Several years ago, I worked with my church to install a bare-bones basic live web streaming setup. In the process of making that happen, I learned a few things. Since then, I’ve installed two live-streaming solutions (one very basic, which I will describe here) and a complex robotic camera system. Before I being, I should offer this disclaimer: I do not do this for a living. I do not have any professional relationship with any manufacturer whatsoever.
One more thing, many things in my post are not the cheapest available options, there are cheaper options. The equipment I list are suggestions. My suggestions are based on my experience using cheaper equipment. Eventually, I had to toss the old equipment, and upgrade to the more expensive equipment anyways.
Let’s begin. To do this right, you’re going to need some essential equipment:
- Camcorder to Computer Interface Device
- Streaming Service Provider
- Various Cabling
Why do you need all this equipment? Because it all works together to make it happen. Here is a rudimentary diagram of what is going on:
The camcorder which is on the tripod, connects via HDMI cable to the HDMI camera interface card that is in the computer. Then the computer connects to the streaming service provider via the Internet. The streaming service provider converts the video live into various formats for the different types of tablets, smart phones, and computers.
This all depends on your budget. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use a camera that is similar to one I used at a local church. The important things to consider in the selection of a camera would have to be: (1) how much does it cost, (2) what ports does it have (we’re looking for one with an HDMI port), and (3) lens. While you may think the lens isn’t a big deal, you have to consider the size of your stage and how far away the camera will be. At one of the churches I installed, the distance from the camera to the stage was very short, so I chose a camera with a wide-angle lens.
This is the Canon VIXIA HF R300. This camera costs $250, as of November 24, 2012. This camera has excellent zoom (32x) and excellent low light for a budget camera. The important ports on this camera are: (1) microphone input and (2) an HDMI port.
You’re going to need a service provider. Currently there are two competing providers, and I will name them both. Ustream and Livestream. Full disclosure: I’m most familiar with Ustream as I have used them the most. They seem to be the most reliable overall.
My recommendation: Ustream
Time and again, Ustream Producer Pro ($199 one time fee) continues to be the easiest and most stable software streaming solution. It allows you to take your video feed from the camera, add nice titles to it, and send it to your streaming service provider. Oh, Ustream allows you to record and archive your sermons/services so that you can embed them on your website. In addition, you can save them to your computer for archival purposes.
You will need a reasonable powerful computer. This means that the computer must be a quad-core processor with at least 8 gigabytes of ram, and a decent video card. Most computers older than 1-2 years will not work. An older computer means you will be broadcasting choppy audio and/or video and people will complain. Choppy audio and/or video is annoying – trust me.
My recommendation: HP / Hewlett Packard Pavilion P6-2350 Desktop Computer or similar.
But what about laptops? Streaming live HD video takes a lot of processing power. When computers are working so incredibly hard, they produce a lot of heat which means you need a big fan. Medium/big desktop computers like this one have bigger fans (than laptops) that dissipate the heat more efficiently. In addition, you’ll need a desktop to be able to use the HDMI interface card:
Without this or any other similar interface card, you won’t be able to stream. I recommend this card (pictured above), the Blackmagic Desk Intensity Pro HDMI.
I have a homework assignment for you. Go to www.speedtest.net. Once the website loads, click on Begin Test, and wait for it to complete the test. Once completed, the website will give you three data points: (1) Ping, (2) Download Speed, and (3) Upload Speed. Number (3) is the most important: upload speed. If you plan on streaming an HD signal, you will need at the very least 1.50 Mbps. If you have anything lower than that, you will have to upgrade your internet speed. In some cases, that is a simple phone call to the DSL/Cable company. Other times, it may mean switching companies. However, you must have this speed.
If you live in an area with 4G LTE, and you have excellent 4G reception in your church, you may have the additional option of purchasing 4G hotspot with enough data to live stream your service weekly. I’ve done this in the past in a pinch, and it works.
By now, you’re probably tired of reading all of this, but we’re almost done! I promise!
The last thing on the list that I haven’t discussed is cabling. You’re going to need cabling to tie it all together. That really depends on the location. Ideally:
- You’re going to need a 6-10 foot HDMI cable to connect the camera to the computer.
- You’re going to need some sort of cable that connects the audio from your church’s sound board to the computer.
- You may need some other accessories, such as an additional pair of headphones to listen to what is going to the streaming computer.
- You may want a camera operator, although not necessary, to move the camera around to follow the pastor at a closer angle. This requires a person to stand (or sit) behind a tripod and follow the pastor. If so, then you’re going to need a tripod of some sort, with a smooth tripod head to allow your camera operator to follow the pastor easily. A good tripod head makes all the difference.
Finally, the cost break down (*approximate values depend on market conditions):
- Camera – $250*
- Tripod (with a good tripod head) – $200*
- Various Cabling (depending on location of equipment) – $10-100*
- Computer – $550*
- Computer Monitor – $125*
- Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro HDMI Interface card – $190
- Ustream (Streaming Service Provider) – $99/month.
All together, that’s less than $1600.
In any case, technology is one of my passions. I didn’t go to school for any of this, but God has given me the passion and my church has given me the training to use technology for His work. If you have any questions about any of this, contact me. If you’re church is seriously considering live streaming and you want my assistance, let me know – let’s talk.
dudrea AT gmail DOT com