Live video streaming, a primer

One of the big changes, transformations, of the COVID pandemic is the rise of digital video. Not only the consumption of these videos through On Demand platforms like YouTube and Netflix, but also the actual personal production.

Live video streaming, a primer

Once I had the basics right, the proper software and tools, I produced some videos for streaming. It felt really energizing to engage in a medium where I had been a pretty passive consumer for ages. It changed the way I perceive and use digital media in a fundamental way.

How does streaming live video work? For proper understanding, I will cut the answer in two. I will explain in brief the types of streaming and when they are used, and then I will go a bit more in depth on the technology to compose a more complex live broadcast. This article is for the digital enthusiast to understand the concept and to start experimenting with live video.

Stream video

People go live on the web with their personal stream. The producer captures maybe daily scenes or their gaming adventures. Another idea for a live stream is to broadcast an online event like a Zoom meeting or webinar. It can also be something more produced like an event or webcast.

Single source stream

Basic, single source streams. It can be the video and audio straight from the mobile phone or a single camera. I tested this on YouTube and was “on air” pretty quickly. At least with a computer. To be able to do this from your mobile, you need to meet some criteria. And also Facebook makes this type of live-streaming really easy, and it took me a couple of clicks to start broadcasting live video. This can for instance be a great way to add video to a podcast or share video from a camera around the house.

Nice example of a single source live stream. Video of the moonflower in Cambridge to open. 

Live stream a meeting or webinar

Another option I will highlight is that you can use a stream from your meeting or webinar software, like Zoom or Webex, and connect this to a live-streaming service. With this integration, you can broadcast to a wider audience your online event. You can use this option to broadcast, for instance an interview you do.

Stream live example from Zoom Pro

Enhanced live stream from multiple sources

If you stream live video, you of course might insert video that has been made earlier. Like a produced show or news bulletin. You are presenting a live event, but you will also use pre-produced items. Or you want to enhance your live stream with titles, sounds or images. Maybe you have multiple sources, like people on location or multiple camera’s at an event.

If you have multiple sources, camera’s, produced video’s, music, animations, titles, you can use Open Source Software called OBS to mix it all together. OBS is short for Open Source Broadcast Software and explained as cross-platform streaming and recording software. This software allows you to prepare a set of scenes you can then chain together and stream into a service for distribution. Personally it took me a couple of evenings of playing around and watching explanations on YouTube to get the basics working myself and to be honest it feels great to be able to produce something I used to see a form of magic.

From OBS you hook a video feed up to a service that will broadcast it. This can be for instance YouTube or Twitch.

Open Source Broadcast (OBS). Mix and stream live video.

More on live-streaming

I explained the basics of live-streaming and here you can read on how to broadcast a live stream.