Live streaming has been something our school district has been looking into for a few years. A few years ago we tried a service called The Cube which worked pretty well but to do anything of substance with it there was a yearly fee. The features it offered was not great for the price it cost. One of the biggest players in the live streaming arena is Livestream and it was going to cost us about $1,000 per year which isn’t terrible but I still was curious what other options might exist.
I am a huge fan of a podcast network run by Leo Laporte called the Twit Network which stands for This Week in Tech. He does a weekly national radio show on technology but they also have around 15-20 podcasts on numerous topics each week. This is one of the main ways I stay in the loop on technology. I was watching one of their regular shows called MacBreak Weekly and he had Alex Lindsay on as a guest. His major area is in video production and at the end of the show, each host gives their pick of the week. His was for a device by a company called Blackmagic and it was for a new product they just released called the Atem Mini.
It is a video switcher that allows you to connect four devices by HDMI. The Atem Mini has a USB-C connector that connects to your laptop and your laptop will see it as an external video camera so it can be used with Google Hangouts, Skype, OBS, and any other program that allows you to use an external video input. Your laptop just sees the Atem Mini as a webcam. The unit has easy one-push buttons to change between the four cameras, picture-in-picture, and a number of other basic features. If you have more experience with video production it has software that comes with it that allows you to do many additional features including lower-thirds, transitions, and green screen. It also has two 3.5mm min inputs so you can connect a mixer or directly connect a microphone. What is absolutely amazing about this device is the price which is $295. All the features the Atem Mini comes on top of how simple it is to use makes this an amazing device for schools, or really anyone that is into making YouTube videos or other video productions.
I received the device about two weeks ago and immediately began learning how to use it. The first thing I did was connect one of our school camcorders that can do live HDMI out and my MacBook Pro. I could switch between showing the footage shown through the camera and my desktop. I could do picture-in-picture with one button and control where the picture-in-picture would show. The Atem Mini also has an FTB button that allows you to instantly fade to black which you can use as a fade out or fade in. I was immediately impressed with how simple it was to connect everything and just use it. I didn’t need to read through the manuals or learn any software aside from whatever program I was using to view the feed from the Atem Mini.
Now that I had the device it was time to start figuring out how we could live stream events. We have been wanting to live stream basketball games that were not being streamed by local stations and our senior week events including graduation. The first program I looked at which is a standard in the live streaming world is OBS. OBS is completely free and is very powerful. My first goal was to figure out how to live stream graduation to YouTube. In OBS I added a scene called graduation and in Photoshop I made a graphic for the bottom of the screen that says the name of the ceremony, listed the date and showed our school logo. I then added an external video device and when the Atem Mini is plugged in OBS detected in and as soon as I added it I can see the video from the camera I had plugged in. As I switched between HDMI inputs on the Atem Mini it would show on the screen in OBS.
The next step now that the video is all set is setting up the audio. I am a huge fan of Mackie products and we use a number of their speakers and mixers. I used our small Mackie mixer and used the tape out of the mixer and fed it into the 3.5mm mic input on the Atem Mini. In OBS I added an audio source and selected the Atem Mini and from there, any audio that is passed through the mixer will go into the video feed. Our graduation ceremony uses two microphones, one is the podium mic and the other is a wireless mic that goes through a larger mixer we use in the gym. My plan is to connect the smaller mixer to the gym mixer using the tape out, then use the tape out of the smaller mixer and have that go into the Atem Mini so direct audio from the microphones will be fed into the feed in OBS. The reason I am having to use the second mixer off of the larger gym mixer is we are planning to live stream to youtube and during graduation, there are moments where music is played. I am not able to control the tape out volume level so I need to feed that into the second mixer so I can mute the audio to the live stream while allowing the music to continue playing into the gymnasium.
Now that the video and audio are all going into OBS from the Atem Mini it is time to set up the live stream. We are using YouTube for our live streaming. I set up an account on YouTube just for streaming and activated the live stream feature. Be aware that it takes YouTube 24 hours to activate the feature which you have to enable in the YouTube Studio. Once that is all set I decided to set up a test live stream. In YouTube Studio, you click the Steam button and then select Stream. Put in the information they ask for and once the stream is created a passkey will be created. Copy that key and go into the settings in OBS. Click on the Stream icon on the left and select YouTube as the provider. All you have to do is put in the key and hit save. Then in OBS click the start stream button and go back to your browser to the YouTube studio where you created the stream. It will have you on a stream dashboard for the stream you just created. It will take a minute or two but eventually, YouTube Studio will detect and show the feed coming from OBS. Once you see that on the top right you can click go live and your stream will be live on YouTube.
I ran a handful of tests and the first few I did they stuttered a lot so if you notice a lot of stuttering in your live stream go into OBS and change the bitrate amount under settings. I had to increase it to 10,000, the default is 2,500 which did not work well at all. As soon as I increased the bitrate the live stream was smooth and everything worked perfectly.
The second type of event will want to stream is basketball and soccer games. The first thing that comes to mind when talking about streaming a sporting event is the scoreboard. There is a plugin for OBS called Scoreboard+ that I have found to be excellent. It is not anything fancy on the controller side but for the live stream feed, it can be made to look just like you would expect. I found live streaming on Mac or Windows with OBS worked great but where it faulted was for the scoreboard. The site for Scoreboard+ says it works on both Mac and Windows but I could not get it to work on a Mac, as soon as I set it up on my Windows laptop it worked perfectly. With a little bit of Photoshop work and looking at some other professional scoreboards I made a scoreboard that can show in our feed that can include a game clock, period/quarter, team names, and score. As you update it in the controller it updates on the feed.
The Atem Mini has been a wonderful addition. For the cost of $295 along with the laptop, camera, and cables which most schools should already have there is no additional cost or yearly fees. It is not often that I am completely impressed with a new piece of technology but the Atem Mini has me very excited and I am trying to think of some other ways that we can use it. I know some schools do a morning news show for their morning announcements and this device would make it very easy. I am planning to do a private test stream of an upcoming basketball game and I will make a follow-up post of some video/audio examples and talk about anything that came up, worked well, or was problematic.
If you have any questions or would like to know more please leave a comment below. Check back in early February for a follow-up post as the game is in the first few days of February. I have had a lot of fun learning more about this the past few weeks.