Wirecast 3.0.1, by Vara Software
Posted: 24-Dec-2007

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Vara Software Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Fred Mindlin Class: INTERNET

Overview
Are you in the market to produce professional quality webcasts for your work group or organization? If you're already armed with a Mac, iSight, and perhaps an additional video camera input, then you have nearly all you need to start making your webcasts now. All that's missing is the software to integrate it all together, and allow you to incorporate professional quality features and effects. Vara Software brings you the solution by way of Wirecast, a live webcasting application. It offers support for multiple cameras (including HDV, DV and iSight), 3D graphics (including Core Image transitions), Chroma Keying, over 20 built-in professional broadcast quality titles themes, a simple interface, video effects, Keynote integration, multiple layers, multiple broadcast support, broadcast archiving, and AppleScript support.


From the Vendor
Wirecast is the most advanced live webcasting product available for your Mac or PC. You can stream multiple live video cameras, while dynamically mixing in other media (movies, images etc). Features such as Chroma Key (blue/green screen) and built-in titles merge seamlessly with Wirecast's layering system, allowing you to create beautiful, professional webcasts. Wirecast introduces the unique concept of shots. You can package up your selected cameras, graphical overlays, movies and titles into a shot. Once you have built your list of shots, you can transition the broadcast between them with a single mouse click.

Features

  • Support for multiple cameras
  • Chroma Key
  • Multiple Broadcast Support
  • Desktop Presenter
  • Core Image
  • H.264
  • Amazing 3D Graphics
  • Incredible Titles
  • Simple User interface
  • QuickTime Streaming Server Support
  • Keynote Integration
  • Multiple Layers

Requirements

  • Mac OS X Panther 10.3.9 or greater (Mac OS X 10.4.8 recommended)
  • A Quartz Extreme capable graphics card
  • QTSS/DSS 4.1.3 or later is needed for automatic "announce" unicasting
  • A supported GPU is required for Core Image and GPU video compression acceleration
  • Intel or PowerPC G3 processor. (Core Duo or G5 recommended). At least a 500MHz CPU is required
  • Intel Core Duo or dual G5 is required for HDV decoding


Price
$449.99; upgrade from Wirecast 2 $179.99

Setup
Installation of the software is straightforward. You simply download a disk image from
varasoftware.com, run the installer, and launch. The initial application screen is reminiscent of iMovie's main screen, but smaller and simpler. Both the built-in iSight on my MacBookPro and a Canon DV camera which I connected via a Firewire cable showed up immediately as media sources, with no configuration required. Drag and drop of saved media from the Finder and from iPhoto is also fully supported.

In Use
The first step in learning to use Wirecast is to run the Tutorial from the Help Menu. There is a Wirecast presentation pre-configured for use with the Tutorial, an html document which runs in your default browser. The Tutorial is clear and helpful, and I had little trouble understanding its instructions. The few exceptions: in explaining how to add transitions between shots, the Tutorial's second step instructs one to click on the Bowstring Button, as if that should be an obvious item. After some searching, I finally discovered that "Bowstring" is the name of one of the alternative transitions, which are only revealed when the drop-down arrow next to the top-most transition is clicked. In general, the tutorial does a decent job of explaining what to do, but not much background on important of a feature.

The main Wirecast window provides the following primary features (see figure below for references to each list feature):

  1. Shot List - The area on the bottom of the window which has icons in a list that shows the available shots that you can switch between.
  2. Transition Selection - These are the buttons that let you change the transitions to various special effects, such as "Page Curl", "Smooth" and "Ripple".
  3. Live Broadcast - The large area on the top of the window is what Wirecast will broadcast to your viewers (or save to disk).
  4. Broadcast Controls - These are the primary buttons for "Broadcast", "Record", "Preview" and "Inspector".


Primary Wirecast Window


Wirecast provides transitions between cameras and other movie footage using the various transition buttons. You can use the "Go" button to see an instant visual of how the effect works. Wirecast provides a variety of output formats when you click on "Broadcast" or "Record". There are a number of encoder presets, such as DSL/Cable H.264, LAN MPEG4, 3G - UMTS, etc., and destinations include Quicktime Streaming, Built-in Streaming, Unicast, Multicast, and Record to Disk. For Broadcast, you are given additional options for Host Name, File Location, Username and Password, and the option to broadcast over TCP.

For broadcasting, both the configuration of the built-in streaming server and access from another computer to the stream were easy to accomplish. The broadcast setup allows for the creation of a QuickTime file which can be embedded in a web page for access to the live stream. I did test this feature out, and it worked flawlessly.

The "Preview" button allows you to see a 2nd live video window in the case that you have "Autolive" turned off (thereby allowing you to preview your changes before it goes live). You can also activate a "Layers" panel, then lets you use layers to construct your video (Title, Foreground, Background, Normal, and Audio layers).

The "Inspector" button opens up an inspector window that lets you add titles, effects, and filters to the different layers. For instance, the Title layer includes "Title" templates such as "Paris Blue", "Network 3" and "Just Color" (see figure below). This layer also includes effects, motion and filter options. The "Foreground" and "Background" layers include additional options for "Media" and "Playback", the "Scene" layer includes "Scene" options, and the "Audio" layer has "Media" and "Playback" options. The number of effects and options available for customizing your webcast is mind boggling, and all very easy to use.


Adding Title Effects with the Inspector

Besides the primary Layers in the Inspector, there's also Channels A, B and C. With Channel A selected, there is the additional "Chroma Key" option. This allows you to choose a background color for a blue/green screen effect, basically letting you grab video without the background, quite an incredible feature. In the figure below, the first item in the shots list is "Bubbles", the video with background. The second list "Keyed Bubbles" is the same video without the background.


Using Chroma Key to Remove Green Background

Overall, Wirecast is intuitive, with a very simple interface but a lot of powerful features. In ran stable for the most part, although I did experience one minor crash of the application, likely because I was running too many applications at the same time. I also was unable to use many of the filters because Wirecast requires a "Core Image" graphics card to use the "Core Image" filters.

My biggest beef with the software is that the documentation is somewhat skimpy (an html based Help File could have much more internal cross-linking). My personal preference is always to print a manual and read it on paper. I also found a few minor but annoying typos in the documentation. When I emailed their support with these comments about the documentation, they replied promptly, indicating that a printable manual has been requested by others and is forthcoming, and they would address the typos immediately.

Wirecast also includes a bundled Desktop Presenter program. Desktop Presenter allows easy configuration of a live screenshot from the presenter's desktop, as another element to be included in a presentation. The software is small and easy to set up and use. The Desktop Presenter works over both wired or wireless networks, and is a free download for both Mac and PC. There are advanced options for transmitting certain regions of the screen, or even tracking specific windows.


Incorporating Desktop Presenter into a Webcast


Summary
Vara's Wirecast is an extremely powerful tool for live webcasting. It is easy to learn and use, and can also serve as an alternative to iMovie for creating and publishing multimedia presentations. Primarily, it's meant for professional quality webcasts on Quicktime servers or it's own built-in server. Its built-in streaming server is easy to configure and yet very powerful. It supports a wide variety of features, such as unicast, multicast, green screening, transitions, layers, and much more. While the $450 price tag seems high for the average Mac hobbyists, for the professional webcaster, this is a very good price compared to similar products such as
Live Channel Pro 2.2 at $999. Apple's Quicktime Broadcaster, while free, is not comparable in terms of features and function, and it is a single-source webcasting configuration tool that requires a Quicktime streaming server, a considerable expense. If you are a professional with a need to produce high quality webcasts, or even a Mac enthusiasts who has interest in webcasting and can handle the $450 entry price, Wirecast is an excellent product for creating beautiful and professional quality webcasts.

Pros

  • Easy, intuitive interface
  • Powerful yet simple to use transitions and effects
  • Built-in streaming server makes broadcasting easy to accomplish
  • Automatic configuration of external media sources
  • Bundled Presenter Software makes live broadcast of presenter's computer easy
  • Built-in Chroma Key for green screen effects

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Documentation limited, no printable manual
  • Titling templates not configurable, and somewhat limited

Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice