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Streaming (not only) for artists, Pt. 1: Hardware


Streaming has become an important tool for artists these days, especially with the Corona pandemic that took away the possiblity to play in clubs or bars. Even it's not the same, but still with the help of streaming technology, artists can stay active, share their music and meet other people. And although the technology makes it pretty easy, there are still many things to be aware of that can really trip you up.


Now, over the last few years, I have accumulated quite a lot of equipment around the topic of "video production" and "streaming" and with this blog post (and the 2 following ones) I would like to share some of my findings with you.


I've put together what you should look out for when going live, what equipment you need and what the software is like, all from my perspective as an artist. I will also talk about the platforms and their differences, but let's start with the hardware today, kicking off with the most important device you need: the camera.


Cameras for streaming


Using your phone as your camera to-go


When it comes to the camera, you probably already have a very good one in your hand. The cams in our smartphones are quite good these days, and with a suitable app you can use the smartphone camera as a great web- or streaming camera.


I use "Camo Reincubate" for this purpose - install the software on your computer and iPhone, connect them with a Lightning cable and you're ready to go. With the computer software you can control the camera, select lenses, even record the stream to harddisk and much more. In your streaming software, such as OBS, this "new" camera appears as a normal video source.


Smartphone Cameras are a good option to stream
Smartphone Cameras are a good option to stream

This solution is actually ideal for many situations. I use my iPhone as a second camera in almost all of my streams, and if you don't have much space in your luggage, you can stream on the go with Camo. Disadvantage: not suitable for Instagram, as the Camo mobile app only works in conjunction with the desktop app and streaming on Instagram only works from the smartphone. Meeeh.


Using your webcam for streaming


Webcams are great to start with streaming for little money. But make sure that the camera supports 1080p - unfortunately, many webcams, including those from Logitech, are still limited to 720p. And even if it says on the packaging that the camera supports 1080p, it may be that this specification only applies to certain applications. So you have to be careful (of course only if you want to stream in 1080p - a camera with less resolution will do great for a start).


Most users own a webcam, so why not use it? The Laptop's native cam will do the job as well.
Most users own a webcam, so why not use it? The Laptop's native cam will do the job as well.

In my experience, it's important for webcams that there is sufficient light, otherwise the autofocus won't work correctly and the images will show massive artefacts even in mediocre lighting.


Using DSLR Cameras for streaming


The ultimate camera for your streaming setup is surely a DSLR camera. During the Corona pandemic, many manufacturers have released software updates that add a webcam function to their newer cameras (also applies for some GoPro models, if you have one!).


Unfortunately, in my experience, these are mostly useless. Sony, for example, has released a webcam function for some of their Alpha cameras. However, this only streams at 720p and with a rather mediocre performance.


One of Sony's Alpha 6600 cameras features is the abillity to stream over the build in HDMI output
One of Sony's Alpha 6600 cameras features is the abillity to stream over the build in HDMI output

With other cameras, however, things can be different - you should definitely look into it, because your stream will reach a whole new level of quality thanks to the high-quality optics of the DSLR.


If you want to stream in the best resolution, I would take a look at the Elgato Cam Link 4K (this company generally offers very good streamer accessories). It allows you to capture the output of your camera at up to 4K resolution and select it directly as a video source in your software. The camera must have an HDMI output for this; compatible models are listed on the manufacturer's website.




Light for streaming


Next up is light. Light is important, but it always depends on your content how you want to setup your scene. I've seen great low-light streams, but you need a camera that's equipped for that. With low light, the focus of your camera may no longer work properly and you will constantly have to deal with unwanted blurring.


LED light mats are available in many sizes and shapes
LED light mats are available in many sizes and shapes

To avoid overexposure, the mat is covered by a fabric
To avoid overexposure, the mat is covered by a fabric

Shots look best when you have enough daylight; sometimes the existing ceiling lighting will do as well. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case, so you need good additional light sources. You can either buy small LEDs or light mats that are dimmable (images above). They are dimable, some have adjustable white temperature. You will find many of them at chinese mall sites or your local dealer.


If you are working with a green screen, you can't do without lighting, otherwise you will have difficulties illuminating the green area evenly and you will have shadows on it.


I also love to involve my Hue lights to have some colorful accents in my scenes. You can run animation scenes that are working with your stream audio, or you can create specific color palettes for each broadcast. You can use similar bulbs to get the same effect as well.



Microphones for streaming


Depending on what you want to stream, you also need a proper microphone.


Gamer headsets like this one from Beyer Dynamics are pretty practical. The microphone sits perfectly and always in the same position in front of your mouth, and at the same time you have a good sound in your ears. Power comes via the jack cable.


A gaming headset gives you constant sound quality
A gaming headset gives you constant sound quality

Another solution are the small lavalier mics. These little things are ideal for streams in which you move around, but you need a radio link for this. To get the signal into your computer, you'll need an audio interface.

Lavalier mics are a great option for moving speakers
Lavalier mics are a great option for moving speakers

Of course, you also have the option of using the microphone of your smartphone. The software and apps that I mentioned above usually also pick up the audio signal, which is very practical.


And last but not least, you can use your existing studio mics as well.



Audio Interface for streaming


Depending on what you want to stream, you will need an audio interface to get spoken content or music into the computer.


There are many possibilities for this. Some devices, such as the Digitakt from Elektron, already have a built-in audio interface function. If you have installed the appropriate software, you can tap the sound directly as an audio source in your streaming software.


Many Field Recorders, like the Zoom H5, have build in audio interface features
Many Field Recorders, like the Zoom H5, have build in audio interface features

But with most devices or microphones, however, you need an interface. For example, I have the Zoom H5 field recorder with several connection jacks and special features for streaming. It works perfectly with Macs, PCs and iOS devices.


Some mixing consoles, such as the Tascam Model 12, also offer an audio interface. This is extremely practical to use.


The little Roland Mixer Go is a perfect travel compagnion
The little Roland Mixer Go is a perfect travel compagnion

Another option, especially for mobile streaming, are the Roland Go Mixers. You can connect a lot of instruments to them, they are powered by the host device and fit in any luggage. Even if the sound quality can't keep up with bigger and bulkier interfaces, there's nothing better for on the go. I still use mine very often, especially when I stream to Instagram.



Computer


Ah yes. In most cases, you also need a computer to go live. It's possible without - on Instagram, for example, you can only stream with your smartphone. But most platforms require streaming from a computer. If you want to stream mobile on YouTube, for instance, you have to be a member of the YouTube Partner Programme and have at least 1000 followers. I will talk about this in detail in the next parts of this post series.


I work with a slightly older MacBook 12" with Intel processor, 8GB Ram under MacOS Monterey. It gets hot quite quickly and the fan starts up, especially when I connect several cameras, but it still manages real-time greenscreen processing and several audio sources without problems. A reasonably well-equipped PC should also be sufficient.


Internet Connection


If you want to stream in high resolution, you need a good and stable internet connection. But not only fast - apart from that, your home network plays a crucial role. I can highly advise you to use a LAN connection whenever you can and not to rely on your W-LAN.


Why? For one thing, the maximum speed of your line does not reach the end device due to the W-LAN hardware and the building around, as the wireless connections are subject to bandwidth losses. And secondly, you may have other devices connected to the network that can cause interference of any kind. At times we have 20 devices in our home network that keep sucking up the internet, even if you wouldn't expect it.



Conclusion


So, now you know roughly the hardware you need to stream :) Of course, you can always level up by adding green screens, gimbals and specialized cams.


But hardware is only half of the story. You also need software. I have already mentioned some tools in this post, but you need some more. That's why the next part of my little series will be about streaming software, online services, apps and I've also put together some best practices for you - because when you're live, there's so much that can stress you out!


What's your experience with streaming? Tell us below in the comments.



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