Preparing for online streaming video

17 Jan

There are some artists who like to show how they draw via an online streaming service, like Ustream, Justin.TV, and Livestream. The only problem is that the standard resolution is 320 by 240 pixels, which is fine for a talking head, but no so fine if you want to demonstrate a particular effect in Photoshop, or your inking stroke on Bristol board. You can zoom in, but that has the tendency to confuse the viewer (what am I looking at here).

So, a higher resolution is needed, at least standard TV resolution (well, if the TV had square pixels), or 640 by 480 pixels. Of course, that also requires more bandwidth, even if you lower the frame rate to 15 frames per second. Furthermore, a cable (or optical fiber) connection to the Internet is preferred over DSL.

I can’t go into specifics and my experience with streaming in higher resolution, because I haven’t done any testing.

If you’re on Windows, then Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder is the best solution (free to use). Since I don’t have a Windows system, I can’t offer any advice there.

A solution for the Mac is Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster, which is free to use. It is stand-alone desktop application which is able to stream live video, using a streaming video codec, available in QuickTime. This solution seems the best candidate, plus it is designed by Apple (i.e. easy to use).

So who supports QuickTime Broadcaster at this moment? Well, only Justin.TV, both Ustream and Livestream still use the Flash Video protocol (FLV), but are planning to include QuickTime h.264, because it delivers higher quality at the same bandwidth.

So, I’ll be using Justin.TV for testing purposes. I’ve read the instructions, tested the QuickTime Broadcaster software on my local area network (see below), and now I only have to bring things into practice.

I have ordered a Logitech web cam for better quality, although, in theory, the iSight should have more than enough resolution (well beyond 640 x 480). Being inside the Mac, the iSight uses precious CPU cycles, while the external web cam I ordered has all drivers built in (it should work on any computer, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux desktop). A DV camera with Firewire connector would be even better, but that is outside my current budget.

(Edited on January 18, 2010: Sorry for spreading a bit of misinformation here. Adobe Flash Media Encoder is free to download and free to use. May the gods of real-time video have mercy on me for such a blunder.)

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