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.
- Support for multiple
- Chroma Key
- Multiple Broadcast
- Desktop Presenter
- Core Image
- Amazing 3D Graphics
- Incredible Titles
- Simple User interface
- QuickTime Streaming
- Keynote Integration
- Multiple Layers
- 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
$449.99; upgrade from Wirecast 2 $179.99
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.
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):
- 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.
- Transition Selection
- These are the buttons that let you change the transitions to various special effects,
such as "Page Curl", "Smooth" and "Ripple".
- Live Broadcast -
The large area on the top of the window is what Wirecast will broadcast to your viewers
(or save to disk).
- Broadcast Controls
- These are the primary buttons for "Broadcast", "Record", "Preview"
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
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
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.
- 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
- Documentation limited,
no printable manual
- Titling templates
not configurable, and somewhat limited
4 out of 5 Mice