The increased concern for the COVID-19 and the governor’s declaration calling for the suspension of all public gatherings of more than 250, then 50, and now 10 people, have resulted in many congregations requesting information about live streaming worship services. This post is meant to provide an introduction to live streaming. A quick Google search will provide greater depth on the subject.
This post will look at two aspects of live streaming: the technology used to capture the service and the hosting options which enable the congregation to view the stream.
Before we get to the first point, we’d like to clarify what is meant by live streaming. Streaming a service involves recording the service, uploading the video file to a video distribution service, such as YouTube, and then allowing people to have access to the file. Live streaming is more like live television. In live streaming, a video feed of the worship service is available for viewing by online participants in real time. It is very much like a video call or an online meeting. It is helpful to know exactly which option you really want to use. Live streaming can require a bit more equipment and is much more expensive than that which is needed for streaming. While the majority of this article is about live streaming, we will point out the differences when appropriate.
The Technology Needed
Live streaming involves three steps: capturing the video, processing the video, and streaming the video. In a multi-camera set-up, a production step occurs as the video is captured. The production step includes decisions regarding camera selection and shot angles. Most of our churches will use a single camera, so this article will not include the production step. The streaming process is similar but with a fourth component. The streaming process flow would include: recording the video, uploading to a local computer, editing the video content, and uploading the final content to a video distribution service.
Capturing the Video
The least expensive and easiest cameras to use for live streaming are webcams. They were designed for the task and are able to accomplish by the capture step and the encoding step. One of the best webcams for this purpose is the Logitech HD Pro C920 or C922x. The camera costs about $99.
There are some disadvantages to using a webcam. First, the webcam was not designed to capture images more than three feet away from the camera. However, streaming cameras routinely stand at 15 to 30 feet away from the recording subject. The unavoidable result most often is an image that is too small to be engaging.
A better option is to use a digital camera that can be mounted for stability. Generally, if the camera has an HDMI or USB 2 or higher output, it can be used to capture video with little difficulty.
There are several reasons why digital cameras are the best choice. First, they usually have a zoom function that can bring the action close. Second, because they are mounted, they provide a more stable image. Finally, the camera’s lenses and processors are designed to capture video at distances. For around $220, the Canon – VIXIA HF R800 HD is a good entry-level video camera. It has an audio input for microphones, 32x optical zoom and optical image stabilization. While considerably more expensive but still under $1,000, the Canon VIXIA HF G21 has a wide range of impressive options including a WIFI remote control and shooting.
While there are many advantages to using digital cameras to capture video, there are some disadvantages. First, digital cameras are more expensive than a webcam. Second, they normally do not include an encoder. Without the encoder, another piece of equipment must be used to process or encode the video file. Third, an operator is needed to take advantage of the features of the camera.
Processing the Video for Live Streaming
The second step is encoding the video feed from the camera to a data format that is usable by the streaming services. The encoding process can take place in one of two ways. First, the church could rely on software encoders. OBS Studio, obsproject.com, is a free open-source encoder that works on any computer platform. The challenge with a software encoder is that it requires a pretty powerful computer that often has a frustrating habit of asking for an update in the middle of the service.
If you should choose to use a software encoder, and you are using a 4K camera, you will need a video capture device. The Cam Link 4K by Elgato looks like a thumb drive. One end of the device accepts an HDMI cable, and the other end plugs into a USB-B port on the computer. The Cam Link 4K will cost about $140. A slightly less expensive option is the AVerMedia AVerCapture HD encoder, which can be found for approximately $80.
A second method of encoding the video feed is to use a hardware encoder. The Webcaster X2 is the most commonly used encoder for live streaming. Not only does it encode the video stream, but it also connects to the streaming platform, eliminating the need to process the video feed through a separate application. The Webcaster X2 can stream directly to Facebook Live and YouTube.
The final piece of hardware a congregation may need for live streaming is a video splitter. A video splitter allows the church to seamlessly switch between multiple video inputs; the inputs could be multiple cameras or a camera and a slide presentation. The Roland VR-RHD HD AV Mixer ($2,495) is a six-input, four-channel video and 18-channel audio mixer. The Pearl Mini ($3,495) is an all-in-one unit which handles both switching and encoding. It has two HDMI inputs.
Processing the Video Streaming
Processing the video for streaming involves uploading the recorded video to a local computer and editing the video with software that has been installed on the computer. MovieMaker is a free option for the PC and iMovie is a free option for the Mac. Once the video has been edited, it is exported in a format that can be played through the streaming provider. We will discuss the streaming providers in greater detail in the next section.
The investigation into the streaming platform which will best fit the needs of a particular congregation begins by answering some clarifying questions:
- Will you only be live streaming the service?
- Will you want to be able to archive the service for people to view after the event?
- Do you want interactivity, like prayer requests, and the ability to ask questions during the event?
- Do you want people to leave comments?
- What is your budget?
Facebook Live and YouTube Live are the two most common free streaming platforms. While both are free, both have some limitations and challenges for congregations. Facebook Live is probably the easiest way to live stream a service. All you need to do is mount a camera on a tripod stand, log into your Facebook account, and choose the “go live” option. The most significant obstacle to Facebook Live is that only people who are Facebook users can see the video. While Facebook users are convinced that most people are on Facebook, the statistics show that the number is only a fraction of internet users.
The second option for free streaming is YouTube Live. As with Facebook Live, it can be as simple as logging into your Google account, selecting YouTube Live, and selecting the “go live” option. One significant difference that you will note is that your YouTube channel must have at least 1000 followers before you can live stream with a mobile device. This restriction does not apply to those who are live streaming with a desktop device or a webcam.
A second challenge for using YouTube Live are the restrictions placed through its community standards policy. For the most part, we have few problems with the community standards of Google. However, the issue arises when there is a biblical presentation of sexual sins, for example, particularly if the sermon addresses gender issues or same-sex marriage. If a moderator believes that a user has violated the community standards policy, the user can have the account suspended for 30 days. After three suspensions, the account is permanently blocked.
If you do a quick search on the Internet, you will find that there are several paid streaming platforms. You will note that most have restrictions on the number of hours streamed and the number of viewers watching the stream. Most of the streaming services offer archived playback, meaning people can watch or re-watch the video at a later date.
We have sorted out a few of these providers to help you decide. Click here for a detailed list of paid streaming service providers.
We’ve introduced you to the hardware and software that you will need to get a congregation live streaming. This was just an overview. Each streaming service functions differently from the others, so a step-by-step walkthrough is not possible.
Before we finish with the topic, we do want to go over some pointers for shooting the video and using copyrighted content on the stream.
- If you are using one camera, keep the image framed on the face of the presenter with the zoom set to include the face and upper chest.
- Avoid long shots that obscure the facial expressions of the individual in the video and accent the lack of people in the church.
- Avoid zooming in and out frequently. If you have two cameras, use one for close-up shots and the other for wide-field shots. Adjust the shooting angle and focal reference of one while the other is sending the feed into the system.
- Use a microphone with a line into the camera or the video mixer (microphones on cameras have improved, but the sound will still be hollow if not wired).
- If you must use the microphone on the camera, ensure that the camera is not around anyone participating in the worship service.
- Keep the camera(s) mounted on a tripod.
- Be careful of the camera’s automatic settings. They can create issues when it comes to audio, white balance, and lighting the subject correctly.
Cautions Regarding Copyright
- Remember that you cannot include music which is not public domain in your video stream without a specific license to do so. CCLI offers a streaming license. Most other licensing services do not include streaming. Check the permissions on your music license carefully; it is likely that, once the service has been live streamed, you will have to remove the music to make the service available for future viewing. Concordia Publishing House is giving temporary access to the Lutheran Service Builder for streaming worship services; start today at https://app.lutheranservicebuilder.com/signup. Christian Copyright Solutions (CCS) WorshipCast is currently offering at 10% discount for new streaming licenses purchased now through April 30, 2020 with code STREAM10. A OneLicense grants permission to podcast or stream services containing music and is currently offering gratis licenses to help cope with COVID-19 challenges. Use code “CRVS20” through April 15, 2020.
- You cannot include video clips that you did not create without written permission from the copyright holder. There are some variations on the restrictions depending on where you purchased the clip and the type of license you purchased, so it is always beneficial to re-read the license agreement to understand the limitations for its use in the stream.
Additional “How To” Guide for Streaming/Audio Recordings available at support.brhall.com. Provided by members of The Hymnal Project.
This article was written by Rev. Dr. Todd Jones, Jeff Heisner, and Debby Fall.
Photo courtesy of Immanuel, Macomb