Can this small production switcher and streaming device enhance the average streamer's setup?
The Bottom Line
If you are looking for an easy, all-in-one solution for simple streaming, the StreamLIVE HD is worth considering. However, if you need any features above simple graphics and switching, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Where To Get It
The Value proposition on the StreamLIVE HD is slightly below average. Everything that can be accomplished by the switch, and more, can be done through a computer for far less money. However, by using a computer for this functionality, you reduce the portability, as well as the overall Convenience of the setup.
Another aspect that affects the value of the product is the streamer's intentions. An average setup on Twitch, for example, is a chromakey background for the gamer over top of the game being played. However, with the capability for chromakey being missing, the value for a Twitch streamer is greatly reduced. The lack of video playback also reduces the value in this scenario. This is unfortunate, because this hardware could be a perfect companion for the average Twitch streamer if only these features existed.
For the casual streamer who uses two cameras or a camera and an input, the Convenience of the StreamLIVE HD is very high. Not only does it give you physical controls to be able to switch between inputs, but it also takes a lot of the processing power off the streamer's computer. For a Twitch streamer, for example, it would allow the game to be played on the computer exclusively, with the output from the computer going to the switch.
In addition, network transmission is also able to be offloaded from the gaming computer. With the dedicated Ethernet connection on the switch, on-computer latency can be lowered for online gaming. It could also be a benefit for a slightly higher-end streamer who could use separate internet connections for gaming and streaming.
However, with the collection of missing Functionality, such as video playback, it could prove less convenient than building a proper dedicated streaming setup with a computer and switching software. The streamer would have more fine-grained control over their output, as well as regaining those missing features. It is important to consider your intended usage before determining whether or not the StreamLIVE HD would add value to your setup.
The input connections for video on the device are exclusively HDMI. That means that if you are using more modern computer hardware, you'll need down converters to go from DisplayPort to HDMI, making you susceptible to input interference. If you are using professional cameras, which use SDI, you'll also need adapters to make them work. However, if the intention is to bring a pair of cameras in, or a camera and a gaming console, HDMI will be your standard input. Considering the target demographic for the device, that is likely going to be the case.
Unfortunately, the input for audio on the device is RCA (red and white, like on an old VCR or DVD player), and a single 1/4" stereo plug. The RCA plugs have little to no value for most streamers in this decade, unless perhaps they're streaming vintage videogames. The 1/4" connection could be used from a mixer, but will require an adapter, as mixers usually have left/right outputs. To make audio input more usable, XLR would have been better.
For output, the device doesn't use a standard screen, but relies on an iPad. While this does give the user the ability to use touch capabilities, rather than needing a mouse, it also means that you need to have and sacrifice an iPad to use the switcher. As many streamers use a tablet for their support content, such as chat, topics, and scripts, you would therefore need to have a pair of computers for the stream.
The StreamLIVE HD has two sets of Controls: physical and virtual. When it comes to the physical controls on the hardware, anyone with any streaming or broadcast experience will recognize it immediately. Having full control over selected scenes, hard and fade cuts, and even a fader bar makes transitioning between inputs easy. The "Go Live" button and "Pause" button make the process of streaming and temporarily going dark under more emergency circumstances are welcomed additions.
The virtual controls, which are presented through the app, are not as user-friendly. The process of creating graphics channels is clunky, with no way to reset or undo a mistake. Because the interface is touch, fine control is difficult, especially when trying to crop a video input. The touch-powered switching controls also have slightly odd hit boxes, so we'd recommend sticking to the hardware (it's more natural anyway).
With more modern iPadOS versions you might be able to use a mouse for control, which we did not get to try. However, if the mouse works well (or at all) with the app, it will certainly make the virtual control scheme far easier. It would especially make the fine control features, such as input cropping, better.
The Learning Curve is a little steep, even for those with experience with streaming and broadcast hardware. In fact, we required assistance from the company to get the device working for our testing, despite having decades of broadcast experience on our team. The labeling on the back for inputs is not entirely straight-forward, but makes sense once you understand the general wiring concept.
The software took some time to get used to, as well. The idea that having the switch connected to the iPad disabled internet access, even if the hardware was connected, created a number of challenges in initially configuring the streaming settings. It meant having to type everything in, rather than being able to easily copy/paste good settings from an external source. Creating graphics channels was also a challenge, as the interface was overly minimalized, and touch added its own challenges.
The ATEN OnAir software which powers the StreamLIVE HD offers two stream destinations. These destinations use the industry standard STMP protocol, meaning you can easily target nearly any platform. For example, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch all use FTMP to push video to their platforms. For many low volume streamers, this setup will be more than enough to get the job done.
For more high velocity streamers, the limit of two destinations can potentially cause a problem. If you wanted to stream to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch at the same time, you could not do it directly from the StreamLIVE HD . Instead, you would need a distribution service, such as Restream (which is the service we used while testing the product).
Another limitation of the stream destination system is that there is no way to interact with certain platforms that do not offer public RTMP, such as LinkedIn. If you want to stream to LinkedIn, you would once again need to use a distribution service. It would also limit the amount of bandwidth being used on the local network, which could also be a benefit.
The good news is that, whether we streamed directly to a platform or used a distribution service, we had picture perfect quality. There was the occasional data synchronization issue, but that happens with all services, and could have been caused by the water's connection and not the streamer's.
The Design of the StreamLIVE HD is solid. It is based on standard professional switching hardware used in live event production and television studios. For example, the scene buttons are in the center of the board, with the buttons turning green for preview (upcoming) and red for program (current). To the right are buttons for auto transition and hard cut, plus a manual transition bar above.
Because of the small and limited scope of the hardware, the board also includes audio controls. Those are to the left of the board. They allow you to decide which inputs are active, hard mute all inputs, and adjust the master output volume. Another unique feature is the ability to start, stop, and pause the streaming feature from the top of the board.
The software adds additional capabilities, such as adjusting the volume of each input individually, as well as adjusting the volume of the headphone output. You've also got virtual versions of each physical feature, plus the addition of scene previews.
The Build Quality of the StreamLIVE HD was very high. On our unit, almost all of the seams were smooth, with little to no chance of catching anything on an edge or cutting your finger. Considering there are a lot of seams, that is an impressive accomplishment. The only seam that appeared to have raised edges was around the iPad holder. Just where the color changes from the dark grey to light grey was a raised and slightly sharp edge. Fortunately, it is out of the way during general use. Of course, this could vary unit to unit.
The ports on the StreamLIVE HD are also generally flush with the body, or inset where you would expect it. For example, the headset jack on the right side was perfectly flush, while the USB port was slightly inset to prevent weight pulling the port off the motherboard.
One of the places where the build quality missed just a little was in the sub control buttons (the rubberized buttons on the left under the volume control). On a couple of instances, we hit the button and it did not register. After some testing, we discovered that pressing the buttons at even a slight angle could cause the actuator to miss. Fortunately, the main control buttons for scenes and streaming (the plastic buttons on the right), are different from the sub controls and did not have the same problem.
For very basic streaming capabilities, the StreamLIVE HD functions well. However, for anything above the very basic, the Functionality starts to lack. The issues with the Controls, particularly around touch-powered features, make it more difficult to implement more advanced features.
There are also standard functions that are available on most streaming platforms, both hardware and software, that are missing from this platform. The most important feature that is missing is the ability to play videos. Loading media into a channel and being able to play them directly from your control software is standard across platforms, from free and open source projects through broadcast studio systems. Not being able to do that here means that, for many users, it will not be an option at all.
Another missing feature that would really improve the reach of the product is overlays. Graphics channels are generally thought of as "scenes" in the software, so they are a full collection of video and still imagery. However, the ability to create a GFX channel with a transparent background to overlay over the Program channel would add a lot. Also, dynamic overlays using external data would be fantastic.
Size & Weight
The Size & Weight of this hardware is a complicated topic. It is fairly small and far lighter in weight than our traveling studio setup. However, it is still surprisingly heavy for its size. The weight, while slightly inconvenient, is actually a blessing in disguise. The weight is clearly part of the Design of the switcher. It prevents the product from falling backwards because, with the iPad attached, it would be top-heavy. Add to that the HDMI cables, Ethernet cable, and power cable plugged into the back, it is reasonable that the device would tip over. A heavy base, which this product has, helps to prevent that possibility.
As part of our Setup experience, we were made aware of some Compatibility issues. We tried several computers, including a first generation Surface Pro, and a first generation Surface Book, as computer inputs. While the older computer (the Pro) was able to output to the StreamLIVE HD, the newer computer (the Book) was not. We tried adjusting the resolution, the refresh rate, and even turned off the internal display, without any success.
Unfortunately, we saw similar results with our cameras. The camera that we use for F5 Live: Refreshing Technology worked perfectly without any adjustments, some of the other cameras that we use for other events, such as CES, did not. While we were able to make a setting adjustment to make one of the cameras connect, the third camera never did show up in the system.
Conceptually, the User Interface for the app is solid. The only thing that initially stands out is that the app does not look like an iPad app because it uses a lot of controls from the Google Material design aesthetic rather than the Apple HIG. This is most apparent on the settings tab, where the switches and slides are definitely not Apple's.
At first glance, the app looks very much like the majority of switcher software, with a Preview (green) and Program (red) window, input channels, and a ring of green and red to indicate which input is in which state. You've got volume indicators and transition state, with virtual auto, cut, and fader bar. You can also see stream state and network stability to each destination. However, it is easier and more consistent to use the hardware buttons and fader bar versus the on-screen controls because of lag and hit boxes.
From the scene configuration screen, you can choose between existing templates and then customize those templates. You bring in one or two inputs and add image overlays and text, then set a name. If you are trying to do something very simple, such as a straight split down the middle, with each source being perfectly centered, this setup is easy. However, if you need to get very custom, the small size of the screen, the touch interface, and the massive delay on the video previews, can make it a challenge.
The initial Setup leaves a lot to be desired. During our setup phase, we were unable to get video from any of our cameras or computers. After a phone call with a representative from the company, we learned two things: the labeling on the back of the product is not entirely clear and there are some Compatibility limitations. Once we got through the labeling, we were finally able to get a device to show up. Once that happened, we tested a variety of cameras and computers.
The software also has some issues, particularly in the process of configuring a multi-camera view. Part of the issue is because of the touch interface, but some of it is because of the fairly steep Learning Curve. The real software setup issue, however, was in dealing with the internet access setup. The iPad has internet access when it is not connected to the StreamLIVE HD, but is lost when plugged in. So, getting certain features configured, for example the Media Streaming destinations, required copying and pasting several times, from app to app.
The Usability of the device varies slightly by intended usage. For those using it to stream or record from a pair of cameras, for example an interview with a camera on the host and guest and another on just the guest, the StreamLIVE HD is easy to use and could make the production really easy. Adding opening and closing graphics would be easy to accomplish, as well.
For productions that are more complicated, the usability is greatly reduced. No video playback and no chromakey limit the reach of the product. Also, a hard limit of 8 scenes and no GFX channels would make a complex production nearly impossible.