Hardware > Software
Live streaming and broadcast equipment should be reliable, consistent, and efficient.
Nobody wants gear failing before, or during, a production.
It's easy to assume a computer and software solution can provide all of those things.
But, that is often not the case.
That's why I recommend and use dedicated hardware for these things:
- Switching between multiple cameras/sources
- Recording and playing video/audio
- Converting video/audio signals
- Routing video/audio signals
- Keying graphics over cameras
- Encoding a live stream
- Controlling other hardware
- Mixing audio for live video
Aren't computers hardware too?
Yes. But they are not dedicated hardware.
If it can do unrelated tasks simultaneously, it is no longer dedicated.
So here are a few reasons why I recommend dedicated hardware:
Dedicated Hardware Removes Guesswork
Computers and software have a lot of variables that affect performance and reliability:
Processor, graphics card, memory, hard drives, cooling, ventilation, power supply, capture/output devices, operating system, drivers, software, software updates, security patches, cache files, and settings and preferences everywhere.
On top of that, processing uncompressed video in real time takes more than most people realize, and it makes those variables even more important.
Dedicated hardware removes the need to think about almost all of those variables.
No more guessing.
Dedicated Hardware Is Purpose-Built
Computers are task-agnostic, which obviously makes them great for multi-tasking and doing many smaller tasks at once.
But it is often impossible for a computer to prioritize tasks when it was never designed to do so.
Dedicated hardware is engineered, designed, and fine-tuned specifically for certain jobs.
While it still runs embedded software, it does not allow multi-tasking or confuse the priorities of multiple tasks, and that's a good thing.
Dedicated Hardware Is Low Latency
Efficiency is important in live production, especially when handling live video feeds.
Every frame matters.
The faster your system can pass video and audio through, the better off it will be.
Capture devices alone can often have multiple frames of latency on inputs and again on outputs, not to mention the added latency of the processing and software in between.
Computers can generally input and process live video for streaming and recording fairly decently, but they quickly show their weakness when asked to output the live video again.
Most proper hardware that passes live video will measure latency in fields (fractions of a single frame of video) or a single frame.
Dedicated Hardware Is Low Maintenance
Computers and software require constant attention to continue running properly.
Updates, patches, caches, corrupting files, incompatibilities and more are constantly shifting.
It is pretty widely accepted that a computer left un-maintained will not run the same after a short while.
Give hardware proper power and ventilation and it will often last a long time with little, to no, need for maintenance or updates.
Dedicated Hardware Is Versatile
Separate units for separate tasks spreads out risk and gives you freedom.
If you use a computer for everything, a failure can be detrimental to your production.
Crashes, freezes, slow-downs, bugs, or an over-worked computer doing multiple jobs means everything potentially suffers.
If a piece of dedicated hardware fails you can usually bypass it and still get by with some degree of success.
Dedicated Hardware Is Tactile
Muscle memory is important during production.
Hitting a physical button that is always in the same place becomes second nature and removes any barriers of potential confusion during stressful situations.
Removing those barriers frees up people to do the more important things, like focus on content and creativity.
And that is ultimately what this is all about...
Build a system you can trust.
Get the gear out of the way so more important things can get the attention they deserve.