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In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to stream an event to Facebook Live using the Live U Solo encoder. Although the tutorial will be product- and service-specific, I’ll do what I can to generalize operation for other services and for other encoders.
Choosing an Encoder
Portable encoders input the HDMI or HD-SDI feed from your camcorder or live mixer, encode it to a manageable bandwidth, and then transmit it to your target streaming service, or a proprietary cloud service that will route it to your target. For example, with the Solo, you stream into Live U’s Solo Cloud Service, which redirects the stream to Facebook.
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There are many encoder options, from cigarette-pack-sized encoders that attach via your camera’s cold shoe to the deli-sandwich-sized Live U Solo (Figure 1) that you can hang on your tripod or belt. Most encoders support Wi-Fi and/or Ethernet, which is convenient when broadcasting events from locations with these signals. To access 3G/4G, you’ll need an encoder that comes with either dedicated internal modem slots or USB slots for third-party modems.
Figure 1. The Live U Solo fits comfortably in your hand and can hang on a belt or tripod.
The Live U Solo has two USB slots, allowing two connections to one or two different 4G services. We had modems for Verizon and T-Mobile. Using two services is nice because it provides a measure of signal redundancy, and if both signals are live, the modem can stream over both, increasing outbound signal bandwidth and video quality. If your location has Ethernet and Wi-Fi, the Solo can use these signals as well, enabling a bonded, high-bandwidth signal that helps ensure high video quality.
Solo Cloud Service
Like most larger encoder companies, Live U offers a cloud service, or portal, for connecting to different live streaming services. Behind the scenes, job number one for the service is to reassemble the bits transmitted over the different internet connections into a cohesive stream to be routed to the target streaming service. The obvious benefit is that you can combine the two 4G signals, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet from the modem into a high-bandwidth stream delivered to your service of choice.
Operationally, the Solo peaks at about 5.5Mbps, which it will divide evenly from the available signals. Pushing the signal through the cloud adds about 5 seconds of latency, which you can halve via a low-latency mode that Live U makes available in the broadcast interface. This reduces forward error correction, however, which may reduce video quality. Unless latency is an issue, I would broadcast in normal mode.
For most services like Facebook, you’ll use a preset that automatically routes the signal through the cloud service. Note that you can configure the generic RTMP preset to disable bonding and transport directly to Facebook (or any service), cutting the cloud out of the picture, but this limits your transport to a single connection since Facebook can’t reassemble packets from disparate connections. If latency is an issue, and you’re working from a robust Ethernet connection, this might be worthwhile; but if you’re transmitting via 4G with two modems, you’ll definitely want to transport over both signals and aggregate the bandwidth.
Whether transmitting via a service-specific or generic preset, you’ll set up your event via the cloud service first. You can start and stop the encoder remotely via the cloud service, so if you’re sending a video grapher out with the unit, all he or she has to do is turn the Solo on, get connected to the internet, and plug in the camera; you can do the rest from the comfort of your office or studio. If you’re working solo without on-site connectivity for your computer, you can set up the event at your office, manually start the Solo hardware on-site, and it will broadcast to the last configured event. Or, you can set up the event and control operation via a smartphone or tablet with connectivity.
Setting Up the Hardware
The Solo hardware is roughly 5 x 4 x 2 inches in size. Our unit has both HDMI and HD-SDI input connectors and costs $1,495; you can also buy an HDMI-only unit for $995. Input connectors are on the right, along with a headphone jack, a microSD slot that’s currently unused, and one USB port. On the left is the AC power connection, Ethernet port, and the other USB port. The Solo has an internal battery that should enable up to 2 hours of broadcasting.
On the front is a small color LCD panel you’ll use to configure the system and also as a confidence monitor to preview the video during the event, which is always nice when broadcasting remotely. You configure and control the unit via a joystick and the On/Off switch for powering the unit up and starting and stopping the stream, which, as mentioned, you can also do via the cloud service.
The LCD panel uses color coding to designate connection status (Figure 2). If the bars for the service are yellow, the service is not transmitting. If green, the service is connected. I live in a rural area with robust Verizon support, but no T-Mobile towers, so for me, the Verizon bars were green and the T-Mobile were yellow. Note that in the figure, I brightened the image to better show the black On/Off button, which lightened the green bars on the Verizon service to almost yellow, and the yellow bars for the T-Mobile connection to near white. The Solo display shows them as more clearly green and yellow in person, and you’ll have no trouble telling them apart.
Figure 2. The Verizon signal (in green) was working, T-Mobile (in yellow) wasn’t. Note the joystick control beside the LCD panel and the On/Off switch below.
Setting Up the Software
As mentioned, you set up the Solo via its portal (Figure 3), which can control multiple Solo units. After buying your Solo, you register with the portal, connect that hardware to the internet, and type the serial number of the unit into the cloud service, which connects the hardware to your account. The basic portal is free, and there’s a graphics package you can use to add graphics to your videos with pricing starting at $75/month for up to 10 hours of graphics.
Figure 3: Here’s the Solo in the Solo Portal.