Price When Reviewed: $999
It has a few rough edges, but LiveChannel Pro is a superb piece of software. The program currently only runs on Mac OS X, but like all the best Mac software, its great strength lies in its ease of use. It takes an extremely complex task – live video broadcasting – and makes it so easy that even a novice can be up and running relatively quickly. The developers, Channel Storm, refer to LiveChannel Pro as ‘a live television studio in software’. It’s a big claim, but this is one piece of software that actually lives up to its hype. If you’ve ever seen a behind-the-scenes documentary about life in a television studio, you’ll have seen pictures of the director yelling stuff like – ‘cut to camera three… ten second fade in… roll credits’ – and so on. LiveChannel Pro effectively puts you in the director’s chair, and acts like the control console in the television studio. It really is impressive stuff. Things get off to a slightly rocky start, though, simply because of the poor documentation. There’s no printed manual – only a cursory online Help file that lists individual features without explaining how they work together to create a live broadcast. It also contains numerous inaccuracies. As a result, your first half-hour or so will involve continual switching in and out of the Help files to get an idea of how everything works. When you first launch the program, there are four windows on-screen. On the right-hand edge are the Broadcast, Switcher, and Information windows, and over on the left-hand edge is the Media Browser window. The main workspace that occupies the rest of the screen merely consists of a rather unhelpful blank space. Fortunately, the Media Browser window provides a point of familiarity that will help to ease you into the program. The Media Browser works just like the browsers found in most video-editing programs, allowing you to import and store audio, video, and graphics files that are stored on your hard disk. You can also add live video sources to the Browser by choosing File>New. The program can use live video input taken from just about any source connected to your Mac, such as a webcam, DV camcorder, or video-capture card. It can also handle multiple input sources, so you can mix and match multiple live sources with pre-recorded audio, video, and graphics files. Clicking on any item in the Browser opens up a preview window that lets you view that file or video source. These preview windows act like the cameras in a TV studio, allowing you to quickly switch between the various files and video sources that you want to use in the broadcast. Preview options Each preview window has its own playback controls, as well as two buttons marked Live and Next. Clicking the Live button on a window starts the broadcast by using the content displayed in that window, and you can then line up the next piece of audio or video data by pressing the Next button in the relevant preview window. ‘Next’ activates the Switcher window, which contains options such as fades, cuts, and transitions. You don’t actually switch from one item to the next until you’ve selected one of these options from the Switcher, so it’s this window that allows you to control the timing of all the items in your broadcast. So you could, for instance, start with a live input from a presenter talking to a DV camcorder, and then cut to a pre-recorded video clip simply by pressing the ‘Next’ button on the preview window containing that clip, and then selecting the ‘Cut’ command in the Switcher window. It’s as easy as that. Just line up a series of clips or live inputs, then switch from one to the other using the ‘Next’ button and Switcher window. While you’re doing this, the Broadcast window acts like a monitor, allowing you see the entire broadcast just as your audience does. Information station The only tricky thing about switching between scenes is getting the timing right as you switch from item to item – but that’s a knack that comes with practice, just as it does for directors in a traditional studio. However, there are a couple of options in the program that can help you develop your directing skills. The Information window acts like the inspector palettes found in many graphics programs, providing context-sensitive information relating to whatever item is currently selected. When you select the Broadcast window, the Information window provides an option to limit the broadcast just to the screen of your own Mac, so you can rehearse offline while you get the hang of things. You can also record your broadcasts as QuickTime movies to see how they look. If a practice broadcast works well, you can simply import it into the Browser as a single file, and then re-broadcast it whenever you want. The full version of LiveChannel Pro can output video for conventional broadcasting, and has a built-in streaming video server for broadcasting over the Internet. However, there are two cut-down versions of the program – LiveChannel IP and LiveChannel TV – that focus on Internet broadcasting and conventional video output. We can’t give LiveChannel greater praise than to describe it as one of those killer apps that makes it worth buying a Mac just so you can run this software. But we also have to point out that the program does have a few problems. The poor documentation is a minor irritant. More worrying was the fact that the program crashed, on average, about once a day during our test period. Any software that’s going to be used for live work really needs to be rock-solid – so that’s something that needs to be patched quickly. We also found that we were unable to view live video sources on-screen until we’d opened the Video dialog box from within the Information window. We didn’t have to select anything from this dialog, but the video wouldn’t display until we’d opened the dialog and then closed it again. Those bugs cost the program a five-star rating, unfortunately. But even with those problems, LiveChannel Pro is a truly impressive piece of software that will appeal to anyone who needs to work with live video content for broadcast over the Web or in a conventional studio setting.