In an era when anyone, anywhere can easily broadcast on the internet, it is only natural that the building of makeshift production studios has exploded. Businesses have long built in-house studios for streaming video, while YouTubers and online influencers often stream from spare bedrooms and basements in their homes.
Some of these studios are quite elaborate and meet or exceed broadcast technical standards. During the pandemic, the networks set-up studios for the likes of Stephen Colbert to do his nightly broadcast from home. President Biden ran for the nation’s highest office from his basement TV studio.
For those wanting to build an off-site streaming video studio, the available options are almost overwhelming. Even when it is finished, there is always something else needed. When on a tight budget, the job gets even harder. The good news is studios can now be built at virtually any price.
Start by considering the equipment you already own. This can range from personal computer cameras, headphones, microphones and lighting gear used for Zoom calls or hosting livestreams. Most of us already own some of this gear.
Then find the right place for the “studio.” This could be a spare bedroom, an empty office or a basement. The space should be free of outside interruptions and sound good acoustically. Next comes a set. Create a background that works with the type of production you produce.
For example, if you’re a musician, create a set with a musical theme. A teacher might create a set with an educational background. A company might use its logo. A green screen might be used to vary the backgrounds. The possibilities are endless. At the very least, use a clean and professional background.
The most essential items are a reliable internet connection and at least one good camera, a microphone and lighting. Check the quality specs of the camera on your computer — it should be at least HD. Some streaming cameras may not be as good as a smartphone, an external webcam or a more professional camera. A good camera can offer a significant upgrade in the video quality of a stream.
Never use the computer’s built-in microphone. External microphones — even low-cost ones — sound much better. For more than one mic, a mixer is needed. At least one good dimmable LED light is also necessary for fill light.
This, of course, is a bare-bones minimum set-up for very low budget productions. With quality expectations higher these days, gear is available for remote production that equals or exceeds the best television production studios.
A step-up is a multi-camera set-up with a video switcher. This can allow professional quality streaming video production, using high-equality cameras, audio equipment, graphics and effects.
Also needed is a fast, solid internet connection at 5 Mbps up/down minimum plus streaming software that can range from the free OBS Studio (Open Broadcaster Software) to a package like Telestream’s Wirecast 15 Studio, starting at about $600. A service like Restream is used to multicast a single video signal to multiple streaming outlets simultaneously.
Gear choices abound. Many professional-level multi-camera live productions use ATEM switchers from Black Magic Design. These switchers can use SD, HD or Ultra HD video from a host of video sources such as cameras, disk recorders and slide shows or animation from computers. ATEM switchers offer chroma key, creative transitions, media pool, downstream keyers, audio mixer and multi view.
The more advanced models include the capability for up to 20 SDI inputs and six outputs, plus features such as a SuperSource multi-layer engine, full motion DVE, stinger transitions and a large media pool with full motion clips. Black Magic Design’s ATEM 4K switchers start at $1,695 and range up to $18,500.
Roland also offers a line of combo video/audio switchers for streaming. Prices start at under $500. On the low-cost end there is the Roland AeroCaster Livestreaming System, which combines an iPad with up to four video sources (iPhones or Android phones).
In addition to the video inputs, the AeroCaster features a three-channel audio mixer to adjust levels from two XLR-connected mics and a 3.5mm line-level input. The system can create picture-in-picture effects and split-screen displays.
Since most streaming operations are operated by a single person, a way to consolidate operations into a one panel is preferred. Elgato’s Stream Deck is a device with six to 32 LCD keys that can launch unlimited keyboard shortcuts from a small panel.
Actions such as switching scenes, triggering media, adjustments to audio and anything else you want is at your fingertips. Essentially, the device allows a user to map and memorize keyboard shortcuts. A six key unit begins at about $125 while a 32 key unit is about $225.
Another interesting new product is the Rodecaster Pro II from RØDE. This is a super capable audio mixer and streamer for anyone producing live programming. It packs the equivalent of an entire radio station into a single, compact device.
What’s unique are the new Rodecaster’s “smart pads,” which can send MIDI commands to switch cameras and activate special audio effects like fades, ducking and bleeping. It’s an amazingly capable device for $700.
Another option is NewTek’s TriCaster, a complete television studio in a single box. This is the high-end of online video production, with top-of-the line systems costing $30,000 plus.
The TriCaster 2 Elite is NewTek’s top model providing extreme media input-output flexibility. The device’s IP native technology provides the capability, connectivity and control needed to take on any sort of digital media production.
The NewTek system delivers sophisticated static and animated graphics, multimedia and visual effects, advanced audio processing, input and output of video in non-standard aspect ratios, frame rates and resolutions for any platform and destination.
Remote streaming studios are now adapting every tool found in a professional studio or soundstage. This can include teleprompters, remote control crane/jibs, acoustic wall treatment, multiple computers, monitors, ring lights, high-end audio equipment, graphics displays and endless accessories like capture cards, mic stands and boosters plus a wide array of subscription services.
Start by determining your needs and then create a budget. Whatever your estimate is, double it. That will be closer to the real cost in the end.