We just wrapped up our third livestreamed Triangle SQL Server User Group meeting, so I wanted to put together a few notes based on what we’ve learned so far.
Before I get too far in, let me drop a couple of links. First, our Twitch channel. Follow and you’ll get notifications when we go live.
Twitch only stores videos for 14 days, so if you want to see older talks, you’ll want to go to the Youtube playlist I’ve put together.
Here’s what we’re currently using for equipment. It’s not professional grade, but I did have some of this stuff already and that reduced costs. Let’s break this out by zone of interest. You’re welcome to compare it to what Santosh Hari came up with; I used his post as a guide for my purchases.
A Streaming Laptop
You’ll need a central computer to act as the stream host. That way presenters don’t need to do anything but show up and present. I have a fancy Surface Pro, but you can certainly use an older laptop.
I use OBS Studio for streaming. I tried a couple of pieces of software and came back to this project because it works well for our needs. It integrates nicely with Twitch and is powerful—so powerful that I’m only using a tiny percentage of its total power.
Capturing the Stream
This is one of the two most important pieces, so you want to have a reasonably good device. We landed on a MiraBox Capture Card. It has HDMI in, HDMI out, and USB and captures in 1080p quality, which is certainly fine for technical presentations.
Along with this, we picked up a couple of HDMI cables, one 6′ and one 15′. I’ve used both of them so far and definitely recommend you get the 15′ cable because room logistics are not always favorable for short cables. This cable leads from the presenter’s laptop into the HDMI In on the capture card. Then, you plug the projector’s HDMI cable into the HDMI Out on the capture card. Finally, take the USB cable and plug it into your streaming laptop.
Capturing the Audio
For audio, we have two microphones. For speakers, we have a lapel microphone. I’ve been impressed with its quality given the price. The only thing I really dislike about this microphone is that the USB adapter is wider than the average USB port opening. That’s pretty annoying.
I also happen to have a Blue Yeti hanging around, so I bring it for when I act as stream engineer. That way, I can relay questions from Twitch to the presenters and interact with the speaker. You definitely don’t need a microphone of this quality (or cost!); here’s a spot where you can cheap out with a much less expensive microphone or even use the built-in microphone on your laptop, as you’re not the star of the show.
OBS Studio works quite well with multiple audio inputs, so you can have several active microphones. This means you can do panel talks or multi-presenter sessions without a problem. Just set up each device independently and you’re good.
Capturing the Presenter
Another thing that we like to do is capture video of the speaker. To do that, I picked up a Logitech HD Pro C920 without privacy shutter. I picked this up during Prime Day so it was quite inexpensive without the privacy shutter. I don’t mind this because the only time it’s plugged in is when we’re streaming, so the privacy shutter is just an extra cost without any gain. My one real beef with the camera is that its cable is short, so your camera needs to be close to the streaming laptop.
If you have a good DSLR camera which supports video out, you can avoid buying a webcam as well.
I also have a few tripods hanging out at my house, so I grabbed one of them to support the camera. You definitely want a tripod if you’re going to stream video, as otherwise your webcam will probably pick up more table than presenter.
This is entirely optional, but I love it: the Elgato Stream Deck Mini. You have six programmable buttons and plenty of built-in operations. I use this to switch OBS between three scenes: screen-only, camera-only, and screen + camera. Sure, you can do that in OBS with mouse clicks, but this lets me swap quickly and smoothly between these camera sets. If I pick up additional cameras or have other views, I can drop them in as well.
If you count closely, we have 5 USB devices: the capture card, the webcam, two microphones, and the stream deck. My Surface Pro has 1 USB 3.0 port, so I need a USB hub. If I had a chance to do this over again, I would have picked up a powered 60w 7-port USB 3.0 hub. Instead, I bought a 4-port powered hub. If you look at the images, one reason I prefer the 7-port hub is that the USB ports are arrayed vertically, which I think would work better with the lapel microphone’s extra-wide USB dongle. To get around the 4-port problem (and for my five devices), I daisy chain two hubs. On the main hub, I have the lapel microphone, camera, and capture card. On the secondary hub, I have my stream deck and Yeti microphone. I definitely recommend using a single hub instead of two—I think we had a stream desync problem in the first stream because of this, where the microphone was on the daisy-chained hub and couldn’t stay in sync with the camera.
I’m not too concerned about audience stats so far—it takes a while for this kind of thing to pick up, so I’m more interested in consistent viewership and steady growth.
One thing that I am looking to figure out is how to get audience participation going. One of the things I really like about the Twitch streams I watch is chat. This is in stark contrast with webinars, where there’s rarely any interaction between participants. I think a lot of people are seeing this as a webinar rather than a chat room, so it’s been pretty quiet for the most part. I want to figure out ways to increase that audience interaction.
The Next Steps
So what’s next for us? Well, here’s how I see it:
- Get better at pre-streaming. For the first two, we jumped on right at the beginning of the talk. For the latest stream, I put up a bit of text saying that the stream would begin. I want to extend that out further and make the stream a bit more professional. This will probably involve bribing or coercing someone with graphic design skills.
- Improve my OBS Studio skills. I am only using a fraction of this product’s power, so I want to see what else I can do with it.
- More streams? I’d love to be able to stream more than just user group meetings, though I don’t know that else we’d do at this point. That’s something I’ll bounce to the TriPASS board and community.
The Call to Action
With all of this said, are you already a Triangle SQL Server User Group follower on Twitch? If not, give us a follow so you get notified when we go live.
If you do follow, enjoy the presentations. Like I mentioned, I’d love to build up an active, chatty community and invert that webinar feeling where everyone sits quietly and waits for the presenter to ask for questions.