In a perfect world, every live event broadcast would take place inside a warm building with fast, reliable internet access. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality in most cases. In fact, streaming live video often involves capturing outdoor events, which present a unique set of challenges, opportunities, and requirements.
At the same time, outdoor events can be exciting, important, and lucrative to cover. For example, sports, parades, rallies, and more all take place under the sun (or rain, snow, etc). Often, you don’t have a choice about the weather. You have to go where the action is.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the requirements for streaming outdoor events. We’ll also cover how to secure a reliable internet connection for outdoor streaming, as well as some equipment logistics. Finally, we’ll share some best practices to ensure a successful live broadcast for your viewers.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Access a Fast, Reliable Internet Connection
To broadcast live events of any sort, you need a fast and reliable internet connection. There’s really no work-around for this key component of live streaming. I generally recommend an upload speed of no less than 2-5 Mbps (Megabits per second) for live streaming video. You can measure the speed of your current connection at TestMy Internet Speed Test.
Keeping these speed limitations in mind, there are four main options for getting online and live streaming outdoor events. Let’s examine each approach one by one.
Run an Ethernet Cable
If there is a nearby business or institution with a fast internet connection, you may be able to use their network to live stream outdoor content. Since a hardwired connection will always be faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi (and thus, better for live streaming), this is a great option. It’s also cheap and easy to set up.
However, this approach isn’t practical in most locations. Why? The maximum distance that you can run an Ethernet cable is around 300 feet.
Find a Cell Phone or Mobile Hot-Spot
In many cities and urban areas, 4G LTE networks are fast enough for use in live streaming. A cell phone or mobile hot-spot is cheap, easy to set up, and probably already something you have. You can’t beat this option for simplicity and ease of use.
However, the main drawback here is reliability. For example, will your cell phone battery last for a continuous 6-hour broadcast? (Consider a power brick.) Relatedly, the event you plan to broadcast live will likely attract a crowd. If those people also all use their cellphones, the local cell network may become congested and slow down.
There are other concerns as well. A simple one is bandwidth: live streaming can rapidly suck it up. As a result, overage charges (or worse yet, bandwidth throttling in the middle of your live event) can create challenges.
Use Cellular Bonding
One way to overcome the issues of cell network congestion is to combine multiple cell provider networks into one superfast internet connection. This is called cellular bonding. Unless you’re renting a satellite truck, cellular bonding is the most reliable, professional method for streaming outdoor events.
Cellular bonding combines the speeds of multiple networks—including 2.5G, 3G, 4G LTE, and Wi-Fi—into a single fast and reliable internet connection for broadcast purposes. This creates a reliable, redundant internet connection. In particular, this setup should provide broadcast-quality speeds even during major public events. For example, many television stations use these systems for live streaming.
Finally, what if you really need the highest quality and reliability, or you to broadcast in locations where cell networks simply don’t exist? In those cases, you should consider a satellite linkage. This is the nuclear option: it’s expensive and may be overkill, but it will get the job done.
Step 2: Equipment for Outdoor Streaming
Live streaming outdoor events require the same basic equipment as any other live stream. In a previous article, we wrote a comprehensive introduction to mobile video gear before. To recap, here’s a quick overview. Essential outdoor live streaming equipment includes:
- Encoding software or hardware
- Mixing/production setup (optional, or can be located off-site)
In an outdoor setting, you’ll most likely use a mobile on-camera hardware encoder, such as these by Mushroom Networks or Teradek. These devices generally use an H.264 encoder to compress your video footage in real-time. Some cellular bonding devices can transit directly to your CDN with no need for another server. You can also configure these devices to transmit directly to your studio. At that location, you can mix that video content with other footage and insert it into an ongoing broadcast.
On-camera hardware encoders that include cellular bonding require external USB modems from cellular providers. You purchase these separately and then plug them into your encoder to provide reliable internet connectivity. In general, you want to purchase a USB modem from each major cellular provider in your area. This will help you to avoid dead spots. In addition, you’ll need a data plan for each one. Often this entails securing at least 4 data plan subscriptions. However, sometimes as many as 8 are needed for the highest-quality broadcasts.
Step 3: Prepare for Wind, Water, and Rough Weather
Though bandwidth is the main issue for outdoor events, it’s not the only challenging factor. The second major consideration is the weather. Wind can play havoc with audio recording. Therefore, any outdoor audio recording should include the morbidly named “dead kitties” (or windscreens) on all microphones.
Rain and other precipitation is also a major concern for outdoor live streaming. B&H Photo Video stocks a wide range of rain covers for different types of cameras and other recording equipment. Make sure to use weather-resistant cabling for outdoor broadcasts.
Another major logistical challenge to an outdoor recording is power, given that you may not have access to electrical outlets. The solution here is batteries: lots and lots of batteries. For continuous live streaming, you may need a battery system that allows “hot-swapping” without interrupting the stream.
Step 4: Proper Encoder Settings for Outdoor Streaming
Your encoder settings for outdoor streaming largely depend on the final destination for your broadcast. That said, we can make a few general recommendations for users on the Dacast platform:
- Video codec: h.264 or x264
- Audio codec: AAC or AAC-LC
- Video resolution: your choice
- Video bitrate: see detailed recommendations here.
- VBR: Variable Bitrate
- Frames per second: 30 is standard, but 24, 25, 50, and 60 are also common.
- Keyframe interval: 2 seconds
Outdoor event recording can be a challenge, but the results are worthwhile. As we mention above, live outdoor events are some of the most exciting and important to cover. Luckily, the technology of outdoor live streaming has come a long way in recent years. With the tips we’ve covered in this article, you hope you can pull off outdoor live streaming with minimal issues.
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