Live streaming is an easy and inexpensive way to connect with people outside the church building. Some providers, such as Youtube, offer free live streaming for verified non-profit organizations making it even easier for churches to stream their Sunday morning service. You may find, however, that once you begin live streaming the quality of the broadcast might not be what you expected. Here are 10 tips to improve the quality of your live stream.
1. The Camera
Good cameras are like good microphones; the better the camera, the better the picture. Keep this in mind if you are using someone’s home camcorder from 2005 – it’s just not going to look as good as a camera released within the past five years. Used gear is great, but try to keep it as close to this decade as possible.
2. Shoot in HD
Along the same vein, make sure that you’re shooting in HD and down converting from there. Anytime you capture an analog signal, whether that’s audio or video, it’s better to capture at the highest quality possible, then render it down to a usable format. HD cameras that have been down converted to SD, will look better than SD cameras shooting in SD. We rarely broadcast in HD because of the high bandwidth demands on the user and provider ends. If you’ve been blessed with super-fast bandwidth, then make sure you offer an SD version of your stream for all those folks out there stuck on a 1mbit down connection.
Nearly all video systems require a converter to process the audio/video signal to get it into a computer. From there the computer uses software to broadcast the feed to the internets. Be sure the converter either connects with USB 3, FireWire, or Thunderbolt; any other connection will be too slow to handle a live video feed. Bottom line is, better converters means better picture.
A computer is necessary to process the digital signal coming in from the converter. Most computers can get the job, but if you want to do the job right get a Mac. Every computer in the tech arsenal should be a Mac. Period. When it comes to live streaming, the software will use the computers CPU to process the video signal. Make sure the CPU can handle the stream load, which will vary based on how many streams are broadcasted at once and the quality of those streams.
At this point in the game there are a few different players on the live streaming software field. For those of you who have been keeping a tight budget, you’re probably using Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder. FMLE can get the job done but is an extremely resource hungry application. Often times it demands no other application open at the same time, and even then it has a tendency to lose sync between the audio and the video. Wirecast, though it is more than just live streaming software, does a much better job at broadcasting and handles system resources much more appropriately.
Churches are known to have poor electrical grounding. If you experience a hum in your audio or a scrolling line in your video, then you’ve got a ground issue. The best way to minimize these issues is to isolate the audio and the video feeds before the conversion stage. I use these video isolators from Amazon because they are cheap and I love Prime!
A scaler is a device that will downconvert or upconvert the video signal. Pretty much anything made by Kramer is going to get the job done well, just stay away from those tempting monoprice adapters. They are cheap because they don’t do as good of a job as the pros.
8. Audio Compressor
Often time during a live stream volume needs to be adjusted between the music part of the service and the teaching part. Within these parts there still is a tendency for inconsistent sound. An audio compressor will help to smoothen out any loud pops or softly spoken teaching. Be sure to use a quality broadcast stereo compressor, it’s even better if you find one that uses vacuum tube technology.
9. Internet Service Provider (ISP)
The last step in the ladder for broadcasting a high quality live stream is ensuring that your location has enough internet bandwidth. Most people when they think of bandwidth only think of download speed, but with live streaming it’s the upload speed that’s most important. A minimum of 2mbit/sec up is required for a very degraded signal. A 5mbit signal will produce a good SD broadcast and anything 10mbit and up will allow for multiple streams at varying qualities. Checkout speedtest.net for your current upload speed and if you’re not where you want to be try calling your ISP and seeing what an upgrade would cost.
10. Load Balancing
If you have tried everything on this list and your church is just located in one of those rare locations where the ISP just can’t offer any more bandwidth, you have one last option. I save this for last because some funky things can happen to your network when it comes to https and other secure websites. If you have an IT guy who can right some solid policies for your router then go for it. A load balancing router will take the internet signal from several modems and combine the bandwidth into one giant usable signal. That way you can order three or four DSL modems from your ISP which when routed into a load balancing router will increase your overall network bandwidth. This will allow you to push a higher quality stream out to the world. I use this TP-LINK Load Balancing Router and have had great success.
What are some of your favorite tips to improving your live stream? Leave a comment below!
Tommy Scully is a technology consultant for churches nationwide working with audio, video, live streaming, and data systems. Having graduated from the Institute of Audio Research with a 4.0 GPA, his passion for audio led him to develop his own Church Audio Training Program. Tommy is available to speak, optimize, or consult with your church