Portable Streaming Devices: Between Three Types, Which Best Fits Your Needs?

Portable Streaming Devices: Between Three Types, Which Best Fits Your Needs?

If considering a software encoder, the options available are typically good for entry level streaming, since they are comparatively cheap and can run on existing computers.

When deciding to stream content such as a church service, the first step is to choose the right streaming provider.

The purpose of these streaming devices or video encoders is to take the video signal and encode it into a format that is suitable for web streaming.

The second step is to figure out a way to get content to that provider.

There are three basic types of portable streaming devices, each with varied strengths and weaknesses. To choose the portable streaming device that best fits your needs, let's talk a little more about those strengths and weaknesses.

First of all, the purpose of these streaming devices or video encoders is to take the video signal and encode it into a format that is suitable for web streaming. It then sends that signal via the internet to your chosen streaming provider. Thankfully, there aren't too many streaming protocols, and it's almost certain any streaming device you choose will support your streaming provider.

It should be noted that all options discussed below will need an internet connection. A wired connection is preferred, since it tends to be more stable.

1. Software Encoders

As the name implies, these encoders, which include Wirecast and vMix, utilize software to encode the video signal. They are usually cross platform, so they install on a Mac or PC. These options are good for entry level streaming, since they are comparatively cheap and can be run on existing computers. Since they are easy to use and quick to get running, software encoders are great for testing signals with your streaming provider. You can be up and streaming a test video in under a minute.

One major thing to note about software encoders: if you plan to stream an external video source, such as a switched camera feed or a camera, you will need to first ingest that signal into the computer running the software. Thankfully, there are some inexpensive options out there, such as the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Monitor.

2. Hardware Encoders

Just as it was with software encoders, the name implies correctly that these streaming devices use hardware to encode the video signal. Hardware encoders, such as AJA's Helo, Teradek's VidiU and Cube, are stand-alone devices and their only job is to encode and stream video content. They tend to be more stable than software encoders since they are only doing one thing. Hardware encoders also have the video inputs like HD-SDI and HDMI built in, so you won't need to purchase any external equipment to ingest a signal.

However, hardware encoders are a little more difficult to manage and interact with. They are usually accessed through a web browser on a separate computer or mobile app. And while hardware encoders cost a little more than software encoders, if you don't need a lot of features, you can get into Teradek's VidiU for not much more than the previously listed streaming options (especially if you need to purchase a video input card or device along with them).

3. Built-in Streaming Devices

Depending on your setup, these could be considered the most portable since they are built in to another device. If your content requires frequent set-up and tear-down, a built-in streaming device, such as Livestream's Studio and NewTek TriCaster switchers, might be a good fit for you (especially if your set up already includes a video switcher).

However, this option is very expensive compared to the other two, since it requires purchasing a video switcher. And the streaming interface will be shared with the video switcher, which can be cumbersome.

Whether you are building a travel system or wanting to take your current system online, you now have the right tools to choose the perfect streaming provider and portable streaming device to fit your needs.

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