The New Years Eve Times Square webcam was a USTREAM live stream setup for a couple of hours. What used to be an expensive effort, is now an easy and affordable process. Here are couple of best practices, if you decide to setup your own live stream.

 

The Webcam

Although you can find webcams included in almost every laptop and mobile phone, the quality of the camera is normally mediocre under low light conditions.

If you don’t have a more expensive HD firewire camera available, an upgrade to a higher webcam is a great move to improve the quality. A good model is the Logitech C910 with excellent reviews, Carl Zeiss optics and full 1080p recording. The quality difference is literally night and day compared to the MacBook Pro webcam.

One advice would be not to mimic my setup on the right though, it was experimental at best, and certainly adds a certain level of stress.

 

The Live Streaming

If you don’t have a budget to pay for your own CDN, services like USTREAM and Livestream provide the full infrastructure to deliver video content to your viewers. And more importantly, if ads are acceptable, they offer the basic service for free.

Both Livestream and USTREAM have comparable offers, it depends on the individual requirements. For this setup I selected USTREAM.

 

The Encoder

USTREAM offers a browser based encoding service, but the quality is relatively basic. Fortunately USTREAM has support to stream from higher quality third party encoders. A popular encoder is the Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder, which is easy to setup and free. Even better, USTREAM provides a downloadable XML configuration file, which the encoder can simply load, and you are ready to stream.

The last challenge is the quality, obviously HD quality would be nice, and is not supposed to be part of the basic package. USTREAM, maybe unintentionally, allows to modify the encoder profile, upgrade the bitrate to 800kbps, and the screen resolution to 720p. Although 800kbps is not sufficient for regular HD content, it’s perfect for a simple webcam stream.

Last but not least, make sure the encoder uses a robust internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, at least twice as much as the actual bit rate.

 

The Event 

To generate enough traffic, e.g via a weblog, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an absolute must. Google can be very powerful, and every tweak to the search engine metadata matters. As example if you use WordPress for your blog, install a SEO plug-in like the All in One SEO Pack and use optimized keywords and tags.

In addition, mobile devices are important. Thankfully USTREAM provides this for free, and uses Flash to deliver to the desktop and devices with Flash support, and a mobile optimized version to iOS.

 

Conclusion

A couple of years ago it was almost an art to stream a live event, but with increasingly better infrastructure and providers like Livestream and USTREAM offering free basic packages, it becomes increasingly easy to broadcast your own content.

Obviously professional needs are different, and events like the World Cup have different requirements, but as TechCrunch reported, Livestream provided the offical live broadcast for Times Square NYE. It could indicate a slow shift from traditional live streaming models to more integrated offerings.