Connecting Multiple Cameras to a PC or Mac

Connecting Multiple Cameras to a PC or Mac

Not long ago, I wrote a blog post on how to get a single camera signal into your computer. This post expands on that and delves into the realm of connecting multiple cameras to your Mac or Windows PC for live switching and streaming! I'll cover what capture devices to look for if you are using a desktop, or a laptop. I'll also briefly review the most popular switching/streaming software, so you can zero in on what will be best for you.

It's good to understand that every stream of video (i.e. camera feed) you bring into your computer requires resources. Depending on the CPU, GPU, software and other factors, your computer may be maxed out by two cameras, or it might be able to handle six or more. In general, newer computers with fast CPU's and beefy GPU's are going to do a much better job of handling multiple camera streams. If your application is mission-critical, I highly recommend looking into a purpose-built live switching system like those from NewTek or Acme Video Systems. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on a more piecemeal, DIY approach to live switching.

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Laptops with Thunderbolt™; either Windows or Mac, lend themselves quite well to ingesting multiple cameras.

A Thunderbolt equipped laptop will allow you to connect an external capture device, such as an  AJA IO 4K, or an AKiTiO Thunder 2/3 PCIe Box

With the latter, you add your own PCIe capture card, such as a BlackMagic Design Decklink Duo 2. With the manufacturer provided drivers, your computer sees each camera as an individual input. With your live switching software of choice, you can then transition between cameras and create split-screen or picture-in-picture (PiP) effects.

If your laptop does not have Thunderbolt, you are limited to the USB 3 bus, which necessitates the use of a hardware switcher (e.g. ATEM Television Studio HDRoland V-1HDRoland V-1SDI) to handle the camera feeds. The program output of the hardware switcher is fed into the computer with a USB 3 capture device, such as those recommended here: Capture Devices

Using a hardware switcher connected to your computer is not a bad way to go. However, you do lose some functionality and integration. For example, you may have to use one software program to switch cameras, and another to add graphics and encode the web stream. You also lose the ability to composite multiple camera images into one frame. The benefit is that your computer only has to process one video signal, the program output, instead of multiple cameras. This means that a lower powered computer can work just fine!

There is one particularly potent switcher/Mac software combo of which I am a big fan; The ATEM Television Studio HD and mimoLive! 

The really cool thing about mimoLive is that it controls the ATEM switcher over a network connection. That means you can do graphics, video playback, streaming, recording and switching––all from one application! If you want to learn more about how it works, check out these videos:

Sans mimoLive, you could use the ATEM Software Control to switch cameras, or just push buttons on the front face of the ATEM TV Studio HD. You will still want software that can add graphics and stream to Facebook, YouTube or any other CDN (Content Delivery Network).

Livestream Studio Software

All the software packages do the same basic things, i.e. switch between multiple sources, encode/stream, add titles/graphics, video playback. What you choose comes down to your computer platform, budget and additional features that you may want or need. Below, I list some of the more popular software options, with a few notes about each.

WireCast: Widely used/highly advertised. Latest version is much improved and quite good. Mac or Windows.

vMix: Quite popular with churches and quickly gaining inroads into other venues. Frequent updates and pricing options for any budget. Windows only.

OBS: Free, open source software. Very popular, but not as reliable as paid options. Windows or Mac.

mimoLive: My personal favorite. Intuitive, layer-based interface. More expensive than other options. ATEM Control! Mac only.

StreamStar: Up and coming. Lots of options for sports scoring. Windows only.

LiveStream Studio: A solid option. Unknown future with Vimeo buyout. Windows only.

Computer Video Hardware 

The nature of a desktop computer is such that you can pack in a lot of CPU power and a massive GPU. This makes them more appropriate for a production with many video sources. A PCIe capture card is what you'll want for ingesting your cameras.

Blackmagic Design Decklink cards are very popular, because they offer great functionality at minimalist price point. Mission-critical builds tend to go with AJA hardware because of its legendary reliability and better tech support. Granted, you pay quite a bit more up front. Magewell is another brand that is gaining in popularity.

If you are looking to put your own system together, has some reference systems posted that will point you in the right direction, even if you are planning to use a different Windows based software package.

Feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. I'm happy to help you find the gear you need!

30th Oct 2017 Jason Jenkins

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