When to use Teams meetings
Due to the current situation around coronavirus, we were approached by a number of clients asking for support to facilitate remote collaboration between employees. Mainly communication through Microsoft Teams, which works well for small teams - typically colleagues who used to communicate routinely in the office in times "before coronavirus". In these cases, Microsoft Teams meets most requirements and is the solution we recommend.
When to Use Live Events
For larger groups (typically 30 or more participants), however, we encounter a number of problems that are often not easy to solve in a regular Microsoft Teams meeting. Most of these larger meetings are various lectures, longer talks, online training, etc. In these cases, it is problematic that Microsoft Teams does not allow presenters to mute attendees. Well, you can mute them, but they can reactivate the microphone at any time again.
This problem is particularly acute in the case of external users who may not have had previous experience with Microsoft Teams, or who have no established habits and who may disturb the lecture, interfere with it and spoil the experience for other listeners.
Therefore, for this type of lectures, where a small number of users present, and conversely a large number of participants only listen passively, we recommend using the Live Events. These are designed specifically for these cases and do not allow the audience to actively participate in the presentation.
How the Live Event in Microsoft Teams works and its limitations
Live events in Microsoft Teams are similar to regular meetings. They must always be planned in advance and it is necessary to determine in advance which users will have the roles of producer and presenter (which can be the same person). The producer has the responsibility to determine which particular presenter is sharing the content at the moment, which is then seen by the participants.
As we have already said, participants can not participate in the presentation in any way - they only have the opportunity to contribute to a moderated chat in which the producer approves their messages and those can then be seen by the presenters who can respond to them during the talk.
It is therefore a suitable solution for longer lectures or talk where we do not want the participants to disturb the presentation. However, Live Events in Teams have some important limitations:
- The maximum duration of a Live Event in Teams is 4 hours
- When using an external device and RTMP stream (= instances where we want to use a conventional camera or Wirecast/OBS software for a presentation instead of a USB webcam) it is not possible to broadcast the Live Event publicly to unauthenticated users
Both constraints can be burning, with our clients we often come across the maximum duration constraint. So why did Microsoft introduce the limitations? Because Microsft offers Azure Media Services and it can be purchased separately and without any restrictions.
Live events in Azure Media Services
For many years, Microsoft has been offering a solution for streaming through the Azure cloud, and it's actually the same solution running Live Events via Microsoft Teams (as well as Stream and Yammer variants).
Live events in Azure Media Services work by processing a RTMP or Smooth Streaming video stream. This video stream is typically transmitted from a computer to which one or more cameras are connected, or directly from a hardware encoder. We have two options for how a video stream is processed in Azure Media Services:
In this case, Azure Media Services does not modify the stream in any way, it is only forwarded through the streaming endpoint to the viewers. This is useful if you are streaming a multi-quality stream that is ready to be processed seamlessly on all devices. However, this requires encoding of the video directly on the streaming device, which can be both performance-intensive and upload-intensive. If we do not have the capacity, we can stream in one quality, but there is a risk that viewers with slow internet connection will not be able to watch the video stream reliably.
Live encoding (720p or 1080p)
The stream is being encoded in real-time and dynamically packaged so that it includes variable quality and works reliably on wide range of devices. By default, there are 6 qualities with different bitrates of the video. This option is of course a bit more expensive, but relatively guarantees us functionality in the supplied Azure Media Player, which we then embed into our website.
Furthermore, we have the option to select what type of capacity will be reserved for streaming. Either we can use a shared Streaming endpoint that has a maximum capacity of 600 Mbps, or dedicated Streaming Units - each with a dedicated 200 Mpbs upload band.
Last but not least, we can also use CDN to redistribute the stream, allowing us to increase the maximum number of participants that can be connected to the stream at the same time.
Benefits of streaming with Azure Media Services
So what do we get by streaming through Azure Media Services? Above all, we will avoid all the constraints we have in Teams, so we will be able to stream video for any duration required and use external devices or software.
Next, we get the ability to set things we couldn't otherwise - from video quality, to player settings, rewind, content filtering, and more.
Last but not least, though theretically, we get higher quality and reliability of the stream, because we have the possibility to use dedicated streaming units instead of shared ones.
And how much does it cost? Azure Media Services is quite cost-effective - in normal use, when streaming a three-hour video, the cost is about $ 15, which is not bad at all, considering that we have a dedicated streaming instance, scalability and 1080p quality.
The resulting stream is played by the participants in the supplied player, which we can embed into any website and we have the possibility to configure it as needed.
We summarized the use of Live Events in Microsoft Teams and compared them to regular Teams meetings. If you are concerned about its limitations, we recommend using Azure Media Services - technically it is not particulary complicated, it will not cost you a fortune and you will get a quality solution for streaming longer presentations and lectures.