For quite some time I’ve been looking for a way to leverage things like Skype video calling, Google Hangouts or Citrix GotoMeeting with HD Faces. However, I don’t want to use a webcam as the video source. I want to use a real, high-quality video source….preferably an HD-SDI video source.
Clearly I’ve got my own reasons for this sort of requirement. I work with equipment that outputs production grade video. By “production grade” I mean entirely uncompressed video. That’s 270 Mbps for SD and 1.459 Gbps for HD. It’s very clean video.
There are times when I need to be able to stream this kind of video to a remote site. Of course it’s not practical to send the uncompressed stream wholly unaltered. Well, it could be done, but for a hefty price.
Since the far end is typically an ad hoc location what I really need is a way to use an uncompressed HD-SDI source, but deliver a decent quality, sensibly compressed stream to something handy at the far end. It would be most ideal if it didn’t require an installed app to receive the stream. Finally, it should handle firewalls and NAT without flinching.
I’ve long held that things like Skype, Google Hangouts ought to make this possible. However, such consumer wares are invariably written around using consumer webcams as their sole available video source. Webcams suck, but that’s a topic for another day.
Friend and VUC founder Randy Resnick is a Mac user and so makes use of CamTwist to process his webcam feed when he joins a Hangout. While there are some similar apps for Windows, most notably ManyCam, these also tend to focus on things-you-can-do-with-webcams as opposed to practical-alternatives-to-webcams. So far these have proven unsatisfactory for my needs.
At IBC 2012 Telestream announced v4.2 of it’s Wirecast software. Telestream is a company with a long history in video compression for broadcast applications. Their Flip Factory is a benchmark application for video file conversion at TV stations.
Wirecast is prosumer software that’s basically software implementation of a television production switcher. It allows the user to switch and combine various video sources, creating a real-time stream for use with services like Livestream, UStream, Justin.tv, etc.
The Wirecast v4.2 release is notable in that it includes a new feature called “Virtual camera output.” This virtual camera allows Wirecast to send its output to application software that would otherwise use a common webcam. They cite support for use with Skype, Google Hangouts and GotoMeeting, the very three things that I’d like to use.
Wirecast also supports a variety of hardware input devices including; USB webcams, IP-based cameras, capture cards from AVer Media, Black Magic Design, AJA Video, Matrox, etc. All of this provides flexibility in dealing with different sorts of input video. It offers freedom from the tyranny of the webcam as the sole source of video.
They even have a nifty free Desktop Presenter app that lets any desktop become a video source, allowing easy desktop sharing into the Wirecast stream.
Telestream makes Wirecast available for download and allows it to be used on a trial basis for thirty days. Without a paid license installed it watermarks it’s output periodically, as you can see in the screenshot above. It also plays an voice watermark into the audio output.
Even with these limitations I’ve been able to put the software through its paces in the past couple of weeks. It’s been interesting, even useful already. The screenshot above shows several inputs configured for a session streamed via GotoMeeting HDFaces.
- BMD Intensity Pro HDMI capture card receiving an SD-SDI video feed
- The desktop presenter app on another PC sending a Windows desktop
- A static JPEG image to use as a slate
- A Logitech BCC950 ConferenceCam providing a feed of me at the controls
Wirecast is very flexible with respect to outputs. The various parameters of the broadcast can be preset, including streaming media format, resolution and bit-rate. The entire broadcast can be recorded to disk at very high quality while streaming at something lesser. All of those settings are independent of the virtual camera settings.
It’s especially useful that the various sources are all processed separately. In my test case the SDI video was 720 x 486 at 270 Mbps while the desktop presenter was 1920 x 1080 pixels and the Logitech ConferenceCam providing 640 x 480 pixels. Wirecast converts each source into the appropriate format for the broadcast on-the fly.
The program is also able to composite sources. In my test I use the Desktop Presenter as a background, with the SD video from the Intensity Pro card in a window positioned to the lower right corner. The result was that I could show a clear cause & effect relationship between what I was doing on the PC and the resulting video output.
Wirecast does a lot, most of which I’ve yet to explore. That said, I am simply elated that it addresses my core concern with being limited to using a webcam with these common video conference software & services. The virtual camera feature definitely gets around that restriction and gives me greater control of the behavior of the video stream. By the way, the virtual camera feature is at present only available in the Windows release.
There is only one catch that I can see so far…the price. Wirecast sells for $499. It’s not a toy. It’s a tool for professionals and priced accordingly. I can easily see how it would earn its keep within Pixel Power, but at that price it’s not the kind of thing I would order without first seeking approval.
If you can justify the cost it seems to me that Wirecast is an excellent way to get started with streaming video online.