Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Discussions around receiving, originating, and holding Church broadcasts and conferences in meetinghouses including schedules, setup, equipment, and support.
randysteck
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Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby randysteck » Mon Nov 16, 2015 4:56 pm

I thought I'd just put this out so that others can benefit from the work our group did for stake conference webcast.

We moved from an old system that has been used for over 6 years to take advantage of HD broadcast through the church portal. In the process we eliminated a lot of old equipment and made the process simpler and higher quality. The basis of the system is vMix, which is surprisingly powerful and flexible for this application.

The old system used two D70 PTZ cameras with 3 audio feeds webcasting to two other locations. It required a video switch, an audio mixer, a separate encoder system, and a laptop to control cameras.

The new system uses one D70, and two HD cameras (one for backup just in case) along with the same 3 audio feeds. vMix handled the video switching, audio mixing and webcast encoding at 720P. The system for this uses an i5 4590 processor, 4GB DRAM, and a Magewell XI400DE HDMI capture card. SD comes in through a composite to HDMI converter ($35). HD cameras are connected using Monoprice HDMI extenders (up to 100 meters) which worked great. One HD camera is a Canon Vixia HF R52 with surprisingly good low light capability. The other HD camera is a SONY broadcast camera from a Local AV company that we used on the gym stage as backup in case of problems with the camcorder. It turned out that we didn't have any problems with the camcorder and will probably just use it or similar in the future.

Both HD cameras had a fixed view of the pulpit and captured 1080p video (no cameramen required). Speaker height adjustment was done using a virtual image capability in vMix to window to a 720P section of the 1080P image. With the right initial framing this allows any height speaker to be framed correctly on the output. This was a welcome and surprisingly useful capability.

Audio was captured using a Tascam US-1200 preamp ($118). This allows up to six mics to be connected through USB to the PC. The latest vMix release supports ASIO drivers so that each audio input shows up as a separate audio channel in vMix instead of the normal postmix stereo output.

Remote locations used members laptops to connect to the portal system and project onto 10 ft screens.

Local video locations (Relief Society room, YW room) were supplied from the system's VGA output through a VGA to Composite converter ($20) and to existing RF encoders. TVs were then set up in the other rooms.

The weak point of the system was the projectors on the receiving end. Neither was as HD capable as anticipated and although the video was vastly improved from before (and audio was flawless), it was not as good as we'd like it to be.

Our goals in moving to this system were to 1) hold a single session of conference, 2) Make the remote experience as close to the live experience as possible, 3) Have no disruptions (freezes, blackouts, broken audio or video, and 4) Allow non-experts to help with the broadcasts. We're happy to report that all these goals were met.

Things we learned:
1. A good low-light camcorder with a fixed view can replace a much more expensive PTZ camera by windowing for speaker height.
2. It's good to have at least 2 cameras for choir numbers and transitions, and this can be done pretty inexpensively.
3. HDMI transport using HDMI extenders was far superior to other alternatives. It allows simple runs of Cat5e/6, including in the future to other locations in the stake center.
4. vMix was easy to set up and control. Both video and audio controls can be handled by 1 person as opposed to 4 required previously.
5. Members at the remote locations appreciated the quality as well as the presentation of the program as they felt more included in the proceedings more than before with just a single camera view.

Next improvements
1. Better projectors at the receive location. This will be a mix of either updated projectors (existing ones are >5 years old) and rented projectors.
2. Hopefully better lighting in the chapel. The best alternative seems to be swapping out the existing fluorescent bulbs (2700K) with LED lights at around 3000K.
3. A better video card for the system. It works fine now but runs the processor at a high load. Offloading the ffmpeg encoder from the processor will give more margin.

We tried a variety of cameras before settling on this configuration. We really wanted to use an inexpensive DSLR for video but all of them turn off live view after about 30 minutes due to trade agreements that would otherwise require them to be labeled as camcorders. Oh well... We also looked at using IP cameras but the delay through the encoding was just too long and would have required extreme audio delay also. Plus encoding in the camera for transport, decoding for switching and then re-encoding for broadcast does not give the best result. Some varifocal surveillance cameras with HDMI output are possibilities but will require some experimentation.

We were very happy with the simplicity of setup and control and the quality of output to remote locations. It's a very good match to the new portal system.

We are quite happy with the results, and our stake president who is not a technical kind of guy was noticeably less anxious about the webcast this time as the system did not appear to be put together with "baling wire and bubblegum"...:)

We're also happy to take other suggestions on cameras, projectors and other better alternatives.

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Mikerowaved
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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby Mikerowaved » Mon Nov 16, 2015 5:26 pm

Very nice. Thanks for the detailed report. Just curious, which version of vMix did you use?
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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby russellhltn » Mon Nov 16, 2015 5:48 pm

randysteck wrote: Hopefully better lighting in the chapel. The best alternative seems to be swapping out the existing fluorescent bulbs (2700K) with LED lights at around 3000K.


I take it the lighting is too "warm"? Were you able to do a manual white balance?
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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby randysteck » Mon Nov 16, 2015 6:18 pm

The lighting was problematic in two ways. First, not enough light and second too warm.

White balance was simple for the HD cameras, both at the source (camera) and in vMix for fine tuning (both contrast and white balance). The D70 was more problematic as the sensor does not have a wide dynamic range so we got both flaring and color aberrations even when balanced.

Insufficient light is the real problem behind these. We're measuring about 35-40 lumens at the pulpit with 100 lumens in a moderately lit room using the same sensor. It's an older building with lots of dark wood so not a lot of scatter and the overhead lights tend to give a cadaverous appearance to speakers. We put a white reflective white panel on the podium surface which doubles the bounced light, and we are just hoping to get a higher ambient light as much as possible. Spots and illumination panels have not proven to be acceptable solutions both because they are distracting to the speakers as well as giving too much of a "show" appearance which detracts from the tone of the meeting.

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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby russellhltn » Mon Nov 16, 2015 6:24 pm

Most chapels have a couple of flood lights aimed at the podium. They look like downward facing floods, but these are at a angle. You might want to see if you can up the brightness of those a little.
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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby randysteck » Mon Nov 16, 2015 6:29 pm

We're looking to replace those with LED floods at 3000K for better diffusion. The problem there is they are very nearly overhead and give very bad shadowing for eyes and chin. Not to mention the flare from the follicly challenged...:) We think overall better indirect lighting will help quite a bit. This would put the lighting more in line with the intensity at our other chapels.

Thanks for the suggestion, though.

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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby russellhltn » Mon Nov 16, 2015 7:07 pm

randysteck wrote:The problem there is they are very nearly overhead and give very bad shadowing for eyes and chin.

Be careful of what you ask for. That might be bad for camera work, but good for showing video. For that you want the light to come straight down. That way you can blank out the stage and the audience light doesn't hit it. If the lights for the audience sprays all over the place, you'll have to kill all the lights to see the screen.
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randysteck
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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby randysteck » Mon Nov 16, 2015 7:14 pm

Good point. We already have the lights over the stage as well as the spots on separate switch legs from the rest of the lighting. This allows a dark area with the screen pulled down at the back of the stand and has worked out well. We'll have to test it with higher intensity lights in place.

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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby mfmohlma » Tue Nov 17, 2015 1:35 am

russellhltn wrote:Most chapels have a couple of flood lights aimed at the podium. They look like downward facing floods, but these are at a angle. You might want to see if you can up the brightness of those a little.

FWIW, I was in the choir for this meeting. About halfway through, I noticed that one of the two flood lights was not even aimed at the podium, but had tilted down to illuminate some folks in the second row. I wish I had noticed it during our pre-conference runs.
Just a reminder to check the simple things first. ;)

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Re: Summary of our upgraded webcast solution

Postby randysteck » Tue Nov 17, 2015 9:04 am

Yes, we noticed it also on Sunday. Something had happened to the one spot over Saturday night. But, the measurements were taken prior to the misalignment and the spots are only part of the solution.


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