Many parishioners cannot physically attend church service due to ill health, lack of mobility or schedule, but would like to attend “virtually”. Not only is this now possible, but today’s advances in technology are making it easier and cheaper than ever. With the arrival of this new technology comes many different options and setups for streaming that can make choosing the right solution for your church a daunting task. In the “old days” (5 years ago), churches would record services and use an editing system to edit and produce DVDs. With the advent of DVD recorders, churches could record directly to DVD. Now, with the Internet, a service can be watched “live” (via streaming video) or on demand (video stored for later playback). So, how do you get a “live stream” on your church website and how do you produce the stream in your church? Previous blogs have described the equipment (cameras, internet connection) you will need. This blog goes into more detail about the encoder/switcher/recorder choices you have. The technology has changed rapidly in the past few years, providing you with very simple tools that can give highly professional production values. There are 3 levels of encoder/streaming systems available to you now. Which you choose will depend on your budget and goals. These levels are:
- Simple – single camera, no graphics on the stream.
- Mid-range – single camera with graphics and ability to switch to files or PowerPoint.
- Professional – multi-camera switching with graphics, PowerPoint and even webstream inputs.
What has happened in the past year is the introduction of new offerings in both the Simple and Professional category that have significantly reduced the cost and headache of setting up a streaming broadcast.
Advances in Technology
You can now purchase a Simple setup that doesn’t even require a computer for $500 to $1000. These are limited, however. You connect your camera to the streaming system and it streams what the camera sees. No graphics for titles or ability to switch to another camera angle. These encoders are very nice for what they are, but many users quickly outgrow these solutions and find the limitations of them frustrating. The real break-through is in the Professional category. Traditionally, professional streaming solutions cost $20,000 or more and were complex, cumbersome systems that required hours of specialized training and a dedicated space to house the equipment. Today you can get a Professional setup for under $5,000. These new products are easy to use, simple to set up and a guided tutorial leads you through learning the interface. They come loaded with features to produce a television-quality broadcast with very little experience. With these professional solutions you can input up to 4 live camera feeds and switch between those and inputs from computer screens (for PowerPoint presentations, song lyrics, graphics etc). You can switch to an incoming Skype conference if you wish to bring in an external presenter. You can ingest audio from a mixer and overlay fancy graphics for titles. What you broadcast can also be shown on a big screen at the church and can include side-by-side images/videos. Queuing up shots and switching between cameras is as easy as one click of the mouse, or a tap on the iPad. All of this fits in a portable shoebox size unit that can be controlled remotely by an iPad, eliminating cumbersome and isolated computer setups, and allowing the director of the stream to control the broadcast right from their pew.
What to Look for in a Professional Solution
There are many different factors to take into account when comparing professional solutions. Probably the 3 most important features to look at are: the hardware inputs, system portability, and flexibility.
System Inputs – It is crucial, especially in a large church building that you have professional SDI inputs on your streaming hardware. This allows the camera signal to transmit without any loss of quality across the long runs of cable necessary in a large space. It leads to greater flexibility and more options when positioning your cameras, as well as the added reliability that you’ll have a strong signal from your camera cables.
System Portability – Having a portable streaming device opens up opportunities outside the church walls for streaming church events, offsite services and fundraisers. While streaming events outside of church may not be your initial goal, many congregations have found this option to be quite useful and have enjoyed the added benefit of being able to easily transport and set up their streaming hardware offsite for special events.
Flexibility – Because of the initial costs of setting up a live stream, it is now more important than ever that your church chooses a solution that will serve them for years to come. Basic single camera encoders/recorders will soon be seen as the technology of yesterday. Because many of these solutions are proprietary to a particular CDN (Content Delivery Network – the network that receives the stream and distributes it to your customers), you drastically limit your options and are effectively stuck using their content delivery service until you can purchase new hardware. Choosing a professional quality solution is now more affordable than ever and you can be sure that your streaming solution is future-proof and will stand the test of time.
About 1 Beyond
Our company, 1 Beyond, produces professional level streaming solutions for many different applications. Many congregations have had great success using our portable streaming solutions. The 1 Beyond StreamMachine is available with a variety of options, so you can be sure your streaming solution is custom tailored for what you need it to do. We’ve had great success with churches in the past, and will gladly tailor with your church needs.
Rony Sebok has been with 1 Beyond for over 15yrs helping develop solutions to support video professionals. With a background in software programming and a penchant for teaching, she most enjoys helping customers understand their technology options to find the best solutions for their current project.