Do I have to spend thousands to stream-and-record quality audio & video?
June 19, 2013 6:06 PM   Subscribe

Live streaming video from Conference-setting in Dallas. Advice?

In August, the space science non-profit I work with is hosting a summit of related space science organizations and advocates. The hotel we are using has a company they partner with but we are not obliged to use. We will use them unless there are adequate options. The challenge there is the expense.

Is it possible to do this on our own? We have a solid group of interns and volunteers. What do we need to do to best broadcast and capture decent quality audio and video?

I use/am familiar with Ustream, Google hangout etc but have noticed varying results. Also, I want to have multiple sources/inputs to draw upon.

One other concern: The hotel internet. Is it common to run a line in for these type of things? Would a "mifi"-type hotspot handle the upload for the main cams? What about mobile devices as secondary cams?

NOTE: We are using the captured recording for a post-event DVD.
posted by Mike Mongo to Technology (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Will you be using a Mac or a PC? On the software side, on Mac, I love CamTwist Studio (free) - it handles multiple inputs (provided your computer has access to them), overlays, animations, hot keys and all that. I use it (in conjunction with Flash Media Encoder (also free) to feed but it should be compatible with whatever streaming service you end up using.

In terms of picture quality, you just need to have the available bandwidth and make smart encoding choices based upon the source material. It might require some playing around with the encoder's resolution and compression settings to find the right balance. Hotel internet is often pretty rough but they might offer some kind of paid high quality internet for these sorts of situations.
posted by destructive cactus at 7:40 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

First thing I'd do is ask your solid group of interns and volunteers whether any of 'em have any experience with audio and/or video mixing, or providing tech support for similar live events, or operating pro or semi-pro video cameras, or something similar. If so, great, maybe you've got something to work with. But if you're all utter noobs, I wouldn't be too hopeful - this kinda thing (audio/visual tech for conferences) can get real complex real fast, and if you don't speak the language or have any familiarity with the equipment all the space science knowledge in the world won't do much good. As in, yes, I have literally had to explain to NASA engineers how they could have done something A/V related much simpler & quicker by buying a $100 piece of equipment - a piece of equipment they didn't even know existed, but one that every Slash-wannabe that hangs out at Guitar Center knows all about.

Then I'd say this all somewhat depends on what your definition of "decent" is. If your primary goal is to have everyone online & in person have a basic "I can see & hear the presenters" experience, and the post-event DVD is more of a souvenir for the participants, than you could probably make it work DIY by renting a small audio system (with mics, cables & mixer) and a couple of medium-quality cameras and a video switcher, and relying on interns/volunteers to run it, especially if any of them have any relevant experience.

But if you're looking for a more "polished, professional" result, then your issue isn't so much the streaming/recording aspect but the source material. You'll want multiple high-quality cameras operated by people with experience, who understand the necessary lighting to make the camera images look good, who understand how & when to switch between cameras, and the same with the audio - a better audio system for the room, lots of microphones, a fairly complicated audio mixer, people who know how to connect & operate it all. Part of the reason it can cost thousands is that the gear isn't cheap, and neither are the qualified & experienced techs to run it.

Since the hotel is giving you the option, your best bet might be to shop around in the Dallas area, see what kind of quotes you can get from other A/V companies. Hotels & their associated A/V companies definitely charge top dollar for their gear & services, so it's entirely possible you could find another company to do the same job for less. Still thousands, maybe, but fewer thousands.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:30 PM on June 19, 2013

Response by poster: Just got quote from Hotel's recommended operator: $42k. Which is approximately twice what we have spent on the entire summit. So that's not an option (which helps with decision making)...
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:22 AM on June 20, 2013


With the disclaimers that I live & work in Ye Olde Economically Depressed RustBelt (where things are cheap), and corporate A/V work is an occasional thing for my company (so I'm not super-duper-knowledgable about best prices) and even for the corporate work we've done we've passed any video-shooting work off to another company (so it's not been included in our price) . . . . . that seems really high, like they're loading you up with the best gear and lots of it, more than you would realistically need.

Like, I get the impression this is a kinda low-key, fairly serious conference - some speeches, some PowerPoint presentations, some panels with questions from the audience - not a whiz-bang rollout of your company's newest product meant to get the salesforce pumped up, with loud music and flashing lights and smoke machines and whatever.

So that quote might be able to be cut quite a bit, if you're interested in negotiating, which is very very common in the business. Figure out what your A/V production budget is, then go back to them and say, "We've got $X, what can you do for us?"

Simultaneously, you should definitely get some quotes from other companies in the Dallas area. That quote is just so high that I can't imagine there won't be other companies willing to work with you for a lot less.

If the quote from the hotel's provider is pretty detailed about equipment & personnel, feel free to use that as a starting point, especially if the other companies have done work in the hotel - they'll be able to look at it and start eliminating gear and simplifying the show and reducing the cost right off the bat. At the least, the company should be willing to listen to you and have a detailed conversation about your A/V needs and goals.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2013

Response by poster: Okay I got one that is filled with goodness, well-being, expertise and college students for $2k! Thanks everyone. Whew! Glad I asked!
posted by Mike Mongo at 1:44 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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