Onstream Media has offered high end enterprise and government webcasting for a long time now. I don’t write about their products much because they have always been sold as end-to-end service and technology bundles. Onstream prides itself on providing complete production and event management services for clients. That works well for mission-critical webcast projects, but may be hard to justify for smaller or lower-budget web events – or for companies that prefer to do setup and production themselves and merely want a solid webcasting platform to work with.
Starting today, I need to pay closer attention to Onstream Media as a “vendor of interest” for my readers. The company put out a press release announcing Visual Webcaster 4, which is targeted squarely at companies wanting to produce their own webcasts.
I got a sneak peek of this new version of Visual Webcaster in a demo earlier this week. I also had a chance to ask questions of George Stemper, the vice president of sales and development at Onstream and Sabrina George, the vice president of marketing. Seeing a demo is not enough to justify a product review, so we’ll leave that for later. I have asked them for an opportunity to test the product myself.
I asked Sabrina about the pricing model for Visual Webcaster 4. She told me they are allowing organizations to license its use for a single event or to take advantage of volume pricing for multiple events or ongoing use. Actual prices vary with options, capacities, and volume discounts, but I was impressed with the “order of magnitude” ranges she shared with me. For a serious high-capacity streaming webcast platform, it will not only be competitive with other products on the market, but will be significantly cheaper than many.
Some of the things I appreciated learning about during my demo and conversation included these positives:
- Webcasts are simultaneously delivered as Flash and as HTML 5. The software does device detection on the attendee side and chooses the proper stream format. Hosts can also choose to add WMV format as a selectable choice for attendees. This means that just about any browser and device type should work. And you don’t need to download a proprietary app for Android or iOS mobile devices.
- By default, Onstream uses the Akamai content delivery network to distribute the stream. Akamai is well-known for global reach and performance.
- Onstream regularly handles audience sizes of 20,000 attendees in client webcasts. Their largest events get up to 50-60,000 attendees. There should be zero concerns about performance and capacity limitations with large audience sizes.
- It is easy to use predefined “skins” or templates for your webcast. You can also create your own templates, with good customization of graphics, colors, and content within the console. You can also do one-click “cloning” of existing events to quickly set up and modify another similar webcast.
- Registration pages allow excellent customization, including not only custom fields, but arbitrary text and graphics anywhere you want them.
- You can easily add active social media icons with predefined destination pages or messages. So the Twitter “T” symbol could bring up a predetermined hashtag or event link for people to tweet.
- Onstream partners with two different closed captioning partners, offering an easy option for adding captions or translations to webcast content.
- Onstream offers optional front-line support for attendees, so you don’t need to deal with technical problems yourself during the critical first minutes of your webcast.
- The producer can configure the attendee viewing console to show slides and/or live streaming video. You can also overlay a prerecorded Flash video clip at any time within an event.
- Hosts can push an interactive web page to attendees, allowing them to interact with a web page while staying in session.
I also noted some restrictions that potential customers should be aware of. I do not necessarily count these as product failings… Requirements and priorities for large scale streaming webcasts are different from those of more interactive webinars, and I accept some reductions in product flexibility in favor of reliability, ease of use, and performance. Still:
- Polls can only be set up in a “select one answer” format. You cannot create a poll with “select all that apply.”
- Attendee console size is fixed (at the producer’s choice of size). You cannot expand the viewing console to fill your desktop.
- If you show a prerecorded video clip in your session, you cannot pause and continue the playback. Once you stop the player, it can only restart from the beginning.
- The current version is designed for professional video signal acquisition. It does not accept desktop webcam input for the live streaming video portion of a webcast. The webcam video would need to be fed through a third-party encoder and turned into a video signal that the product is set up to accept.
Visual Webcaster 4 gives self-reliant webcast hosts a powerful new option to consider when examining their software alternatives. Combined with Onstream Media’s established support, reliability, and performance background, this offering should be taken seriously.
Once I get my hands on the software and have time to put it through its paces, I’ll add more impressions about specific functionality.