The basics of live streaming include capturing a video signal and streaming it to a remote platform where everyone will then connect and watch. Here is a general diagram of the components necessary. For our full setup and a write up on all the equipment needed, keep reading!
We first started live streaming online worship in 2006 at the Ville-Emard Church of Christ in Montreal. This was the early days of online streaming before platforms like Ustream were founded. We originally used Windows Media Encoder and our members were connecting directly to our laptop in the back of the auditorium (thanks to our tech guy Silviu Frantescu). The system started to stress out at about 10 users.
Over the years, I have worked out a lot of kinks that come with the technology and equipment needed. Here is one approach you can take to broadcast your worship service online.
The first thing we'll cover is the equipment needed to get started. I'm going to show you how to set up a bare-bones system, as the churches I have worked with haven't had the biggest budgets for this area. I'll also include the difficulties we've had with each area, so you can perhaps plan/avoid these things.
Equipment Needed for Live Streaming Church Services
As you know there are a lot of options for each of these areas. The trickiest part is getting them all to play nicely with each other. Here is our current setup that we use for our live broadcast at the Choctaw Church of Christ.
We currently stream at 720p 30fps and for our BibleTalk.tv videos we also record separately with another camera in 4k 60fps for on-demand viewing. Recording separately allows us to control the quality of the videos better and have a more polished finished product. At one point we tried streaming at 60fps but this caused problems for some of our viewers with slower internet.
Here is a diagram showing all the working parts and cabling.
1. Microphones for Live Streaming
At the podium you probably already have some type of microphone hooked into a mixer/amplifier and then dispersed to some speakers. If this is true, you are much closer to broadcasting than you think. We use a Shure Gooseneck Microphone. Other brand options I would suggest are Peavey or Audio-Technica.
Nice audio is key to a good live stream. Many viewers can handle a little bit of a choppy or blurry video as long as they can hear properly.
Audience Participation – We have one crowd microphone in the rear of our auditorium (where we have Bible class before worship services) this picks up questions or comments from the class and we also turn it on during our singing. Currently, we have a table-top microphone attached to the ceiling. I found the paint used in our building and gave it a coat so it blends in nicely. It is currently routed into our main mixer and we use separate outputs (in the mixer) to only send the crowd mic output to our live stream and not the main auditorium speakers.
We also have two Shure choir microphones in the front to pick up congregational singing. We currently have all of these running individually into our mixer so we can turn on different mics at different times or if a baby is crying directly under a microphone we could mute that specific one.
- Pulpit: We do have trouble from time to time with feedback when someone is talking quietly. I'm not sure if a more sensitive microphone would help. It could also be the long and narrow style of our auditorium. We did purchase an extra pair of speakers for the back of the auditorium. This helped some but with certain low-talkers we still have trouble with it. When the microphone is properly pointed directly at the speaker's mouth the sound is much better, however, this step is not always done.
- Crowd: The guys in our booth have a tendency to forget to mute the crowd mic, so when the singing is done and regular talking begins, it's very hard to hear the speaker. The key here is to always wear the headphones of the audio feed that your live streaming audience is hearing. It's very easy to tell (with the headphones on) when the crowd microphone is on.
2. Cameras for Live Streaming
This robotic camera is attached to our ceiling away from children's idle hands. The main reason I chose this particular one is because of the 20x optical zoom. Being able to get really close to your speaker will change the whole feeling of your video. Being able to see the expressions of the speaker on the stage and not just that the person is on a stage is huge.
The main reasons I went with a PTZ camera are easy of use and zooming. We do not always have volunteers to run camera so these creates a single operator in the sound booth. Also we have Bible class in the back section first then move the lectern to the front for worship. So instead of having two cameras setup, I went with the zoom option. Zooming does affect the quality of your picture so keep that in mind.
I recommend Panasonic cameras. We have used several of these through the years and have had very few issues. Our current camera is the Panasonic HC-X1000.
We use these for our on-demand videos, because we can hard wire the microphone directly into the camera through the XLR inputs. This provides high-quality audio that doesn't go through the mixer and isn't affected by any other technical influences. These cameras have HDMI outputs, so you could do both at the same time: record to the SD card in the camera and send the signal to a computer for live streaming.
There is a new line of cameras currently being developed like the Mevo Camera. These cameras connect to your phone and do everything wirelessly.
As the specs on these get better, they will be an interesting option for churches to use. The idea of it is wonderful, however, without adequate lighting the quality of the video was just not there yet. For the price ($400 range) these may be something you check out anyway and see if it will work with you. Since you can do everything (film, edit, stream) for just the price of the camera. In my opinion, when these cameras work off an 8k+ file size (currently using 4k) this will be the way to do easy streaming in the future.
We use Manfrotto tripods. They are really solid units for the price and they have fluid heads and are lightweight for easy moving around. Sturdiness and having a fluid head are the main things to look for here. If these are openly available in your room, you want something sturdy that cannot be pulled down.
- Robotic Cameras and Controllers: The main problem with robotic cameras is the jerkiness when panning and zooming because the motors use a degree based system. This means when we jump from our lectern preset to our wide preset, the transition is rather quick. The H100S camera we have does not have a speed control option. From my research, the higher end models do have the speed option. I would say to either go with two remote cameras (one for a close up and one for a wider view perhaps when communion is being handed out) or a single camera with speed control.
- Non-robotic Cameras: Ideally if you have regular and capable volunteers, I would use these type of cameras. They have a better picture and you can't beat being able to point the camera exactly where you want it. Also if something happens in another part of the building, your camera isn't attached to the ceiling.
3. Mixers for Live Streaming
I won't go into setting up your mixer in this article because you most likely have something setup to amplify your speaker. The main thing to look for in a mixer (for live streaming purposes) is what type of outputs your mixer has. Our current mixer doesn't have this, but most of the ones I see these days have USB output. This keeps your audio digital and should not introduce any feedback or distortion.
If your mixer does not have USB output check out the BEHRINGER Audio Interface. It has an XLR input and a 1/4" input. In the back it has a USB cable that connects to your computer for super easy and clean audio. It can normally be purchased for around $30.
- Phantom Power: Your mixer may not have this but if you do, make sure to turn this on. This option supplies your microphone with power. If you are using a cardioid or super-cardioid microphone, I believe this is a must.
- Hum Eliminator: In one of our earliest setups, we had a significant hum. We hired some audio specialists to check out our system and help us find what was wrong. After a few minutes, they suggested the Rolls DB25 Passive Direct Box and instantly our audio was crisp and hum free. This $30 box was the difference maker. One thing to note is that this box has a 1/4" input jack on one end and an XLR output on the other. In our computer, we had the standard stereo 3.5mm mini microphone jack, so they had to make us a custom XLR to mini cable. You can find a XLR Jack to Stereo 3.5mm Mini on Amazon.
4. Computers for Live Streaming
The first thing to check is the technical requirements for the streaming software you are using (vMix & OBS). You'll want to make sure whatever setup you have is above these levels. If you are at the bottom level of their specs you're probably going to be having some issues (like choppy video).
Your computer should have at least an i5 processor. I would go with an i7+ processor if you can afford it. I'm partial to Macs but you can do live streaming with Windows cheaper.
- For live streaming at choctaw.church: We have a pretty generic setup with a CyberPowerPC. When looking for a good Windows computer I tend to check the "gaming" category of computers as gaming has similar needs to video processing. The key is multiple processors/cores, a good video card and lots of memory (RAM). I would say no less than 8GB. I have been using 16GB lately and just jumped to 32GB for 4k.
- For BibleTalk.tv on-demand videos: I now use an extremely beefy iMac. We switched to 4k video and my maxed-out Mac Mini could not edit the video in real time. I attempted to use a technique called Proxy Editing (which creates an SD file while you edit, and switches back to the 4k file for export) however the proxy file was going to take 4 hours to generate. Also, a 30 minute 4k video was taking 10-12 hours to export.
5. Hardware for Live Streaming
There are some additional hardware items to consider inside and alongside your computer.
The first is a way for your computer to recognize your video stream. The most common ways are through USB, Thunderbolt on Mac and PCI capture cards on Windows. I prefer Blackmagic Design for most options, based on price and quality. There are cheaper and more expensive options available.
- USB: Some cameras offer the ability to connect through USB like the HuddleCam lineup. If you are doing HD, I would recommend only doing this through USB 3.0 or higher. If you read some of the reviews on the cameras, this issue comes up. Blackmagic Design makes a USB 3.0 Shuttle option, however, I personally tried it and it didn't work with my computer motherboard, which was strange, so keep that in mind.
- PCI Capture Cards: The most common outputs from HD cameras are HD-SDI and HDMI. There are a handful of options from Blackmagic Design on these. We currently use the DeckLink card (4k option also) which has one input of each type. Note that only one input can work at a time with this particular card, for multiple inputs at once look for the Duo option.
- Thunderbolt: We tried live streaming BibleTalk.tv material for one quarter. We used a MacBook with an UltraStudio Mini Recorder and the $10 Wirecast play software (more on software below). This worked very well!
- Wirelessly: Some new software options allow you to stream wirelessly from cell phones. Checkout Wirecast Cam for iOS as one option. My guess is that more players are going to enter this space, however, as far as troubleshooting goes it's hard to beat a wire connected to a device.
- Livestream.com Devices: The live streaming software LiveStream.com has multiple ways to capture video. Some of them only work with their own service, but others (like Mevo Camera) are starting to work with other streaming providers.
- Blackmagic Design ATEM Switcher: This device can switch multiple cameras into one stream with graphics. If you have a slower computer, this device can pick up some of the load, because all of the switching processing is done on the ATEM device.
Other hardware to consider is a video switcher. There are many options, however, most of this is done digitally now in your software. An item I wanted to include in this is the Kramer VP-460. We used to use this switcher to beam our song slides and video signal to some HD monitors in the back of our auditorium. This particular unit has an SDI loop, meaning our video signal comes from our robotic camera into the Kramer switcher and loops right back out and goes into our computer for live streaming at the same time.
6. Software for Live Streaming
There are many types of live streaming solutions these days. Many come with switcher software alongside their live streaming software. We'll start with a few options if your live streaming solution doesn't have a switcher.
Video Switcher Hardware
The first was the ATEM Studio hardware switcher mentioned above in the capture card section. This is a hardware version of software like vMix or Wirecast. The basics of switching is that you have PowerPoint slides from your sermon or songs that you want to mix together with your camera(s) into one single feed that is then broadcasted to the internet. The switcher allows you to mix these all together in real-time. The ATEM switcher does this on standalone hardware and then sends the signal to your computer for some other piece of software to figure out how to broadcast. vMix, Wirecast, and others, which I will call software solutions, offer the whole package in one.
Video Switcher Software
Software solutions connect directly to your live streaming platform and automatically taking the mixed together video feed and send it to the broadcaster. The software solution is probably the path most of you reading this want to take. Both of these options allow for you to also send the live feed out to monitors in your auditorium or nursery, however, the hardware solution will probably do this better and cleaner than the software solution.
7. Live Streaming Platforms
The option we are currently using is YouTube Live. I am quite happy with the quality and ease of use when teamed up with vMix and/or Wirecast Play. Plus, I was uploading our videos to YouTube anyway for on-demand viewing, so this saves a big step (as far as time goes).
There are many different platforms out there, I'm not sure why you wouldn't want to use YouTube as it's completely free and can already offer streaming of 4k and 360-degree videos, my only guess is because of the other types of videos found on their website. Here are some other options besides YouTube:
- Facebook Live
- Faithlife Live Streaming
I do encourage you to support Christians who build media projects, however, I'm not sure these aren't just bigger companies marketing to churches.
For more information on some of these services and on building church websites, check out my article Building a Church Website.
You may think this is a gag but it is really important. You are working with so many different moving parts, gadgets from different companies and weird settings that something is bound to go wrong. I remember sitting in our booth for hours trying to get the video feed to appear on the computer only to find out I was setting the sources as 30fps instead of 29.97fps. So be patient and remember you are doing this for God and for people who want to learn more about Him.
If you have any questions about getting your church worship services online feel free to email me.