Understand Live Streaming with Schematics

It is probably the engineer in me that wants to codify things to explain and to clarify complex subjects. It is far easier to understand live streaming with schematics instead of strictly verbal explanations or equipment examples. That is why I developed this set of schematics for streaming hardware and streaming software.

Streaming Hardware Schematic

The streaming hardware schematic below shows three major components, the laptop or workstation, audio mixer, and video switch. The audio mixer in the diagram shows the typical inputs and outputs. While the diagram shows four XLR microphone inputs, there are mixers with more inputs as well as fewer. The same is true of line in and line out. Line in can be other audio sources, including instruments. Line out can go to an audio speaker system or to a recorder. Both digital and analog mixers exist and the analog mixers are the least expensive. In either case, a USB output is needed to get the audio to the laptop. In a very simple configuration the audio mixer can be replaced by a USB microphone.

The video switch allows management of multiple cameras. In this case four cameras are shown, but more expensive switches are available that handle more. The input to the switch is video from cameras. The output to the laptop is USB-C at 10 Gbps. This will not work without the high data rate provided by a USB-C port.

In a minimal configuration a video capture card or a video capture dongle can be used to connect a video camera. A video capture card is a good choice for a desktop computer. A dongle connects via USB and you need to be certain that the flavor of USB that you use will support the data rate, typically USB 3.0. Even more simple is to connect a Webcam directly to your computer via USB.

The laptop or workstation should be connected to the Internet router using Ethernet cable rather than over the air on WiFi. This supports the highest possible upload data rates for streaming. The HDMI out on the laptop supports use of a projector for slides or other video. That projector can be shared on the stream so that in-person content on a screen can be seen by the stream audience. There is room for other USB devices, such as a “clicker” to allow the presenter to advance projected slides.

Illustrate the hardware schematic description text
Streaming Hardware Schematic

Streaming Software Schematic

For streaming software schematic I chose to show what I know and that is Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). Technically, OBS is an encoder. Its function is to integrate multiple sources and encode them into a digital video and audio format for streaming as, for example, MPEG. The keyboard and mouse are used to define “scenes” to prepare for streaming and to transition between scenes during streaming. Each scene integrates various media, windows, displays, audio sources, and video sources. OBS and similar encoders use scenes to control and format the streamed content. I note that Zoom does not play well in this configuration since it requires what I consider to be a complicated workaround that can be risky.

A minimal configuration can use a streaming service web page, such as YouTube, instead of the software encoder. In this case, the stream is limited to the video from a single video source and a single audio source. Those sources can be the built-in web cam and microphone on your laptop or even on a handheld device.

Supports the textual description of software streaming schematic
Streaming Software Schematic

Simulcast Software Schematic

Some producers like to have their streams go out over two or more streaming services. This lets viewers use the services that they prefer, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitch and others. To do this a subscription is usually needed to a third party server that connects to multiple streaming services. These servers have the bandwidth to output streams to multiple services with low latency. Low latency means that viewers are seeing the production in near real time without delays and breakups.

Supports the description of using third part simulcast service
Simulcast Software Schematic

Schematics are Only the Beginning

Schematics are only the beginning to understanding and implementing streaming successfully. Almost everything in a full-up configuration needs some adaptation. Mixer panel settings are needed to set sound levels and other audio characteristics. On higher end video cameras, exposure levels and aperture must be set, as a minimum. Encoder scenes are developed in advance of the stream event. Streaming service parameters must be set in the encoder as well as possibly at the streaming service itself.

These schematics give you a hardware and software configuration as a basis to start planning your streaming activities. Remember that the hardware and software configurations in these schematics are very flexible and can scale for the size of your production. You can start small and work up to a more comprehensive configuration as your needs and your experience grow.

Download a PDF of the schematics here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

See My Live Streams from Jaffrey

Last season I began to produce and edit the Stories to Share series of YouTube live stream broadcasts from the Jaffrey Civic Center in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. I invite you to see my live streams from Jaffrey. The link to the coming live stream is found on the Jaffrey Civic Center YouTube channel. Click on “Uploads” and select “Upcoming live streams”.

Season 2

The Season 2 of the Stories to Share series started on October 7, 2022, with a great presentation by author Ernest Hebert. Each new episode will be streamed on the first Friday of each month through May, 2023, beginning at 5:00 PM. The streams usually last about one hour and each features an interesting guest speaker. Each coming episode is described on the JCC Events Page.

Live Stream Setup

Well before the production date, I create the opening and closing credits videos. To produce these streams live, I bring lighting, audio, and video equipment to the Jaffrey Civic Center. There is no in-house audio or stage lighting. It usually takes a while to unload my car and carry all of the equipment into the auditorium. The equipment is set up early on the day of broadcast so that I can test everything.

To light the stage I use up to three mono-lights. Up to four microphones and four cameras are needed to provide audio and video for the stream. All of the cables and power connections are done as each piece of equipment is set up. Usually I use from two to four camera angles, depending on the style of presentation.

Live Stream Production

It is quite a production to accomplish as the lone person setting up and running all of the equipment. At the beginning of an event I start the stream, run the opening credits, and give a hand signal to the moderator to start the show. During the presentation, I run specific scenes using broadcast software and switch cameras using a video switch. Sometimes I use a volunteer to run one of the cameras to keep it pointed at a speaker who wants to move around the stage. At the end of the presentation there is usually a question and answer session where I will relay YouTube chat questions and comments to the moderator.

Live Stream and Film Ambitions

Producing and editing live streams is a lot of fun for me. At the moment I am doing it at no charge. I am willing to do it for other organizations provided I feel that I can add value, provided I have the equipment to produce a credible result, and provided I personally consider the project as interesting.

The equipment suite also lends itself to filming. Recently I have done a few documentary interview films and plan to do more. There are other film projects that I would consider doing at no charge with the same caveats that I have for live streaming.

If you have an idea for a live stream or a film and are ready to produce it or to discuss feasibility, contact me at [email protected].

See other video work that I have produced on my Videos page.

My First Live Stream Was Stressful

I have done quite a few videos for my bicycle touring channel on YouTube, Edek’s Attic. For all of those, I had the luxury of editing the content after-the-fact. Live streaming is totally different. My first live stream was stressful. My first live stream was a virtual reception for my photo exhibit in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.

Once you click “GO LIVE”, you are on the air and you can’t take mistakes back. I have a lot of respect for television personalities who do this kind of thing for a living. Much of their success I suppose is experience. Some people are also good at riffing or improvising. That is not me.

So, I took a lot of time to prepare and rehearse. My script was initially nine pages of bullets and I planned to refer to them frequently during the live stream, if not actually read them. That turned out to be a bad idea because turning pages was awkward and reading took my eyes away from the camera. Eventually, that boiled down to one page of bullets for key points that I needed to make.

Using Open Broadcaster Software, I was able to record my dry runs and self-critique. My wife, Marne, also had a go at critiquing my performance. During my preparations, I probably did six recorded sessions, improving my presentation each time.

Even with the presentation perfected, there remained the mechanics of self-directing. There were introduction and credit videos to queue. There was an on-camera period for me and a PowerPoint slide presentation of my photos. All of this was set up in OBS ahead of time and transitions rehearsed. Managing all of the transitions during the live stream was another thing that I needed to do. At the same time, I was trying to concentrate on my presentation.

The result was a good first effort, although I only had seven live viewers. The recorded stream in now on my Edek’s Photos YouTube channel. I am hoping to add to my list of subscribers on the channel with this and other videos in the near future. I am planning videos on using Photoshop to develop video frames, creating basic videos using DaVinci Resolve, and understanding color management for photography.

Stay tuned.