A prerequisite for live streaming is that you have a good internet connection in the place where you are streaming from. Ideally that would be a permanent broadband connection, but failing that you would need a good 4G signal. Be aware that video uses a lot of data – typically an hour’s service will use about 5GB of data – so if you’re using 4G make sure your contract allows for that.
Stream from a Phone
Live streaming from a phone to Facebook is really simple to set up and this tutorial shows how to do it. All you need is a phone, a tripod and a good WiFi connection. This works well if you have just one person taking the service, or people in the same household.
If you want to live stream a full church service, you may need someone to operate the camera/phone so you can change the shot to concentrate on different people during the service. A good quality tripod will help with panning smoothly from one position to the next.
Unfortunately you can’t live stream to YouTube from a mobile phone unless your channel has at least 1,000 subscribers. However you can stream from a computer or a dedicated streaming camera.
You can now buy cameras designed specifically for live streaming. One of the lower cost options is the Mevo Start at around £400. It has a 6-hour battery life and will connect to your Wi-Fi and stream directly to your streaming provider, which can be YouTube. This device has some clever features, accessed through a mobile phone app, such as being able to zoom in on part of the picture and track movement, which may reduce the need for someone to stand next to the camera all the time. That said, it has no optical zoom, so the image quality isn’t the same when you zoom in.
You can also get streaming cameras with 20x optical zoom and PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) mounts, where you attach it permanently to a wall or pillar and have remote control of both direction and zoom. However, these are not cheap options, typically in excess of £1000. This may be something to consider later once you have more experience of streaming and know what you want to do.
If you have more than one camera, or if you want to include song or hymn words in your broadcast, is to use a video switcher which selects between several video sources. The ATEM Mini Pro from Blackmagic Design takes up to four separate HDMI feeds and will stream directly to your preferred streaming service. If you are using a projector to show song or hymn words then you could use a duplicate of that as one of your inputs. It has buttons to select which input you want, so it’s very easy to operate.
The video inputs could come from one or more DSLR cameras, most of which have HDMI output now. Cameras generally have much better optics than phones, as well as a choice of lenses.
Open Broadcaster Software
OBS is a free, open-source program which can be installed on a computer and allows you to take video from multiple sources and combine them into a single output. It will also encode the video and send it to your preferred streaming provider.
This software is very capable and allows you to produce some quite sophisticated effects, blending one or more live video feeds with static pictures, words on Powerpoint, etc. You can use webcams directly but if you want to pick up the HDMI feed from a camera then you will need a video capture card – computers generate HDMI to drive screens, but they can’t normally receive incoming HDMI.
Some DSLR cameras now have a driver which allows them to connect via USB and appear on the computer as a webcam, avoiding the need for HDMI capture.
It does take a while to set up and needs someone who is confident to operate it, so using its full potential is not for the faint-hearted. But it has also been used quite simply to create a split screen with the live video on one side and the liturgy on the other, as explained in a tutorial by Bryony Taylor.
Audio when Streaming
If you’re using any of the above methods you also need to pay attention to the audio quality. The microphone in your mobile or DSLR is not that good, and usually it won’t be very close to the source, so what comes out in your broadcast is likely to be muffled. People will quickly lose interest if they can’t easily hear what’s happening.
You should also be aware that the person operating the camera is very close to the microphone, so when he/she says Amen at the end of a prayer, your viewers will hear that one person’s voice above everything else.
It is much better to use an external microphone. If you can link into your church sound system then you will be making use of existing microphones positioned (hopefully) close to the person speaking. If you can’t do that, you can get an external microphone to plug into your phone or camera. This blog article from the Church of England offers advice on choosing a microphone.
One thing it doesn’t mention is that the default camera app in some Android phones will only use the built-in mic. If your camera app doesn’t allow you to choose the audio source, you can try installing the Open Camera app.
If you are using an HDMI video feed into OBS or the ATEM Mini Pro and you’re feeding audio directly (rather than via the camera) then you need to add an audio delay to maintain lip sync. The reason for this is that converting the video to HDMI takes time and the video output is usually a few frames behind real time. Both OBS and ATEM Mini Pro have audio delay settings to compensate for this.
Live streaming using Zoom can be very effective, especially for bring together video from several remote locations. But you really need one person whose sole job is to coordinate the other participants in the conference and select what is going into the video stream.
If you want to include music then you need to make sure you have Zoom set up for original sound.
Some churches are making really good use of live streaming, but it has to be said that the ones that do it best tend to have a tech team working in the background to keep everything running smoothly. If you have limited resources then it may not be for you.