I have the pleasure of pastoring a small local church in Bay Roberts, NL (Bethel). Being in a rural setting, people in neighboring towns often have to travel to attend a service. In an effort to make sure traveling and transient people were included in our church family and community, we looked into live streaming our services. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s advancing faster than we can keep up with it. In order to stay current, we have to learn from one another and continuously improve along the way! Hopefully our journey through this process is helpful for all of us!
A work in progress…
At no point do I declare myself as a ‘know-it-all’ when it comes to live streaming. We are continually learning. Since we started streaming our local services, however, I’ve been asked several times how our small local church has managed to launch online.
While I’m new to the video world, I do bring years of photography experience to the table. It’s been a joy combining that knowledge as I learn my way around videography.
This post is the result of many hours of reading, researching and experimenting.
It might also be worth mentioning that our goal was to launch our stream with the best quality for the lowest cost. There might be better ways to do so, and cheaper methods, but this was our compromise.
The quality of your stream will start with your camera. There’s no way to create a great stream if the camera isn’t great. That said, you don’t need a $5,000 camera to run a decent stream.
You’ll need to figure out how much you’re willing to pay for the quality of the picture, and go from there.
We bought a used pro camera, much like these:
You can also use smaller personal-sized cameras, but options become limited and usually quality decreases accordingly:
NOTE: Some of the smaller cameras use a mini-HDMI output and may or may not have a ‘clean HDMI’ (without menu text/symbols) output for streaming. Most pro-cameras have this option.
You’ll also need to use a tripod. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be rated for at least the weight of the camera being used. It would even be better to use a video tripod.
Here are some options to consider:
Audio is just as important (if not more important) as the video quality. We experimented with a view options:
- One live mic.
This is probably the quickest and easiest option. Simply use the on camera mic, or hook up a mic to the camera to pick up the live sound in the room. The clear disadvantage is the quality and clarity will certainly lack and there’s no way of limiting the noise around the mic (ie. Aunt Suzie coughing).
- Live feed from the main mix on the sound board.
With little effort, you can run a cable from your main mix (ie. House mix) into your computer. This will give you a clean sound, however, the mix will not account for ‘live’ sound and ambient sound from things like drums. As a result, the audio may be clean, but unbalanced.
- Live feed from an auxiliary mix on the sound board.
This has been our choice. We use an auxiliary mix on our sound board and run a cable into our computer. We have a digital board, so our mix is connected via USB, but this can be done via analog as well. We also have a separate ‘live’ mic that picks up ambient sound (that mic doesn’t run through our main speakers).
The capture card…
The capture card will need to match your inputs and outputs on your computer and camera. There are a number of options, so you’ll need to find the one that works for you.
If you’re using Apple products, you may be able to take advantage of the thunderbolt technology (which is much faster than USB). Here is a great option for you:
You’ll also need a thunderbolt cable to connect to your computer and an HDMI cable or SDI cable to connect to your camera. Most cameras have HDMI outputs now, but if equipped with SDI, the cable can be much longer without losing quality.
If distance is an issue, you can use HDMI extenders that use CAT5/6 cables.
If you’re using PC products, you will want stick with a USB card or an integrated card. It’s also possible that your PC is blessed to have a thunderbolt connection. Here are a few options I’ve had the opportunity to use:
I would recommend the Razer Ripsaw or the Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle for quality and reliability. We ended up purchasing the Razer Ripsaw to save a few dollars (it was on sale), however, the extra options on the Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle may be worth the extra money.
Again, you’ll need to make sure you have the correct cables to connect this device with your computer (USB cable, HDMI cable, etc.…).
Your computer will need to receive the video and audio feeds, and do all the work in preparing and sending the live feed to your online platform. In short, it needs to have lots of memory (RAM) and be very fast (Processor).
If I could be a nerd for a moment – you can never have enough RAM and processer speed! To be honest, brand name doesn’t matter as long as your hardware can keep up the the task at hand. We have always stuck with PC products because I feel you can get more for your money.
In either case, I would aim for:
- 16 GB of RAM (with room to add more later); with an,
- i7 Core processor.
It’s possible to make this happen on less, but you’ll also run the risk of your computer not being able to keep up with the stream if you do. This is particularly important if the same computer is running multiple things at the same time (ie. PowerPoint or a Song Presenter).
The streaming platform…
The easiest way to stream is use a steaming platform. Simply stated – the service used to stream and view your live stream. There are paid and free options out there:
- UStream (paid)
- Fora (paid)
- OnStream Media (paid)
- Youtube LIVE (free)
- Facebook LIVE (free)
To keep the cost down, I would recommend YouTube or Facebook. We tend to focus our attention on YouTube as most smart TVs are now integrated with YouTube, but not always Facebook.
There are a number of software options that you can choose from. If you’re looking at using YouTube they offer a few options in their ‘support’ section.
After reviewing the options, we chose to use XSplit Broadcaster. They offer a limited FREE version to get you started, and the paid version is very reasonable. You can either pay a monthly fee as low as $2.50 (USD), or buy the lifetime license for $199 (USD).
With XSplit you can create different scenes and transition between them. Each scene can contain everything from live video, to screen capture (ie. a projector), to scrolling text, to a transparent logo, and even movies.
You can select your video outputs (up to 1080p and 60fps). In terms of general streaming, however, there’s no reason to go higher than 720p and 30fps. Most receiving and watching the stream won’t be able to tell the difference.
You can add several different streaming platforms, including YouTube Live and Facebook Live. You can even stream on multiple platforms at the same time; however, your computer and internet speeds would need to match the demand accordingly.
It will take some experimenting, but there are enough options to make you look professional, without having to use ‘professional’ gear. For further help, XSplit has some great tutorials on their site and plenty of YouTube videos.
Depending on the quality of your stream, you’ll need a decent upload speed. If you’re fortunate enough to be connected to a FiberOP network, you’ll have no worries!
Great resource: What Are the Bandwidth Requirements for Streaming Live Video?
This might limit some from actually launching a live stream. If your area is limited on that front, it might be best to record the service on your computer first and upload it to your preferred platform later (see platform and streaming software).
In the meantime, you can run a test in XSplit and they will let you know if your internet speed will work. You can run that test even before you commit to spending additional funds.
Run a test…
Before you go LIVE, make sure to run a few tests – get familiar with the system and troubleshoot any issues before the real thing.
Even before we actually went live, we simply recorded the services and uploaded them after. That way, if something went wrong we had a chance to edit it out, or adjust before uploading to YouTube.
If we had our time back, we could have easily done more testing and experimenting before launching the Sunday morning live stream.
Stream, monitor and adjust…
We are always monitoring the audio, video and overall performance. This includes checking during the live stream as well as asking people who regularly use the ministry for comments and suggestions.
Keep track of the recommendations and adjust along the way! Remember, the only way to embrace technology is to learn from each other and continuously improve.
|Streaming Software||$260 ($199 USD)|
Keep in mind, you may already have some of these items in your audio/visual room. After everything was said and done, we were able to get up and running for just over $1000.
Lighting (our next step)…
Since our sanctuary is fully lit for our services, we haven’t spent much effort on lighting our stage any more than it already is. That said, if the area you’re wanting to capture is not well lit, you’ll need to make sure you light it well.
The better the lighting, the better the chances of capturing a clean picture.
Many video cameras can work in low light, however, the camera has to work ‘extra hard’ to do so and will often result in a grainy picture.
Do you have more experience or knowledge?
Comment below with more tips and info! I’m sure we can all learn and grow together as we explore new ways to use technology!