A brief tutorial for Churches getting started in video streaming.
Years ago I learned the value of being able to stream video for our church. It started with simply uploading a video after the service. However a live steam at the same time as the service is an even better way to expand outreach, allow those who simply can’t attend to be in worship, allow missionaries to see home services, and simply put reach those who might not otherwise be around. Recording that for later viewing then allows the best of both worlds. Live service and archives for all services. All of these seem to meet one of the requirements for the basic reason of being in church in the first place. I also learned that it doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars and in fact can be done for very little expense! (See what was spent further down.)
The hardest part may be getting the internet line into your church, you will need at minimum a good DSL line. If you want to learn how to stream, I have put together a simple to follow, affordable manner in which you can have your service live for a minimal budget. If you simply can not get internet (or can not afford it), you can still record the service locally and upload the video to the internet, the service is still available for your members and others.
Here are the steps to take:
1. Get internet with good “upload speed” installed
2. Get a good camera or cameras.
3. Get a computer with good processing speed.
4. Get capture cards for each camera, or multi-capture card and install in the computer.
5. Load software to produce the video and stream the final video.
6. Get a good streaming service. (Some are free but beware the issues.)
7. Tell your church how to view the video, publish the information.
First, get internet into your building. DSL or Cable are the least expensive choices if they are available. (Cable seems to be a better choice at the present as it allows a higher OUTBOUND or UPLOAD speed than most dsl services. You need at least 1.5 mbs outbound, most cable is 5mbs which is more than enough. If fiber is available even better.) In some areas a bundle of internet and phone service may actually lower your costs for telephone service as well. Some bundles automatically come with basic TV! If possible, get the modem installed as close to the area where you will be locating the camera(s). If you have an audio control board or control room that is a good location. You can get a good router to add to the modem so that you have internet for the offices as well. You don’t need the cable company to supply the router! (Save money and headaches use a simple modem and a router. Combo units are available but separates are actually better in my opinion. Separates allow you to update either the modem or the router as necessary for best performance and least cost. )
Second get the hardware you need. These are steps 2, 3 and 4.
Once you have your internet available the next step is fairly easy. Although it may seem complex at first, the setup needed is rather simple. To stream video you need a video camera, a capture device, a computer, and a streaming service. In some places you could even get away with a tablet computer that has a camera. A tablet isn’t the best solution as it has limitations but it can be done. In fact using a “smart phone” could work but honestly is not what you need. Using a camera with a capture card or capture box you can add camera’s and have better video to stream. You will need to install the software that comes with your video capture card and get the correct cables to connect your camera to the capture card.
Let’s start with the camera.
In our experience Canon has some very good and inexpensive video cameras that you can easily connect. Camera’s such as the Canon HF R (series) work well and can be found starting around $100.00 – $150.00 if you shop carefully. Consider factory refurbished as you still get a warranty and will pay much less than the “new list price”. In many cases a “refurbished” camera is simply a returned product that has no issues but wasn’t exactly what the buyer wanted in any case they are bargains for those short of funds. We have used the HFR30, the HFR50, the HFR300, and others with great results. One reason these are nice are they have a microphone input connection which can be used with the line out from your audio mixer in most cases. Thus you only need to capture the camera output to have both video and audio captured. Some capture devices allow audio input in addition to the video input and can then capture both but sometimes you may experience a delay factor so that the audio and video are not exactly in sink. (more on that a little later)
A decent digital video camera with good OPTICAL zoom is the best option for live work. They are small easy to handle and have full HD capability. You can use “web cams” but in most cases you loose the optical zoom ability or loose the HD picture quality. The digital zooms will work but they sacrifice quality. Optical zooms use the lens and the quality stays high. Don’t be afraid to check EBay, Amazon, B&H Photo, Walmart, Target, and other online retailers for “deals”. If possible try to buy from a reliable seller if you choose Ebay or Amazon Market, some have great prices but no warranty or return ability. A good reseller will always assure you get what was advertised and will want you to buy again. Some current cameras that work well include Canon HF R series, as I am writing this I checked Amazon and found the HF R300 (a 51x Optical zoom unit) new for $492 with several “used/refurbished” for $104.00. In fact on the Canon Store (usa.canon.com) I found the HF R400 for $111.00 factory refurbished. These cameras have a tripod mount connection, HDMI, composite, component outputs, and mic input. The camera allows local recording (at the camera) in AVCHD or MP4 formats. If you need to local record at the camera the MP4 allows a final recording that is ready to upload to the web! The AVCHD allows better quality but unless you are playing back directly to a large screen HD monitor the MP4 will perform just as well. That is all you need feature wise in the camera with some you probably don’t need. It works very well in most normal lighting and has a “remote” available should you need one. It is a very capable little camera. Other cameras will work as well it is just my experience has delivered great results with the Canon units. You can also shop around for “studio” cameras or more professional cameras with features you may want or like but the option is yours. This article is about getting the job done with low expense. A $100-150 per camera expense is where you can get good results.
You also need a good tripod while you are camera shopping. A tripod with a “fluid head” will give much better results than those that are really cheap for fixed camera use. The fluid head will allow smooth rotation which is needed. A good solid smooth tripod is needed for good video results. They are almost as much as the camera but they add as much to the video as the camera itself. Expect to spend at least $80-100 for a decent tripod. If you need to get above the crowd you may need a taller tripod to clear the crowd. The camera needs to see over the congregation. A balcony location works very well if one is available. Another option would be to ceiling mount the camera and use a pan/tilt remote control to mount the camera. Those can also be found for around $100 just get one designed to hold your particular camera. Units from PowerPod are great for this application. If you decide to use the remote pan/tilt you will need to get power and in some cases the remote wiring to the head unit. You also need a camera with remote control of the zoom feature. Tripods are easier.
So you now have internet, a camera, and a tripod. Next we need to get from the camera to a computer. Capture cards or capture devices are used to get from the camera output into the computer.
What capture device do you need? For normal SD video just about any capture device that will connect to your computer will work but there are better and worse capture cards or devices. If you want multiple cameras you will need either multiple cards or a card that can connect multiple cameras and inputs. Usually those are more expensive than you may want starting out. For starting, try a DecLink PCIe or Hauppauge PCI card. PCIe is usually better than the USB devices, it does cost a little more but not that much and the resulting images are usually much better than with USB. USB3 may eliminate the issue but all the PCIe cards that we have used simply produce better results. What that means is that whatever computer you get to use for streaming will need a clear PCIe slot or two or three… plan ahead. The DecLink or Hauppauge cards with HDMI inputs and Analog inputs or SDI inputs are available for around $120-150. Some “game capture” devices are available with HDMI inputs. The Elgato game capture HD which then connects to a USB input seem to work well. We have also used BlackMagic USB Intensity units which also work well. If you can find them the Diamond “game capture” devices also work and are very low cost, but require a little extra effert to get setup. The results with USB are not always fully predictable. If you do use USB be sure the unit and the computer both have USB3 the higher speed produces better results. The quality of the video does depend on how well the computer can process the images it captures so you need a computer fast enough to process video and with enough memory to keep up with the inbound capture. We used a very cheap composite to USB adapter when we started. It was changed shortly for a DeckLink Intensity Pro card which was purchased from a reliable ebay seller for $125.00.
We now need a computer for use with the system. The answer as to exactly what computer you need has much to do with what software you intend to use for your system and to the results you need for the video you capture. Since this article is about keeping to a budget I will tell you to use VMIX software! You can find it at http://vmixhd.com. It is affordable and it works well for multiple inputs and standard definition or HDMI capture. The basic version is free. However the BasicHD version is well worth the few dollars asked. It is easy to download and install and various versions are available for those who need additional features. There are lots of computers that can do this with this software. The higher the system speed the better, that means a good processor and plenty of ram but even with a reasonable speed machine you can get the system working. At the very least you should use a Dual Core processor (AMD or Intel) the higher the speed the better with a decent video card and 4 gigs of ram. A machine with eight (8) gigs of ram is really a better choice. (You never have enough RAM or processor speed, or at least you think you don’t, they are like money, you always want more but you don’t always have to have more to survive!) Check around your local area for good used buys if the budget is really limited. We were able to find a quad core 2.66 machine with 8 gigs of ram and an internal DVD burner and a 1 TB harddrive for $299.00. We have then seen some of those for as low as $150.00 with 4 gigs and smaller HD’s. For video capture a real “tower” or “desktop” is preferred over an all in one or a laptop. Just be sure whatever machine you get has the card slots for multiple PCIe or the USB inputs you need for your capture card! If using USB go for a machine with USB3 installed. USB3 is much faster than previous USB inputs and you need the speed for good video. If you plan on two cameras USB3 in my opinion is mandatory. Yes you can get USB2 to work but expect some issues getting it all optimized. If you have too just add a USB3 card if the computer isn’t so equipped. If you happen to find a USB and firewire card and you have a cameras with firewire output you avoid the “capture” device as firewire will be direct into the computer. If you have to buy a new machine, do some shopping. Good new machines with a fast processor like an I7 are great for video but even an I5 will work fine. If you intend to record your videos on the local machine as well as stream the video then you need a nice high speed hard drive as well. As the price of Solid State Drives has lowered recently you may want to consider using one for the local recording. If you attempt to record full HD quality (not really needed but some may want that option) then using faster drives is an absolute necessity. In fact some experts will say you need to use a Raid system with at least two fast drives. I will say that is nice IF you NEED it and can afford it but it isn’t a demand item to get your service live! You really do not need to capture a full 1920×1080 image to have good results. You certainly do not need to stream that size out to the public. In most cases a recording of 640×480 (or 360 if you want wide screen) at 5mbs rate will work just fine for nearly all uses.
Network connections for video should always be done using ethernet! You can try wifi but don’t, you will have issues. Let me repeat that, use a wired machine to stream video! Wifi may be easier but it introduces latency issues that you just DO NOT WANT. Wired connections are not subject to interference, they have less network overhead, and simply deliver much higher throughput than wifi can deliver. So run ethernet from your router to the computer! You don’t have to take my word for this but do your own research and you will find out that wired is better than wireless ANYTIME and that is particularly true with video streams. Talk to any serious gamers, they will inform you about wifi and games. Yes, it can work but…. You do not want to be wondering what is causing network feed drop outs or lags when a simple wire would fix the problem.
So, you now have internet, a camera or two, a capture device, and a computer…. now what. Install the capture card and software for the card, I recommend you download and instal Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder (it is an easy to use simple encoder for streaming video) as well as downloading Vmix (http://vmixhd.com ) now as well. In fact, take the time to go view the YouTube video on using vMix, go to youtube.com enter vmix in the search bar, then view the full demo. That video delivers lots of information in short order. Even if you decide you do not want to use the software it is worth viewing for anyone who wants to stream!
Now connect the camera to the capture card input, turn all of it on and see if using the capture software you can see a picture on the computer screen. Do this using the capture card software” not vmix or the live encoder. Once you know your camera and capture card can show a picture on your computer you are ready to get software setup. Since you downloaded and installed VMIX, open the program. (You did download vmix, right.) On the main screen you will see a couple of empty boxes near the bottom of the screen and two at the top. On the far right upper corner you will see a “gear looking icon”. That is the settings area for the whole program. If you connect your audio to the audio input on the sound card of your computer you need to go into those tools and go to the “audio” portion. There you can select audio from the audio card input and tell the program to use that audio for the entire system.
Next go to the menu (at the bottom) and select “add input” and a new menu will appear to allow you to add a camera. So select the camera along the left side menu. You then have to select your camera/capture device in the area on the right side of the screen. Select your camera, set the resolution you wish to capture, set the input type to default (in most cases), set the frame rate to NTSC30p (these are for the US us PAL if you need it and yes you can use 60FPS but I suspect you won’t see the difference over an internet stream and the recorded files and stream bandwidth used will be much larger). Since small files are usable by a wider audience set the smaller rates. You can experiment with these settings to get the results you desire but start with simple settings . Once you have the input added click the “OK” button and your camera input should appear on the preview and output screens at the top of the page. If the image doesn’t show in the “left window” click on the image shown in the lower panel so that the “preview” is shown in the left window as well. The LEFT UPPER window is what you are “previewing to broadcast” the right side is the actual “broadcast window”. VMIX is a full video mixer program. It allows you to add titles, headers, special features to your stream while you are streaming! You can fade, slide, cut, etc between cameras. It also means you can prepare a Power Point presentation, or a full video presentation, that can then be added to your stream with just a selection of it from the ‘Mixer”. Now that you have an image showing, check to see if it records properly on a local basis. Go the the “RECORD” button on the lower portion of the screen, click the little “grear” to the left of the button. This is a tools menu that lets you set the recording parameters. Select MP4 file type on the left, Set the size you wish to record (720×480, 640×480 etc), set the framerate (use NTSC30), set the “bitrate” to 5mbs you really don’t need more it just makes a larger local file! You can record in HD in which case you will need a higher resolution, higher framerate, and a higher bit rate… just be sure your hard drive and computer can support that usage demand! HD files get large fast! The settings I listed for you will result in a 500-700 mb file for an hour recording. Change that to higher numbers and you will see gigabyte file sizes for an hours recording. Those are tough to upload to the web and tougher for people to download! Once set, click OK then click “record” on the main VMIX screen. It should begin a recording. The output will be saved to the directory you set in the recording tool settings. Once you have recorded a small file, go review it by using the file manager and select the file to play. If all that worked well you are ready to use your system. You now need a streaming provider to stream your services.
Stream providers for reliable connections.
You can stream using the local system and allow people to directly connect but each connection takes bandwidth. In most cases you can’t deliver the stream to more than a very few people directly (two or three most likely). Utilizing a streaming service makes you deliver one stream and a streaming server with lots of bandwidth is used for your viewers! You can then worry only about getting the video to the server and the server gets the video out to your audience. There are several free streaming carriers and if you need to use one you certainly are free to use them. Just remember you usually get the service you pay to get! The real downside for a Church is free services have to pay for the service by selling advertising that streams out with your stream. You have no control on what that ad might be with your worship service. Services like “Justin.tv” or “LiveSteam.com” are options for you. If you only have local recordings and want to upload those then the “live” becomes recorded content and services like YouTube and Vimeo are great options. Vimeo offers a low cost plan (without advertising) and has great service, so if non-live recordings are all you need check on Vimeo.com. Using Vimeo and a live streaming service offers you long term storage for archives as well as live services. You can embed Vimeo recordings on your church website and even on your facebook pages.
If you want a true live stream at the time you worship along with “video archives” for later viewing then services offered by companies such as Christianworldmedia.com need to be used. Christian world media has a $15.00 / month plan that allows 25 concurrent viewers to join your worship service. Any number can view the recordings. The plans scale up in cost as your audience grows. They also have great information and customer service if you need help getting started. There are other services and the value of those has to be checked so look around for service providers. I mention Christian World Media as they were the least expensive good quality service at the time of this writing. If you know of others, let me know I will update the article and include them.
Once you have an account the service will provide you with the information you need to “Broadcast” the stream. It will include the name and the “URL” (web address) for the system to send the stream into as well as your specific credentials to allow the stream to connect. You enter these into your VMIX stream settings (or the Adobe encorder settings).
Cost review / expectations
Camera(s) 100 (low) to 350 (2 cameras) shop carefully
TriPod(s) 100 to 150 (one with good fluid head one static if multiple cameras)
Capture Devices 100 (low) to 600 (high)
Computer & Monitor 200 (used) to 500 (Dual core to MultiCore processor, 4 gig ram, 500gig HD min)
Software (vMix min) Free or BasicHD (60) or better (SD Version 150) do check the recommended capture list
Internet 30 – 50 /month depends on available connections in your area
Streaming Free (beware) CWM (15-35 for most instances 59 for 200 avg users)
Expect to spend at least 800-1000 to get a minimal setup, you may do better if you already have internet and a computer that can be used. Careful shopping helps. You don’t need STUDIO grade equipment for online streaming and good quality online pictures. You do need to setup carefully and understand how to get the most out of the system. Some experimentation or hired experience will help! There are plenty of on-line tutorials and help available. Your streaming provider should also be able to give you optimal settings for the stream settings.
Hope this helps, feel free to leave a comment or ask a question below.
Tracy – thanks for a very informative article. I am trying to use to relatively new video cameras to record a church service. I am using 2 DigitNow USB 3.0 capture devices with Vmix trial version. I am able to connect one camera, but am unable to get the second captured. Any ideas? Thanks.