One of the most common live-streaming questions people have when getting started is “what do I need?” Often the chorus of “just use your phone” drowns out the advice from people who know the limitations of that advice. In most circumstances, a single phone in the back of the sanctuary isn’t going to do as well as a camcorder connected to an encoder.
Normally, the steps from a single phone to a multi-camera live-stream, with graphics, are like a maze. You can go a long way down a single path only to find that you’ve hit a dead-end and have to turn around and start over again.
Not so with the SlingStudio Multi-Camera Live Streaming Platform from the folks at Dish Network. Its major strength is that it eliminates the dead ends.
With just the SlingStudio Hub and a smartphone, you have a capable live-streaming system. While it’s pricier than just using your phone, even without adding more phones or other cameras you immediately have more capabilities. You can add in pre-recorded videos or static graphics without adding a connected computer. Connect a computer via the built-in HDMI port and you can easily switch between the phone and computer, even overlaying graphics live, using chromakey.
For most churches, this is a quantum leap forward from the basic live-stream that they use now.
Add in another smartphone and you’ve got a Multicam system which can switch seamlessly, adding both interest and professionalism to the stream.
Next, add in some camcorders, perhaps from the Canon Vixia line connected to a SlingStudio CameraLink. Add up to 10 cameras using one of these methods, but keep in mind that the SlingStudio Console app can only monitor four at a time.
Whether you have a basic system or a more complex one, setup is pretty simple, and because it’s wireless, fast.
The SlingStudio hub has connection points on each side. On one, you have an audio input, HDMI in, HDMI out, and USB-C, as well as power.
On the other side, you have a power button and an SD card reader.
It’s possible to get audio from either HDMI, the CameraLinks, mobile apps, media you add, or a 3.5mm analog input jack. The SlingStudio Console app has a basic audio mixer, too, that allows you to use audio from one of these sources, or have audio follow the source (which is handy for videos).
For supported resolutions, the SlingStudio and CameraLinks support everything from 720p 30fps up to 1080p 60fps (and all the interlace and 30 or 60fps formats in between).
The SlingStudio is surprisingly flexible and perfect for environments where running cables is problematic. Have to set up the hub where there’s no power? No problem, you can run it off of an optional battery for up to three hours. Need to wander around or switch from different locations? No worries. You can control the SlingStudio from either an iPad or Mac apps. Need more cameras? Just borrow a smartphone and download the free SlingStudio capture app and connect to the SlingStudio.
Connecting to the SlingStudio hub from cameras with the CameraLink or with smartphones with the SlingStudio Capture app is easy and reliable, even in more challenging wifi environments with several wireless networks visible during initial scans.
It is possible to run a live stream over wifi, connecting the Mac or iPad to the SlingStudio, and then telling it to connect to another access point for internet access. However, most churches would want a hard-wired network connection. There are a couple of ways to do that. The official way is with the SlingStudio USB-C Expander. It has both an RJ-45 connection and a couple of USB 3.0 jacks for connecting external storage drives, if you’d prefer to record to one of those rather than using the SD card slot.
It’s probably not supported, but some users have found that a third-party USB-C adapter with a regular USB 3.0 RJ-45 adapter worked as well.
One other feature that you should know about is that unless you’re using it the SlingStudio powers itself down after an hour of not being used.
When you unbox the SlingStudio’s optional battery pack, you might be concerned that the connector for the charging cable is on the top, where it would be obscured by the SlingStudio itself, but don’t worry. The power cable that powers the SlingStudio will charge the battery while they’re both connected (the same power supply charges the battery when the SlingStudio isn’t in use).
When you’re wirelessly connecting external cameras with the CameraLinks, an add-on device to wirelessly send video up to 300 feet away, you need to connect from the camera’s HDMI port (you’d need to adapt SDI sources, should you have SDI only sources). The CameraLinks themselves charge via USB and don’t have swappable batteries.
This is a bit of a concern because, while they are spec’ed to last two-plus hours, you may have longer events or times when you wouldn’t have three to four hours (with the camera link turned off) to charge a battery before another two-hour event. The solution is to have a 5volt, 2A charger or battery pack at the ready to keep the CameraLink powered up.
While your church should definitely get the USB-C Expander (unless you already have a USB-C to RJ-45 dongle that you might want to try first) if you want a hardwired network connection for live-streaming, some of the other accessories are less of a given.
Should you buy a CameraLink?
If you want to connect cameras that can’t run the SlingStudio Capture app, like many iOS and Android phones can, you really don’t have another choice. The HDMI input connection only works for one source.
Should you buy the battery for the SlingStudio?
If you want security from power blips or you might need to run the SlingStudio away from power outlets, you should. If it’s going to be plugged in at one location and protected by a UPS, then maybe you don’t need it.
What about the SlingStudio backpack?
It IS roomy and is perfectly laid out for storage of a SlingStudio unit, cables, CameraLinks, an iPad and/or a laptop, and even a few small camcorders. If your church is portable and sets up before church, it’s a great place to store it all. If you’re not tearing down every week and if you’re not going to take the whole set up on the road, maybe it’s worth skipping.
Overall, there’s a lot to admire about the SlingStudio. In addition to what I’ve mentioned so far, here are a few other benefits to using one at your church:
1) Easy to Transport
The backpack that SlingStudio sells to transport the SlingStudio tells the tale. There was a time when you’d need a tractor trailer full of gear to get a recording or live stream that’s on par with what the SlingStudio can create. That’s just not the case anymore. With this system, you can grab it and go just as easily as if you were headed out to do some writing at a coffee shop.
2) Easy to Use
Churches that are volunteer-run might experience some fear with the idea of using a large-format video switcher, but the interface of the SlingStudio is very user-friendly, enabling you to live-stream and/or record services quickly and easily, with minimal training.
3) Quick Setup (No Cables-helpful video here)
Once the SlingStudio has been set up the first time, setting it up again is as simple as plugging it in and turning it on or just turning it on (if you’re running on battery power). Setting up the cameras is equally fast. A multi-camera system normally takes hours or even days to set up, but with the SlingStudio, you can do it in minutes.
4) Live Streams and Records
Instead of being limited to a single perspective for your live stream or spending hours editing multiple cameras into a single video, the SlingStudio lets you switch between up to 10 sources to give your recordings and live streams a truly professional feel. The recordings from each source are isolated and available to tweak later. If you like what you did during the event, once you hit stop, you’re done. You’ll have a mostly finished product when the event is all over.
5) Scalable and Project-Ready
The easy to use SlingStudio Converter plugins can be used to make a Final Cut Pro or Premiere project to tweak any mistakes you made during the event for a flawless final production. Start with just the hub and add components slowly over time to increase the quality of your live-stream and recordings.
Finish recording your event and wish you could tweak a few things to make it perfect? With the SlingStudio you can. Just use the SlingStudio converter plugins and you’ll be able to open a project, ready for some tweaking in just a few minutes. SlingStudio plugins sync all video and audios together and create a sequence automatically with all edits used during the event which makes tweaking super easy.
6) Other Pros
- Built-in chroma key ability to key out background from both live and prerecorded video sources.
- Built-in audio mixer so you can get audio from each of your sources and individually balance the volume of each.
- Free MacOS and iOS console apps enable you to control the SlingStudio hub from a variety of locations (even while seated with the congregation).
- The wireless CameraLinks enable camera ops freedom of movement when shooting worship.
- When running the SlingStudio hub on battery, you can quickly move it from one event to another, so shooting the youth service in on room and then the regular service in another, with very little turn-around time is no longer impossible.
- You can start small with just the SlingStudio Hub and add cameras one at a time, slowly. Start with smartphones and then go to camcorders without starting over from scratch with a new system.
- Includes a built-in live-streaming encoder so you don’t need a dedicated computer or external hardware to live-stream your services.
With all this power, in such a small package, you might think that the SlingStudio is the perfect device for all your live production video needs. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be exactly true.
1) Not intended for IMAG (image-magnification where live video is shown on screens in the same venue as it’s happening)
This is due to the fact that the SlingStudio adds a noticeable amount of latency to the signal (around two seconds). Whether you’re recording the feed for uploading later (or archiving) or live-streaming, a two-second delay is not a huge deal. If you’ve got the output on a large screen behind your pastor, two seconds is an eternity. So, if you want to use the SlingStudio for IMAG, look at other solutions because that amount of latency would just be too much.
While one of the options with the output is to have a full-screen program output, it’s not intended for the IMAG. That feature is really intended for monitoring as evidenced by that fact that other than a program output, the HDMI output can also show a quad view of the four monitored sources or a zero latency preview of the source connected to the HDMI input.
2) Non-Standard Controls
The controls, while similar, aren’t exactly standard. Instead of cut, auto-trans, and fade to black buttons, these functions are located on a single “Preview to Program” button. Another button indicates the currently selected transition, whether a cross-dissolve, cut, fade to black or whatever (and when you choose fade to black, it does that immediately).
There is a downstream key option, even if alpha isn’t one of them: chroma key. This option is adjustable so you can dial in the key the way you need it. Keep in mind that you don’t have the option to crop out extra stuff. If you wanted to do a live chromakey and remove a person from a background, you’d need to frame the person so that the background only included the green screen.
Another nice option for graphics includes a PIP (picture in picture) feature. Like the chroma key, you don’t have the option to crop so whatever aspect ratio you bring into the SlingStudio is what aspect ratio it will stay in. The SlingStudio can take a PNG with transparency, so that might help you get around this limitation, for still content, at least.
3) Limited to Adding Only Two Videos as Sources at a Time
The SlingStudio does have the ability to play videos as part of a production. These can either be videos with sound or without and can be keyed onto other sources as well. Although you can import as many media as you want, you’re limited to two videos added as sources at a time. If you want to add media to the system, you can’t upload it from the console app. It controls the SlingStudio but doesn’t transfer media to it. You’ll need to put media on one of the storage drives with a computer. Storage drives are formatted FAT32, so recordings are limited to 4gb chunks. Since you can connect a computer with ProPresenter, Proclaim, Mediashout, or other worship software to the HDMI in, you can get around both the file-size and source limitations and maybe only use media on the SlingStudio for videos that are specific to the live stream, like a prerecorded introduction or announcement time.
4) Each New Camera, Other Than Smartphones, Requires a CameraLink
This is due to the fact that there’s only one external HDMI input port.
As far as live-streaming goes, the Sling Studio can connect directly to some of the biggest players like YouTube, Facebook, etc. If you’re using another service, it can do RTMP streaming (Real-Time Messaging Protocol was initially a proprietary protocol developed by Macromedia for streaming audio, video and data over the Internet), just like with other encoders.
5) Other Limitations
- It is not capable of using video with an alpha channel, but motion graphics can be used instead.
- Although stable in testing, wifi might prove a challenge in some environments.
- Only 4 active sources at a time and only 2 of them can be videos.
- No provision for cropping sources.
- No dedicated switcher-like control surface.
- No native SDI connectivity
Where the SlingStudio Shines
With all that said, there’s a feature that it provides which could help pay for it. Even if you don’t want to live-stream right now, but do upload a finished, edited, video to YouTube, Facebook, and/or Vimeo later. SlingStudio will record each source (both audio and video) individually on attached storage AND with the free SlingStudioConverter plugins, it will convert the pieces to a project for either Premiere or Final Cut Pro.
Imagine you use the SlingStudio Console app on either Mac or iPad. While you’re in church, you make a mistake and take a rogue shot or get distracted and don’t take a shot when you need to. By exporting the recordings with the SlingStudio Post-Production Plugins, you can hop into your editor and make those minor changes in just a few minutes, instead of the time it would take to edit a complete multi-camera production. All the sources are already in sync, so even that tedious part of the editing process is taken care of.
If that happens once, the couple of hours you save are no big deal but imagine that you save a couple of hours every week. That time when multiplied by however much money your church pays you to edit the service could pay for the gear in no time. Even if you’re a volunteer who isn’t paid by the church, it might be worth saving $20 a week for a year (so you can buy the SlingStudio yourself) so that you’ll save hours of your time each week.
Cost and Accessories Tested
For this review, the makers of SlingStudio sent the following: SlingStudio Hub: $999.00, two SlingStudio CameraLinks: $349.00/each, SlingStudio Battery: $149.00, SlingStudio USB-C Expander: $49.00, and a SlingStudio Backpack: $199.00.
If you want an identical configuration, get the Starter pack which includes the SlingStudio Hub, SlingStudio battery pack, USB-C Expander, SlingStudio CameraLink, SlingStudio Backpack for $1745 and just add in an additional CameraLink.
The cameras used for testing were that Canon Vixia HFR40, Canon T3i (used primarily to test multiple CameraLinks at once), iPhone 7, iPhone SE, and for control and editing 2017 MacBook Pro (using SlingStudio Console and SlingStudio Converter).
The SlingStudio isn’t a direct replacement for a video switcher. It doesn’t have a tactile interface, its keying ability is limited, and its interface, while usable, isn’t exactly standard. There’s too much latency for IMAG.
It does have features, like the ability to live-stream built-in, recording (of isolated, final output, and projects for your editor), that a regular switcher doesn’t have.
It really is a great innovation. For most smaller to medium-sized and portable churches, it makes a lot of sense to have a system that can grow with you from the days of a single smartphone with graphics to up to 10 sources.