Preparation is an essential step in making sure you are ready to send your services live to devices.
With so many variables, there is no single way to get your church to begin livestreaming.
Over the past nine months, I have had the opportunity to learn about how to best livestream through trial and error, researching, and being a member of various Facebook groups, as well as attending great annual conferences like WFX, held two months ago in Dallas.
When I began this journey, I had the naive notion that we could plug in a camera, feed in an audio connection, hook it all up to our cable connection, and then we would be set.
What I found is that there are a lot of variables within each step that need to be accounted for.
One of the quickest things that I learned is that not all connections are the same. The vast majority reading this will be from areas outside of major metropolitan areas, where internet speeds are likely not fiber. In our case, we have once cable provider who is not among the big three, and business connections are expensive and slow. Our connection was stated to be 5mbps upload speed, but the actual results were much lower.
Since data is key to a successful stream, we started looking at options. Around that time, we were blessed to have a new visitor arrive who is the vice president of a company who pioneered data delivery through a series of towers in our region. We were shortly thereafter provided by that company with a 20mbps connection, though we are capable of accessing a 300mbps connection, if needed. The unique factor about our newest provider is that the connection is symmetrical, so it features the same upload and download speed. Having 20mbps upload fits our needs at Lighthouse of Hope Church in Cumberland, Maryland.
Once our bandwidth was addressed, the next step in the process was to look at the actual production.
Over the last few months, a number of amazing products have been announced and released to help ease the technical difficulty in streaming for those working in houses of worship. These include products from NewTek, Blackmagic Design with their ATEM HD switcher, Sling Studio from DISH Networks, and vMix Production Studio.
With the recent announcement of Network Device Interface technology, or NDI, from NewTek, the products that take advantage of that standard are poised to gain market share quickly. NDI has been around for many years, and it initially was more commonly referred to as IP Video.
This new standard is greatly enhanced, and has the capability for high-quality video that is 1080p, and up to 60 frames per second.
Products are being announced monthly that cater to the NDI market, such as Tally Lights and HDMI/SDI converters. The unique thing about NDI is the open protocol for third-party companies to develop within the architecture. Imagine being able to pull up any video source on any screen throughout your building, using just an Intel Compute Stick for $150 and the free NewTek application.
Of the products mentioned above, vMIX is the only one that currently takes in an NDI signal, and I believe that NDI is where video is headed.
Soon, we may no longer need any cable other than a simple Cat5e/Cat6. I am excited to see how vMix can replace and provide more capabilities than our trusty Blackmagic ATEM 4k Studio. I should note that I have been satisfied with our Blackmagic switcher, as we were merely looking to streamline three different devices into one.
With the technology rapidly changing, it seems to me that vMix is continuously ahead of the curve. It is a smaller, more agile company that enjoys making their product the best that it can be. One such example, is the amazing work to bring Web Captioner (www.webcaptioner.com) to vMix. Web Captioner has tremendous value to live caption your service by feeding in an audio signal. From there, vMix is able to see the output on the network to use it as a video source. It would take tens of thousands of dollars previously to have this capability. While not related to live to stream, this may be an excellent solution for church attendees who have some form of hearing loss.
Maybe you are looking for a simplified stream, without a production truck's worth of bells and whistles. This is where the new Sling Studio comes into play. We own the hub and three camera connect devices, and I have fallen in love with it. This is a fantastic way to take in video sources from many types of devices, without some of the headaches of matching the exact frame rates.
We regularly use our drone, Canon cameras, and GoPros to feed into the switcher. We also run ProPresenter and use the hard-wired input on the device to display slides and videos. You are also able to add in graphics from the SD card, which can be overlaid onto the program out or just about any configuration.
If your church has a sports team, you can even livestream the score with the included scoreboard feature. We have started to see that this will be our grab-and-go livestreaming kit, while away from our main building. As with anything wireless, our range has been from 80 feet, to the listed 300 feet. It has been a blast to bring in remote cameras using newer Android and iPhone cellphones, through a free app from Sling Studio.
One of my favorite features is the capability to record ISO recordings, quad view, and program to the SD card. Everything is sync'd along with audio and through a third party plug-in, you can now multi-cam easily in Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X. This could be perfect for a testimony video, where you want to make the cuts later in post-production or merely edit your cuts at specific times.
Lastly, we had the opportunity to use the Blackmagic Design ATEM HD, which is a compact video switcher for live production. For the money, it is one of the best investments to make, if you are looking for the capability of a hard switcher and have buttons directly on the device. It comes with a confidence monitor that you can select the source. When paired with either the UltraStudio Mini (SD Card Recorder) or the Web Presenter, it fits perfectly in 2U of rack space (or 3.5 inches high). Blackmagic is known for its value to cost ratio and includes many features like keying (up and downstream), along with eight inputs and various outputs.
No matter what choice you are looking at, start with laying out your end goal.
With so many options coming out, livestreaming is quickly becoming a key option for those within the PC market, much different from five years ago, when it was difficult to keep up with the pace of new products. It is also important to remember that no church is likely the same regarding what they have for a budget, existing equipment, and building design.
With so many variables, there is no single way to get your church to begin livestreaming. My experience has been that half of the fun is to find the way that works for you and your budget.