Adrenaline Garage Blog

Amazing FREE Custom Motion Graphics Solution for Live Streams

Posted by Jeff Harper on Thu, Aug 29, 2013 @ 13:08 PM

For most livestreams, the biggest single element that visually separates them from live TV broadcasts is the graphics.  At this stage, the majority of prosumer grade equipment being used for online broadcasts is pretty good.  Once compressed, a $5,000 camera is virtually indistinguishable from a $50,000 broadcast camera in most situations.  Livestream-grade broadcast gear (e.g. TriCaster and 3Play) has reached the point where the people using it have more of an effect on the end result than the equipment itself.  Frankly, I've seen control rooms in major league facilities (I'm talking about you, Qualcomm Stadium) that required a larger crew and more money to achleive far less than what's possible from a TriCaster 455.

Street League Skateboarding has badass graphics
Graphics systems have not kept pace with the rest of webcast gear

There is one very significant exception.  Live streams rarely have graphics that stack up to what you would see on ESPN.    In fact, many webcasts still suffer from graphics packages that scream low-budget.  Since the quality of a graphics package dictates the perceived value of the production, sponsors don't always take live streaming as seriously as they should. While fans of our events lose it when their events are tape-delayed, especially when Supercross is delayed 12 hours to air on CBS, sponsors still see value in TV and all the fluff surrounding it.  Why does this still happen?  Why don't sponsors see the full value of live streaming?  To paraphrase one of my friends who sells old media, "Why buy old media?  Because anyone who's a badass buys old media."

No doubt, unless you are the marketing director for a discount brand, you want your sponsorship to say, "Hey look at us, we're a badass.  Just look at the badasses we associate with."  And lets face it, those generic static graphics that ship with your TriCaster are not badass.  Once you've nailed the fundementals and have a solid product, nothing states you're a badass production like great graphics.

Bad Options for Aspiring Badasses

Have you experienced LiveText?  Let me rephrase that.  Have you found yourself in tears in the midst of a production because every graphic you created just disappeared when this cheap poorly built piece of crap called LiveText crashed just when you were trying to go live?

You're not alone.  LiveText hates everyone's production equally.

The problem is, the available alternatives to LiveText are pretty pricey--a ChyronIP or Compix system costs almost as much as what you paid for that beloved TriCaster.  And that doesn't include the cost of programming a custom graphics package.

At Adrenaline Garage, we tried a number of different options, but never expected the best one we found would be free. Yep. FREE.

FREE, as in Beer

CasparCG is an open source broadcast graphics platform.  It was developed by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation (“SVT”) which is the license-fee funded public service television broadcaster in Sweden.  And while in the US, when we hear public television, we think stodgy minimalist graphics that haven't been updated since the Clinton Administration, the fact is, SVT is really quite slick.  SVT is more like the Ikea of public television than C-SPAN.

CasparCG Example

While you might not expect FREE software to be awesome, it's good enough for SVT to use on each of their six national channels.  In our minds, we have not seen a competive product with such a complete, powerful and flexible feature set.  And did we mention, it's free?

Feature Breakdown

Once we got over the free thing, we thought it was time to see how it stacked up against the competition.  What we found was that CasparCG, due to it's open source nature, was powerful enough to handle any situation we could think of.  In our case, we discovered needs we never knew we had, now that we weren't limited to one channel. And thanks to the powerful API, we had the tools to create custom graphics and graphic control clients for any situation we could imagine.  For our needs, CasparCG destroyed its much more expensive competition.

  LiveText ChyronIP Compix CasparCG
Channels 1 2 1 Unlimited
Network Input Yes Yes Linx Only Yes
SDI Output No No Yes Yes*
Animated Graphics No Yes Yes Yes
Dynamic Data Yes Yes Yes Yes
Supports Alpha Yes Yes Yes Yes
Layers 1 Unlimited 6 Unlimited
Audio No USB Embedded Embedded
Internal DSK No No No Yes
Customizable Client No No No Yes

*Optional

But how does it look?

As we were in the middle of Formula Drift season, we didn't have an opportunity to build a graphics package that would take advantage of all of the features of CasparCG.  Since the FD graphics package is pretty complex as it was, we thought converting it to Caspar would be a good test.  Here are the results:

Not only could CasparCG easily handle all of our dynamic graphics, it looks better, played smoother, was more reliable and easier to use than all of the options we've tried in the past. We quickly converted another event's graphics package to CasparCG with the same results.  I don't think we'll be going back.

Getting a Turn Key Solution

The primary limitation of CasparCG is that while it is free, you still need hardware to run it, graphics designed and your graphics package programmed.  Converting old graphics or building new packages is incredibly easy for any one who uses Adobe Creative Suite.  However, most computers that come off the shelf at Best Buy would not make great CasparCG machines and definitely wouldn't have all the hardware necessary to take advantage of all of its great features.  Moreover, while there are tutorials available for how to write the code for your own graphics, it's not for beginners, especially if you're hoping to incorporate dynamic data.  In this way, CasparCG's power and flexibility is also its curse.

Fortunately, if designing graphics, building computers or coding is not among your strong suits, we at Adrenaline Garage can help.  Let us build a custom turn key CasparCG setup for you... and save you $10,000 over another system.   If you want custom badass graphics for a fraction of the cost, contact us for a quote.   

Topics: Webcast Tips, Live Webcast Solutions, TV Production, HD Webcast Production

How to resolve internet connection problems for live webcasts

Posted by Jeff Harper on Mon, Aug 12, 2013 @ 15:08 PM

Sometimes having enough bandwidth isn't enough.  There are numerous issues related to the way data flows on the internet that may affect the quality of your live stream.  Here is how to diagnose and correct those problems so that you obtain the best possible connection for your live event.

Always test your connection before your event

Testing your internet connection before your event gives you a much better idea of what you're getting into before it's too late. You'll have more options to correct issues before your setup day than once you go live.  Here is more information on how to find out if your internet connection is suitable for a webcast.  

Bad internet connection?

To summarize, the most obvious identifiable cause of connection issues is that the infrastructure of your internet connection may not be up to the task of streaming.  As a rule of thumb, DSL connections only provide--at best--1.5 Mbps upload capacity, which may be enough for a low quality, single bitrate stream of 750 kbps.  If you plan on streaming in Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) HD or to multiple devices, you will need a bonded cable or fiber connection.

Detecting Throttling  

While not a problem for most business accounts, cable ISPs (especially Comcast) sometimes throttle consumer connections down when they observe significant amounts of bandwidth transfer, e.g. a webcast.  This means that while a speed test will show much more available bandwidth, the ISP will reduce the effective bandwidth significantly after a short time in order to reduce your usage.  Obviously, this severely affects your stream.  Throttling does not appear immediately.  It usually occurs within 20-45 minutes of starting the stream.

If you suspect that your ISP may be throttling your connection, perform the following test:

  1. Do a "control" measurement of the location's bandwidth using speedtest.net.  Note the results.
  2. Conduct a stream with the same bandwidth that you'll use during the event for a minimum of an hour.
  3. Stop the stream and conduct a test with Glasnost--a web application that detects ISP throttling--selecting the Flash video option.
  4. Note the results.

If you suspect throttling, contact your ISP about ways to possibly resolve the issue. Unfortunately, in our experience, most ISP representatives will firmly deny throttling. Your best option may be upgrading the account or finding another ISP.  

How to troubleshoot and improve existing connections

While your infrastructure may be up to the task of handling a live stream, it's possible to still experience problems when streaming.  Sometimes a connection doesn't perform up to its full potential. You'll notice this when your stream experiences problems in spite of tests showing you have enough bandwidth or when bandwidth tests show large fluctuations.  In these cases, to resolve this issue, you'll need to determine whether an issue is occurring on your local area network (LAN) or on the wide area network (WAN).

Detecting the location of the problem

Most often, when you are experiencing streaming issues and you know that you should have enough bandwidth, there could be a bad link in the chain of devices providing the connection to your publishing point.  This cause of the problem is typically either a malfunctioning piece of hardware or network congestion clogging the route.  In order to narrow down the problem, it's best to do a ping test to detect packet loss and then determine where the packet loss is occurring.

How to do a ping test

Ping is a little command that sends a "return me" message to another IP address and measures how long it took for the round trip.  Doing numerous ping tests in a row can detect how much packet loss is occurring if you observe that a number of messages aren't being returned.  To ping your publishing point open your terminal on a Mac or your command prompt on a Windows machine.  In your terminal or command prompt window, type:

ping xxx

where xxx is either the IP address or the URL of your publishing point and press Enter.  The result should look like this:

Request timeout reveal packet loss for live streams

During the test, if you see a message that states "Request timeout" that means a packet was lost.   

Determining Packet Loss

At the end of the test, you should see a series of lines telling how packets were sent to that site and how much was returned. The number next to the "ms" is the time in milliseconds. Less than 10% packet loss is acceptable and to be expected.  If you are seeing more than 10% packet loss, you are experiencing enough loss to affect your live stream.

Running a traceroute 

The next step is to isolate where that loss is occurring by running a traceroute to identify each hop in your stream's path to the publishing point.  To do this, type:

traceroute xxx 

where xxx is is the ip address or url of the publishing point.  You should then see a list of servers, like this:

Example of traceroute

From there, starting with the first server on the list, ping each hop (ip address) individually. Moving out from your location, if you suddenly observe a large number of packets being lost, then you know the problem occurs before or at that address.

Possible causes of packet loss

Once you've narrowed down the possible locations it's easier to determine what the source of the problem may be.  

Malfunctioning Equipment

If a piece of equipment is malfunctioning or improperly configured, it could easily be contributing to packet loss.  If that piece of gear is located before your gateway, in other words is within your LAN, you may have a chance to fix, replace or bypass it.  If bypassing the gear does not resolve the issue, congestion could be causing the problem.  

Causes of congestion

The classic case of LAN congestion happens when you stream live video perfectly right up until the moment when your event starts.  Then all hell breaks loose.   This is typically caused by event related usage eating up bandwidth.  While upload and download bandwidth is usually allocated independently, and viewers downloading your stream should not affect your upload bandwidth, the start of an event often initiates other bandwidth usage, such as POS systems and members of the media uploading photos and on-demand videos.  Of course, if you are monitoring your stream on site, sudden increased traffic on your network would affect that experience while not affecting viewers outside of your network.  However, due to background internet usage that's not readily apparent when any device is connected to the internet, it's best to limit usage to only essential users.

WAN congestion is caused by traffic outside of your network.  In North America, Internet usage peaks between 9PM and 12AM EST.  If your broadcast occurs during that window, your stream may be competing with users watching Netflix, Hulu, etc. elsewhere on the web. WAN congestion may occur at any time, which is why it's essential to test your connection at the same time of day, and ideally the same day of the week.  Hopefully, these tests will indicate if your streaming path is subject to congestion.

If you're using a cellular connection to broadcast your stream, your ISP may throttle your bandwidth to handle more connected devices seeking service from the local cell tower.  The drop in quality may be caused by the growing crowd attending your event.

Solving congestion

If you do have LAN congestion, you have two options, either kick users off your network until the your stream improves or use a dedicated connection where you don't have to share bandwidth with other users.  In either case, the goal is to obtain a connection with sufficient overhead that won't fluctuate during your event.

Alleviating WAN congestion is a little more tricky.  Your best option is to choose a different publishing point, which you can obtain from your streaming provider.  Ideally, you should choose a publishing point closer to your location.  However, if the bottleneck is occurring between between you and the closest location, your next best option is to choose a publishing point that avoids the troubled area.  For example if you are in Chicago and your publishing point is in New York City, you may want to change your publishing point to Los Angeles.  You can check that you've avoided the bottleneck by running another traceroute and seeing if you've avoided the troubled hop.

Lastly, engineers working for the owner of the troubled infrastructure may be able to route traffic differently so that the bottleneck becomes less congested.

The Last Resort

Finally your best option might be bypassing your internet connection altogether.  We'll include options for doing that as well as how to get an internet connection to remote locations in a future article.  In the meantime, if you have a challenging streaming situation, feel free to contact us about a solution.  We have years of experience bringing livestream ready connections to some of the most difficult and remote locations on earth.

Other articles that may be of interest:

Topics: Webcast Tips, Live Webcast Solutions, HD Webcast Production

Now Renting TriCaster 455 in Los Angeles, CA

Posted by Jeff Harper on Sat, Jun 29, 2013 @ 13:06 PM

Do you have a live event in Greater Los Angeles Area and need an affordable live webcast solution?  While we've always been able to travel to anywhere on the planet, Adrenaline Garage now offers a NewTek TriCaster 455 with a highly experienced operator local to your area.  No need to pay for flying in equipment and crew--we've got you covered in Southern California.

TriCaster 455 Rental - Los Angeles CA

While the TriCaster 455 will make it look like you spent much more money on your event, it's our operators that really make the difference.  Our crew has operated TriCasters for some of the biggest events in action sports including ESPN's X Games, Feld Motorsport's Monster Energy Supercross, IMG's Formula Drift as well as numerous other action sports events.  We have the experience you need to produce a sophisticated live sporting event.

Best of all, at only $1100/day including operator, you'll have plenty of budget left over.

The NewTek TriCaster 455 offers:

  • 14 channel live production, including 4 cameras
  • ISO recording of up to 4 channels of video
  • Integrated live webcast encoding to Livestream.com, Ustream.tv or many other CDNs
  • Two integrated video clip players (DDR)
  • Amazing visual effects, including customized wipes
  • Easy extension for live graphics

Of course, if your event needs more cameras, check out our TriCaster 855 Rental.

Contact Adrenaline Garage to reserve your TriCaster 455 today.  

Topics: Live Webcast Solutions, TV Production, HD Webcast Production

Colorado Freeride Festival webcast production highlights

Posted by Jeff Harper on Fri, Aug 24, 2012 @ 15:08 PM
Colorado Freeride Festival Live WebcastWhen a live webcast goes well, you completely forget about the team of 20 people it takes to put it together.  Since all the highlights (appropriately) feature the athletes, I thought it might be nice to put together some clips where the other talent really shined.  Here is some of the great production moments from the Shimano Slopestyle at the 2012 Colorado Freeride Festival. Thanks to the crew that made this event a succes.

Topics: HD Webcast Production

Download our Free Live Webcast Strategy Guide

Posted by Jeff Harper on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 @ 11:12 AM

Get results from your live webcastFor action sports events, reaching hundred of thousands of viewers around the world through a live webcast promises enormous potential. Most event organizers, however, currently lack sufficient understanding of live online broadcasts to optimize and fully monetize them for their event. Without that knowledge, the return on investment, both in terms of audience and sponsorship, is not yet close to what it could be.  Lower returns have a direct effect on the long-term success of the event.

Learn how to plan a live webcast with greater returns by delivering the results sponsors crave.


In working with our partners, Adrenaline Garage has taken an interest in seeing their event properties grow.  We’ve observed that there are ways to strategically increase the value of live broadcasts and increase an event’s attractiveness to sponsors.  We collected the best practices and explored new directions in order to create a comprehensive strategy guide to accelerate our partner’s success.

Download this free live webcast strategy guide and learn:

  • What sponsors want and how a live webcast best fulfills their needs.
  • What your audience wants and why that’s important to sponsors.
  • 7 criteria to identify a provider that can deliver results.
  • 17 essential tactics that add value and deliver results for live events

Adrenaline Garage has increased webcast audiences by almost 4000% and been recognized as the world-wide leader in webcast quality.  Find out how we did it and maximize the results for your live webcast.

Download 20 pages of tips, insights, best practices and additional resources to attract the most viewers and get the most return from sponsorships.

Topics: Webcast Tips, Webcast Sponsorship, Webcast Promotion, Live Webcast Solutions, HD Webcast Production, Webcast Marketing

How many viewers can watch an HD webcast production?

Posted by Jeff Harper on Sat, Oct 2, 2010 @ 09:10 AM

HD Webcast ProductionThere has been an enormous boom in high definition webcasts, especially amongst the largest action sports events.  The Maloof Money Cup, US Open of Surfing, The Ride Shakedown, US Snowboarding Grand Prix and a number of action sports events have each chosen to do HD webcasts over the past year.

Just as the phrase "16mm Production" used to be an indicator of a top notch action sports videos, "Live HD Webcast" has become the shorthand that's synonymous with the best live online productions.  As "webcast" can mean many things, appending "HD" to the description of an live stream has allowed events to differentiate themselves from the incredible number of mediocre one camera productions on Ustream.

Before someone jumps on the HD Webcast bandwagon, I think it's appropriate to ask, how many people are actually able to see an HD webcast at it's highest quality?  Is HD worth it if only a few people can actually see it?  At what threshold does it make sense?

Methodology

What does it mean to be HD Webcast ready?  As we set out to answer this, we had to nail this down.  Here is how we define HD readiness:

  1. An internet connection with sufficient bandwidth to stream full resolution (720 x 1280) HD video.
  2. A computer screen with enough resolution to display the full image and not scale it down.

Without either one of these, the event and viewer would be better off with a lower resolution image.  In the first case, buffering will make it impossible for the viewer to watch the HD video. In the second case, there wouldn't be any noticeable difference between an HD video and one with lower resolution.  Thus, it's just a waste of streaming bandwidth.

To determining how many viewers are HD ready, we looked at our analytics reports from 90,000 users in the months of July and August, 2010.  Our hope was to find a sweet spot, a resolution that accommodates the real world monitor resolution and bandwidth of your event's viewers.  Here's what we've found:

Screen shot 2010 09 17 at 11.49.20 PM
  • About 50% of US connections are capable of handling a 720p stream.
  • 25-35% of connections outside the US are 720p ready.
  • 73% of monitors are 720p capable
  • Only 8% of monitors are 1080p capable
  • 40% of US viewers were fully 720p HD webcast ready, meaning they had sufficient connection speed and were watching on a monitor able to take advantage of HD resolution. 
  • Internationally, less than 20% of viewers are fully HD webcast ready.

Deciding on a resolution

Looking at the data, if you only have one stream available, HD is not a good option.  However, since user bandwidth is the major limiting factor, using adaptive bit rate streaming creates a number of possibilities.

Adaptive Streaming works by "detecting a user's bandwidth and CPU capacity in real time and adjusting the quality of a video stream accordingly. It requires the use of an encoder which can encode a single source video at multiple bit rates. The player client switches between streaming the different encodings depending on available resources. The result: very little buffering, fast start time and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections."[1]

The main advantage here is that you don't have to completely compromise quality for compatibility.  Adaptive bit rate streaming allows you to encode HD streams for high end connections and other streams for connections with less capacity. 

Ideally, more streams of varying bit rates would be better.  However, the number of streams is limited by the capacity of your encoder and the upload bandwidth available.  Not having one or both means poor stream quality for your viewers.  You'll want to select resolutions that provide the best user experience for the largest number of viewers within the resources you have available.

Conclusion

1080p encoding is definitely not worth it.  The number of people who have 1080 ready monitors and connections is too small to justify the expense.

720p might be worth it.  To sufficiently accommodate users, you'll need either a very powerful encoder or multiple encoders as well a sufficient upload bandwidth.  In this case we would suggest encoding two HD streams and several sub-SD streams.

For events without those assets, based on the real world capabilities of viewers, sub-true HD is a very good middle ground that ensures most people will be able to take advantage of a high quality webcast.

What other considerations in webcast production would you like to know about?

[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_bit_rate

Topics: HD Webcast Production

What you need to know about HD webcast production

Posted by Jeff Harper on Wed, Sep 22, 2010 @ 01:09 AM

What does HD webcast mean?Sometimes it seems like electronics manufacturers want us to be confused. Buying a TV, or choosing a video production system for a webcast for that matter, means deth a relentless onslaught of bizarre technical terms and numbers, all of which you'd never need to know in every day life and will never think about again.  I think the worst part, however, starts just after you begin to understand what it all means.  Suddenly, you become part of a debate over what's better, which one is "True" and who's just out to get your cash.

It's enough to wish for the days of radio.  Oh wait, there was that whole AM/FM thing. 

Here's the bad news.  Webcasting is no different and HD webcasts are especially confusing.  We think it's time to define the HD webcast.  Rather than enter the debate about what is a "True HD Webcast," which is a stupid esoteric argument that doesn't do anything to help you, we're going explain some different options and the trade-offs associated with each.

What makes HD different is resolution. 

TV formats are defined by vertical resolution.  Vertical resolution is the number of pixels along the vertical axis of a video image.  The standard vertical resolutions for TV broadcast are 480, 720 and 1080, with the latter two considered HD. 

In online media, there is no standard frame size.  It can be anything and is not even constrained to 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio.  If you wanted to stream your event as a square or vertical video, super small or thousands of vertical lines, it's possible, it's just not recommended.

Because webcasters don't have to deal with the same standards as TV productions, a number of (confusing) options have been created.  Decreasing resolution is an easy way to lower a streaming video's bit rate.  Thus, webcasts have historically been encoded in sub-SD resolutions (180, 240 or 360 vertical lines have been common).

Now that HD webcasts are possible, it has only become more confusing.  Some people will say that HD webcasts must have the same resolution as HDTV.  Others say that it's any webcast over 480 lines (the vertical resolution of SD video).  With so many different options, here is our definition of HD Webcast:

An HD webcast is any webcast whose final resolution requires HD equipment to produce without having to resort to up-ressing.

Common HD encoding resolutions include 720x1280, 540x960 and 480x848. All of these formats are greater than SD resolution (480x640), thus to produce them without having to "create" pixels requires HD equipment.

Common SD and HD Webcast Resolutions

[Click here to see the actual size comparison]

If you have the capability, why not just produce "True" HD?

In our experience, the better the user experience, the more time your viewers watch.  The longer your viewers watch, the more value your webcast has to your sponsors.  In our mind, that's the main reason for producing an HD webcast, even though there are certainly many others.

However, as you increase the resolution, and therefore bit rate, fewer viewers will be able to see your webcast.  If you encode a stream with too much resolution, you could just be paying significantly more for a worse user experience for the majority of your audience.  Simply put, worse user experience = less value.

Your HD strategy directly affects the value of your webcast.

The solution is to use adaptive bit rate streaming.  Adaptive bit rate streaming detects "a user's bandwidth and CPU capacity in real time and adjusting the quality of a video stream accordingly. It requires the use of an encoder which can encode a single source video at multiple bit rates. The player client switches between streaming the different encodings depending on available resources. The result: very little buffering, fast start time and a good experience for both high-end and low-end connections."

You're ability to use adaptive bit rate encoding will be dictated by:

  • The number of streams you can encode.  Ideally, to offer the best possible experience to the largest segment of your audience, you would encode enough streams so that every viewer could connect to the best possible stream at all times.  In a full res HD situation, we suggest encoding at least 4 streams: an HD stream, a "super SD" and/or SD stream, a good traditional webcast stream and a low res mobile device appropriate stream.
  • The power of your encoder.  Only the best dedicated encoders are powerful enough to encode full resolution HD video, let alone a number of streams.
  • Your upload capacity.  In addition to the additional bandwidth consumed by the HD video, the additional streams will also take up more bandwidth.
  • Your streaming budget.  The bit rate of HD video is more almost three times traditional webcasts.  Increasing the bit rate means increasing your bandwidth expenses by the same factor.

While full resolution HD may not be right for you, thankfully, unlike broadcast TV, there are a number of options.  Based on what assets you have at hand, you can select an option that optimizes the experience and offer a stream that's better than what's possible on standard definition TV.

Summary

Whatever your situation, we believe, as an HD webcast provider, that you should choose resolutions not because of an esoteric argument about what is "True HD", but what maximizes the user experience for the largest segment of your audience.  The added benefit is that you won't waste money on excessive bandwidth and you'll get the most value from your webcast.

Topics: HD Webcast Production