Observations of the vMix 17 Public Beta

Last week saw the release of the vMix Fun Time Live Show for March which was punctuated by the public release of a beta preview of vMix 17. The official release of vMix is being timed to coincide with the annual NAB Convention, which is April 16-21 in Las Vegas.

In the middle of 2015 vMix replaced Wirecast as my preferred desktop video production software. vMix is effectively a production switcher. It allows me to combine various audio and video sources in real-time, the results being sent to a Hangout-On-Air or recorded to disk. It handles webcams, graphics, animations, video capture cards, live desktop capture and even PowerPoint files with ease. Further, it does so while being less hardware intensive than its competition.

vMix is how we roll the open to the weekly VUC Hangouts-On-Air. It’s also how I create little videos for other purposes, like tutorials for ZipDX.

vMix 17 brings quite a number of new features to the table. I’d like to examine a couple of the more significant enhancements, as they may prove very interesting.

NDI: Network Device Interface

By far the biggest new feature is the adoption of NDI. NDI is a protocol created by Newtek that’s designed to allow production quality audio and video to be passed over IP networks.

Who are Newtek you ask? Back in the 90’s they upset the world of video production with the creation of the Video Toaster, the first serious desktop video production platform. Since then their TriCaster range has dominated desktop production, from corporate facilities, to churches, cable facilities and smaller broadcasters.

More recently, they’re one of the players offering a hardware solution (TalkShow) to integrate Skype video into traditional broadcast facilities. Suffice it to say, they know a thing or two about production video.

NDI is their scheme for passing production grade video across an IP network in real-time. It means that where once production required some amount of video cable with BNC connectors, and gear required that kind of hardware I/O, now everything can travel over IP using a standard Gigabit network connection. NDI makes connecting signal sources to destinations dramatically cheaper & easier.

NDI Everywhere

Further, Newtek has offered NDI to the world. There’s a royalty-free SDK allowing other developers and hardware companies to incorporate NDI into their wares. For their part, Newtek has released a suite of free NDI tools, with more yet to come. NDI implementations have already been announced by numerous hardware and software companies.

Of particular interest, CRS has announced that they will be supporting NDI in the PTZ Optics line of remote cameras. That means you could have a proper PTZ camera connected via a single Ethernet cable. All power, video, audio, even PTZ remote control is delivered over that cable. That makes installation and configuration dramatically simpler.

NDI is a major development. It could be revolutionary in many aspects of video production. Its influence will not be limited to broadcasting.

NDI First Hands-On: Desktop Capture

My first hands-on experience with NDI begins with vMix 17 and its accomplice, the vMix Desktop Capture tool for Mac or Windows. Both applications have been updated to leverage NDI as the media transport.

NDI replaces a proprietary scheme that, while historically adequate, can’t compare to NDI for speed and quality. In fact, the new Desktop Capture tool is capable of passing a playback of a YouTube clip at full-frame (1920×1080) at > 25 frames/sec from my humble i3-based Mac Mini. In the past I was lucky to achieve 12-15 frames/sec.

vMix can also be  an NDI source, sending its output to a downstream NDI destination. The most obvious easy way to experiment with this is with a second instance of vMix. They offer a full-function 60-day trial download, so why not?

A Practical Application

Streaming the desktop from one computer into streaming production software on another might seem simplistic, but it’s genuinely useful. For example, as we got underway with VUC587 last week it became apparent that the Freeswitch Team had hoped to connect their Freeswitch MCU to the Hangout-On-Air. Hangouts and Hangouts-On-Air are not exactly accommodating in this regard. They’re basically islands.

The only obvious approach was to invoke the Freeswitch Verto WebRTC client for the MCU and screen share that into the Hangout-On-Air. That approach is basically screen-scraping in software. Screen-scraping is a time honored process in computing, but there are more efficient ways to do it.

While we had that basic approach as a fallback, I loaded Verto on the Mac Mini and streamed that to vMix on my desktop. This split the workload across two systems. It allowed me to pipe the Freeswitch MCU into the Hangout-On-Air at 25 f/s.

I didn’t realize at the time that the Freeswitch MCU is itself set to operate at just 15 f/s. Even so, the NDI based screen share looked markedly better to my eyes. Using the NDI-based Desktop Capture over the network was more convenient than running an HDMI cable from the Mac to the capture card in my desktop.

There’s doubtless be more to share about vMix 17 and NDI as I gain more experience using the software.