Even before the events of 2020, livestreaming saw a significant increase in popularity to reach remote audiences. It has quickly become a useful tool in education, marketing and entertainment. Now, it is the only way to reach some audiences. It is relatively simple to conduct a basic livestream with a single video camera or mobile phone. However, many streamers quickly find this format limiting and want to expand their capabilities to work with more than one camera.
Multi-camera livestreams are more complex than those conducted with a single camera and also require more equipment. This guide will explain the hardware and software you will need to conduct a successful basic multi-camera livestream.
Have a clear vision for multi-camera production
A multi-camera livestream will make your stream look more professional and increase the perceived production value, but you need to have a clear vision of what you seek to achieve.
Being able to switch between different cameras gives you the ability to show different angles and perspectives on your subject. You can also ensure that everyone on the stream gets recorded. With interviews, you can swap between a two-shot to individual close-ups of the interviewer and interviewee. For music livestreams, each member of a band can have a camera on them and a catchall group shot.
Cutting between different cameras will help you communicate your message to the audience by allowing you to focus the viewers’ attention where you want it and make the livestream more visually engaging. With increasing competition in the livestream world, a multi-camera set up can make your feed stand out from the crowd and ensure that your audience continues to watch and grow.
Multi-camera livestreams do present more challenges and require more work than single camera setups, especially if you are working on your own. You will need to take on the roles of—at least—two camera operators, sound recordist and director while monitoring the internet feed to ensure your stream is working well. You may also be the presenter. Take time to consider whether a single, well-placed camera would be a better option rather than a disorganized multi-camera setup.
Choose your streaming platform
One of the first decisions you need to make concerning your livestream is which platform you will use to bring it to the world. Not only do you want to maximize the chances of reaching your ideal target audience, but you also need to ensure that your hardware and software setup will meet the requirements of your chosen platform.
Although it began as part of a more general-interest streaming service, Twitch is now the primary platform for gaming livestreams. Content includes broadcasts of esports competitions and tournaments, individual gamers’ livestreams such as speed runs, and other gaming-related content.
YouTube is the world’s leading online video platform and needs little introduction. As with its videos, YouTube livestreams cover every subject you can think of and more. Livestreaming is accessible and available to anyone; the only requirement is that your account is verified.
As with YouTube, Facebook livestreaming is available to anyone with a Facebook account. As can be expected with such a universal social media platform, there is scope for livestreams on any subject. When the Mixer streaming platform shut down in July 2020, it directed those looking to livestream games to Facebook, which has further increased the platform’s popularity.
Getting the right cameras
It goes without saying that for a multi-camera livestream you are going to need more than one camera. In an ideal world, you would use multiples of the same model of camera to ensure consistency of resolution, color reproduction and image quality. However, in practice, you may have to work with different cameras. You should set aside time to test your equipment to determine which settings are needed to match the output from the cameras as closely as possible.
Although primarily designed for shooting still images, most mirrorless or DSLR cameras will capture very high-quality HD video, with some newer models now offering 4k video. These types of cameras also have the advantage of using interchangeable lenses, meaning you can adapt the cameras to suit different setups – using wide-angle lenses in small environments or telephoto lenses to capture great close-ups.
One thing to bear in mind is that autofocus options may be more limited with mirrorless or DSLR cameras, which could be an issue if your cameras are not being operated. In that case, try to work with smaller apertures to increase the depth of field and ensure that your subjects remain in focus. This may, in turn, mean that you need to light your subjects to a greater extent.
You also need to ensure that your camera isn’t limited in how long it can work in video mode – some DSLRs shut off after around 10 minutes to protect the sensor.
Camcorders are ideal for livestreaming as they are intended solely for recording video. Although most have built-in lenses that can’t be changed, camcorders will have zoom lenses with a good range between wide-angle and telephoto with an effective autofocus system.
Camcorders aren’t limited in the amount of time for which they can record and will be able to output a clean feed via HDMI often up to 4k resolution.
While the webcams incorporated in most laptops are limited in resolution and image quality, external webcams can be very good for livestreaming. As webcams are designed to feed a video signal to a computer, they don’t require a separate video encoder. If you are choosing webcams, then make sure you use models that can capture in 720p or 1080p HD resolution or higher.
One downside of using webcams is that the majority have fixed focal length lenses with a wide field of view, which can restrict the range of different shot framings available to you. Webcams are designed predominantly for capturing wide or mid-shots of people from relatively short distances—such as attached to the top of a computer monitor—so they offer limited scope for getting effective close-ups.
While many modern smartphones offer very high-quality video capture, their use in a livestreaming set up is more limited as they lack a video output. You will need to purchase a separate adaptor to convert each phone’s output to HDMI.
Must have features
Whatever types of cameras you choose to use, there are a few essential features to look for. The camera must have an HMDI or SDI video output socket and must be able to output a clean video feed without any of the camera settings overlaid. For HD livestreams, the camera must be able to output a video signal in at least 720P, ideally 1080P. You must also be able to run the cameras on AC mains power to ensure that the batteries don’t let you down during long livestreams.
You should plan your shots for a livestream with as much thought as to when preparing for any other film or video shoot. If you don’t have camera operators on all cameras, then you have no option to reframe during the livestream, so you need to make each camera count. Each new angle should be different enough to give a new purpose to the overall production. If you are switching between cameras for no reason, the cuts will feel disjointed and can work to distract your audience.
To avoid jump cuts, you should ensure that the different camera positions vary by at least 30 degrees, ideally changing the framing as well, such as from a mid-shot to a close-up. In addition, when cutting from a wide to a close-up, you should change the framing by at least 30%.
Place your primary camera in front of your subject so that they can look directly into the lens and connect with the viewers. Eye contact is an important means of engaging your audience. Your primary camera is likely to be the angle you utilize the most in your stream, so if you are using a range of different cameras, make sure this one is your highest quality device.
Make sure your secondary cameras are adding interest to the livestream for your viewers. For example, you could cut from a wide shot of the presenter to a top-down view of the product in an unboxing video or to a detailed close up of the assembly process for a PC building tutorial.
Switchers are essential
When working with a multi-camera livestream, you will need a switcher to seamlessly swap between the output from the different cameras. Switchers are available as both software and hardware options.
Hardware switchers are standalone devices with HMDI or SDI inputs to which you can connect your cameras and switch between them easily at the press of a button. In addition to simple hard cuts between the camera feeds, many switchers offer a range of built-in transitions such as dissolves or wipes as well as picture in picture effects. Though these can add production value to your livestream, overuse can have the opposite effect, so use them sparingly. More useful are the color correction tools which come with some hardware switchers, which will enable you to better match the outputs from different cameras.
Make sure that the switcher can work with the video resolutions and frame rates being output by your cameras, especially if your cameras are limited to working at different frame rates.
Hardware switchers output a single video signal in a format that can be passed to your computer to be encoded into a livestream. Hardware switchers are very reliable and easy to set up but can be expensive.
Software switchers are integrated with some encoder applications, and so can cost less than hardware switchers. However, as they are entirely software-based, you will need to make sure that your computer system is powerful enough to cope with the additional demands placed upon it by the switcher.
Unless you are working with webcams, you will also need additional hardware capture devices to import the HDMI video feed from the cameras into your computer when working with software switchers.
You need an encoder
When working with a single camera livestream you can access your chosen platform with a camera attached to a computer, or even simply your phone, and start streaming. However, if you are working with a multi-camera livestream, you will also need an encoder. The encoder takes the video signal that comes into your computer and converts it into a format that can be uploaded to your chosen livestreaming platform.
The encoder may also allow you to overlay titles or graphics as well as incorporating a switcher to swap between camera feeds. Encoders allow you to incorporate pre-recorded video files from your computer’s hard drive into your livestream. The encoder will allow you to tie together multiple audio sources such as background music and effects with the camera audio.
Streamlabs OBS is free software based upon the open-source program OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). Streamlabs added their own range of themes, scenes and widgets to quickly and easily improve the look of your livestreams without the need to download and install 3rd party plug-ins. Streamlabs OBS includes video and audio mixing tools, transition effects and text overlays.
XSplit is a live streaming and video-mixing application ideal for capturing gameplay for live streaming. The two main products in the XSplit family are XSplit Broadcaster and XSplit Gamecaster. XSplit Broadcaster is a video mixer that allows you to create a livestream while dynamically mixing sources such as live video from cameras, screen capture and video gameplay. XSplit Gamecaster is a more basic livestreaming application that allows gamers to start live streaming their gameplay quickly and easily.
Wirecast is an advanced professional video streaming program. It includes encoding capabilities along with a multi-camera switcher and is capable of creating high quality, professional live broadcasts. It is expensive but offers advanced features for complex livestream broadcasts.
Set up the audio
A great livestream with good quality, high definition video can be let down by poor quality audio. Ideally, you should use dedicated microphones to capture your subjects talking rather than relying on the mics built into your cameras. Adding sound effects and introductory or background music can also increase the production values of your livestreams.
Your encoder software will incorporate some form of audio mixing capabilities, but an external audio mixer can give greater control and precision, especially if you are using multiple microphones in an interview scenario, for example.
Be aware that if you are using a hardware video switcher, then this can introduce a delay in the video signal sent to the encoder. This can cause a loss of sync between the video and audio, where the audio is being sent to the encoder separately. To solve this issue, you will need to add a corresponding delay to the audio in the encoder software settings. Alternatively, you could route the audio from the mixer into the camera to pass through the switcher with the video.
The hardware and software you use to create a multi-camera livestream will depend upon what you want to achieve from your stream and the budget you have to spend. While professional multi-camera livestreaming can be expensive, it is still possible to get great results with a more modest outlay and grow your online audience.