This is Matt Smith’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:
Geeks are present on many different social networks: YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and the like. While all of these networks serve slightly different purposes, their main goal lies in helping individuals with overlapping interests make personal connections. For anyone looking to take the interaction to a higher level, starting a live stream may help one to accomplish that desired level of interaction. I’ve compiled a “Top Five” guide in order to assist anyone interested in running a live stream.
1. Get the right equipment.
I can’t stress enough the importance of high-quality equipment. If you’re going to do something, do it right, and don’t cheap out on your gear. The only place where “Cheap” comes before “Geek” is in the dictionary.
- Camera. Obviously, some type of camera will be required before further infrastructure is put into place. Depending on the amount of time you plan to spend streaming, you will need to purchase an appropriate camera. For casual streamers, a higher quality webcam, such as the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000, will do. However, if you plan on streaming on a regular basis, you might want to consider some type of DV camera. This will offer a higher video quality and provide you with much more flexibility and expandability, such as higher video quality and a zoom remote.
- Microphone. Although many webcams and almost all DV cameras have a built-in mic, having a separate condenser mic can make all the difference. Instead of broadcasting strained, tinny, hard to hear audio, you’ll be broadcasting sound that is sharp, crisp, and clear. This will make your stream much more attractive to prospective viewers and followers. I have used a CAD u32 in the past, and it worked great for my needs. While Samson and other pro audio companies do make higher-end microphones that are more expensive, I have not had any problems so far with the u32.
- Stream Machine. I would highly recommend a dedicated computer to run a live stream, as streaming can be quite intensive on all aspects of your system. More specifically, I would recommend a Mac. From what I’ve heard, and from my own personal experience, the abundance of well-written streaming software for Windows is virtually nonexistent. I’m not saying you have to get a Mac Pro just to run a stream – just make sure it has enough CPU and GPU power.
- Lights. Regardless of how much lighting you already have in the area you wish to stream, it always helps to have some type of light for the stream. Track lighting works well, although something even as simple as a lamp pointed in the vicinity of your “set” will greatly improve the video quality.
2. Pick a good location to stream.
Most geeks will understandably want to stream from their computer. I do realize that no one’s living conditions are perfect, but try to make the area look presentable. Neatness does count; I don’t believe in the the “clean desk, cluttered mind” theory. Although the shot does not need to be filled with clutter, there do need to be elements to make the video look interesting (e.g. Chris Pirillo’s TIX Clocks, Bwana’s Gators poster).
3. Use software to enhance the video.
Once everything is connected to the stream machine, it’s helpful to use software to improve the appearance of the video. For the purposes of this article, I will discuss CamTwist for Mac OS X, although many other programs function in a manner somewhat similar to CamTwist. The “Brightness” effect allows for granular control over brightness, contrast, and saturation – something that viewers will subconsciously respond to. Adding dynamic elements such as a topic, the time, a site address, and chat, will also add color to the video. This can be achieved by means of the “Text”, “Solid Color”, “PIP”, “Clock”, and “RSS Ticker” effects. Some of the effects included in CamTwist are not necessarily useful in the context of a live stream, however, it’s still bar-none one of the best programs on the market for live video production.
4. Attract viewers.
Even if you have a wonderfully designed stream, everything is rendered null and void without viewers. It helps to become established on other networks before you jump headfirst into the world of live streaming. That way, there are already plenty of people following you, and you will have a prospective audience simply waiting for you. If you just open a Ustream.tv account and do nothing else, you’re more likely to get nothing but spammers and trolls.
5. Keep a handle on chat.
An IRC chat room is a common side dish to a live stream, but, more times than not, I’ve seen way too many dramatic, out of control issues occurring in chat. If someone is spamming, trolling, and has been sufficiently warned, don’t be afraid to be the “bad guy” and do a kick and ban. Even though I tend to be a lighter moderator and give people the benefit of the doubt, there is a line, and you have to be able to judge when that line has been crossed. Write out definite rules of the channel, and make sure that everyone chatting is aware of what these rules stipulate.
Running a live stream can be a very rewarding experience, but, like anything worth having, requires a substantial amount of effort. Lastly, always remember to project a positive image of yourself – people ARE watching!
What are your thoughts? Do you have any tips or tricks for live streaming?