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Web Casting: All The Hype, But Can It Be Done?

Webcasting to some seems to be a futuristic, non-reality phenomenon, like something out of a George Lucas film; others say it is as easy as plugging your camera into the computer. Which is it? Is it really that simple? Dennis Chominsky takes you through the basic workflow and discusses the tools you need.
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To some, webcasting seems to be a futuristic non-reality phenomenon like something out of a George Lucas film, whereas others make it seem as if you just plug your camera into your computer and you're off and running. Which is it? Is it really that simple? Is it cost-effective? Can I add video webcasting to my arsenal of practical communication tools?

In this article, I want to take you through some of the basic workflow, and discuss some of the tools you need to turn webcasting from a sci-fi fantasy to a powerful tool you can begin integrating today. This type of technology can be done in a cost-effective manner without the need for a room full of equipment. However, don't expect the quality of the imagery to look like high-definition television with surround sound audio. The image and sound quality can get pretty good, but remember we're typically talking about a small video window displayed on your computer screen.

There are a few essentials you need to know and understand in order to get started. This, by no means, is a complete list. With any developing technology, there are dozens of different ways to do things, and there are hundreds of different software and hardware manufacturers that have their own "specialized" way to convert your content to a viable Web streaming media format. The concept is basically the same, and the process may vary slightly—depending on which tools you choose—so, don't be afraid to experiment.

I'm going to oversimplify the process for now. In future articles, we will explore each aspect in great detail. For now, the three basic principles you need to concentrate on are as follows: how to capture your content, how to encode and format your content, and how to distribute your content.

Quality Does Matter

The first process is the capture process, which entails taking your live or prerecorded image and converting it into a digital format inside your computer. If you are interested in streaming a live event, the first thing you need is a camera (and a microphone to record audio). Quality does matter. The biggest misconception of many people is that because the image will be compressed to a smaller file with reduced quality so it can be sent over the Internet, you don't need to have a high-quality camera to start. Always remember the infamous phrase Garbage In, Garbage Out. Especially because you will be compressing this image file, you always want to start with the highest possible image quality. Capturing a poor quality source will only get exaggerated as you begin to format the file to be ready for streaming. Starting with the highest quality source image will help preserve the quality of the image throughout the compression stage. This does not mean you need to rush out and purchase a $60,000 broadcast video camera, but it does mean you should take all necessary steps to make sure that the signal that you will capture and encode is the best possible quality you can get.

There are a few tricks that you should consider while shooting your subject that will help transfer into the best-quality imagery. First of all, depending on what type of production you are shooting, always use a tripod whenever possible. The more movement with your camera, whether physically moving the camera or zooming in and out, the worse your final compressed image will turn out. The nature of compression maintains stable images. Movement within the image, frame by frame, causes more pixilization. The other major aspect to consider is lighting. Bright even lighting produces the best possible results. Dark imagery produces "video mud." Keep the subject matter well-lit, and your final end product will maintain the best possible image throughout the encoding process.

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