Ministry Streaming, Equipment Essentials

Streaming: First-Timer Equipment Essentials

Both large and small ministries and churches have found they can connect with their congregation, while also building in-church attendance, by live streaming their services.

Streaming for ministry can now be done somewhat inexpensively. Working with all sizes of ministries, I have seen them achieve solid results with streaming.

A wired connection will deliver the best results, but regardless of your connection, you will need access to the internet with a minimum of 5Mbps of upload bandwidth.

Where to start? I have a few tips to get those looking to get started with online streaming.

Since we are going to build out this live streaming workflow on a budget, we will list the bare minimum of gear that is required, including:

  • Video Input
  • Audio Input
  • Encoding
  • Internet Bandwidth

If you are interested in learning more about streaming, check out the following session, “The Sunday Service Livestream Conundrum,” slated for the WFX Conference & Expo this November in Orlando.

1. Video Input

The first consideration to get your services on the web is which camera to use. Since we are on a budget, we are not going to introduce a video switcher into the workflow. Therefore, your main concern for the camera is how it will connect directly to the video encoder you choose.

The primary considerations will be how the camera will interface with your audio source (see below at #2) and how it will connect to an encoder (detailed at #3). Lower cost cameras offer an HDMI output. These are great, because HDMI will carry both the video and audio content through a single connection to the encoder.

Make sure you have good, flat, even, front lighting of the subject. Tight budgets may not have room for additional lighting, so pay close attention to the overhead lighting in the room, and how that affects the look of the subject on camera.

Pastors should consider clothing patterns when on camera. Shirt patterns don’t matter when wearing a suit, but know that solid colors with contrasting background colors are safe. Fine checkered shirts and ties or plaids can wreak havoc with a camera and encoder.

2. Audio Input

Capturing a good audio signal is as important as the video quality. Again, depending on your budget, and if you have an audio console, you can pull the audio from your console to the camera. If not, there are wireless microphones that can mount to and connect directly to your camera.

Simply provide the speaker with the microphone and place the wireless receiver on or near the camera and connect it to the camera audio input. This is not optimum, as you won’t have the audio of the congregation’s reactions to the speaker, but you will get the speaker’s audio, and should be able to control the levels for an acceptable viewer’s experience.

3. Encoding

Encoding is simply the conversion of your video into data (bits and bytes), so the video signal can be sent over the web. There are several encoders to choose from with prices ranging from free to $50,000. Like other gear, your budget will dictate which encoder model to use, but other factors can impact your selection – namely upload bandwidth (see below at #4), the method used to stream, or the destination of your stream.

Lower cost encoders are typically a small form factor and only have the hardware power (GPU/CPU) to stream a single bit rate. If you are going to stream to a free service such as YouTube or Facebook, a single bit rate is all you need. Those portals ingest one high bit rate (typically at 720p or 1080i resolution) and they will transcode the signal in their network, delivering a range of bit rates compatible with the user’s device and connection speed.

True Baseband encoders allow for streaming Adaptive Bit Rates, or ABR, allowing the source encoder the ability to stream several bit rates from the source. Depending on your desired resolution to the viewer, and how much upload bandwidth you have – a baseband encoder with ABR may make sense. Key factors for currently available encoders are their input type (video capture card), typically HDMI or SDI, and the software interface to run the encoder.

4. Bandwidth

To be able to stream your services, you will need an internet connection. As a provider of encoders, we highly recommend a wired connection. That said, we have seen a few clients who stream via a good cellular or Wi-Fi hotspot, and have moderate success with such a configuration. A wired connection will deliver the best results, but regardless of your connection, you will need access to the internet with a minimum of 5Mbps of upload bandwidth.

Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transferred from your location at any given time. This includes the video that you’ll be sending out live from your location. We strongly recommend not allowing anyone else to use your internet connection while you are streaming.

If you are using a social media service, such as Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter’s Periscope to stream, you would not require an Online Video Platform, or OVP, with Content Delivery Network, or CDN, services. There are a few low-cost solutions starting at around $199 per month that repackage OVP and CDN services for ministry that would provide you with a player for your web site. If you go that route, you can incorporate the Church Online Platform, a free service for ministry, for your online campus experience.

Moving Ahead to Stream

Once you’ve assembled your gear and your online service, you should set everything up and begin testing. We highly recommend that any ministry first test their live stream workflows during the week, and not during an actual service. This would mean testing video and audio ingest from the camera all the way to the player experience. Check the lighting on the subject and side-to-side motion during the stream. Be sure to test player delivery and check the user experience on as many devices as possible, including your website or social media page. View the content on laptops and desktops with various operating systems as well as mobile devices.

Regardless of your budget, your ministry can find a way to let your local, national and global congregation enjoy your worship experience and pastor’s message from your church facility. Your ministry will be pleasantly surprised at the impact live streaming will have on the in-person attendance within your church building.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Worship Facilities, and republished with permission. You can see more of Phil’s articles for Worship Facilities here.

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