Setting up a streaming TV show on the Internet is a pretty easy task. You grab a webcam, plug it into a PC, and use an Internet streaming site to host your amateur show. We’re stressing the amateur part because let’s face it, we’ve all seen enough YouTube stars to know the score.
But since this is Maximum PC, we’re kicking it up a notch and showing you how to become an online video producer. First off, we’re upping the number of cameras to two. Second, we’re going to show you how to stream your video live. By using Ustream’s (www.ustream.tv) online interface, you’ll be able to switch back and forth between your two cameras. Give your audience two different views of your head! Or more likely, use the second camera to feature a special guest or sidekick.
However, switching the cameras and the input audio is a Herculean task for one Flash-based interface—plus, we scoff at built-in webcam microphones—so we’re also using a condenser microphone, lavalier microphone, and mixing board. With them, you’ll have better sound quality and you’ll be able to adjust the microphones’ levels on the fly, independent of your camera-switching efforts on your PC. It’s the perfect way to up the production values of your show, and it will help you stand out without resorting to super-expensive, high-definition camcorders. Let’s roll!
Time Required = 35 Mins.
We’re using Behringer’s MXB1002 mixing board for our setup, but feel free to select any mixing board that comes with the number of inputs you intend to use. For our setup, we need one XLR input (fat connector, three prongs) and a single 1/4-inch input. The condenser microphone provides the show’s host with far better sound quality than what a typical USB headset or 1/8-inch microphone offers. The lavalier microphone is a perfect, less-expensive alternative for guests, and it gives you more mobility if you need to stray from your desk for a segment.
As for the mixing board, you can opt for a fancier model to give yourself the option of more guests, or you can just go for a cheaper model with the bare essentials. You won’t see a difference in quality at this price level, just connection options.
Connecting the microphones to the board is simple. For the XLR microphone (top image), plug one end of the male connector into the mic and the other end into the first position on the mixing board. The lavalier mic we’ve chosen, Audio-Technica’s ATR35s, comes with a converter that allows us to plug its 1/8-inch connector into the second channel’s 1/4-inch line-in on our mixing board (bottom image). Finally, to get the audio to our PC, we’re attaching our Y cable’s 1/4-inch connectors to the left and right outputs on the board and the cable’s 1/8-inch end to the microphone input on our motherboard.
Physically installing the webcams is pretty straightforward. We recommend you do it systematically, to prevent your OS from freaking out, especially if you’re using webcams from different manufacturers.
Start by connecting the first webcam to your rig and then installing the accompanying drivers from either the provided CD or a packaged download. Depending on your camera, you might be given the option to enable a face-tracking feature. We recommend you resist the urge to enable this or any special effects. They’ll make your show look lame at best, and at worst, the jittering of the automatic lens seeking out your mug will annoy viewers to the point of turning off your show.
Once you have your first webcam up and running, attach the second one. If it’s the same make and model, the software interface should allow you to toggle between the two as-is. If not, install the drivers for your second webcam. They should be compatible, but if you want to experiment with live-feeding the images from both cameras at the same time, the two apps will have to run simultaneously.
All that matters at this point is that you can operate two cameras. Check both to see that they produce images, place the cameras where you want them to broadcast from, and proceed to Step 3!
Next: Step Three!
We’re using Ustream.tv to host our streaming show because of its smorgasbord of options, both behind the scenes and embedded into the broadcasting interface. Setting up an account is easy. Just go to www.ustream.tv and click the Log In/Sign Up button in the upper-right corner. Once you’ve entered your personal information, you’ll be taken to a show configuration screen.
This menu allows you to configure the basics of your show—such as its name and logo—as well as tags and an HTML-based description. If you want to tackle some of the advanced configuration options available, cycle through the tabs on the top of the screen. In the Design tab, you can edit the color scheme and fonts of your show’s main page. And if you already have favorite shows on Ustream, you can add links to them below your show.
The Sharing tab is the hub for propagating your show across the Internet. You can use this portion of the options menu to post information about your show to your favorite web 2.0 websites, Twitter your friends, or import your email contacts and send them notes about your production.
Finally, the Advanced tab allows you to configure your show’s accompanying chat room. You can turn commenting on or off, but more importantly, you can assign other Ustream users to serve as chat moderators. This is also where you set permissions for co-hosting, in case you ever want to share the spotlight with other Internet buddies.
Once you’re ready to go live, click the big Broadcast Now button in the upper-right corner of Ustream’s website. A window will pop up, showing you the feed from one of your cams. Make sure that both Audio and Video Broadcast are checked and that the audio source is the microphone input on your motherboard or soundcard. Don’t forget to adjust the video and audio quality if you have to, depending on the speed of your connection.
Click the Advanced Settings tab in the lower-left corner. We recommend you leave the frame-rate option as it is and instead use the slider bars on the main broadcasting screen to adjust your show’s quality levels. Click the option that asks if you’re using a mixing board. And while you’re here, check out the other options: The Create Poll feature is a handy way to interact with your chat room audience, and the Cohost tab allows you to bring live guests into your show’s mix.
When you’re done mucking around, click the Close button to head back to the main broadcasting screen. You can switch your camera input by selecting a new video source—it’s right above the audio source option you set earlier. There will be a bit of a delay as the image switches over, and the corresponding software for each webcam (if they’re different models) might load when you switch. Keep the webcam software windows open, and use this switch to shift back and forth between your cameras.
Each channel on a mixer comes with a number of inputs—in our case, an XLR and a line-in for left and right channels. Below the channel are the various knobs that control the sound itself. The ones you need to concern yourself with are the equalizer settings—the Low, Mid, and Hi knobs—and the Gain knob, which controls the signal’s amplification. The fader slides up and down to control the level of sound that routes to the mixer’s main output.
Start by turning all of the knobs in the channel to their zero settings—the notches should be facing up. Only the Gain knob is different: Its zero requires you to turn the knob all the way to the left. Now move the channel fader and the board’s main fader from their lowest levels up. Your mixer should have LED lights that indicate the level of sound that’s passing out of the board: You’re aiming to have the loudest parts of your broadcast just barely blip past 0, usually signified by the briefest of flickers on one of the board’s yellow lights.
We recommend you pick a point for your main fader—the number varies depending on your mixer, but the fader should be about 75 percent of the way up from the bottom—and play with the channel fader until you’re comfortable with the volume. You can also adjust the Gain to increase volume, but pushing it too far will add artificial noises and clipping to your stream. When you’re ready to go, click Start Broadcast in Ustream and start talking!
You can use Justin.tv (www.justin.tv) and Y! Live (live.yahoo.com) as alternate streaming options, but they’re less feature-packed than Ustream. The former lets you edit image quality, record episodes, and send Twitter messages to friends in its GUI, but that’s it. Yahoo Live offers a bit more. It provides your web show with its own chat channel that allows you to see the video streams of up to four other users on your show’s main page. It’s a great way to keep the conversation alive among your listeners. Ustream supports only text chat, not video.