Church Live Streaming

Pre-brief / Context

In light of the current global situation regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus) it’s apparent that a lot of drastic measures are going to be taken in the next weeks and months, if they haven’t already in the part of the world you might be from.

As Church, how we meet and ‘be’ church are certainly going to be challenged and might even be a cause for concern for some but there’s no reason to panic. Technology has come a long way and means the option to be able to send video content direct to congregations at home is far more achievable than it ever has been.

Here in the UK the idea of getting your shopping delivered to your front door wasn’t even a thing 15 years ago. The technology didn’t exist. And yet for what could be a really tough next few months it’s going to be a valuable resource in making sure people don’t go without the essentials they need. Which doesn’t include mountains of loo roll… someone please explain this to me.

The sudden and drastic changes to gatherings globally has left a lot of people unsure of how to approach Sunday services and so I really hope that the following information is useful and easy to understand. If it’s not – send me an e-mail or give me a call and I’d love to do my best in making it make sense.

Live streaming is a great way to be able keep church meeting on a Sunday, working round the physical limitations that may be put in place. After all the Church is the people and not the building.

Who are you and why should I listen?

I’d like to preface all the information below with the fact I’m not an expert. I can’t say I’ve tested and used all these various methods of live streaming – but I’ve spent a good portion of the last week researching, and testing a couple of methods to help us here at KXC in London get the most reliable and cheapest options ready to go if we have to stop meeting on Sundays.

For background – I studied at Hillsong College in Australia and spent a significant amount of time working with the senior video technicians for their campuses and learning about their incredible live link system. I’ve also worked on staff at Hillsong London for 2 years and worked alongside some amazing people bringing together a live linking system that connects all of their UK and European campuses. We also live streamed small group content via Youtube to 80 connect groups across London using a multi camera system that I helped design and build.

Again, I’m not a confessed streaming expert but lets get to the nerdy part. I’ll also do my best to reference people that I’ve seen already share incredibly helpful information. Shout out to Joel Smith who seems to have already done a lot of the leg work and testing over several years 🙂 He’s a pro and certainly worth following on the Church Sound Media Techs group on Facebook.

——————————————

There are quite a few parts to a live stream. And it can be as complicated or as simple as you like. But as we’re focusing on emergency / last minute setups, I’d highly encourage you all to think simple – not “how can I turn my church into an 8 camera production powerhouse?” 🙂

Do you need to live stream?

This question is key. For a lot of churches the idea of setting up a livestream might be daunting and actually unnecessary. I’d say talk through the options and the reason why you need to livestream? For me the Why is one of the biggest factors.

It may actually be easier to pre-record the service content and then upload that video to youtube and send it out every Sunday to your church. If you have any doubts about a livestream – this is the way to do it.

If you’ve established you do need to live stream, my next thought is stop. You now need to decide what you’re actually live-streaming. Is it just the talk/sermon/message, or is it the whole service, will it be just the pastor from their house, or will it be a full Sunday setup with worship at your church location but with no congregation?

These questions are going to help guide you to making the right calls on equipment and setup, and ultimately cost. Do you want a single camera, or do you want a multi-cam setup with vision mixer and full audio setup?

The Setups

So here’s what I’ve found out. “About time” I hear you say!

What I’ve discovered over the last week is that there are plenty of different methods to stream your services. Some simple, some more complicated. But here is a summary of what you need

  • A camera and microphone
  • An encoder (can be a computer)
  • Video capture card if encoder is computer
  • Reliable Internet
  • A streaming platform

Expanding – you need a camera/phone/microphone to capture the video and sound. This then needs to be sent into an encoder, a way to convert your camera feed into a stream that will go to the streaming platform. The platform then takes the feed and decodes it into a format for distribution which people access on Facebook Live / Youtube etc.

If you’re not using a phone, the camera you use will need a HDMI output (SDI in some cases).

The simplest setup of all, and maybe the best for you needs could be to just buy something like this off Amazon and grab a microphone compatible with your phone. It may be all you need and do the job just as well as some of these more full on options.

Encoders

This is where things get fun. There are two types of encoders, hardware and software. 

Hardware: a box that encodes for you and connects directly to a network and service

Software: a computer with software that encodes and then sends the stream online

Hardware Encoders:

Software Encoders:

**NOTE – to use a software encoder you will need a HDMI/SDI capture device to bring your camera/mixer feed into your computer, recommendation under ‘Software encoder notes’

Which should I choose?

This is difficult for me to give you a solid answer but based on my findings, a hardware encoder will serve you much better than a software encoder. The reason is that a hardware based solution will be dedicated to doing one thing and that’s encoding your signal and sending it directly to the platform of your choice. Software encoding happens on a computer that’s doing a lot of other things too, not just encoding.

There are lots of great reviews for the Epiphan Webcaster X2 – it makes the whole process very simple by connecting straight to your Facebook page and doing all the hard work for you. It does need a monitor, mouse and keyboard adding for it to function easily, but for the price it’s cheaper than buying a beefed up streaming computer and hassling with setting up streams, keys, inputs etc.

If you don’t want the hassle I’d highly recommend this, and as a bonus you get to ignore my ramble below.

Software encoder notes

My own testing this week found that OBS was losing frames in the signal it was encoding, about 20% – which is quite a significant amount and would definitely make a stream look jittery. This is where the software side can become an issue. This is also why I would advise serious and deep testing to make sure it’s all working as you want it to before going Live to anyone.

I haven’t quite worked out what was causing the rendering lag, but it might have been to do with the video source coming in from a USB video source not a thunderbolt unit.

OBS is great, especially as it’s free. I’m a Mac user and as such I can only really speak into the Mac setup that I’ve used. Natively a Mac does not have an input for video signals. The go to unit to bring in a video signal seems to be the Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder, this takes the HDMI/SDI signal from your camera / mixer into a Thunderbolt signal. It’s one of the cheapest boxes like this, AJA make the U-Tap which brings SDI or HDMI (depending on the model )in via USB but its easily twice the cost.

Once it’s connected to your Mac, OBS and the other software packages will pick this up as a video input.

I haven’t tried the other options at the time of writing but I’m hoping to do some more tests over the coming weeks. vMix is apparently amazing – but as a Mac guy I can’t test it.

What am I using? OBS with Blackmagic UltraStudio Mini Recorder on an iMac

The Platforms

This one is really down to you to decide. Where are your congregation most likely to visit and access? Is Youtube easier or Facebook?

**Note – Unfortunately Youtube has a minimum number of subscribers before you can live stream, so unless you have 1000 people subscribed you won’t be able to use this option as a platform.

Here’s the list of the most popular platforms I’ve found:

YouTube
Facebook Live
DaCast
Sermon.net
Living As One
Instagram Live
Vimeo Livestream
Sardius Media

A few are free but more are paid-for monthly services. Some are also much easier to use than others. I’m mainly presenting a list here as it’s down to individual preference. It’s worth checking them out to see what they can do and if it’s the sort of thing you’re after. sermon.net is a great way to keep an active archive of live streams too, but for a quick setup that you might be after it’s potentially a little more complicated than you need for now.

What am I using? Facebook Live – KXC doesn’t have a church Youtube channel, so we’re using Facebook Live. 🙂

There is one more platform that is free, but you do need to host your stream through Facebook, Youtube etc before you can use it.

Lifechurch have created an amazing tool called the Church Online Platform, and it’s completely free to use. https://churchonlineplatform.com/features

My plan is to take the Facebook Live feed and embed it within Church Online and then direct all viewers here. The community features of CO mean that those without Facebook can interact too. It has service scheduling tools, prayer tools and even ‘I made a decision’ buttons.

The Plan

If you’ve made it this far – thank you!

This is what I plan to attempt and get working smoothly. More tests this week.

  1. Camera & Laptop & Sound into a Vision Mixer
  2. Vision Mixer to Blackmagic Mini Recorder
  3. BM Recorder into iMac running OBS
  4. OBS streaming up to Facebook Live
  5. Facebook Live embedding on Church Online

Why: Essentially the only thing we’ve had to spend any money on at the moment is the Blackmagic box (+cables & adapters – thanks Apple) to bring our video/audio input to the iMac. OBS is free, Facebook is free and Church Online is free. This is all subject to testing though. I am also a bit of a geek so it helps I like to play around with software, cameras, etc.

Things to consider:

Audio

Things can get messy here too. To avoid messiness we’re taking a feed from the audio desk into our vision mixer so that it gets sent with the video at the same time into the computer. For a simple setup I’d recommend getting your audio into the camera/mixer so that it sends the audio out of it’s HDMI in sync to the computer or encoding box.

If you can’t do this – you may need to get an audio interface for your computer, or try to use an SDI audio embedder… gets quite technical again.

You can select alternate audio inputs in software encoders but the setup is just more things to have to worry about. Simple is key here for me.

Internet speeds

Dependant on the service platform you choose to host the stream on, you’ll need an appropriate internet setup. I would recommend CABLES all the way. It’s not always ideal but using a cabled connection is far more stable than wireless. Facebook Live limits it’s data upload to 6000kbps/ 6mbps so realistically for a smooth stream we need a 10mbps upload speed. Remember upload speeds are different to your download speeds. The extra 4mbps gives us some space if the speed does drop it shouldn’t affect our upload.

Copyright & Music playing

If you are likely to play music during your stream, make sure it’s not pre-recorded tracks. You’re likely to get your stream shut down by Youtube, Vimeo & Facebook. I’ve been looking into the world of copyright because as churches we’re normally & should be covered by a CCLI licence to play music in services. However when it comes to streaming, you’re not covered automatically. You need to speak to PRS (https://www.prsformusic.com/) about a LOML licence (https://www.prsformusic.com/licences/using-music-online/limited-online-music-licence). Make sure you’re covered first as you definitely don’t want to be getting anyone into trouble of broadcasting music without the appropriate licences.

Setup and operators

Don’t forget about the amount of people you may need to setup more complicated live stream systems. I imagine many people reading this from smaller churches may be one man crews, which is totally fine! But you may need some help if you’re planning to operate a camera and monitor the livestream at the same time.

Living As One (https://livingasone.com/)

These guys get their own title. Being super transparent, these guys have nailed what it means to do church streaming and broadcasting well. I have mentioned them above but they deserve a special mention down here. if you want a reliable and durable system that keeps going even if the Internet goes down, then this is the system for you.

LAO was originally built as a resilient broadcast stream system to link churches with multiple locations together. However they have now launched a streaming service on top of their rock solid infrastructure.

It is a monthly subscription service, and you need to buy their hardware encoders and decoders. But the system works better than anything else I’ve used. Hillsong London use this to link from Central London to all other campuses. It’s solid!

Fin.

That’s it. You made it.

If you have literally made it to this point, congratulations. As I’ve said – these are more my musings and research that I’ve been looking at this last week. If testing goes well on Monday I might even make a video talking through the setup we’ll have at KXC. Even if it fails I might still make a video. Who knows.

Anyway – this concludes my 5 page brain dump.

Thanks for reading, and I truly hope it’s helped even a little and given you a nudge in the right direction. There may be stuff I’ve missed and even incorrect. Let me know and I can update / change / remove. 

Additional Links