Having produced hundreds of live streams, the Mainstream team knows what it takes to create a great show. Recently, we have been traveling all over the country for these shows, which has presented a new challenge: how do you ensure a successful broadcast if your office is hundreds of miles away?
With that thought, here is a list of gear we like to bring in case we find ourselves in a pinch.
A Network Switch
A reliable network switch is important if you’re traveling to a location with no wifi available, but you need a second computer to monitor the stream. It's also necessary if you're using an IP-based switcher like the ATEM Blackmagic TV Studio. We prefer to hardwire everything, though occasionally it's useful to set up a WiFi router, as well.
You can normally find switches at big-box stores like Best Buy and Micro Center, but we find it's best to use one that you know. Depending on the size of your equipment package, you may need a rack-mounted switch; this may also be necessary if your workflow utilizes IP or NDI devices. Since we use custom-built streaming encoders, a small switch like the one pictured is totally fine for most of our purposes.
A Decimator can fix nearly any messy signal flow situation. It can convert a video signal to one meet broadcast specifications (we’re normally looking for 1080i60, which not all devices send), and can convert from HDMI to SDI and vice versa. This device also has a test pattern generator that comes in handy when troubleshooting projection gear or capture cards. We have the MD-Cross V2 Miniature HDMI/SDI Cross Converter model.
Most of our traveling road shows involve capturing lectures, keynote presentations, or video conferences. We do a lot of work at hotels and event venues around the country, and every place we work has a different setup. The Decimator is able to take many different types of signals and convert them to a feed that our encoders understand. If we're streaming a presentation from a computer, there's a pretty good chance that a Decimator is attached somewhere in the signal flow.
A Wireless Microphone
We usually pack a wireless lavaliere in case of an audio emergency. This is especially important if your crew is responsible for capturing audio, rather than an in-house or separate AV vendor. We use the Sennheiser ew 100 G3 wireless lavalier kit (similar model linked). The receiver has a shoe mount that can be mounted on your camera for a simple set up.
One time, we were setting up for a show and realized that the hotel was unequipped to send us an XLR feed. We made a scrappy decision and rigged our wireless lav to the podium microphone, where presenters were given their lectures. It captured crystal-clear sound for the entire day!
An Extra Laptop
An extra laptop can be useful for many things on set such as making last minute graphics, monitoring the stream, or even acting as a presentation computer if necessary. We use an Acer Aspire F laptop which is perfect for all the above as well as any administrative tasks you may need to take care of while traveling.
Especially important is a ¼” to XLR converter. When getting an audio feed from an in-house person or an AV vendor, they occasionally only have ¼” outs and no XLR outs. These are small, so pack as many different converters as you may need.
We mostly use SDI and HDMI cable. If we need a little extra length for our cable run, we can grab a ten foot SDI or HDMI plus one of these barrels to give us the extra length needed to reach our streaming computer.
In an unfamiliar city, it can be difficult finding extra cable. It’s always good to have extra cable with you, especially if you were unable to visit the site or get a floor plan before the event. I’d recommend bringing a spare of anything you can’t get at a big box store, especially high-quality SDI.
Power and Storage
It’s the small yet most important things that are often forgotten in the rush of travel. Always double check that you have extra camera and (if needed) microphone batteries, SD cards, SxS cards, and hard drives.
This gear has helped us out of many tight spots when finding a fix for technical difficulties. Even if this gear is not needed, the space lost is made up for the peace of mind it gives when getting on the plane.