Streaming: Take the Time to Test To Learn What Works

Resources in the video production and streaming industry are endless, with no limit to what you can accomplish using multi-camera systems, studio lighting rigs, high-end encoding devices, multi-staff teams, etc.

After successfully creating a streaming strategy for your church, determining who you are targeting with your stream as an audience, the purpose behind why you are streaming, the budget and staff needed to pull it off, as well as determining what type of cameras and encoders would be quality choices of equipment, there are a number of additional considerations, beginning with the capture device, that should be part of the overall decision-making process relating to streaming.

Getting started streaming can often launch as a much more complex project…

Capture Device

In my piece last week, I referred to "Bob," a volunteer that I have previously worked with in the past. Using his MacBook Pro, I directed Bob to purchase the UltraStudio Mini Studio Recorder from Blackmagic Design. This is a bare-bones capture card that OBS will recognize, resulting in a decent encoding suite, for around $150.

For those whose systems are running on Windows, consider the Elgato Cam Link.  There are many options for Windows, mostly fueled by the gaming community. Elgato is widely used, and will get the job done.

Encoding Setup

With the camera, HDMI capture, and encoding software in place, Bob and I were ready to get started, to test his encoding platform. Understanding his requirement to stream into Facebook Live, I walked Bob through the OBS settings, based on the Facebook streaming requirements:

A maximum resolution of 720p (720 x 1280), at 30 frames per second
A keyframe (I-frame) at least once every two seconds throughout the stream must be sent. 
A recommended maximum video bitrate of 4 Mbps.
An audio bitrate that must be 128 Kbps mono.
An audio sample rate that must be 44.1 KHz.

With these settings in place, we navigated over to Facebook’s Create A Live Stream and selected "Start Streaming". The first task was to copy the streaming URL, which typically remains the same when using Facebook Live. We then copied the stream key, which is a unique code that routes the video from the encoder into your Facebook Live account.

Recently, Facebook made it possible to opt for a "Persistent Stream Key" (see screenshot). This option enables you to enter the key in your encoder, one time, and never need to change it again. This is a nice option that makes life easier, because all you have to do, on Sunday morning, is start broadcasting from your encoder, using the previous settings.

NOTE: It is critically important to prevent the stream key from falling into the wrong hands. A person with malicious intent could use your stream key to virtually vandalize your church, by broadcasting inappropriate material to your Facebook Live page. If you do lose track of your stream key, generate a new one when creating a new stream.

On paper, this all seems quite simple.

In practice, it takes some time and effort to get your stream performing optimally. While Facebook permits streaming HD video, up to 4 Mbps, Bob's network was only able to sustain a 2.5 Mbps upload. Testing several streams, we optimized his OBS configuration to the point where he could stream to Facebook Live for 90 minutes with no errors or visible issues on playback.

At this point, you're ready to start streaming your Sunday morning service.

My suggestion would be to leave your tested and proven settings in-place, and simply start streaming to your streaming service, whatever that may be, to initiate your broadcast.

Don't worry when something goes wrong. Makes notes and let the encoder run. You can troubleshoot later.

Of course, getting started streaming can launch as a much more complex project, typically when representing a larger, more complex organization, with complex needs.

Resources in the video production and streaming industry are endless, with no limit to what you can accomplish using multi-camera systems, studio lighting rigs, high-end encoding devices, multi-staff teams, tightly choreographed services, dedicated content delivery networks, and the list goes on.

In the end, the workflow always starts with a camera, is captured and encoded, and sent "somewhere" for people to enjoy the content.

My best advice is to get started now!

Use whatever resources you have, to build a test streaming workflow today. In time, you and your team will develop a ministry routine that will touch many lives, and will expand beyond the physical reach of your local church.

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