About this time last year we were preparing to open our campus in Galesburg, IL. Since the opening last spring this Campus has been using the recording of Saturday night’s teaching during their 11 am service on Sundays. This solution has been a fairly stable, but has hasn’t operated without issues. Additionally our pastor has really wanted to be able to teach the Galesburg campus live but we have multiple limitations… the distance between campuses is 50+ miles, our Peoria Campus is about 3-5 miles from any internet connections that can provide more than 10mb upload and any ISPs offering more speed has wanted nearly 6 figures in construction costs, and point to point connectivity is way more than we can afford.
In addition to the current limitations the locations we are evaluating for future campuses don’t improve limitations on the list above.. in fact, they might be even more challenging. Yet, being live is a huge desire from our leadership, so our quest continues.
Since Fiber isn’t an option at either of our campuses (but hopefully soon), we are limited to 50×10 cable modem in Peoria and a 16×2 cable modem in Galesburg.
our requirements for site to site streaming needs to:
- provide 1080i display in the remote locations
- not rely upon a private point to point connection
- not require more than 10 mb upload from the sending location
- be a solution that is easily reproduced for future sites in smaller towns with limited connectivity
- be easily powered up and down by volunteers (not a 30 step process between multiple platforms).
We have demoed the Haivision Mako encoder/decoders and while the encoded video they produce is pretty amazing.. the pricetag is way to high to “not break the bank” not to mention too high for for a “test environment” as we figure out what “live streaming” really means to our organization. (However, you should at minimum demo their gear.. the Haivision gear gives a great benchmark for anything else you test.)
So we have been doing some testing with various other streaming solutions and thought we might share our mileage.
For our testing / phase 1 project we decided to try several pieces of gear:
- Marshall VS-102 Encoder/Decoders
- Wirecast and Wowza Streaming to a Roku
- Marshall VS-102 and Zixi.com Hybrid
Our Media director thru the Church Technical Leaders and our peers at Willow Creek came across a encoder/decoder hardware (Marshall VS-102) made by the Display Monitor company Marshall Electronics (and Marshall USA). We had heard that people were having good success using the VS-102 on the LAN but the device was capable of WAN streaming site to site. The hardware is also able to additionally stream bi-directional Audio… (hmm maybe ClearCom in addition to the video’s audio?) This device across a LAN some pretty awesome results! I came into the test expecting YouTube quality and was amazed. If you are looking for a way to extend your HD/SDI video infrastructure this is a device you should checkout. I don’t know of many hardware encoder/decoders in this price point … let alone something that can provide such a quality signal.
After a local LAN test, We quickly configured the boxes and streamed from site to site over our hardware VPN connections. Remember we are using cable modems for our internet.. and the streaming at 1mb was solid.. but video quality was lacking… moving much above 2.5 mb we started to get a lot of jitter and audio drop outs. If you have more than 10 mb upload.. I suspect you would have much better results, but those are just suspicions since we weren’t able to do such testing.
Next enter Chris Kehayias and his teaching us about Zixi.com. Zixi is an internet based “private CDN” (Content Delivery Network), their strength is delivering HD video content over the public internet, including higher latency connections without the receiving end dropping frames or loosing quality or dropping audio. The really awesome piece of the puzzle is the ability to stream from Zixi to a Netgear 550 Media Player.. (a endpoint and decoder for under $100 similar concept to roku).
So with all this new knowledge we started some field testing in Galesburg, so I thought I would share what we have tested and what our results were.
We first started streaming site to site with the two VS-102 units, with similar results to our pretesting, dropping frames and audio if we went above 3 mb. Next we tested a roku streaming via the Amazon EC2 services but had stability issues even at 1 mb. The quality of the video, when stable was pretty good, but couldn’t get it dialed in to keep a constant connection. Next we configured the VS-102 encoder to stream a TS-Mpeg stream rather than the default streaming VS-102 to VS-102. It streams to the Zixi “sending” application on a PC on the same network. This PC is responsible for applying the Zixi goodness to the stream and sending it to their cloud. Then at the remote campus we configured a Netgear 550 Media Player, pointed it to the stream and we have video. We let the stream ‘chew’ for over 2 1/2 hrs, never dropped a frame or received the audio garbled.
The only real test we couldn’t get working was to us the VS-102 decoder rather than the Netgear 550. This was because we couldn’t get the VS-102 to receive what the Zixi receiver was pushing across the LAN. We are working with Marshall support and expect to test this part soon. Our motivation to getting the VS-102 to be the end point in Galesburg, 1 is the output of HD/SDI but also hopefully an improved video output beyond the Netgear Media Player.
After a fairly strong showing in Galesburg on Friday, we took the advice of Chris Kehayias, testing the stream during service to see the impact when our Wi-Fi is most populated and everything is buzzing… So during the Sunday Am services we tried streaming from the Peoria Campus to my house via Zixi, first 2 hrs total fail.. too much chewing thru our upload… and after smacking around a dropbox upload we were able to get a stable connection to Zixi and from there smooth sailing… even while the Sending Zixi software reporting having to recover over 50k dropped packets. On the receiving end, you wouldn’t have known that Zixi was working so hard to keep the stream stable.
Overall I have been impressed by the flexibility of the VS-102, however their support has been limited. The service of Zixi has been pretty amazing.. keeping a stream rock solid even with pretty poor ISP conditions.