Streaming live video on the internet has never been easier and the opportunities for churches to make their services available online are increasing. With a live webcast, people who are ill, shut in or looking after young children can still take part in worship and the advantages for remote relatives being able to watch a funeral/wedding/baptism/dedication are huge.
It’s not that difficult to do and can be started on a relatively low budget with very few ongoing costs. I list some typical examples of equipment that you’ll need at the end of the article.
1. Internet Connection
It goes without saying that you’re going to need an internet connection in the church, preferably a wired one but you can get away with a strong wireless hook-up if you have to. The main thing to realise is that it’s the upload speed that matters with streaming, not the download. A connection that gives you at least 1Mbps upload should be adequate depending on your streaming provider.
2. A good quality camera
The better the camera, the better your source image will be. A “prosumer” video camera will have a larger lens, will cope well in low light conditions and probably has a composite video output. However you can achieve acceptable results with a good webcam or Handycam if necessary. My suggestion is to start small and scale things up as you gain confidence.
3. A good sound feed
The mic on the camera is unlikely to sound as good as a direct feed from your church PA system. It will be much better to get a feed from one of the AUX outputs on the mixing desk and use that as a separate audio feed for your webcast PC. There’s no point streaming video if nobody can clearly hear what is being said.
4. A computer to combine the video and audio and handle the stream
This can be a laptop or a desktop but it will have to do some reasonably heavy crunching and be stable, so don’t skimp here and be tempted to use that old Window 98 machine from the loft. Most new machines these days should be able to handle streaming and you can get one for under £350 (or via a kind donor who has recently upgraded their gaming rig). The computer needs to be able to connect to your camera so a Firewire connection, composite video capture card or USB AV capture device will be necessary. If you’re using a webcam then you’ll simply plug it in directly via the USB.
5. Streaming provider
Although not strictly necessary, a streaming provider makes handling the webcast much simpler and they don’t have to cost anything if you’re happy to work within their limitations (usually advertising). Create an account with Livestream, Ustream or Google+ (Hangouts) for example and use their (free) software solution for connecting together the video and audio feed. Each of these suppliers will provide a web page/channel which will show your live feed and some will even let you embed the live feed into your own website.
So this should be enough to get you started. You’ll need to try out some practice webcasts and see what settings provide the best experience. Don’t try to send a full-res HD video feed with stereo audio on your first attempt. You’ll most likely exceed your upload bandwidth immediately. Start with a 640×480 sized output with a modest audio bitrate (all these settings are selectable) and make incremental improvements until you reach the best your internet link can sustain.
I strongly suggest you borrow as much equipment as you can to see what works for you before spending money on cameras and other expensive equipment. Items such as the USB AV capture device can be bought for less than £50.
Once you’ve been streaming successfully for a while, you can move on to take your livecasting to the next level.
6. Add more cameras/video feeds
If you’re using the composite video output from the camera as the input to your computer, then you can easily add more cameras or video feeds by using a video switcher. This will allow you to select from a number of video feeds (e.g. three cameras and a feed from a DVD player) and mix between them. As you add cameras though you’re going to need to preview their shot before you switch to them. Pass-through black and white monitors can be used for this (and bought second-hand on eBay quite cheaply). They sit between the camera and the video switcher and provide the director with a preview of the camera’s shot. Without this, you’re effectively switching blind and have to accept whatever comes up!
7. Talkback to camera operators
Once you have more than one camera you’ll need some way of communicating with your operators. This presents two problems: 1) As a director you’ll need to be somewhere where your directions cannot be heard by the congregation; 2) You need some form of communication. The first problem is resolved by extending the cabling to an adjacent room or soundproof area nearby. The second problem can be easily solved using a cheap walkie-talkie system with suitable headsets/earpieces.
8. AV Distribution and recording
Adding an AV distribution box enables you to send your mixed output to multiple destinations. For example, a five-way AV distribution box could feed your Webcast PC, a TV screen in the creche, a DVD recorder and a projector in an overflow lounge. Having the DVD recording opens the way to get services to people who don’t have internet connections and you can also rip the audio to make an MP3 podcast of the sermon.
9. Add song words
A “genlock” box enables you to combine two video feeds into one output, allowing you to overlay your main mixed output with song words from another computer. Using presentation or open source worship software you can easily add subtitles (preacher’s name etc.) and song words to enable people to really engage with your webcast and feel part of the service.
10. Archive your sermons online
Using the DVD recording you can rip the sermon section of the service (via free software) and make this available online via YouTube or Vimeo. This creates a “watch-again” or catch-up system that can be linked to your website. You can even collate the sermons into series or books of the Bible as required (using playlists) and makes the building of a media library reasonably simple.
I hope this has been a useful starter in showing how you can start simple and build up to whatever level suits your pocket or environment. Livestreaming has been and continues to be a very real blessing to people who are unable to be at a church service in person. It’s a fantastic way to show people what goes on behind the doors of our churches – and those livestreams, podcasts and YouTube videos are easily shared with URLs posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Examples of equipment:
Video Switcher/Mixer (Edirol v4)
USB Video and Audio grabber (from Maplin)
AV Distribution Box (Kramer VM-5S)
Walkie-talkie set (Cobra Micro Talk)
CORIOgen Eclipse Genlock Adapter (Google search)