The Semi-Quasi-Annual Studio Gear Roundup
I was asked during my latest Live from the Coffee Bunker show for a rundown of what I’m using in my studio. I actually get this question several times a year from people who watch the show and are interested in setting up their own webcasts, so I suppose I should cover this topic again. There have been quite a few changes since the last time I did this, so a redux is definitely in order.
Seriously, all you need for a professional-looking light setup is some household track lighting. I use halogen spots since they throw a LOT of warm, consistent light… but holy mother effing crap are they hot. I’ve got about eight of these spots on me during the show with another four behind me on the backdrop.
Ideally I’d like to get a diffusor set up (maybe just a cheap white bed sheet hung far enough away to not catch fire). That’d keep the light consistent, but since the Coffee Bunker only has a 7′ ceiling that might prove difficult.
God bless modern webcams. No, seriously, webcams. Logitech’s HD webcams are freaking amazing- I’m able to push 1280×720 at 30fps over USB from two of these things at once. The color’s pretty damn good too, assuming you took care of the lights first. They even have auto-focus and glass lens covers.
Oh yeah, I don’t use tripods. These cameras are suspended from the ceiling since it’s so damn low. The keyboard cam is just velcroed up there, the wide cam is actually dropped down via PVC pipe that I can tuck away into the joists when filming is done. Real low-budget, but it works.
Unfortunately, the cameras are designed for wide-angle conference room shots. My close-up camera is standard-def and old as dirt, I’m sorry to say. I’m still looking for a cheap HD camera that can stream via USB or Firewire and zoom in on my face (or at least shoot a narrow enough angle for good close-up use). If you’ve got any suggestions, contact me.
The first thing that rocked my studio world was a simple tool: The USB extender. I know from experience that USB signal tends to degrade on longer lengths of cable, but these babies from Tripp Lite have proven an amazing asset. I have both HD webcams (pushing 720 at 30fps, mind you) stretched another 16 feet with a pair of these extenders and I haven’t seen any data loss yet. I was so impressed that I picked up a third extender for use on stage so Runtt and I can be further apart during a live show.
That being said, the hackintosh that runs the studio has 4 separate USB 2 buses, so each camera has its own dedicated chunk of bandwidth to hog up. The old-ass SD cam on my face is just DV over Firewire, so that really isn’t much to mention here.
The backdrops… are a work in progress. I originally intended to make it look like I was standing in front of coffee bags stacked floor-to-ceiling, but after a week of sewing in my spare time I couldn’t even finish one. I may stick with the idea, honestly, but I still haven’t finished one damn panel yet.
The idea, of course, was to have something neutral-color, textured, and layered so it would be visually interesting and help diffuse the harsh spotlights. For the time being, regular canvas will just have to do. Also, rather than drill a bunch of holes into a 200-year-old house, I sewed a 2″ wide strip of velcro across the top of each panel and stapled a matching strip to the joist. Easy up, easy down, and the staples will do minimal damage in the end.
CamTwist is buggy as hell– almost as buggy as the software that runs Matthew Ebel dot net -but it’s free. And for what it does, free is an amazing price. I can set up hotkeys to switch cameras and even start an automated camera rotation (so I don’t have to try and change cameras during a song). The documentation sucks and the implementation has led me to invent many, many new obscenities, but it’s either that or spending four figures on real video software.
Of course, that still has to feed into the broadcaster, which in this case is UStream Producer. In retrospect, I really should’ve just spent the money on a full version of Wirecast rather than UStream’s stripped-down specialized version, but it’s too late now. I gots what I gots. CamTwist does the heavy lifting, Ustream Producer Pro does the converting, recording, and broadcasting.
Mainstage rocks my world. I use it for every live show I play, the streaming shows are no exception. I’m not about to tell you how I’ve arranged my plugins and effects since that could honestly fill an eBook on its own… Suffice it to say that I treat the live streams the same way I do any studio recording or big convention concert: Nothing half-assed. After all, if the show doesn’t sound great, why the hell would I want to add video?
If you want to see how this all adds up, I do these shows every Wednesday at 7pm Eastern US time. Join me and the chat room at www.matthewebel.com/live!