When I was first approached about reviewing the new LiveU Solo I admit, I was skeptical.
I have seen LiveU units used throughout the industry for several years. On election day 2016, I spent most of the day at WSB-TV in Atlanta and they were using LiveU units all over the state. Literally, they were covering a major trial in the southern part of the state and used another unit in the north to cover the election. I was impressed but thought “that’s something, we will never be able to do.” Boy was I wrong.
The LiveU solo is a bonded video encoder that allows you to stream to a variety of services including the obvious Facebook and YouTube. Bonded video encoders are the best way to make sure you stay live. The units use multiple network connections to maintain a solid transmission despite changes in location or other problems that plague live streams. The LiveU Solo can bond a wireless signal, a wired internet connection, and up to Two cellular modems. This allows the LiveU Solo to produce a high definition video stream without pushing too much data over a poor connection, instead balanceing load across multiple interfaces
The LiveU Solo unit is about the size of a brick and weighs enough to make it feel it can handle any job. The carrying case provided with the unit allows you to wear it on a belt or a backpack with the attached clip. The rugged metal design on the model we tested (HDMI Version) has Two USB connections, 1 HDMI connection, and an ethernet jack. There are only Two buttons on the unit - One to connect and disconnect and the other to change settings, etc. The unit is extremely simple to set up. Connect everything and power it up. The LiveU Solo has a built in battery that lasted just over 3 hours while streaming. It took about an hour to get back to a full charge. You can also power the unit during a broadcast with the provided power supply.
Setup of the LiveU Solo was a breeze. I had one issue and it was self imposed (read as: I didn’t read the instructions) and when I contacted support they responded within 10 minutes on a Sunday morning! I was blown away. I thought it would be at least 2 hours before I got the resolution. The LiveU Solo user panel online was easy to use and synched the unit with the broadcast specs very quickly.
After testing the unit at home and around the school, I finally took it into the field. I used the LiveU Solo for 8 basketball games. I took our normal set up with multiple cameras, etc and took the program feed out of the switcher into the Solo. I tried to get the unit to not connect (you read that correctly, I tried to get it NOT to work). I tried several different methods with the setup. I connected everything then powered on (everything worked fine). I disconnected everything and powered the unit up (It asked for connections and a camera). Finally I connected everything except the camera (The LED screen just read No Camera). The LiveU Solo is super simple. Once it is set up with the CDN specs, you just hit play.
I tested the unit for the duration of 8 total basketball games and at no point did I lose connection or even have a hiccup. I selected the locations for our tests with very specific goals in mind. The first night, two games, was a game with very little attendance. I did this just to make sure we would be able to broadcast at all. I am always nervous the first time we take something into the field. The LiveU Solo was ready to go as soon as we powered up. It took no time to connect and the video looked great. I was concerned with audio/video sync issues but we had none. Everything was great.
The second test venue was to test the cellular bonding. These games featured a rivalry between neighboring county schools that is always a sell out. My thought was that if the bonding could hold up under those circumstances, it can stand anywhere. The bonding held up with no issues at all. I knew for sure I this test would certainly cause issues because of the number of people, the number of phones, and the overall cell activity in the area.
Finally, we shot two games in what could be considered the “middle of nowhere.” We were about 60 miles outside of Atlanta at a school that literally requires you to drive past cotton fields. The game was pretty well attended so I was testing the signal strength against the idea of fewer cellular towers and a moderate crowd in the stands. Once again, the LiveU Solo held up with no problem.
So in terms of cellular bonding, I would say 100% that the LiveU Solo is a winner for those that are streaming in all areas. I also tested the wireless connectivity through the built in wireless receiver as well as the ethernet port on the Solo with the same results.
I must say that I was shocked that the LiveU Solo performed better than a lot of software based encoders. I literally had no issues connecting to YouTube or Facebook. While we did complex broadcasts, the LiveU Solo works just as well with One camera. All of my offline (non-broadcast) tests were with a single camera and most of the time, I spent moving as much as possible so as to test the bonding. I even drove home with it streaming one night.
There are two models of the LiveU Solo. The HDMI version which sells for $995 and the HDMI/SDI model that is $1495 through the LiveU site. The heart and soul of the LiveU system is LiveU Reliable Transport (LRT) Service which is where the magic happens, so to speak. This is where the bonding takes place and how the units are so reliable. There is a monthly/yearly subscription cost but at the rate of $450 a year, or $45 a month, it’s not a deal breaker but should be taken into consideration. You must also remember that you have to purchase cellular service from a couple of providers as well. (My advice is get a sponsor to cover the cost and thank them during every show!)
My final verdict on the LiveU Solo is that for the price point I have not found a better, more reliable solution to get on the air in a hurry and stay on the air with no problems. Competitors products run 4 to 5 times the price. The subscription may scare some of you away but for the reliability, it’s totally worth the cost. Using both the wifi at a facility and bonding via cellular devices, there is no way your show won’t get on the air. The LiveU Solo should certainly be something that programs who stream, specifically sports, should look into.
Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.