We’ve looked briefly at cameras, encoders, switchers, and audio. We hope it has helped you all get looking in the right direction as you embark on starting your own live stream. As always, we’ll remind you to start small as you get your feet wet. As you get more comfortable with it, you’ll have a better idea what you want to achieve, what has and has not worked, and it will all inform future decisions when you are ready to step up to the next level. Or if you don’t continue on, you won’t have sunk thousands of dollars into it.
With your equipment in place you still have to be able to distribute your video. There are a wealth of options to suit your budget with enhanced features to help you too! Let’s take a look at some popular choices.
Facebook & YouTube
When you’re looking for free, these are the first two places you’ll look. They both have built in audiences, and no one has a better encoding algorithm than YouTube. There are still drawbacks though, most notably the propensity for your audio to be muted. They are extremely aggressive with copyright violations and will mute your stream at the slightest hint of infringement, and this often occurs when the worship music starts. There are processes to dispute it, but if they are your primary, or only, streaming platform, you may be out of luck until that process is completed. Many churches have opted to stream to Facebook in conjunction with their primary stream.
A relative newcomer, Boxcast has proven to offer a reliable and good looking stream. They have a variety of options you can take advantage of, like closed captioning, time stamp markers, and media player apps for Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. They also make their own encoders, an entry level and professional grade, though you can use a third party encoder as well.
I’m not as familiar with this, but they have been mentioned numerous times in recent weeks and appear to be growing in popularity with the church market. They offer many of the same features as Boxcast, with more tiers and additional price points for the features required.
Vimeo had started their own live streaming service, but a few years ago they purchased LiveStream and have been tightening up integration since. If you’re using Vimeo already, LiveStream is a great option for you. While missing some of the convenient features of BoxCast and Stream Monkey, the Vimeo integration can be a big selling point for some.
Living As One
This is where the big boys play. Living As One is a proprietary service with their own hardware and some nifty tech ‘magic’ on the back end to offer what they claim is a perfect stream with no buffering. When you watch the live stream from some of the largest and most well-known churches there’s a strong possibility they’re using Living As One.
What To Look For
Whatever you choose, it needs to meet your needs and things you must have to do it well. Here’s some things to watch for.
- Limits – It needs to be sufficient for your number of viewers and number of streams. Some archiving has data or time limits.
- Scheduling – Can you set it up in advance, or start automatically?
- Duration – Is there a limit on how long your stream can run?
- Ads – Free services almost always have ads, you probably don’t want those.
- Simulated Live – Can you record in advance to run ‘live’?
- Destinations – Will it stream to other locations, like Facebook or YouTube, simultaneously?
- Watching – Is it only in a browser or can you watch it on a media player too?
- Support – Sunday is your biggest day, is support available Sunday morning?
- Analytics – You’ll want to be able to track how many viewers and how long they watched.
- DVR – Will viewers be able to pause and resume from the same spot?
- Automatic Recording – Most services record your stream, how long until it’s available on its own?
- Replacement – Can you do post production work to make it look/sound better and replace the video without any link or embed changing?
- Private – Is there an option to make a stream private for things like weddings & funerals?
We hope that helps! Send us a message if you need help sorting through the options to find your best solution.
Some of you may be wondering why we discussed the video hardware first if audio is the most important part of video. Whereas video is a little more muddled in the connections that are available in the consumer realm, and are often used in churches, audio is a more stable infrastructure at this moment. It is not difficult to bring good audio into a video system.
If you are keeping it simple, using just your phone to record the message, a simple lapel will do wonders for you. Shure makes some of the best mics around, and their MOTIV MVL works with most smartphones, and is the one I use for on the go recording. The Rode smartLav+ is also an excellent choice. Both of those feature a TRRS connector, native to smartphones. A generic TRS connector may still work with your phone, though you’ll likely need an adapter. There are several options for iPhone which use a lightning connector, but they won’t work with any traditional audio equipment. Apogee and Audio-Technica make good options there. If you need to bring in a signal from an audio mixer, mic, or instrument, an interface like the Tascam iXz will be needed. A number of computer USB interfaces could work as well with a lightning adapter.
Video Mixer Audio
Using a traditional audio desk you should have 1/4″ and XLR output options, either of which can be run directly to a video switcher or encoder. If your equipment is structured in such a way that the audio feed needs to run into the camera, that will also work, though some cameras may require an adapter to bring a 1/4″ plug down to 1/8″. In all scenarios, make sure settings are correct. Input signals often have a ‘line’ and ‘mic’ setting. Line will be used for direct connection from sources such as an audio mixer. The mic setting will be used when your source is an instrument or a mic. Some wireless receivers have the option to output as either. Unintended audio problems can occur if a setting is wrong somewhere, like a hiss.
Similar to your phone, a USB interface can be used to bring in audio from mics, instruments, and audio desks into your computer. I am partial to the Focusrite lineup, and have used the Scarlett 2i2 for years. Motu, Solid State Logic, and PreSonus also make excellent options. Options range from one input to eight, and more could be added with multiple interfaces if you need. Belkin used to make a USB C to B cable that I use extensively between my MacBook and old peripherals, if you can find one I highly recommend it.
Audio for video is not complex, you just want to use a good mic and remove background noise. Internal mics on your phone or computer will leave a hollow sound and pick up so many ambient noises that you don’t want. A proper lapel or handheld will give a clean and reliable sound. When avoiding background sounds you’ll want to watch for things like fans, electronic notifications, vents, and noise from nearby rooms like bathrooms and kitchens.
Reach out to us and describe your room and we can help you mitigate potential noise interference and troubleshoot any problems you may be having.
With an introduction to camera options and what you’ll need to get that video uploaded, it’s time to look at video switchers. Most churches will want to incorporate further visuals into their stream. Whether an illustrative video, slides with graphics, or additional camera angles, you’ll need a video switcher to facilitate switching between them.
But First, Presentation
There are options for software to help facilitate presentations. The name first thought of by many is PowerPoint, and if all you need to do is sermon slides it gets the job done, as will Keynote. But when you start displaying lyrics, wanting to run lower thirds lyrics, and in general start working with more advanced presentations, maybe needing more frequent and easier changes, a more advanced presentation tool is needed. ProPresenter is arguably the most popular, but you can also choose from MediaShout, Proclaim, Worship Extreme, Easyworship, and others. Any of them will make presentation management easier, and possibly save you a few inputs on a video switcher.
We previously mentioned OBS, Wirecast, and Livestream Studio when discussing how to get your video uploaded, and they capably handle switching as well. You can also peek at Teradek’s LIVE:AIR app if you want to use an iPad. As the timeline for social distancing stretches out, some may consider how to manage multiple remote video sources, and Cloudmix could be the solution you need for that. All software has limitations though, and your computer will only handle so much. A dedicated hardware switcher is still the most reliable way to go.
We won’t discuss the upper echelon where the likes of Ross and Grass Valley live. Those are for discussion with a system integrator. Similarly, TriCaster’s are in a higher price point, though their blend of hardware and software can be just as much a curse as a blessing. I watched a stream improve last year by replacing the TriCaster encoding with a dedicated Teradek.
Let’s instead focus on the lower cost options to get you rolling. As always, Blackmagic offers a low cost entry point, though reliability will vary, and you will need to be very careful that every video setting is precise, they often don’t play nice with different formats and frame rates. With that being said, the ATEM Mini has been highly sought after by those with a low budget and a lot of consumer grade equipment. For higher demands you can step up to the ATEM Television Studio Pro 4K which offers a lot more capability and SDI inputs.
My favorite recommendation for a robust and versatile switcher at a lower price point comes from Roland. The V1 (HDMI) (SDI) gets you running, with a limit of HDMI or SDI inputs, not both. Of you only have 2 HDMI inputs the V-02HD is simple, straight-forward, and built like.a tank. An iPad app will enable some great hidden features too. When you need more inputs the V-60HD is a multi-format switcher that will make your life easier. If you have a need to do simple audio mixing for your stream, the VR-4HD might be the answer for you.
With any of the solutions don’t forget about a monitor so you can use the multi-view features and preview all the inputs before switching to them!
Stay tuned as we soon look at incorporating good audio into your stream, and finding the streaming service right for you!
A critical component of the live streaming pipeline is the encoder. The encoder will take your video and compress it enough to upload to your streaming service. Many people will first look to a computer to perform this task, or use an app on their phone or iPad. Those are fine ways to get started, but a dedicated hardware encoder is the most reliable and efficient means of processing your video for upload. Dedicated hardware is your friend.
To use your computer you will need some encoding software. Often this software will also do some basic video switching, which can be useful if you desire to incorporate slides and other video sources. A frequent choice of churches is OBS. It works on Mac, Windows, and Linux, and as open source software there is no cost. Telestream’s Wirecast is another popular option, There is a significant up front cost, but is a fairly robust software and offers the advantage of having hardware to move up to, taking the burden off your computer but keeping a familiar ecosystem to work in. Vimeo’s Livestream also offers their own software to use with their streaming service. If you want more hands on support than OBS but a lower entry cost than Wirecast, Livestream is a good option to start with.
Like a software solution you will have to do some setup for a dedicated encoder. Once set up they nearly run themselves, though you will still need a switcher if using multiple sources. Amongst the best solutions is the Teradek VidiU Go. It works with a variety of services and can connect over ethernet, wifi, and LTE. I personally use one every week and it works great. The AJA HELO is another robust encoder with years of reliable operation across all their products. Epiphan’s Webcaster X2 brings the price point down significantly, but only works with Facebook Live and YouTube. It’s an excellent choice if that’s where you’re streaming to, but may not be the best service to use for everyone.
A relatively new device built for video podcasters could be a viable tool as well. the Roland GO:LIVECAST offers some hardware switching abilities in conjunction with an iOS device. For a small setup, it might be a good answer, and Roland video switchers have always offered tremendous value for the dollar.
If you go the route of computer software you might still need a way to get a video source into your computer. A popular choice amongst church’s is the Blackmagic Design Web Presenter. It’s a relatively inexpensive interface, though it must be noted that Blackmagic hasn’t had the greatest track record with reliability. I believe they have gotten better over the years, though many still recommend getting two of any of their products so you have a backup ready to go. In the interest of reliability but sitting at a price point between the Web Presenter and Blackmagic’s entry level equipment, the AJA U-Tap (SDI) (HDMI) is an excellent choice to go with.
When making your decision on whether to use a computer or a dedicated device, and any of the hardware associated for either, be sure to review the specifications to make sure it’s compatible with the rest of your equipment. You don’t want an interface without an HDMI input if that’s all your camera can output. A Thunderbolt interface will be useless if your computer only has USB. Check and double check, have a third party review it if you need to. You can ask us for advice if you’d like. It’s better to take your time now rather than have to exchange a product later.
While this post is geared toward small churches new to live streaming, we hope there will be nuggets for everyone to learn from, or be reminded of. This is not a detailed introduction to camera options, just a brief introduction to give you a guide. I can’t stress enough, don’t break the bank to get started. Dip your toes in with what you have available. You may decide after a few weeks the streaming service you selected isn’t right for you, or you’ll gain a better idea what you want to achieve over the long term, which will help inform a more significant hardware investment.
It is likely that you are on a compressed timeline to start operating your live stream. With the technology that many of us take for granted, you could be more prepared than you think. Whether a camera you haven’t used in awhile, the gadget you gave your kids, or the phone in your pocket, there are a lot of ways to capture video.
Your phone is one of the quickest ways to get into streaming. You’ve probably already recorded videos with it. At the lowest level, you pick a suitable streaming platform for your needs, install their app, log in, and start streaming. There may be a few things to set up, like a broadcast date and time, but often you can just go live. Remember to put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ before recording.
Not unlike your phone, your laptop is ready to capture video. With a built in web cam and mic, it’s the same process as a phone, though you may be able to use a web interface instead of installing an app. Be sure to go through your system settings and turn off any notifications that might make sound, and close any applications you don’t need running.
Action cameras are another alternative that can work for you. They will perform better in low light situations, but the user experience may not be as straight-forward as your phone or computer. Newer models have made it easier, but the complexity will vary by manufacturer and how new the action camera is. If you want to explore using your action camera, read through this post from 2019.
Digital cameras and consumer video cameras are another viable option. You’ll have to look at your specific camera’s options to see what capabilities it offers, but if you can record while it’s attached to your computer, there’s a good chance it will work. You will be limited by having to remain connected to your computer though.
When you’re ready to do this for the long term, it’s time to get a professional camera. These cameras will offer advanced features like manual white balance, multi-point focus, and a variety of implementations for communication with the video switcher. Most importantly, they offer professional connections. XLR hookups for audio, tally lights so you know that camera is live, and BNC connectors for video over SDI. SDI is the most reliable video connection for video. Whereas HDMI has distance limitations and ethernet has bandwidth limitations, SDI will reliably carry your signal over long distances. You will need other gear to get the video and audio to the streaming service though, often via a video switcher and streaming encoder.
Use your phone to get started. It will offer good enough video to get you off the ground while you get used to a streaming service, or even try a few different ones. You’ll also get a better idea of what your current network is capable of. If you don’t have enough bandwidth, it won’t matter what camera you use.
The CDC has advised in person events of more than 50 people during the next 8 weeks be canceled or postponed. This is a complication when trying to have church on a sunday morning. Even if your service doesn’t typically have 50 people in it, you may still have a signficant number of elderly attendees, and with the higher risk they have, you, or they, may still decide not to participate. This has left thousands of churches scrambling to put up a live stream. Beyond your local ability to create a stream, there is still the problem of streaming services getting it to viewers with an influx of new users who all want to go live during the same sunday morning period.
We agree that live streaming is a fantastic way to continue to deliver a weekly worship service, but it’s not as simple as turning on the camera and clicking a ‘Go Live’ button. The most important thing in a good video is audio. This is followed by lighting, leaving video as the third most important factor in a good video. It’s not likely that you can bring your lighting system to its ideal in a short time, but we can all survive with whatever we have available. Audio is a different story. If you watched KFYR’s broadcast of Governor Burgum’s announcement on Sunday evening, you’ll notice there was a significant audio change. It seemed that it was being broadcast through a phone, using the phone mic, until they could get connected into the system at which point we could all understand what he was saying. Audio is that important.
Don’t rush off in a panic to buy whatever you think you need to do a live stream. Stop, take a deep breath, and do some homework. You can stay tuned here for more information on what you’ll need with some recommendations to get you started without depleting your budget. We’ll share some thoughts on out of the box ways to prevent problems, and help you navigate the legal aspects of what licenses you need, and what they allow you to do. If you want a more personal touch, you can reach out to us via our advice form.
Stay calm, we’ll help you through this.