High-quality live streaming from Down Under: The Dutch production company Stream My Event took LiveU Solo on a one-of-a-kind road trip through Australia. Relying on LiveU’s plug-and-play bonded streaming solution, the video pros live broadcast the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, an annual solar-powered car race which starts in Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory and runs over 3,000km all the way to Adelaide in South Australia. Reason enough to sit down with Stream My Event for an interview and to learn more about why they selected LiveU Solo as their video encoder of choice and how it enabled them to deliver robust live streams from the Australian outback – one of the most challenging live production environments you could possibly think of. Technical producer Floris Porro shares with us some exclusive behind-the-scenes insights.
Which reasons made you include LiveU Solo into your mobile streaming gear and what kind of productions do you regularly use it for?
Here at Stream My Event we've been using the LiveU Solo as our primary encoder on all our live multicam streams for about a year now. We're a production company based out of Amsterdam facilitating livestreams all over the world, which means we travel a lot and often find ourselves in venues or locations with unreliable internet connections. The LiveU Solo is a very solid device, in construction as well as in operation and we never leave home without one. Our main reason to start using Solo was because of the built-in support for the LRT protocol created by LiveU, as well as the bonded connections. The combination of a HDMI and SDI port means you can go straight in from almost any camera (we've gone live from GoPros as well as Sony FS7's), as well as other devices like drones or laptops. The fact that Solo has a strong battery inside also doesn't hurt! We can send out a camera guy with a camera on his shoulder and clip a LiveU Solo to his back pocket. With the 4G dongles and WiFi he'll be able to go live from almost any location at a moment notice. Using the Solo Portal, a production crew in a different location can control his unit and start the stream remotely.
Looking back at the previous months, what was the most memorable live production you deployed LiveU Solo for?
Our highlight last year was to participate in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge as the media team for the Nuon Solar Team. Every two years, this team builds a car powered solely by solar energy and drives it from Darwin to Adelaide – 3021 kilometers through Australian deserts – along with 40 competing teams. It's an incredible challenge with enormous logistical and production challenges, as there is virtually no infrastructure along the way. Not even 4G. Stopping is not an option... If you stop for half an hour to fix a problem, it might take half a day to catch up to the solar car convoy. Think about it. It's the event of events. Incredible environment. The coolest possible subject you can pick. Impossible circumstances. We HAD to livestream it.
What was the biggest challenge you had to deal with when going live from out there in the desert?
The challenge of course is connectivity. There is literally nothing but desert in a 1000km radius, you have to be completely self-sustaining in every way including food, water, bathrooms and internet. The only solution at that point is satellite. As you may know traditional satellite connectivity works only when you're standing still, because you have to get a not-so-aerodynamic dish to unfold and point in exactly the right direction. We started working on that problem back in 2015 (when we knew that someday we'd want to tackle this project) and found a satellite solution in the ThinKom product range. A system usually reserved for airplanes, aircraft carriers and the likes, now becoming available for commercial applications. After clearing you-don't-want-to-know how many iterations and certification hurdles, we were finally able to pioneer the use of this system during the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge. So now we had a solid 3 to 5 mbps connection available whilst driving at speeds of over 60mph. The next challenge was getting a portable production studio in the car and getting video signals in from all the other cars.
How did you manage to feed the camera signals from all the convoy cars into your “studio on wheels” and to switch live between the different video feeds?
We found a solution in V-Mix, a software video switcher application. We used Unifi Airmax’s antennas on the roofs of all the convoy vehicles to get video signals back from other cars, at distances up to 1km and speeds up to 110km/h. This allowed us to live switch between action taking place in different convoy vehicles. We even had some remote-controlled cameras so we could change camera angles remotely. V-Mix gave us a HDMI program signal which plugs into the LiveU Solo. On the other side, the ThinKom satellite system went through a modem and special gateway thing to provide Ethernet to the Solo. It worked perfectly!
That’s great to hear! How did LiveU Solo help you monitor the stream quality while driving through the Australian outback?
That was quite a challenge as well. We had a good upload, but barely any download speed. This is because of the way the antenna system is constructed, the space available on the roof of the car means you need to pick a priority for upload or download, so we had a download speed of about 500kbps, not enough to check the stream quality. The solution came in the form of an amazingly high-tech piece of software, WhatsApp. I guess we must have been the only people for hundreds of miles with access to WhatsApp, it certainly made some of the other teams jealous. Every time we were about to go live, we would get our peers on the other side of the planet to login to the solo portal to check the preview and see if all looked good. After a while we learned to fully trust the blue bitrate calculator on the display of the Solo. If that showed any bitrate above 500kbps, the image would be good on the other side. This was a new way of working for us, but it opened our eyes to the reliability of the bitrate indicator and the positive feedback that it gives you. It's a subtle "all is going well, and you don't have to worry about me" display, and we've put the Solo display in line of sight of the production crew ever since.
After using LiveU Solo for more than a year now, what are the main benefits you have come to appreciate about this mobile streaming solution?
We took to the Solo way of doing things like a frog takes to water, it integrated fast and neatly into all our production workflows and we can now be live on any of our managed pages or channels within seconds. We can't wait to see what LiveU has in store to expand the capabilities of this promising platform in the next few years.
Thanks a lot for the interview, Floris, and best of luck with all the streaming adventures ahead of you!
About LiveU Solo
The portable online video transmission unit LiveU Solo makes live streaming from any video source to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter easier than ever before. Simply connect your camera or video switcher via HDMI or SDI, log into the web-based Solo Portal to select your streaming destination and you are ready to start streaming at the push of a button. Leveraging LiveU’s trusted bonding technology and video transport protocol LRT (LiveU Reliable Transport), Solo ensures stable HD video streaming anytime and anywhere. The compact and light video encoder has been specially designed for mobile use, taking video streaming from outdoors to a whole new level of quality and reliability. To learn more about LiveU Solo visit http://gosolo.tv/.