If you are shopping for church live streaming equipment, I get it if you just want to cry. I was working on a post on another simple church streaming equipment setup when I got pulled down a rabbit hole of connections. I tried to explain, in just a couple of sentences, what people needed to know about connection technology and hardware specifications. I would write a sentence and text it to some of my less technical friends, and they would just respond with “confused emojis.” So, I decided to dedicate an entire post to connection cables and standards.
This post also serves as a notice to my friends and family that I will likely remain single for the rest of my life. But since I have yet to find a useful reference for this type of information that a church volunteer might understand, maybe this will also come in handy some late night when someone is considering abandoning technology forever and moving to a mountaintop monastery.
Church Live Streaming Equipment: Hardware Connectors
The terminology we use to describe the cables we use to plug things into our computers, phones, and other devices is confounding. It is no longer enough to say, “I need a USB cable,” or even, for Mac users, “I need a Thunderbolt Cable.” Since most video capture cards used for church live streaming connect via USB or Thunderbolt, we need to understand that there are terms for both the technology (or standard) of a connection and the physical hardware. In today’s world of cables and connectors, just because a plug fits in a port, doesn’t mean it will work. On the flip side, if a plug doesn’t fit, you may only need an adapter.
Physical Connectors. Let’s start with the most familiar connector to most of us, the USB-A.
This worst feature of these confounding cables is that they only go in one way, upside down from the way you try the first time.
What is at the other end of this is just as confusing and depends on what you are plugging it into. That is why many of us have drawers filled with these and still never have what we need.
The newest type of connector is the USB-C, and it was designed to save us all. It hasn’t, and it likely won’t. In many cases, it has merely caused many of us to spend a fortune on adapters, converters, hubs, and replicators.
There are three great things about USB-C. One, it can be plugged in either way. There is no right side up. The second perk is that, in theory, the cable can and should be the same on both ends. Third, it can do a lot. It can carry more power than any other USB standard, meaning you can charge and power your laptop over it. It can also carry more data at a faster data rate than ever before.
The Thunderbolt port is only seen on some older Mac products, though the Thunderbolt standard is still around (more on that later.) The most confusing thing about the Thunderbolt port is that the same shaped port used to be called DisplayPort. The old cables and monitors that worked with DisplayPort will work with the Thunderbolt port, but Thunderbolt devices won’t work with DisplayPort. It is okay to cry now.
Church Live Streaming Equipment: Connection Technology
As mentioned before, cables are only one part of the equation. I am going to try to make this as simple as possible by explaining each standard one at a time and indicating which cables and ports it works with.
Works with USB-A ports and cables
This is the USB most of us are familiar with. You can use it to charge or backup your phone, send pages to your printer, connect a keyboard or mouse, connect a backup drive, etc. They typically provide power though the amount varies on the computer it is connected to. This standard also works with wall chargers, though they only provide charging. The major limitation of USB 2.0 is the amount and speed of data it can carry. It is enough for basic tasks but can handle things like live HD video.
Works with some USB-A ports and cables plus USB-C plus modern Thunderbolt.
USB 3.0 is often used interchangeably with USB-C. That is because most newer machines are equipped with USB-C ports using USB 3.0. However, you can also find USB 3.0 ports using USB-A type hardware. Some new PCs come with multiple USB-A ports some USB-2.0 and one ore more USB-3.0 You have to look closely to tell the difference.
Works with Thunderbolt ports and cables + USB-C (Note the latest version of Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 3 only works with USB-C)
This is where things can get confusing. On some Macs and PCs, there are USB-C ports than can function as both USB-3.0 and Thunderbolt. All USB-C ports that are Thunderbolt can also work with USB 3.0, but not all USB-C ports with USB-3.0 can work with Thunderbolt.
Congratulations. Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would read this far. Really, I didn’t know if I could write this far. I am going to be dreaming about connectors for days.
Here is the bottom line: Find out what kind of connection hardware and technology your computer uses and be sure to buy a capture device that will work or vice-versa. Then, make sure you have the right cable.
Finally, if you feel the need to lie down and weep at any point along the way, that is quite alright. I completely understand. Even if you are not technically inclined, this piece may give you enough information to ask the right question. If you are purchasing your equipment from a quality vendor like B&H photo, you can call and ask them, “Will this thing work with this other thing?” They can help.