Convert your front room into a Ustream broadcast studio

Convert your front room into a Ustream broadcast studio

I did several live internet broadcasts at the beginning of the year for one of my membership sites. It’s been about two years since I did my first broadcast and these went off a lot better than my original broadcast. Since I have the technology stack worked out fairly well at this point I wanted to show you what I used and how I did it.

One reason this is so cool is that I was able to use a few hundred dollars worth of technology and perform a live broadcast for all my website visitors and have a high quality finished product for members to download.

Example clips

I think it goes without saying that this wasn’t a Late Show quality set with three studio quality camera setup, but it didn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars either. First off, let me give you a little clip from the interview. The first clip shows you the quality that was broadcast (cropped down to what I call internet HD 640×360). The second clip shows you the quality of the HD recording I provided for download.

Now for the HD recording

The interview was conducted in the evening and so there was no natural sunlight to filter in. Some minor color correction was performed on the original HD footage before rendering.

Equipment

The single biggest problem I’ve had while recording videos and broadcasting has been lighting.  There are a few ways to overcome lighting problems, but none of them have been easy.  More expensive cameras provide better low light performance.  Expensive lighting can compensate for lower end cameras.  Lucky for you, the inexpensive technology and a trick I’ll show you here, can give you really stunning results on a tight budget.

Here’s a picture of what my front room looked like for my latest internet broadcast.

Live Broadcast Setup

Here’s the list of equipment that I used to do my broadcast.

  • Dell PC (about $500)
  • 1.2M DSL connection from Qwest (that’s the standard speed) ($32 per month)
  • Logitech® Webcam C500 ($50)
  • Kodak Zi8 HD camera ($180)
  • Lights on a 2×4 ($20)
  • Adobe Flash Media Encoder Live 3 (Free)
  • Ustream.tv account (Free)

Lighting

The lighting that I used for this broadcast workout out really well.  I started with a basic bathroom light fixture from Lowe’s (like this one https://bit.ly/doKn9U).  I bought several feet of electrical cord and a plug end.  I then purchased a 2×4 for $1.34.  I also purchased four 100 watt equivalent florescent white bulbs (not soft white since that gives a yellow cast).  After putting it all together I used some saw horses from my garage to make it stand up.

I should say that I’m an electrical engineer and I’m reckless.  Putting something like this together can be dangerous and may represent a fire hazard.  If you’re not comfortable with this then don’t do it.

Since the four bulbs are separated be a fixed distance from each other, you want to keep them far enough away from the subject that they shadows can blur together.  You also want to use a light that can illuminate the background somewhat.  These two techniques will prevent a hard cast shadow from distracting viewers.  In some cases you can also use Styrofoam or some type of translucent cloth to diffuse the light and soften it (not in color, but in terms of shadows).

Since neither of my camera’s supported manual white balance, I’m stuck adjusting the color in software after the fact.  If it’s important to you to have a properly white balanced image for broadcast then you’ll need to spend more on your cameras, although what Logitech calls Right Light technology does a pretty good job of compensating for low light and white balancing correctly.

Setup

The setup is a lot easier than it might seem.  I purchased the webcam and installed it with the standard software that came in the box.  I followed some instructions on ustream’s website and downloaded and installed Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder (let’s just call that FMLE), which enables me to make several tweaks that are very useful.

Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder 3

For example, FMLE allows me to do two things that really improve the quality of the broadcast and provide me with a backup video in case my higher quality camera chokes.  First is that I can send the video into it from my webcam at the optimal image quality for my webcam.  In my case it was the native 1.3 mega pixel frame size of 1024×768.  Doing this reduces image quality loss and reduces the amount of work my computer has to do for the camera.  I can further crop, position and define the adjustments I want to make to prepare the output image for ustream.  In my case I wanted to broadcast at 640×480.  Along with these settings I have the freedom to define my bit rate for both audio and video so that I can be sure my internet connection will accommodate it.

Aside from the video quality settings above, FMLE allows me to record the stream locally, before it goes up to the server.  The file is save in flv format (ready to play on the internet) and doesn’t suffer from any loss due to network speed issues.  In other words, the recording is much higher quality than if I used ustreams record feature.  For some people the quality of this video will be all you need to post to your membership website.  If you are also recording with a higher quality camera, this is a good backup.  The very second you finish your broadcast you also have a finished video ready to view.  You don’t have to convert, render or do any other processing.  Just double click and watch.

As with all of these details, I recommend you play around with FMLE as much as possible beforehand so that you don’t miss something during the broadcast.  Things that you might mess up include not triggering the recording before starting the video stream and choosing a bit rate that broadcasts choppy over your internet connection.  Don’t forget to adjust your power saving and screen saver settings before you start broadcasting.

Broadcast vs. Download

I usually like to do some editing after a broadcast before I make the video available for download.  Sometimes I’m editing the content to get just the right segments and other times I may just be color correcting and adding a watermark.  Even if I don’t plan to do any editing, I make sure that I’m recording with more than one device, because I’m paranoid.  You should be paranoid too!

In my case, my Logitech C500 produced a great quality video and there were no glitches.  However, my Kodak Zi8 produced an even higher quality HD recording that enabled me to provide both enhanced sound and image quality.  I used Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 Platinum to apply basic color correction and to do an overlay that identifies the source of the video.

Starting with a higher quality original also gives me more options when it comes to converting the video for use elsewhere.  For example, the footage from my Zi8 allows me to easily put the interview on a DVD, broadcast it over the internet, upload full HD to youtube and render my self termed “internet half HD” format to my own website.  That’s a lot of flexibility, and the flash video file alone wouldn’t provide me with that.  But if you’re on a real budget then the $50 webcam with FMLE is too good to pass up and give’s very decent quality.

Improvements

As I watch the recording I can see a few things that I would like to improve (aside from my interview style).  The first is the seating and scenery.  Even a fake tree in the corner would have added a lot to the recording.  Nicer chairs or a cool couch and a band to provide a musical sound track would have given this broadcast a considerable bump!  Maybe a new shirt too.

Overall, i put this broadcast together in under an hour (technologically) with only a few hundred dollars of equipment and both me and my members are happy with the result.  As soon as I have some construction and furniture budget I can work on the improvements I mentioned.

As always, please comment below.

Tags: , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “Convert your front room into a Ustream broadcast studio”


  1. Fatal error: Uncaught Error: Call to undefined function ereg() in /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-content/themes/inspire/includes/theme-comments.php:59 Stack trace: #0 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-content/themes/inspire/includes/theme-comments.php(18): the_commenter_link() #1 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php(180): custom_comment(Object(WP_Comment), Array, 1) #2 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-includes/class-wp-walker.php(146): Walker_Comment->start_el('', Object(WP_Comment), 1, Array) #3 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-includes/class-walker-comment.php(140): Walker->display_element(Object(WP_Comment), Array, '5', 0, Array, '') #4 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-includes/class-wp-walker.php(371): Walker_Comment->display_element(Object(WP_Comment), Array, '5', 0, Array, '') #5 /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-includes/comment-template.php(2094): Walker->paged_walk(Array, '5', 0, in /home/dwatrous/webapps/www_danielwatrous_com/wp-content/themes/inspire/includes/theme-comments.php on line 59