Live Stream Equipment

Sharing your church services online is more affordable than ever. More churches could be taking advantage of this technology to reach the mission field and to continue the development of discipleship among a more mobile and immobile population. Read more about that in, Technology and Pastoral Care, Part III.

There are two main barriers keeping churches on the fence: perceived cost and not knowing where to start. Below is some information that might offer you a better understanding of the costs involved and some ideas of how to get started.

The easiest way to begin live streaming is to start fresh since, as you will see, all of the pieces need to work together. In a best-case scenario, you could make all of these decisions together to make sure your hardware and software and provider all play well together. This is rarely the case. Many churches already have some pieces of the puzzle when they start thinking about live streaming. Maybe the church already owns a camera, a computer, maybe even a capture device.

There are a lot of creative ways to make everything work together. It is best to start by understanding all the pieces.

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Camera

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One way or another, if you want to live stream video, you will need a camera. What kind of a camera depends on things including your budget, your capture device, the size and layout of the room and how good you want it to look. Putting all those things together makes choosing a camera a little complicated.

The single most important thing is finding a camera that will work with your capture device. So do you get a camera that works with your capture device or a capture device that works with your camera? Yes. You may be starting to see that you need to think this all the way through before buying anything.

Three Basic Types of Cameras

It may make it a little simpler to think of cameras in these categories. It oversimplifies it a bit, but it is a place to start.

One way or another, if you want to live stream video, you will need a camera. What kind of a camera depends on things including your budget, your capture device, the size and layout of the room and how good you want it to look. Putting all those things together makes choosing a camera a little complicated.

The single most important thing is finding a camera that will work with your capture device. So do you get a camera that works with your capture device or a capture device that works with your camera? Yes. You may be starting to see that you need to think this all the way through before buying anything.

Three Basic Types of Cameras

It may make it a little simpler to think of cameras in these categories. It oversimplifies it a bit, but it is a place to start.

USB “Webcams”

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Logitech C920

Probably the fastest and easiest way to get video online. In some cases, with a USB camera, you don’t even need to use an encoder. They are inexpensive and require virtually no setup. The flipside is that they have some limitations. First, not all encoding software works with all webcams. Second, these little cameras lack much in the way of zoom, manual focus, and white balance meaning the image quality is going to suffer. Still, sometimes a webcam is the easiest way to get started.

Recommendation: 

Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 $50.99 (amazon.com)

 

Consumer and ProSumer Camcorders

Canon
Canon VIXIA HF R800

Camcorders can be an excellent solution for churches since they can also be used for other applications. If your church is thinking about making videos for social media, recording testimonies, or creating videos for sermon series, these camcorders are great tools. And, they also work great for live streaming.

There are many affordable HD cameras on the market that capture High Definition video and can feed the signal through an HDMI output. Many capture cards and boxes will accept HDMI. If your card or box accepts HDMI, this is a great choice. These cameras range in price from around $300 to thousands of dollars. You can likely find a camera with the quality and features you need in the right budget range. The biggest drawback won’t affect most users. That is the fact that there is a limited length of cable runs with HDMI. This will affect you if you are installing a multi-camera setup in a large facility. In that case, you may want to look at a professional camera with an SDI output. You also have the option of converting the HDMI signal to SDI.

There is another issue to watch for on the consumer models. Manufacturers are moving away from including a microphone input. Depending on how you will set up the audio for your livestream, this may or may not be an issue. If you are planning on using the camera for other purposes, this may be an issue. If there is no microphone jack, you will not be able to plug in an external microphone or other audio source.

Recommendation:

 

Canon VIXIA HF R800 Camcorder $199 (amazon.com)
This camera has been discontinued by Canon so get it while you can. It offers a 32x optical zoom, and HDMI connection, and a microphone jack.

Professional Camcorders

 

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Canon XA11

If your budget allows it, these camcorders have some features not available on consumer models. While these still don’t have some of the advanced options as the professional cameras listed below, stepping out to pro gets you thinks like XLR terminals for professional external microphones, lens attachments, and better image processors.

 

The Canon camcorders recommended below offer either HDMI output which work with a large number of capture devices, or SDI output. SDI works with more advanced capture devices and has the advantage of being able to handle longer cable runs. This is important if you are considering an installation in a larger facility where your camera might be far away from your capture device.

Canon XA15 Professional Camcorder $1,899.00 (amazon.com)

Professional Cameras

camera-ursa@2xIf you are serious about video and have a serious budget,, the possibilities are endless once you get to the professional camera range. If you have a large facility, the need for interchangeable lenses, a desire to run multiple cameras, a need to operate a camera remotely, you will find what you are looking for in higher-end cameras. At this point, unless you have some experience or access to someone with experience, it may be time to bring in an expert. If you want to give it ago on your own, B&H Photo has some great resources.

PTZ Cameras

So far, all the cameras I have mentioned are multi-purpose. That means you can use them to live stream on Sunday, then take them out of the sanctuary and record video anywhere you want. If you are willing to leave your cameras in your worship space all the time, PTZ cameras offer some options not available on portable cameras.

PTZ is an abbreviation of Pan, Tilt, Zoom. They are also referred to as robo-cams. These are used for a variety of purposes including security, live sports, video conferencing, and church live streaming. Modern PTZ cameras have three major advantages over regular cameras.

  1. Remote Control – There is no need for an operator at the camera’s location. All of the features of the camera (zoom, pan, tilt) can be operated from a central location.
  2. Small form factor – These cameras can be inconspicuously mounted eliminating the need for platforms and tripods.
  3. Power over Ethernet (POE) – POE allows power to be delivered through a standard ethernet cable making installation a lot less complicated.

If you are thinking about PTZ, Church Production has a great article on the subject:  PTZ Cameras: Are They Right for Live Streaming?

I am not yet making recommendations for PTZ cameras. There is a lot to think about. In addition to the cameras, you will need a device or software to operate them remotely. There are some options available for controlling the cameras directly from a video switcher. Here are some sites to check out:

B&H Photo: Professional PTZ Cameras

PTZ Optics

Component or composite (analog) output cameras

If you are really on a tight budget or already have a camera, you can get by with an older analog camera. Many capture devices will accept analog inputs such as component or composite video. A number of churches already have analog camcorders and, if not, they are inexpensive to buy. The biggest drawback is that, on most units, you will be limited to standard definition.

capturedeviceCapture Device

What Is a Capture Device?
This term covers a variety of cards, boxes, and appliances. In layman’s terms, this is the device that gets the signal from your camera and microphone and gets it ready to be sent upstream on the internet.

Capturing and Encoding
Two things need to happen to get your images and sounds ready for the internet. They need to be captured, and they need to be encoded. How and where this happens depends on your equipment. How you capture may dictate how you encode. There are two main types of devices:

Computer Capture Cards and Boxes

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Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle for USB 3.0 

The video from your camera and the audio from your microphone need to be captured before they are encoded. There are a number of devices that will do that and feed the data via USB, Thunderbolt, Firewire, etc. In this situation, the computer will do the encoding. We will talk more about the software that does that later.

Note: We tend to think in terms of Mac or PC. However, these days, with capture devices, it is about connection type. Even with that, things can get confusing. The devices below will work with Macs or PCs as long as you have the right connections.

USB Capture Devices

Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle for USB 3.0 

Thunderbolt Capture Devices

Blackmagic Design UltraStudio HD Mini $495 (B&H Photo)

Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle for Thunderbolt $239 (amazon.com)

Internal Cards

Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K $199 (amazon.com)

Stand-Alone Encoders

taradek vidiu
Teradek VidiU Pro

These devices capture audio and video and encode it directly onboard. This means that a computer is not needed to do the encoding. In some cases, the device can send the encoded stream directly to your streaming host. In those cases, a computer is not needed at all for streaming. In other setups, a computer may be part of the workflow. However, it doesn’t need to be as powerful as it would need to be if it were handling encoding.

Recommendations:

Teradek VidiU Pro $948.99 (amazon.com)
This little box will take an HDMI source, encode it, and send it directly to your streaming service. It can be configured from a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. It is small enough to mount on a camera.

Matrox Monarch HDX $1,795.00 (B&H Photo)

Platform Specific Recommendations:
I will get to live streaming providers later but some providers offer their own encoding device. The upside of this choice is that is likely that the encoder will work flawlessly with the service. This can reduce setup time and the headaches often involved in getting things running. The downside is that you may be locked into your live stream provider unless you buy a new box.

Livestream Broadcaster Pro $569.05 (amazon.com)

BoxCast BoxCaster HD Live Video Streaming Encoder

ChurchStreamer