Following on from previous success we’ve had live streaming our Havering Asks event our media block wanted to try going one step further by running a student radio station, permanently live with both audio and video streams.
From a technical and e-learning perspective it sounded a great way to get students interacting with the technology available and also provided another way to get value from our Planet eStream solution, which already provides our video content repository, TV recording server and digital signage across the college.
As always though nothing is ever completely straightforward, especially as we kept trying to push the bar a little further by adding more features without breaking the bank!
The video side was in theory the easy part as it’s something we’ve done before and only needs the Planet eStream encoder and a capture device with composite input. Simple? Of course not!
One idea was to have two cameras: one showing the students in their broadcast studio as you might see on Kiss FM or Capital and then another one directly above a mixing deck for certain radio show features.
The next fun part of the requirement was that the cameras would need to be in a physically separate location to the PC used for streaming due to space restrictions, which also makes things a bit more… interesting….
The camera to be used for the studio ideally needed to be mounting in the ceiling to get the right kind of angle to get everyone in shot. Now although we could run composite cables through the building that really didn’t seem a sensible option as there was a very conveniently placed Ethernet port nearby, an IP camera made perfect sense.
I had a look around at the BETT show and various suppliers but found many devices were way too overpowered for our needs (read expensive!) or there were cheap and cheerful cameras at the polar opposite end of the market on Amazon, eBay etc. which didn’t seem to have a great track record for reliability.
We wanted something in between to provide HD quality video, which was when I remembered that Ubiquiti Networks also sell IP cameras alongside their Unifi wireless range (which we’ve had good experiences with recently).
Eventually I found their Unifi Video Camera Dome product, which looked solid, was made for ceiling mounting and came in just under £100 – sold!
After receiving the camera I ran through the configuration steps then had a look around for how to get an RTSP stream I could enter as an input for Planet eStream. However I soon found out that this isn’t possible straight from the camera, but can be done via the free NVR recording software that comes bundled with the device.
The RTSP stream option needs to be enabled per-camera, which then provides a unique link that works perfectly in the eStream encoder. For simplicity I installed the NVR software on the streaming machine so the RTSP stream comes from the 127.0.0.1 loopback address. The host machine runs on an i5 CPU and hasn’t showed any performance issues running both pieces of software at the same time.
Now we had two cameras in place we still had a requirement to solve in terms of how to switch between them. If possible some form of branding \ overlay was also mentioned.
Spending any form of significant sum on software was out of the question so I hit Google hoping for something good and wasn’t disappointed, enter vMix:
The basic premise of the software allows you to live produce video by switching and overlaying various inputs to create your output stream. I really like the interface – everything just seems to be “there” and it also contains all the transitions, overlays and controls you’re likely to need…
…oh and did I mention the free version? :)
Two capture inputs plus two more from title sequences and overlays was a perfect fit for our needs. Yes there is a resolution limit but to get the project off the ground it was a compromise we’re willing to make. In the future I hope we can at least get to the Basic HD or HD package.
At the time I sent a quick question over to the ever-helpful eStream support team to find out how best to connect vMix to the eStream encoder; in a strange twist of fate it turned out they were testing it at the same time! All you need to do is click the External button in vMix, which then creates a virtual capture device that eStream can see and stream.
We’re using the eStream encoder rather than broadcasting via YouTube at present as it’s simpler for us to push the video internally to our signage screens on Planet eSign. However I may need to change this in the future depending on traffic, if our video stream starts getting a lot of hits it may be easier to let YouTube take the load.
one of our screen layouts showing dual camera inputs via vMix
I was also asked to provide an audio-only stream so we could offer the channel up as an Internet Radio station. All the necessary licensing was already taken care of so it was time to find another technical solution that would do the job.
The students already do all the creative work using Virtual DJ software in the radio studio then we split the output into multiple signals that are used to play the station inside the media building as well as providing a 3.5mm jack for the streaming machine.
Icecast immediately looked to be the front-runner to encode the audio stream although it needs something else to act as a front-end. After a bit of searching I settled on an unfortunately named but rather good (and open-source) program called Butt.
I configured Icecast with its own dedicated external domain name and after trying a few different format settings went for an MP3 stream at 192Kbps.
Getting the stream to embed nicely took a few tries too, mainly down to how picky browsers are about what code and tags are used. Eventually settled on the format below which plays on most devices using an HTML5 player:
<audio name="media" autoplay="" controls="">
<source type="audio/mpeg" src="http://yourstream.domain.tld:8000/mountpoint"></source>
This embed code generator may also provide useful
The end result
We now have a website up and running that hosts both video and audio streams, along with the usual smattering of social networks for audience participation.
Another upshot of setting up the audio-only stream was that it’s recently become the source for our upload to TuneIn radio http://tunein.com/radio/HCRadio-s245212/
Students broadcast their shows throughout the week and we’ve now partnered with some other stations and even celebs to raise the profile of the station.
Now we’ve done radio the next challenge lies ahead; HCTV will be coming soon as part of a TV week that will include Havering Asks and a couple of new shows, watch this space!