Live video streams don’t need to be fixed, heavy duty affairs confined to a main lecture space. In this post, we discuss our new mobile live stream rig and how this has been designed to allow more flexible live video stream coverage of events.
Live video streaming is an increasingly popular way to provide a window on an event for a wider audience. However, many live video streams focus solely on the keynote presentations, with little coverage given the the full range of event activities. Whilst keynotes can be informative and challenging for their intended audiences, they are rarely where the real innovation and interesting discoveries take place at an event.
As event amplifiers, we want to involve a wider audience in the whole event experience, not just the selected highlights. We recently reviewed our live streaming equipment and processes to allow us to offer more flexible live video streams that capture the different facets of events. This involved ensuring we could fit into small spaces move our live stream rig around easily to capture parallel sessions in different rooms.
In addition to covering parallel sessions, we were keen to improve our ability to capture the perspectives of those exhibiting at conferences and showcases. We were first asked to do this at the AHRC Digital Transformations Moot in 2012, when we featured several ‘roaming live stream’ sessions in the programme of coverage from the day. At that point, we used a small trolley to transport the laptops and other live streaming paraphernalia around quite a tightly packed exhibition space to interview researchers about the fascinating projects they were showcasing at the event. The little trolley worked, but it was by no means ideal. Over subsequent events we refined our set up to overcome specific problems, but what resulted was a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster – functional, but not pretty. It was time for a complete rethink.
So, step forward the new, improved Event Amplifier Mobile Live Video Streaming Rig:
The Problem of Mobile Live Video Streaming
If you are live streaming on a budget, providing a high quality live video streaming whilst moving around a venue is not as easy as it sounds. Here are some of the challenges our new mobile live stream rig had to overcome:
- Access to a stable internet connection: The main conference wifi network – shared amongst all attendees – is rarely sufficient for a reliable stream, and a wired connection is obviously not possible when moving around the venue, so we needed an alternative option.
- Compact design: Exhibition spaces can be busy places and live streams require a not insignificant amount of equipment, including a laptop, camera, tripod, microphone, sound mixer, various converters and cables. We needed a compact way to move this equipment around whilst still allowing our live stream operator to easy access to all the elements.
- Cable Management: From a health and safety perspective, cable management is always an issue with any form of filming or live video streaming. In a mobile setting, the number of cables needs to be minimised to avoid any tangles or risk of injury to passers by.
- Cost: We did not have a broadcast-level budget for new equipment and pride ourselves on offering a cost effective service to our clients, who often have restricted budgets for event amplification. As a result, the mobile live stream rig had to work with our existing equipment, which includes high end consumer-level cameras, rather than professional broadcast cameras.
- Portability: Where possible, we travel by public transport to all of our events. The rig had to pack down into an easily transportable form
Our solution is affectionately known as ‘The Dalek’. It combines all of the necessary equipment within the space of a standard tripod and wheels around easily, but can’t currently handle stairs.
Key features include:
- Wireless internet hotspot: Our preference is for the venue to provide a dedicated wifi network with a minimum upload speed of 2Mbps for our exclusive use. Failing that, we have invested in a 4G wifi hotspot, which often has faster upload speeds than many high speed wired internet connections. This can be carried in the live stream operator’s pocket
- Tripad laptop stand: This is a really useful bit of plastic that allows us to combine the role of camera operator and live stream operator, making the whole rig more cost effective. The camera is connected directly into the laptop via a short cable and converter, so the live stream operator can mix in overlays, make adjustments and send the stream up to the desired live streaming service.
- Tripod dolly: We have experimented with several types of dolly and found one that packs down into a small case, and rolls smoothly on most surfaces.
- Wireless interview microphone: Our interview microphone wireless receiver can plug straight into the video camera, reducing the risk of lip sync issues. However, it is worth noting that not all consumer cameras have a mic input. Wireless microphones are not without their risks, so it is important to check with the venue in case they will be using equipment on a similar frequency, or if they know of any likely sources of interference. We have a microphone cable on standby in the live stream operator’s kit, just in case.
- Lightweight laptop: We use a MacBook Air as our mobile live streaming laptop, simply because of its size and weight. The MacBook Air is limited as a live streaming laptop in most circumstances, as it only has one Thunderbolt port, which means we can only stream with one camera angle. However, as that’s all we need for the mobile rig, it is perfect.
Overall, the rig has the same footprint as a standard tripod, and can be carried easily by one person in a single case. It has proven to be a robust set up, although we have encountered problems in venues with very tiny lifts.
The only adjustment we have yet to make is the addition of a bicycle bell to alert conference delegates as the rig wheels through the exhibition space, as it can sometimes take them by surprise!
This interview at the AHRC Connected Communities Festival demonstrates how the rig can be used in a tight space to stream a live interview:
Moving around an event and offering a live view of activities beyond the main keynotes is really important if you want to engage a remote audience in all aspects of your event. Now we have tackled the technical challenges of making this happen on a budget, we would like to experiment with this type of coverage to give remote viewers the chance to control where we go and suggest questions they would like to put to our interviewees.
This type of coverage will not suit every event or every audience. However, where showcasing innovation and giving local audience members the chance to experience live demonstrations are primary aims for the event, the live video stream programme should be designed to capture these elements and make them accessible to the remote audience.