually this comes down to one of two options: the audience member will actively participate in the video conferencing platform (e.g. join as a Zoom participant) or view a webcast of the meeting in a video player hosted on a website or social media platform. . In some cases, both options are available, in which premium ticket buyers have access to more interactions with the event speakers, and standard ticket buyers have a read-only experience.

The second most important detail is how presenters will be “captured” for the intended deployment target (s). Will there be traditional A / V equipment on site such as professional cameras, microphones and lights? Will on-site presenters need to interact with remote presenters?

The third most important detail is how the Technical Director (TD) of the virtual event manages various assets, including live feeds from local and / or remote presenters, slideshows, screen shares, and video. on demand, and presents these. assets for the public. Most video conferencing systems allow one host or moderator to control the view for all other meeting space users.

The fourth most important consideration derived from the intake survey is what equipment will be needed to achieve the virtual event viewing. The combination of software tools, hardware and A / V equipment required will depend on the responses to all of the survey questions described above.

As you brainstorm the solutions, create diagrams that explore the different options. Creating diagrams can reveal implementation issues, such as audio feedback (for example, not implementing mix minus). The diagrams clearly show the setup for the customer and production personnel. Next, I’ll explore a few common scenarios, from the simplest to the most complex.

Video conferencing input and output

As shown on the Figure 1 (below), the “simplest” entry and exit scenario for remote virtual event production focuses exclusively on the videoconferencing service used to bring presenters and audience together. To improve the quality of the presenter’s video, HDMI or SDI capture devices using USB 3.0, USB-C, or Thunderbolt connections to the presenter’s laptops should be used in place of traditional USB webcams and microphones. Make sure your capture devices are recognized by the video conferencing software and that your conferencing drivers and software are compatible.

Video conferencing I / O

Figure 1. Video conferencing input and output (Note: In this figure and those that follow, the equipment components are not shown to scale.)

If you expect Full HD quality from presenters, test the bandwidth of each presenter before showtime. Your video conferencing provider may not necessarily capture and stream the presenter’s video in Full HD without enabling specific options. For example, Zoom does not enable the HD group by default and may require customer support assistance to add it to your account. (For more details see support.zoom.us/hc / en-us / articles / 207347086-Group-HD.)

Video conference input, streaming

Another common scenario for handling event flows is shown in Figure 2 (below), where the same inputs are used from Figure 1, but the videoconferencing space is not used by the participants. Instead, a capture of the videoconferencing space is sent to both a recorder and a hardware (or software) encoder, which transmits a stream, typically Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), to a live streaming provider or to a social media platform like Facebook or Youtube.

incoming, outgoing videoconferencing

Figure 2. Incoming, outgoing videoconferencing

Capturing can be done in a number of ways, but it can be as simple as mirroring the full screen video conference to an HDMI output on the A / V Technical Director’s computer, as shown in Figure 2. The output in mirror may need to be at a broadcast specification such as 1920×1080 59.94 fps. Make sure that the computer’s HDMI output is capable of producing a signal recognized by other A / V components in the system.

While some video conferencing platforms have the option to stream the meeting or webinar directly to an RTMP destination, there may be unwanted artifacts, such as a large Zoom watermark in the lower right corner, included in the push of the system. To have more control over what is broadcast from the meeting space, you can use a dedicated laptop to capture meeting screen and audio in a preferred layout.

Remote video contribution

The tagline “remote video contribution” has often been used during the COVID-19 pandemic to describe the process of integrating remote presenter streams into A / V systems. High-end productions prefer to stick with proven technology, using the same A / V hardware, such as professional video mixers with SDI inputs, that was used for pre-COVID broadcast.

In this scenario, the video conferencing systems are not used as a central hub to handle the broadcast. Rather, they deliver ultra-low real-time latency and (hopefully) high-quality audio and video inputs to your existing video switching and webcasting equipment. The only hurdle is finding the best way to capture presenter feeds from video conferencing software. Here are some typical approaches that could be used with many existing webcast setups.

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