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Epiphan Webcaster X2

By: Richard Mitchell

In June of 2017, Epiphan released the Webcaster X2, an update to their original Webcaster X1 that was released in the fall of 2016. Unlike the X1, the X2 is capable of streaming to both Facebook or YouTube with the single device (the X1 was locked to one or the other). Also, the x2 is capable of streaming at 1920 x 1080 at 30 frames per second (1080p/30), up from the 720p output of the X1. Also, the size of the device has been greatly reduced, more on that later. This is a longer DDMC article for me, but I’m only scratching the surface on what this device can do.

First Impressions:
Initially, I was only somewhat impressed with the X2… when I thought it was a $1000 device. I kept thinking to myself, “A laptop can do most of this with a $299 dongle!” That’s when I realized that the Epiphan Webcaster X2 only costs $299 total (opps!) and does considerably more than a similarly priced dongle. I don’t know where I picked up the incorrect price of $1000 (perhaps I assumed the device would be in that price range), but needless to say, that changed how I view this device. Basically, it’s a laptop with a HDMI input card that’s designed specifically for streaming. For the price, it’s very powerful and can significantly simplify your wired or wireless streaming needs. Also, based on the hardware and frequent firmware updates, it has room to grow.

The Hardware:
The Epiphan Webcaster X2 is smaller than it’s predecessor at 4.625″ × 4.875″ (think somewhat larger AppleTV 3) and could easily fit on top of a video camera as an ultra portable mobile live streaming setup.

Here is a quick overview of the hardware elements:

  • HDMI In: This is where you connect your video camera, video mixer, or unencrypted content (laptop, document camera, etc.) you plan to share. It’s important to note that the audio must be embedded in the HDMI input. The AV port (see below) currently isn’t active on this unit. Also, the device will only accept progressive video signals at 30 and 60 frames per second (sorry older cameras that can only output interlaced video).
  • USB Port (3): There are three USB ports on the device, and you’ll need them. Realistically, they will be used for a keyboard and mouse to navigate the user interface and to change the name of your streams, etc. Additionally, the device has the ability of adding a second video input with a USB webcam. This feature, currently in beta, would allow you to use the HDMI in to stream a PowerPoint and to use a USB webcam to show the presenter in a smaller window  (you can see the two screens in the image below)
  • HDMI Out: By connecting the HDMI out to a local monitor, you have access to the X2’s user interface. Epiphan has done a good job of hiding the Android operating system that controls the device, and making the user interface as simple as possible, while still retaining many advanced features. Once the device is configured, you could theoretically start and stop a webcast without a monitor attached. Again, the device is flexible.
  • Power Button: The power button isn’t actually used to turn the device on and off. Rather, it is used to start and stop live streams. It comes in very handy when operating the device without a monitor.
  • Antenna: The removable antenna is ideal if you plan to wirelessly stream the event. As a general rule, I only recommend streaming wirelessly if you don’t have access to an Ethernet port.
  • Ethernet: This is the preferred connection to stream content to the Internet. It’s also important to note that it’s best to have the device on a private subnet (not exposed to the greater Internet.)
  • DC Power Port: The Epiphan Webcaster X2 uses a 5 volt 3000 milliamp power adaptor that you connect to any standard wall power supply. While the device doesn’t have an internal battery, with a large enough battery pack and an adaptor, the device could be used untethered from a wall outlet. This would be very useful in “run and gun” style live streaming situations where you had a strong wireless signal.
  • Optical Audio Port: Not currently in use – may provide alternative audio input/output
  • MicroSD Card: Not currently in use – may provide local recording in the future
  • AV Port: Not currently in use – may eventually allow you to connect analog audio

An Important Note About Network Security and the Epiphan Webcaster X2:
This device utilizes the Android Operating System as its underlying operating system. As such, it is as vulnerable as any Android device would be when it comes to network security. It is important to ensure that you are using the latest firmware, when using the device. A firmware alert will appear at the top of the screen, if the device isn’t up-to-date. Don’t wait to update the firmware when prompted (I updated the firmware twice during my two weeks of testing), it only takes a couple of minutes and is very simple to do. Also, by default, the Epiphan Webcaster X2 has a number of ports that are open (think of them as windows to access the device), all of which are required for the device to communicate with YouTube and Facebook, so there is some level of security risk when operating this device on the open Internet (not behind a firewall and/or NAT). I would not recommend operating this device on a public IP address. Instead, check with your local IT group (or contact OIT [the group within OIT that can accommodate this request is “Network Services-Engineering-OIT“) to ensure the device is places on a private subnet, or have one created if necessary. WAIT! Keep reading… from the above, you may think “Gee, this device doesn’t sound very secure!” The Webcaster X2 is secure, but placing it in a protected area of our enterprise network is the best case scenario for avoiding an unexpected hack. Also, like with all computers, if you don’t use it for six months, and then connect it to the network, it’s probably vulnerable to attack… so update the firmware when it notifies you.

The above screenshot highlights just how clean Epiphan made the user interface of the Webcaster X2. While it took twenty or so minutes to initially learn the ins and outs of the setup and configure pages, I found the simplicity of the user interface refreshing, letting me focus on the content being streamed and less about the technology behind the streaming. That said, the device also has a wide range of setup and configuration options to permit creative flexibility. It’s clear Epiphan knows the streaming segment. Overall, I was very happy with the setup and operation of the software user interface.

Use Cases:
This device could be used to stream any number of live events (high-profile guest lectures, alumni engagement sessions, topical faculty conversations, etc.) to Facebook and YouTube. The advantage of using this device over a laptop/dongle configuration is simplicity and the reduction of failure. Also, it frees up your laptop to do the real work associated with hosting a live event.

Minor Gotchas:
As mentioned above, the Epiphan Webcaster X2 doesn’t support interlaced video. If you have an older video camera that can only output interlaced video, this isn’t the device for you. Or, it is the correct device… and it’s time to upgrade your video camera. Second, while testing, I was occasionally able to get the device in a somewhat unstable or unpredictable state. To be fair, I wouldn’t consider my testing “normal usage” and the issues were always resolved with a quick reboot.

Finally, I would have loved to have seen a cold-shoe bracket or threaded quarter twenty mount on the bottom of the device so that it could be mounted to the top of a video camera rig. I guess I’ll simply need to 3D print one 🙂

I’m reminded of my days of webcasting live events where I’d take my laptop, laptop power, dongle, two or three HDMI cables, etc. etc. and hope that everything worked. With the Webcaster X2, most of that worry would be removed. I’d simply need a single power cable and one HDMI cable and I’d be able to stream with confidence, and you can’t beat the price.

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