So you want to be a video star? You’ll have to work on your gaming skills first—you wouldn’t want to disappoint your future legions of YouTube fans with a 0-64 record in StarCraft II.
Wait, what? Videogame streaming (and commentary) is a huge deal nowadays, and it’s a lot easier to get in on the action than you might think. And don’t forget bragging rights: Wouldn’t you want to show all of your friends just how well you can wield a zergling? Or a portal gun? Or a desert bus adventure?
Live streams of games like StarCraft II have become popular online entertainment.
You don’t need any flashy hardware or capture cards to stream your screen (and game) online. In fact, you can have your “I Rock at TIE Fighter” channel up and running within half an hour, at most.
For livestreaming, we prefer Ustream (www.ustream.com), a free service that offers an effortless method for transforming a live recording of your desktop or laptop PC into an online broadcast. You don’t have to worry about customizing a special player, or futzing around with hosting your feeds in some crazy way, or setting up your own server, or doing much beyond hitting the giant, obligatory Go Live button.
For those who don’t yet have an account, you’ll start by hitting up the main Ustream site and going through the standard sign-up process. Once you’re activated and logged in, click your account name in the upper-right corner of Ustream’s homepage. On the following page, click the “Create a show” button in the upper-left corner (below).
Voila. You’re now in your new show’s settings screen. Adjust your options to suit your preferences within the various tabs on the left side of the screen: Show Info, to manage the basics like name, category, and pictures; Design, to set up the look and feel of your streaming broadcast; and Settings, to change your broadcast’s privacy and chat settings (among other options).
Within the Settings window, make sure you click the Advanced Settings drop-down list at the bottom of your screen. Once you’ve done that, click the “Download the Flash Media Encoder XML file”. This is your golden ticket to the online cinema, so make sure you remember where you saved it to on your hard drive. Very important stuff.
And that’s it! Don’t start broadcasting your show just yet; we’ve only cracked the surface of what you have to do to get your new gaming stream up and running!
You’ll need a copy of the free VH Capture (www.hmelyoff.com) to begin. Unfortunately the official site is frequently down, so hit up Google and snag a copy from a download site that you trust. Install the app, then pull up the oddly named folder (Hmelyoff Labs) where it sits in your Start Menu, and click through to the subfolder of that (VHScrCap). Run the Config shortcut, which will pull up… a blank window.
You’ll want to click the “Create new one” button within the “VH Screen Capture Driver instance selection” window—we’ll be establishing the parameters that the app uses to record your screen in the next few windows. If you’re curious how this is all going to make it to Ustream, we’ll later use a separate program to serve as the bridge between the “feed” created by VH Capture and the web service.
After you’ve clicked the “Create new one” button, you’ll want to select the Capture tab that appears on the subsequent VH Screen Capture Driver window. Click the Track Screen option. That’s it! You might be tempted to fiddle around with the other settings in the misguided belief that you’ll be able to specify exact portions of the screen that VH Screen Capture will pull from. Don’t bother; your settings won’t matter, as we’ll be cropping and dicing the recorded feed in a subsequent program.
Click over to the Settings tab (above). Within this screen, you’ll want to set your frame rate to a high number (try 60), as you’ll want to have the highest-quality stream feeding over to the second program in our chain—that’s where the compression will hit. Feel free to adjust settings for displaying the mouse or clicks as you see fit. Once you’re done fiddling, make sure you leave this program open on its Options screen. We’re on to Step 3.
Grab Adobe’s free Flash Media Live Encoder (adobe.ly/NQWU), install it, and fire up the application. When it loads, you’ll want to start by clicking the File menu, then Open Profile, and then selecting the Flash Media Encoder XML file you previously downloaded from Ustream.
You’ll then want to find the Video section within the Flash Media Live Encoder’s configuration screen (above). Click the drop-down list next to the Device entry and select VH Screen Capture, or VHScrCap, as the device that Adobe Flash Media Encoder pulls from. If everything is going to plan, a vision of your desktop should pop up in the preview window above the app’s configuration options.
Select the ever-awesome H.264 codec as your encoding format, and then click the tiny wrench icon to the right of the selection box for Advanced Encoder Settings (below). StarCraft II recording veterans tend to adopt profiles that use more keyframes—a one- or two-second keyframe. That’s because a keyframe is a recording of the screen as it looks at a particular time; anything up until the next keyframe is rendered as a differential adjustment to the underlying static keyframe image. Or, to put it another way, you’ll have less blur and incorrect coloration if you set keyframes to a faster (lower) interval. Also, change your profile from Baseline to Main.
If you’re planning to stream a windowed game for whatever reason, now’s the time to set your input size and cropping options. This part of the setup is pretty self-explanatory: Input size allows you to isolate the particular portion of your original stream that Flash Media Live Encoder should use, and the cropping options allow you to drill down to a pixel-perfect rendition of whatever dimensions you set.
Before you start your streaming, two key steps remain: Set the size of your output “streamed” video under the Output Size option—this is exactly what’s going to be sent over to Ustream. Select the Bit Rate as well: So long as your setup can handle it, higher bit rates directly translate to a higher-quality final product.
And finally, if you want your game’s audio to be broadcast to Ustream, click the Device menu under the Audio portion of the app and select the option that’s either Stereo Mix or What U Hear, depending on the specifics of your card. If neither exists, you can always select your standard microphone jack, hook up a headset, and provide some thrilling audio
commentary… or foley.
Ready? Click the big green Start button.
Head on back to Ustream and click the giant Go Live button in the upper-right corner. Once your official Broadcast Live window pops up, you’ll notice that you can’t really adjust settings like video quality or audio quality on the web app itself. That’s because Ustream, in this instance, is merely the switch that turns your live broadcast on and off. All quality settings are being handled by Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, which should already be running in the background as you read this.
Click Start Broadcast to do just that (above), and then sit back and watch your rise to Internet superstardom begin. And do send us an autograph when you strike it big!
Final caveats: You’ll notice that we haven’t dabbled too much in numerical specifics—what to set for your stream’s bit rate, the size of the video itself, what your frame rate should be, etc. Sadly, the best numbers to slap in these fields can vary by a number of key factors, not the least of which is the speed of your computer and the speed of your Internet connection. The name of the streaming game is experimentation, and only you can ultimately determine the specific settings that work best for your configuration. We can show you how to stream; it’s up to you to make it look good.