A Story of Cats

This is the internet, so at some point we’ve got to talk about cats. It’s in the rule book.  The Internet runs on cats. Cat pictures, cat videos, and… cat cables.

Those of you not familiar with the intricacies of the first layer of the OSI “7-layer Burrito” (Internet old-timers will remember this) are probably blissfully unaware of the gory details of the wiring that makes everything (including wireLESS) work.

Dilbert (April 24, 2010)

Dilbert (April 24, 2010)

So who are all these cats, anyway?

Simply put, it’s an abbreviation for “Category”. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) has adopted a series of specifications over the years defining cable performance to transport various types of networks.

Here’s a quick rundown. We’re gonna get a tech lesson AND a history lesson all rolled into one.

Category 1 (pre-1980)

An IBM "Type 1" Token-Ring connector. Known colloquially as a "Boy George Connector" due to its ambiguous gender.

An IBM “Type 1” Token-Ring connector. Known colloquially as a “Boy George Connector” due to its ambiguous gender. Photo: Computer History Museum

This never officially existed, and was a retroactive term used to define “Level 1” cable offered by a major distributor. It is considered “voice grade copper”, sufficient to run signals up to 1MHz, and not suitable for data of any sort (except telephone modems). You could probably meet category 1 requirements with a barbed wire fence. You laugh, but it’s been done. Extensively.

Category 2 (mid-1980s)

Like Category 1, never officially existed, and was a name retroactively given to Level 2 cable from said same distributor. Cat2 brought voice into the digital age. It could support 4MHz of bandwidth, and was used extensively for early Token-Ring networks that operated at 4Mbps, as well as ARCNet, which operated at 2.5Mbps on twisted pair (it had previously used coaxial cable).

Category 3 (1991)

This is the first of the cable categories officially recognized by TIA. It is capable of operating 10Mbps Ethernet over twisted pair (like ARCNet, Ethernet also ran on coaxial cable in the very early days). Category 3 wire was deployed extensively in the early 1990s as it was a much better alternative to 2Mbps ethernet over coax. This is where the now nearly ubiquitous 8P8C connector (often incorrectly referred to as “RJ45”) came into usage for Ethernet, and it’s still in use nearly 3 decades later. Both the connector pinout and the cable performance are defined in TIA standard 568.  Since token-ring networks still operated at 4Mbps, they ran quite happily over this new spec. In 2017, one can still occasionally find Cat3 in use for analog and digital phone lines. The 802.3af Power over Ethernet specification is compatible with this type of wire.

Category 4 (early 1990s)

This stuff existed only for a very brief period of time. In the late 1980s, IBM standardized a newer version of Token Ring that ran at 16Mbps, which required more cable bandwidth than what Category 3 could offer. Category 4 offered 20MHz to work with (which may sound familiar to the wifi folks, who use 20MHz channels a lot). But Category 5 came along pretty quickly, and Category 4 was relegated to history and is no longer recognized in the current TIA-568 standard.

Category 5 (1995)

TIA revised their 568 standard in 1995 to include a new category of cable, supporting 100MHz of bandwidth. This enabled the use of new 100Mbps ethernet (a 100Mbps version of Token Ring soon followed, which also used the same 8P8C connector as Ethernet).

An 8P8C connector, commonly (and incorrectly) referred to as "RJ45". The standard twisted-pair ethernet connector for the last quarter century.

An 8P8C connector, commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as “RJ45”. This has been the standard twisted-pair Ethernet connector for the last quarter century.

Category 5e (2001)

TIA refined their spec on Category 5 to improve the performance of Category 5, to support the new gigabit ethernet standard. It is still a 100MHz cable, but new coding schemes and the use of all four pairs allowed the gigabit rate. IBM and the 802.5 working group even approved a gigabit standard for token ring in 2001, but no products ever made it to market, as Ethernet had taken over completely by that point.

Category 6 (2002)

Not long after Category 5e came to be, Along comes category 6, with 250MHz of bandwidth. This was accomplished partly with better cable geometry and by going from 24AWG conductors to 23AWG. This increased bandwidth allows 10Gbps ethernet to operate on cables up to 55 meters in length.

Category 6a (2009)

This refinement to Category 6 increased cable bandwidth to 500MHz in order to allow 10Gbps ethernet to operate at the full 100m length limit for Ethernet. Categories 6 and 6a will support the new 802.11bt Power Over Ethernet Level 3 (60W) and Level 4 (90W) standards (expected 2018) provided that cable bundles do not exceed 24 cables for thermal reasons.

Category 7/7a

Category 7 cable. Who would want to terminate that? What a pain!

Category 7 cable. Who would want to terminate that? What a pain!

This one never existed in the eyes of the TIA. It still lives as an ISO standard defining several different types of shielded cable whose performance is comparable to Category 6 (bandwidth up to 600MHz for Cat7, 1GHz for Cat7a). Both these specs were rendered moot by 10Gbps Ethernet operating on Category 6a with standard 8P8C connectors. This cat was so ugly, TIA left it at the shelter.

Category 8 (2017)

The latest and greatest, this cable exists to run 40Gbps ethernet. It comes in two flavors, unshielded as 8.1, and shielded (supplanting the Category 7 specs) as 8.2. This cable has a bandwidth of 1600MHz for unshielded, and 2000MHz for shielded.

 

So there you have it. The cats that put the WORK in “Network”. And because this is the internet, I leave you with gratuitous kittens.

Gratuitous Kittens

 

 

 

 

 

Streaming Church to Facebook Live

Note: Somehow this got stuck in the publishing queue and never got the green light… So here it is, a few months after writing, but still relevant…

This past weekend saw much of the upper midwest plunged into an arctic deep freeze, leading many churches in the region to cancel services (we woke up Sunday morning to temperatures near -10°F and a stiff wind). I saw many pastors on my Facebook feed wondering if there was a way they could do church using Facebook’s relatively new live video feature.

Short answer: Absolutely.

But there are a few caveats in order to make it a good experience. With a little bit of advance planning, you can be prepared at very little cost. I’ll go over a few of the ways you can do the Facebook Live “thing” in increasing order of complexity.

Getting the video signal to Facebook

Using your smartphone and its onboard camera

This is the basic method that Facebook has in mind for its streaming service – people sharing live video on the fly. Whether you use an Android phone or an iPhone, these apply (mostly) equally.

  • Remember that your phone’s camera has a wide-angle lens. These are designed for those great landscape and sunset shots. All fine and good, but if you’re going for a tight shot, you have to get REALLY close. (The iPhone 7 Plus also has a 2X camera that works very well at longer distances)
  • Keep the phone steady. Ideally, some sort of tripod mount. These can be had on Amazon for under 10 bucks. My personal favourite is the Ztylus Z-Grip (Amazon, $10) which has a cold-shoe adapter (more on that in a bit). I also really like the Reticam Smartphone Tripod Mount (Amazon, $25) as it is an all-metal mount and is very durable. These will support a phone on even one of those little tabletop tripods.
  • Audio. Let’s face it, the onboard microphones on smartphones are terrible. They’re designed to capture sound close up.
    • If you’re doing a tight shot while preaching from home in your pajamas (I won’t tell!), a simple lapel mic such as the Audio-Technica ATR3350 (Amazon, $30) will do wonders for your sound quality (They also offer a “Smartphone” version of the ATR3350 that comes bundled with a mic/headphone splitter).
    • If you want to use an existing microphone, you’ll need to get a splitter for your headphone jack that breaks it out to separate headphone and mic jacks (Amazon, $7) and use a 1/8″ to XLR cable (available just about anywhere).
    • You can also use a shotgun microphone designed for a DSLR that has a 1/8″ jack on it. I like Røde mics for this (and these mount to the cold shoe on the Ztylus grip) such as the Røde Video Mic Go (Amazon, $100) or any other shotgun. If you have an iPhone 7, there are a few out there with a direct lightning interface.
    • If you wish to interface your phone to your church’s existing sound board, you have a few options. If your board offers a mic-level output, you can bring it straight in. If it offers line-level output (like most), you can use a DI box to convert it to line level or use a device like the BeachTek DXA-SLR-ULTRA (Amazon, $300) I also have a used one of these for sale. Contact me if you’re interested. If you’re coming off your sound board, it’s good to have a separate mix that gives online viewers a better audible context of the room. This is especially important if you’re using acoustic instruments that don’t necessarily need to be amplified.
    • Lastly, if you’re preaching from home, try to minimize external noise.
  • Lighting. Most camera phones have very small apertures, which means they don’t collect as much light as a bigger camera, so you need to have your subject well-lit for good video. This is a good time to familiarize yourself with the basics of three-point lighting.
  • Power. Make sure your phone is plugged into power before you do this. Video and live encoding is murder on a battery.
  • Bandwidth. Unless you really love sending your cell carrier lots of money or have an unlimited plan with really good LTE coverage, do this over wifi. Make sure your outbound bandwidth is sufficient (Facebook app typically streams at 2Mbps).

Using a tablet

Much of the smartphone discussion applies here as well, but consider that most tablet cameras simply aren’t as good as their smartphone brethren. Naturally, you’ll need a bigger tripod mount (and a tabletop tripod likely won’t cut it anymore).

Using an iPad opens up an additional production option with Teradek’s Live:Air application which allows you to add titles and such to your stream, as well as bring in additional camera shots from other devices including other iPhones. The Live:Air Solo app for iPhones does not allow streaming to Facebook because of an obscure clause in the Facebook Terms Of Service that prohibits streaming to FBL via third-party phone apps (but not tablet apps).

Using a DSLR or other video camera

If you already have a “good” camera such as a DSLR or a Semi-pro/Pro grade video camera, you can take the SDI or HDMI output from the camera into an encoding appliance such as the Teradek VidiU Pro (Amazon, $999), which will support streaming to Facebook directly without the need for a smartphone or a laptop (although you will need one to set it up).

If you prefer to use a computer with a capture card (Mac: BlackMagic Design Ultrastudio Mini Recorder, $140, Windows: BlackMagic Design Intensity Shuttle for USB 3.0, $190). You can then use Wirecast software to publish to Facebook. You can also do this with a USB webcam, but the results won’t be great.

Using your existing video system

If your church is a little more sophisticated and already has a video switching system, it’s relatively easy to use an encoding appliance or software as previously mentioned.

But I’m already streaming!

Great! you’ve mastered most of the technical stuff already, you just want to add Facebook as an additional outlet. This can be accomplished in Wirecast simply by adding another publishing destination. If your encoding software doesn’t let you do that (or you’re using an appliance with a single destination), you can use Wowza Streaming Engine or Wowza Streaming Cloud as an initial publish point and then use it to send your stream to multiple destinations. That’s a little beyond this blog post, but it’s not especially complex.

 

OK, that’s the easy technical part. Now comes the fun stuff:

Legal Considerations

If all you’re doing is preaching over Facebook, you’re in the clear. Unless you’re showing pre-recorded video illustrations that you didn’t create. If you’re performing music in church, you’ll need a streaming license. If you’re using pre-recorded music, that music needs to be licensed with a “sync license”. The good news is that the sync license is the responsibility of the site where the stream is published, so in the case of Facebook or YouTube Live, Facebook and Youtube need to get those licenses (and they have them, since they’re the ones monetizing your content)

If all you have is the standard CCLI license, this does NOT cover streaming. This is only a “mechanical license” that allows you to reproduce the song lyrics, whether in the bulletin or on your screen. CCLI and CCS both offer blanket streaming licenses that cover you.

Also bear in mind that if you are using a smartphone camera, Facebook’s TOS do not allow live streaming from any applications other than Facebook’s own app. Tablets and computers are another matter entirely. Check into Teradek’s Live::Air suite of applications (think Wirecast, for your iPad, using iPhones as remote cameras)

Analytics

One of the great benefits to video streaming on Facebook is the analytics you get from it. For more details, check out this page from Facebook about live video analytics.

 

Streaming on the go

Over the past several months/years, I’ve been accumulating various pieces of gear that, when put together, give me a solid kit to take on the road for doing onsite streaming or demonstration events. It currently consists of:

I still probably should add an SDI Distribution Amp to the kit, but I haven’t had need for it… yet.

The Canon and GoPro each have their own Pelican 1200 cases, and don’t travel with me unless I need to provide cameras (usually I’m getting a feed from video world and streaming it from there). The SD cards travel in a Pelican 0915 case, which is along with the rest of the gear in a Pelican 1510.

I love the Pelican 1510 – It’s legal carry-on size, so when traveling, all that expensive gear is never out of reach, never at the whims of a sticky-fingered TSA agent or baggage handler inside the bowels of the luggage system where nobody can see them. When flying, I’ll take the Pelican and my laptop bag with me, my clothes go as checked luggage (yay for airlines that give me free checked bags!). I modified the 1510 to include a mesh organizer in the lid instead of the egg-crate foam that it normally comes with, which lets me keep track of the various small bits that go with all that gear.

(because the foam inserts are removable, the 1510 along with a borrowed 1610 came in very handy this past summer when I was on vacation and traveling on a float plane – in case my luggage got dunked in the drink, the cases would float and my clothes would stay nice and dry. Pelican also makes a luggage version of the 1510. I love Pelican cases.)

Lots of Wall WartsHere’s the problem with all that gear though: Except for 1 or 2 devices, every single one of them requires a “wall wart” power adapter. There’s no room in that case for the several power strips that I’d need to do this in a self-contained manner, where all I need from the venue is an outlet and (optionally) an ethernet drop. Additionally, all those adapters in the lid make for a huge jumbled mess on the TSA’s x-ray machines, so more often than not, they want to take a look inside, and swab it for residues. I got to looking at the gear and realized that every single piece of it that used external power would accept a 12VDC input, and they all even shared the same polarity.

[table id=2 /]

Another thing I discovered along the way is that manufacturers rarely specify the details of the DC connector beyond the voltage and only occasionally the current draw. Trying to get connector information from vendor specs is a pain in the rear. This sucks if you have to order a replacement power supply because yours broke or got lost. With the help of a pair of calipers and some trial and error, I was able to figure out what each one was.

I started hunting around for 2 items: A distribution bus, and a compact 6A (or bigger) DC power supply.

The DC bus proved to be problematic, until I hit upon the right combination of keywords that revealed what I needed on Amazon: an 8-way fanout meant for use on security cameras, which had the 5.5×2.1mm connector that I’m discovering is nearly ubiquitous. Bonus: I didn’t have to make my own splitter.

On the power supply front, I found several meant for A/V use, but all of them were large and not well suited to portability. I found my solution on eBay: There is an endless variety of  OEM laptop power supplies that put out 12V and 6A. Many of them are sold as an “LED Power Supply”, and run about 10-15 bucks. I found one that had the same 5.5×2.1mm connector that all my gear needed. Due to difficulties in getting the calipers down inside the connectors, I initially thought the BMD converters were 5.5×2.1mm, but they’re 5.5×2.5mm, and the center pin is too fat – but 5.5×2.5mm female connectors will also accommodate the smaller 2.1mm pins just fine. I should have ordered a 5.5×2.5mm fanout instead. Lesson learned. In order to adapt the 5.5×2.1mm splitter to the various devices, I dug around amazon to find the various adapters I’d need. The only problem is the Lemo connector used by the Teradek Cube: Those locking connectors are $100 each. Ouch.

By a happy coincidence, my wife has a battery booster pack in her van that is float-charged by a 12V connection, which also happens to be 5.5mmx2.1mm. I recently had to order a replacement CLA adapter for it, and picked up an extra one, which would allow me to run this whole streaming rig from automotive, solar or battery power if needed. The whole setup draws about 70W at full load if all of it is running.

I also ordered (but haven’t yet received) a female 5.5×2.1mm to CLA socket, so that I can pop in a CLA USB charger to power my iPad, charge the GoPro, and other USB devices so I don’t eat up a port on the computer just for power, as I’ve only got two.

(As a side note, Ruckus/XClaim and AirTight access points also use 12V 5.5×2.5mm connectors as an alternative to PoE, but if I need wifi the AeroHive unit will do the job. Aruba APs use a smaller connector, whose dimensions I am presently unsure of)

Now my whole rig can be run off two AC outlets (plus a third until I can somehow find a cheaper Lemo connector!). I think the next step is to find some sort of way of putting a battery inline, effectively giving me a UPS for the whole stack (although the laptop , iPad, and the Teradek units all have internal batteries as well) Edit : I since acquired an Anker Astro Pro2 External Battery which has not only the ever-convenient 5.5×2.1mm 12V input socket, but also a DC output (which includes an adapter that goes from the battery pack to a 5.5×2.1mm output plug) that effectively turns this into a 12V UPS which can deliver up to 22W on the USB ports and 18W on the DC port (which is selectable between 9V and 12V), meaning a 10 hour runtime at full load. The unit is only slightly bigger than a small tablet. I can’t run ALL the gear on it at once, but I can at least put the really critical stuff on it. The 1st-generation model of that charger has a beefier 48W DC output that can go to 16V and 19V to power laptops.

The completed kit, with much fewer wall warts!

The completed kit, with much fewer wall warts!

Here’s the DC parts list, with links to Amazon:


Power Supply

12V CLA Plug

DC Fanout

Adapter for Aerohive BR100


Adapter for HP Procurve


Adapter for BMD


CLA Socket


Retractable Ethernet Cable


Retractable HDMI A-C (for Canon Camcorder)

Retractable HDMI A-A

Retractable HDMI A-D (For GoPro)

Gear: Teradek VidiU – First Look

I recently got some Teradek gear to try out in a church setting, and I will be posting a few blog posts about it. Other than loaning the gear, Teradek is not compensating me for this. I am, however, more than happy to sell Teradek hardware to anyone that wants to buy it from me.

First up: The VidiU, Teradek’s low-cost offering at $699.

When you open the box, the unit is right on top, nestled comfortably in a piece of high-density foam. Underneath is the power supply (with plugs for just about every electrical outlet in the world), a 1-meter ethernet cable, and a 50cm HDMI to mini-HDMI cable suitable for connection to a variety of small cameras. There is also a small adapter for mounting the VidiU to a camera shoe or a tripod mount.

The unit itself is a plastic case slightly larger than a deck of cards. On the front is a small OLED display with a couple of buttons. On the left is a sliding power switch (love this, very difficult to accidentally turn off by pushing a button), a USB port for connecting a 3G/4G modem, and a headphone port for monitoring audio. on the rear is a full-size HDMI port, a 1/8″ jack for connecting either a microphone or line-level signal, a recessed reset button, the ethernet port, and a standard coaxial power connector for a 6-12V DC input. I did discover that the power plug can come unplugged fairly easily. Fortunately, the unit has a built-in battery, so you don’t need to be tethered to power, although I’m told the battery is limited to about an hour of runtime and is best suited for keeping it running while swapping power supplies. When plugged in, the internal battery will charge (there are power and charge indicators just below the ethernet port). When charging, it draws about 10W, and about 3W when operating on a full charge. This means you could conceivably run this unit on solar power without much difficulty. More on that in a future post.

When you first power it up, it will search for a network. When it can’t find one that it knows about, the display prompts you to press the Menu button. This little black button (one of only two on the device) is more than meets the eye, and is actually a tiny 4-way joystick in addition to being a button (as is the red start/stop button above it). The setup for connecting to an existing wifi network is fairly intuitive, but due to the limited number of buttons, the process of entering wifi passphrases and URLs for your publishing point is somewhat tedious. The MIMO wifi supports both 2.4Ghz and 5GHz bands.

The easiest way to set up the VidiU is to connect it to the network via a wire (the battery comes in handy here), log into the web interface and do the configuration that way. Getting the DHCP address could be a little tricky, and the recommended process is to use the iPhone app. When I tried the app on my iPad, it gave me the IP address, but most times when I tried to connect via the iPad, the entire web UI crashed on the unit requiring a power cycle. The Android app didn’t fare any better on my Samsung Galaxy S4.

The VidiU comes preconfigured to use LiveStream, Youtube Live, UStream, and Twitch, as well as a manual configuration that lets you use any RTMP server such as Wowza Streaming Engine. If you’re using Wowza, make sure you set the agent to FMLE, since by default, Wowza rejects publisher user-agent strings that don’t look like FMLE.

Once it’s configured, streaming with the VidiU is as easy as pushing the start/stop button on the front, although a quick press doesn’t do it, you need to hold it for about a second for it to do anything, and if you hold it for too long, it will ask you if you want to turn off the display.

I tried it with a variety of sources, including as a mirrored display on a Mac Mini (great for screencasts), a Roku (which was temperamental at best), and a standard video camera (the easiest of all configurations). Switching HDMI cables while it’s streaming is not recommended. Doing so crashed the unit once, and confused it on 2 more occasions requiring a reboot.

The built-in quality presets are as follows:

  • Full HD (1920×1080, 5.2Mbps)
  • HD (1280×720, 2.2Mbps)
  • High (960×540, 1.4Mbps)
  • Medium (736×414, 800Kbps)
  • Low (480×270, 450Kbps)
  • Mobile (360×200, 275Kbps)

If you’re unsure about your connection, it has a built-in speed test that can check your bandwidth and make a recommendation based on the results. There is also an adaptive bitrate option which will adjust the settings to match available bandwidth.