One of the nice things about high altitude ballooning in the UK and Europe is the community spirit and help that launchers get from others who will receive and upload the launcher’s balloon transmissions, and freely offer advice during the flight. I think it’s a very good idea to return that favour by providing live video streams of the launch, chase and recovery where possible. A few HABbers do this and it would be nice if more did.
There are various methods of uploading to different streaming services, using a phone or Pi with Pi camera or a laptop with webcam. For a balloon launch though it would be good to use a camera with zoom lens so that the balloon can be streamed once airborne. To do this requires an SLR.
So, how to get video from an SLR into a laptop? Again, multiple options – either use a HDMI video capture device (higher quality but a tad expensive) or send the video over USB. Here we will explore the USB option.
So we need some software on the PC to receive the video stream from the camera, and to upload to a streaming service. Again, each of these has a choice. I’m using a Canon EOS 760D and that comes with “EOS Utility” which displays the video in a window (which we can then capture), but a neater option is a £50 program called SparkoCam, which makes a modern Canon or Nikon DSLR appear as a regular webcam thus making it easy to pass the stream onto another program. If you want to spend nothing then instead you can use the EOS utility or Nikon equivalent plus OBS (see below) to capture from the PC screen.
To upload to a streaming service, we need a suitable video encoder. I’ve used Adobe’s Flash Media Live Encoder which works well, and which works from a webcam including SparkoCam’s virtual webcam. Here though we are going to use OBS (Open Broadcasting Software) which is rather more powerful and flexible.
First, install SparkoCam. You can try it for free but it will watermark the video stream.
Connect your DSLR and switch on. It should automatically be selected by SparkoCam, and you will hear the mirror latch up as it switches to live video mode. If nothing happens, check that the camera is on, that you used a data USB lead not just a charging one, and that your DSLR is supported by SparkoCam.
Open Broadcasting Software
Now, install OBS and run either the 32-bit or (if available on your PC) 64-bit version. OBS can be a pain to get running initially depending on if your PC has the required DLLs or not, and you may find that the 64-bit version doesn’t work but the 32-bit one does. Or vice versa. Error messages from OBS can be a bit cryptic too, but once it starts it works very well.
The opening screen is a bit cryptic too till you realise what you need to do. First, you need to add a video source to accept video from SparkoCam’s virtual webcam; click the “+” below the Sources panel:
and choose “Video Capture Device” from the popup menu. eave the name as “Video Capture Device” or change to something appropriate e.g. “Canon DSLR”. Click OK to save.
A Properties window will appear with a preview; you can just click OK to accept the defaults. Now the video stream is inside the main window in OBS.
This window is what will be streamed, and can contain several video sources if you want to get clever, but for now we’ll just expand the video source window, using the red drag lines, to fill the OBS source window.
If it doesn’t fit exactly, choose Settings –> Video to change the aspect ratio of the window to match the DSLR’s aspect ratio, and then expand to fit.
The following is for YouTube; other live streaming sites should have similar options.
Go to your YouTube Live Dashboard and either choose “Stream Now” or create an “Event”; we’ll do the former. With “Stream now” selected on the left of the screen, look at the “Encoder Setup” in the “Basic Info” section, where you will see the Server URL and Stream name/key. Click “Reveal” and copy the stream name to your clipboard.
Now, in OBS, click the Settings button and then click on “Stream”. Choose YouTube as the Service, and paste your key into “Stream key”. Click OK to save.
Now to start the streaming from your PC, just click the “Start Streaming” button in OBS.
YouTube likes to buffer, but after a few seconds your YouTube page should show the stream as “Live”.
And that’s it !