Overcome Your Streaming Challenges
September 16, 2020
Author: Stella Hull-Lampkin, PMA Board of Directors
We are almost 7 months into “Shelter-in-place” in the U.S. and longer in other parts of the world. The landscape for the Pilates industry has truly changed as we have been forced overnight to come up with a new plan of action to accommodate the ever-changing guidelines to keep our studios open. For many, it meant moving to a “virtual studio.” Sessions and classes opened up via Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Groups, Mind Body Streaming other platforms. Various meeting platform companies watched their businesses explode. Zoom said that due to COVID their meetings had already grown to 300 million in April.
As you can surely see, 2020, being the marvel that it has revealed itself to be, has brought a whole set of new challenges to the industry as a whole. One of these challenges is video streaming. Reaching your clients or trainees via the internet from the relative safety of your home, and possibly future-proofing your business against the eventuality of another situation like this, is easier than one might believe it to be.
In all actuality, every one of us is most likely carrying everything we need to stream in our pockets. Modern smartphones are more than capable of providing streaming functionality that is good enough in a pinch, and many people that have gotten famous on streaming portals have started with just their smartphone. But it can be hard to have the streams look and feel professional.
So while it is true that each and every one of us can just use our smartphones for this purpose, you wouldn’t need me to write a blog post about that. And so I want to concentrate on how you can get a professional feel.
Let us start with the software needed to stream. While many streaming sites offer an inhouse streaming interface, truly professional levels will require a program to do so. Some computers come with preinstalled programs, but the two programs I want to take a moment to bring to your attention are Microsoft's Virtual Studio
and its open-source alternative OBS
. Both are available for those of us using Mac.
These software tools provide you with a host of additional features, such as saving multiple camera profile settings, for when you want to go into a close-up or a wide shot. It allows you quick access to several camera settings, allowing you (without hassle) to go from a close up of your face, when you talk to your client or to a shot focusing on your leg posture and then over to a wide shot, taking in the entire stance at once.
Both programs have a host of tutorials available online and are used by many professional streamers. Which you will gravitate towards is a personal preference more than anything. Of course, OBS is free, since it is open source.
Many of us are used to teaching in the studio face to face. We are used to competing with music, other instructors, air conditioners, etc., and at home, the challenges are not entirely dissimilar.
When setting up your space, consider the noise in your space:
- Does the room have echo when you speak?
- Are there environmental noises like trains, planes, car horns, air conditioners, other family members working remotely, etc.?
- Are you going to be close to the computer or moving around or away from it?
How to minimize background noise?
- Headphones – You will need to adjust the settings in Zoom to accommodate the use of Earpods, which are a great option if you will be moving away from the computer or moving in general.
- Protip: Only use a single Earbud, so you can keep your other ear on your environment.
- A clip-on microphone or a headset will also help with the ambient noise reduction.
This is where I would like to take a moment to talk about the microphone. A good microphone is almost more important than a good camera. There is nothing wrong with streaming in a lower resolution - something some of us will have to do due to bandwidth limitations - as long as the client can make out your body movements. But nothing’s worse than having to listen to someone that seems to be talking at the other end of a tin can telephone or underwater. So, before you invest in a better camera than your smartphone, invest in a better microphone. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of our craft, we can’t just use a studio microphone. Although, if you want to go professional streamer, it might not be a bad idea to get a boom mike set up above you, working in a completely padded room. But that is a bit of overkill for the moment. After all, we do hope to eventually be able to return to the studio and meet each other in person again.
I want to recommend two portable microphones. These can be clipped on and while the cable can be a bit of a hassle to deal with, provide some of the best options in terms of sound.
The first one would be the Boya BY-M1, which is highly recommended by many professional streamers and even radio hosts. At only 2.5grams it's also one of the lightest microphones available on the market. Even with its extra power supply, when working with a camera, it only weighs about 21 grams.
The second one I would recommend to you is the Soonpho Professional Lavalier Lapel Microphone, it too is a lightweight microphone that can be clipped on and will operate on similar quality as the Boya BY-M1. Both of them come with 6 meters of cable, so plenty to move about the space.
A final word on echoing. There are several ways to resolve this problem. You can try padding the space, setting up a few objects on the wall that will dampen or even negate the echo effect, or you can even try some of the available software solutions like Acoustic Echo Suppression (AES) and Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), or Line Echo Cancellation (LEC). I will not go into the details of these here, as I feel it would too exhaustive a subject for a single blog entry. After all, it's a topic that potentially includes having to tell your neighbor to pipe down their cello lessons!
It might come as a surprise to most of you, but this is probably the least important element of streaming, since after all, not every one of us has the internet connection that allows for high streaming resolutions, and in some cases, there is nothing you can do about it.
Now you might think that this means you can skimp on a good camera. If this is the case, I am here to tell you: This is not so. The higher the resolution of the camera you use to record, the more you can do with it. Remember when I wrote about setting up different camera profiles to zoom in? Well, with a digital camera this is done by having a high resolution. The higher the resolution of your digital camera, the more you can zoom into the picture without it getting a blurry mess of shapes and forms.
This is why I want to recommend a 4k streaming camera, and I will recommend one of the cheapest ones. The Logitech Brio Ultra HD is widely accepted as one of the cheapest 4k streaming cameras you can get. For about $200 this is your best option in terms of a streaming camera, and despite it being cheap, it is still featured in most top 10 lists in terms of editor’s choice for a streaming camera.
I wish I could say that there are other good options in this price range, but a good streaming camera can easily cost $1000 to $2000, and even though I mean to give you some pointers on how to make your streams professional, I don’t think many of us can go out and spend that much money on a super expensive camera. As I said, your smartphone camera is most likely up to the task of recording you and you should spend the money on sound, rather than splurging on a big camera like that.
Still, for professional video, it should be a 4k camera, and the Logitech fits this bill for our purpose. But of course, many Android and Apple phones have 4k cameras built-in and are great options. So, if you have been looking for a reason to upgrade your smartphone, here is a good one.
Other Visual Needs
When considering your visual needs, think of how many participants you will need to see at one time. If it is a private session, then a computer will probably suffice. However, if you are teaching group classes, you may consider adding an external monitor. It will enable you to view many participants simultaneously.
Review the room that you will be using. This brings me to the lighting in the room. When you set up the “stage” think of the lighting coming from behind the camera, not behind you. This will help decrease shadows and brighten the image for the camera. Natural light is always flattering but purchasing an additional light will help brighten any space. These days many kits are available for lighting from $80 - $300. The size of the light depends on how far you will be from the camera and the size of the room. If possible, try to set up a clean background with light colors.
Basic Do's and Don'ts*
*Thank you to Curious Brands for providing "Do's and Don'ts"
- Clean background and good lighting can make any space welcoming and professional.
- Always have your light source come from behind the camera.
- Can you find a space that will have your logo visible?
- Try to avoid lighting coming from the sides, it will cast shadows.
- Try not to set up your “stage” too close to a wall behind you. It can cause you to lose dimensions and appear flat.
And last but most certainly not least, 5 quick points to keep in mind:
- The more participants, the more issues that can occur with your connection. If you are using Zoom, it works on the lowest common denominator. So, if someone logs in with poor bandwidth, Zoom will adjust to that bandwidth.
- Before doing your class, I would suggest you do a bandwidth test especially if you are using WiFi (speedtest.net). Your speed should be about 2 megabits/second. I would suggest that your participants perform the same test.
- Close all other unnecessary apps before starting your session. Also, advise the participants to do the same. It will decrease the Ram your computer uses and assist with bandwidth usage.
- While teaching, I would advise you to ask participants to mute themselves or you can pin yourself to the monitor so they only see you. Conversely, if you are looking for comments during the session, just know that the person speaking will then take the main screen. This can be disruptive in a group session but is desirable when teaching one-on-one.
- If a participant is having issues, suggest they restart the application. This will normally clear out the issue.
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