Why it matters to you
Broadcasting poor-quality Facebook Live sessions can break viewer engagement, but new hardware from Wowza aims to change that.
You won’t likely be putting it to use in your personal live-streams, but media companies will soon have access to a new tool that could greatly improve the video quality of the streams you watch on Facebook Live. It’s called the ClearCaster, the latest product from Wowza Media Systems, a company that makes a range of high-end streaming equipment and software used by the likes of Boeing, Macy’s, NASA, and Facebook, itself.
Wowza has been an early Facebook partner in the development of the Live API. In fact, the ClearCaster was built in tight collaboration with Facebook to ensure the most seamless experience. David Stubenvoll, Wowza’s CEO and co-founder, told Digital Trends that 80 percent of companies they surveyed, said Facebook Live is important to their corporation. However, 75 percent of those companies also said that broadcasting on Facebook Live was troublesome. Which is what led Wowza to develop the ClearCaster, a device that’s specifically built for Facebook Live.
The ClearCaster is a rack-mounted unit that broadcasters can easily integrate into their existing setups. It will cost $6,495, which includes three years of service, so it is certainly not the type of tool that DIY home streamers are likely to pick up. The ClearCaster is designed for the likes of corporations, content publishers, event broadcasters, but professional bloggers, who earn a living through mediums like Facebook Live, could find it to be a worthwhile investment. (If you’re interested in more approachable ways to broadcast yourself, check out the Mevo or our short guide on how to use Facebook Live with your smartphone.)
Wowza believes its close integration of hardware and software gives the ClearCaster an edge.This certainly isn’t the first tool that promises better quality and control over live-streaming for broadcasters, but Wowza believes its close integration of hardware and software gives the ClearCaster an edge. It is purpose-built for the Facebook Live API, giving it plug-and-play simplicity. It can accept both HDMI and SDI inputs and will automatically configure the stream and even monitor stream health in real-time and make adjustments on the fly, pushing resolution up to 1080p at 30fps and even 4K whenever Facebook decides to support it.
Users can start and stop streams straight from the Facebook Live interface, but can also control the ClearCaster through a web app from any location. A talent view option, using any external monitor, allows on-air personalities to see what their viewers see, and a stream timer counts down to the exact moment that the stream goes live, helping to remove any dead space at the beginning of the broadcast.
Wowza will be demonstrating the ClearCaster this week at the International Broadcast Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam, but Wowza provided us with a sneak peek prior to the announcement. While the ClearCaster looks complicated, it’s actually easy to initiate a Facebook Live session. The ClearCaster handles the brunt of the work in the back end, including encoding. All the user needs to do is plug a few equipment into it: a laptop or desktop, a compatible camera (Wowza used a Blackmagic, but also had a Canon DSLR on hand), and a computer monitor to serve as a talent display. To maintain a strong connection, the ClearCaster requires a hardwire Ethernet connection. To start a session, you just need to log into the ClearCaster portal and begin. A countdown clock lets you know when to begin.
During the Facebook Live demo conducted over the ClearCaster, the stream was clear and strong, with no noticeable lags or drops. Granted, it was a controlled demo, but Wowza told us that the ClearCaster is designed to maintain the most robust connection, as broken streams are a major problem for successful Facebook Live event. We also like the talent view feature, which we think would be great for not only one-man productions, but engagement with viewers. And engagement is just as important as a strong stream, which is why the ClearCaster has a shorter delay time. Wowza said this is all possible because it worked closely with Facebook on the back end.
The ClearCaster needs to be used in a studio environment or a setup with strong bandwidth, so mobile productions are not possible. But Wowza told us the ClearCaster will be continuously upgraded, in line with Facebook updates, like for when 4K is supported. So, what isn’t possible right now, may not be an issue in the near future. Again, it’s not a consumer product, but it could help make professional Facebook Live broadcasts more visually pleasant to watch.