Where do I start?
There’s so much technology, so many options, and it’s all changing so fast. How to start thinking about streaming?
I think the first question you should answer is “where will this video go?” Many churches have a cry room, parent’s room, nursery, or fellowship hall where they’ll want the service shown on a screen. Showing video locally has its own set of challenges and knowing this ahead of time can help guide your decisions moving forward.
Another big question is “what should my budget be?” Streaming solutions come in all shapes and sizes. It’s very easy to spend money when it comes to video production. Starting with a ballpark number for what you’d be willing to spend can go a long way to help narrow down your options.
Is your congregation tech savvy? Who will be running your video system? Some churches just want to push a button and have their service go live to Facebook. Some churches have people who love to tinker with technology or don’t shy away from more complicated setups.
Budgets – What’s a good number?
A budget can reflect one of two things. 1) How much do you want to spend? or 2) What do you want to achieve?
If you want to start streaming tomorrow you could tape a cellphone to a pew and stream a video of your service to Facebook for free. For a few dollars you could buy a cheap tripod for your phone. This is bare bones, cheap as it gets, and it might not be the greatest quality stream, but you could use a system similar to this with decent results.
For a budget of $1000 you could purchase a small Sony or Canon camcorder with HDMI out. You could send the HDMI from this camera into a hardware streaming box and send the video out to Facebook and YouTube. The audio might not be great, but the video would look better than a cell phone.
For a budget of $2000, provided you are content using fixed cameras (that is cameras that don’t move) or you have people to operate the cameras (physically moving them) you could buy several cheap Sony or Canon camcorders and a cheap Blackmagic Design hardware switcher. The output from this could go into a hardware encoder or a PC for streaming to the internet.
If you’re looking to have cameras you can remote control, also called PTZ cameras, (PTZ stands for Point, Tilt, Zoom) you can plan to spend anywhere from $1600-$3200 per camera. You’ll need a PTZ controller, the cheapest of which cost around $650, though many sell in the $1200-$3000 range. If you have multiple cameras you’ll need either a production switcher and/or PC to handle the streaming. A good rule of thumb for a streaming computer is $2000-$2500. A good hardware production switcher will cost between $1000-$4000 depending on the desired options.
If you have the resources a budget of $10,000 is a good starting point. I’ve helped a handful of churches install a 3 PTZ camera software streaming system for $10-12,000. Of course, it all depends on the end goal and desired outcome.
Hardware vs Software – What should we use?
If you have more than one camera you’ll need a way to switch between cameras and you typically have two options. Hardware switchers or software based switchers. Both have pros and cons.
Software Pros & Cons
Software switchers refer to programs like OBS, Wirecast, and vMix. Each camera feed is fed into a computer using either capture cards or over a protocol like NDI. The software then allows you to choose which camera footage is “live” and going out to the stream. The software also handles the streaming to Facebook or YouTube.
Software tends to be cheap, OBS is free, Wirecast costs between $295-$999, and vMix has a free tier along with paid tiers ranging from $60-$1200 depending on features. Software switchers require a beefy computer and capture cards which can cost $100-$500 per input.
Because everything is running through a computer, the output occasionally has issues where the audio and video do not sync up properly. Usually the audio is ahead of the video by a few milliseconds. This occurs because the audio doesn’t require as much processing as the video does. Most software has an “audio delay” feature to help ensure audio/video sync. If you’re fellowship hall or parent’s room has a “live” feed from the church sound system the video will likely be a second or two behind this audio feed.
Hardware Pros & Cons
Hardware has less audio/video sync issues, but will typically cost a little bit more. There are a lot of good hardware options at the moment and the cost continues to drop, but using only (or mostly) hardware may require having a more parts to your setup.
Usually there’s less to go wrong with hardware setups, there’s no worry about a computer crashing or software update causing problems. But it also is more difficult or costly to upgrade. Sometimes it’s preferable to have a hardware switching system for the cameras and then feed the output from the switcher into a PC to stream and record.
NDI – Network Device Interface
NDI is a new video standard which send video over a cat6 cable. This is really exciting because NDI cameras can now be powered, controlled, and send video over a single cat6 cable. An NDI setup is relatively simple, but it currently is mostly software based. Most hardware uses SDI and HDMI right now but more NDI hardware is likely coming in the future.