Review: EasyLive’s Video-Mixer-in-the-Cloud Simplifies Operations

By creating a video mixer that’s accessible from any location, EasyLive promises no-fuss live streaming to multiple platforms. Here’s how it performed in our testing.

The simplest way to understand the EasyLive service is to think of it as a video mixer in the cloud. You can input videos from multiple sources; add titles, logos, Twitter feeds, and scorecards; and push the output to one or more live streaming services.

Why would you want a video mixer in the cloud instead of one you can run locally? First, you can send a single cameraperson with an on­camera recorder to an event and add graphics, scoreboards, and logos from the comfort of the home office. Second, if the stream stops due to bandwidth, camera, or computer problems, you can automatically substitute a video or other message of your choice. Third, though some video mixers can output to multiple services, you need fairly capacious bandwidth at the source to accomplish this, which often isn’t available. With EasyLive, it’s one stream up to the cloud, which you can feed to multiple targets such as YouTube Live, Facebook, DaCast, or most other real­time messaging protocol (RTMP)-­ based services.

Similarly, though most video mixers can save short excerpts for uploading to Twitter or Facebook, these uploads compete with your live stream for bandwidth. With EasyLive, you can create and push clips out to various services without impacting the live stream. In the context of a seminar or conference, you can record multiple sessions during the day and instantly save and send them to multiple video­on­demand (VOD) sites for replay, all while continuing to livestream to multiple locations. If you’re serving multiple foreign language markets, you can send a video­only stream that native language speakers can narrate for each market. Better yet, most of these functions can be driven via application programming interface (API), simplifying repetitive events.

Sound interesting? In this review, I’ll walk you through the process of setting up and running a live event with EasyLive via the web­based user interface (UI). In the sidebar at the end of this article I’ve also included a short Q&A describing how and why French football club Paris Saint­Germain uses the service.

Setting Up

After logging in to the service, start in the EasyLive control room. Here you’ll connect to your video and social platforms by clicking the icons shown on the right in Figure 1, logging in, and granting the necessary permissions. In my system, I logged in to Twitter, Facebook, DaCast, and YouTube Live. If your service isn’t shown, you can add it manually by plugging the stream name and RTMP address into the EasyLive UI.

Figure 1. I’m sending my streams to DaCast and YouTube Live, and I’m also connecting with Facebook and Twitter. 

Once your outputs are configured, create your live event by working through a five­step wizard (see Figure 2 on the next page). The first step is to choose your encoder, which can be any encoder capable of connecting to an RTMP live streaming server. During my tests, I connected with both Wirecast and OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). To make the encoder/EasyLive connection, EasyLive provides the server URL and stream name, which you plug in to your encoder, along with your username and password.

Figure 2. Here’s Step 4 in the setup wizard, where you enter metadata pushed to your output platforms.

Next, choose the quality of the stream that EasyLive will output. I used 720p at 1.7Mbps for my tests. Note that EasyLive has to decode the stream to insert all the graphics and other overlays. That means another layer of compression, but the output quality from YouTube looked very good to me. After configuring the stream, choose your target outputs. If there are outputs that you didn’t program into the control room, you can add them here, or even during the event itself. Then, enter metadata and select options for your output targets (Figure 2), and click once more to enter the event interface shown in Figure 3. This is where you’ll configure the appearance of the output stream and control the event.

Figure 3. This is the event interface, where you will configure stream appearance and control the event. 

Once you enter the event interface, click Start Preview to view the incoming stream. Note that EasyLive spins up a separate Amazon Web Service (AWS) for each event, which can take up to 5 minutes. If you press Start Preview too soon, you’ll get a message that a server isn’t available. Wait a bit and then try again.

Figure 3 shows the event interface, with the preview window on the upper left. The user interface for the video window is controlled by the Event’s Interface drop­down list shown on the upper right in Figure 3. If you’re running a sporting event, you can choose a scoreboard that you can feed through various scoreboard services, such as Bodet, or you can update the scoreboard manually. All scoreboard connections require some custom programming to the EasyLive API, but it’s free for all the larger services.

Choose the display model by clicking the Displays tab in the main interface, which takes you to the screen shown in Figure 4. Here you’ll load and configure the various elements of your screen, including the long placeholder text and lower third title, and the Streaming Learning Center logo on the upper right. As you can see, you can choose options such as color, size, font family, and the like, with placement via controls or by clicking and dragging the design elements directly in the preview window. You’ll customize the text itself, and enable and disable the display, in the Title column on the lower left of Figure 3. This makes it simple to change titles if you have multiple speakers, or to change other text descriptors. Alternately, you can control the graphics programmatically using the API.

Figure 4. Composing the video window 

Note that EasyLive’s Twitter output is limited to tweets from one Twitter account. This allows you to easily capture tweets from a speaker, or a speaker’s company, but not reactions to the subject matter. Most other Twitter capture features let you capture one or more hashtags, which lets viewers interact with the stream. EasyLive initially avoided this approach out of concern that Twitter wasn’t moderated, but it will add hashtag support in a future release.

On the bottom right of Figure 3 are animations (actually videos or still images) that you can drop into the live feed. They can be either full­screen or picture­in­picture. These videos can be VOD content, though there is a 100MB per-video upload limit and a total upload limit of 100MB for up to 10 videos. You can use these for advertisements. Because the videos are added directly into the stream, instead of being called from an ad server, ad blockers can’t block them.

The system comes preconfigured with an image that displays when the connection is lost, though you can substitute a video or your own image. You can also add still images or videos for program breaks to keep the viewer informed and involved. All these potential uses made me wish for the ability to upload larger videos, with a much larger cap, but EasyLive says its users haven’t complained about these limitations.

In addition to VOD animations, you can configure a separate live feed or feeds and switch back and forth between them during the event. This could be a backup feed separately encoded and transmitted, or videos from other locations. You’re limited to one animation at a time instead of, or as a picture­in­picture in, the primary stream.

Instant Replay and DVR

Beneath the Event Interface bar on the upper right is the Add a New DVR button, which is one of the most powerful features of the product. When you press that button, you can save one or multiple events from the live stream into separate files that you can edit, download, or publish from the Events tab off the main interface (Figure 5). These could be songs in a concert, acts in a play or ballet, or individual presenters during a conference. Once you trim the clip or edit the metadata, you can send the files to the various outputs you’ve programmed into EasyLive as shown on the bottom right of Figure 5.

Figure 5. Separate DVR events in the Events tab.

In addition, the top video contains the entire event, which you can download, modify, and publish. This ensures that you have an instant archive of any event you produce with EasyLive. There’s also a 25­second instant replay triggered by the small green icon labeled Buzz Clipping in the preview window on the upper left of Figure 5. When you click this, the last 25 seconds are saved in a separate DVR event, though you can extend beyond the 25­second start point using program controls if you need a longer clip. The EasyLive system is smart enough to know the rules of some sports: If you’re producing a sporting event and a team scores in football, rugby, or soccer, 25 seconds is captured, while each point in a volleyball, tennis, or ping­pong match is captured separately.

Pricing for the service is a combination of time and outbound bandwidth, with discounts for high­volume usage. EasyLive didn’t want me to disclose pricing, but I can say that it’s affordable, even for smaller companies.

Overall, any live event producer involved with sports, seminars, and conferences, as well as a host of other types of events, should consider EasyLive. In particular, producers who need to distribute their live streams to multiple services, or to quickly publish excerpted videos to social media or VOD services, will find EasyLive’s capabilities extremely useful.

Sidebar: Interview With Paris Saint-Germain

French football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) was one of the first EasyLive users. This interview with a PSG executive details the club’s usage; the executive requested his name not be used.

Please describe the types of events you’re covering with EasyLive.

We mostly cover press conferences (new players, pregame conferences, etc.) and sometimes training sessions (but we need internet connection on the pitch). EasyLive provides us a solution where we could have a professional, TV-like look. It is very important to us to value our brand and our partners through all our content, and live streaming is definitely a key channel of communication.

How did you cover these before?

Before using EasyLive, we didn’t stream these events live. In the past, we tried encoding software like Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, but the result was very poor, probably due to a poor choice of encoding preset (our computer wasn’t powerful enough, and we were not trained to get the proper preset). But most of the time, we either skipped the event or recorded it and then published the result after editing in postproduction. This delayed the content’s appearance and added production costs.

Why is EasyLive a better solution?

This software is simple and very powerful when you have a good internet connection. So we save a lot of time using this solution. It provides a professional look in real time with minimal required technical skills. EasyLive told us which encoder to buy and helped us configure it. Then we just needed to hit the Play button to stream live and eliminate postproduction (unless we decide to summarize the content).

So we save money getting it right first time, and we get to deliver our hot content in real time. We also save money by not needing to send an additional switcher and operator just to add a few graphics within the feed.

Which EasyLive features are you finding most helpful?

On the graphics side, it is very useful to add overlays, lower thirds, and the Twitter feed. We use that feature on all our live events. The fact that we can add animations like a waiting screen is also definitely a plus. Indeed, during professional press conferences, the coach or the players might be late, and we can make our audience wait using those welcome screens.

We also like the Twitter feature where we have our real-time tweets (already moderated) looping in a dedicated lower third. Our fans like it a lot. We started streaming to Facebook Live [in April]; we were the first in France, and maybe in Europe, which is very important to us.

Are you operating EasyLive manually or via the API?

We use it manually to activate the lower thirds since we have one cameraman on site. But all the Twitter feeds are displayed in an automated way. We have designed a template for our press conference that we can change and customize without asking EasyLive. The day of the live event, we start the event, start the preview, check if the preview looks good and that everything is working fine (audio, lower thirds, etc.), and then hit the Play button.

What services are you pushing the live feeds through?

We used to primarily use Dailymotion, and YouTube sometimes for our international audience. We were really waiting for Facebook and Twitter to open their platforms. Facebook just did so, and our audience loved it. Twitter hasn’t opened its platform yet, so we are just sharing our Dailymotion URL or adding the URL of our Facebook page.

What’s the typical number of online viewers for your events?

Our press conferences usually reach around 50,000 viewers per live stream [both viewed live and on-demand]. With Facebook, we reached 250,000, including both live and VOD!

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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