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.