The basics of equipment needed to get started live streaming your church services

I’m going to recommend some equipment for live streaming your church services. There is no one-size-fits-all setup, but I believe this setup is the right one for about 85% of churches. It balances quality, extensibility, and price. Your team can produce a professional-looking live stream for just about $1,000 in equipment.

At the risk of over-simplifying, the basic needs to produce a professional-looking live-stream for your church within a reasonable budget is:

  • A camera
  • An audio source. (A cable from your audio mixer.)
  • Something to mix the audio and video together. (We call this a switcher.)
  • Something to take the video from the switcher and send it out to the internet. (We call this an encoder.)
  • Optional: Something to show videos and graphics (lyrics, verses, announcements, etc.)
  • A server to distribute the video to viewers. (That’s where we step in.)

Before we go into the actual equipment, let’s talk about video signals/connections (interfaces). When dealing with HD video, there are two main connections to choose from: HDMI or SDI. We will need to decide which of those to build your system around. SDI (Serial Digital Interface), but more specifically 3G-SDI, is the standard for professional productions; HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) is one you’re probably already aware of, it’s the same interface that you use to connect devices to your TV at home. HDMI is generally more cost-effective due mostly to the fact that SDI is considered “pro-grade” and is priced accordingly.

The equipment I recommend below are interconnected by HDMI, due mostly to the fact that the switcher that I’m building this around is an HDMI switcher. The Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini is a tremendous value at $300 and uses HDMI inputs with no SDI inputs. The upgrade from the ATEM Mini would be to the Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio HD which features more input channels and SDI inputs instead of HDMI and retails for $1,000. If it’s more important that you set yourself up for future expansion, then Television Studio HD is a good option and get the SDI version of the camera and graphics connections. You can always use SDI-HDMI signal converters which are reasonably priced ($50).

You will likely want to be able to display some graphics: videos, “lower thirds” (graphics that cover the lower portion of the video but don’t fully replace the camera shot such as lyrics, verses, or speaker names) or full-screen slides. Many churches use ProPresenter which will fits nicely in this configuration, it supports “keying” which allows us to mix video and graphics together in real-time. The switcher I recommend below supports different methods of keying including linear (which is the best quality mix) and luma/chroma (which is like using a green screen). ProPresenter also supports linear keying and luma/chroma keying so they are a natural pair.

Equipment

Camera: AV-1081G 10x HDMI PTZ Camera ($650)
This is a great camera at a great price. A PTZ camera is one that you can remotely aim and zoom (Pan/Tilt/Zoom). Buy two of them if you can so you can adjust the shot on one while the other is active then switch.

Switcher: Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini ($300)
Again, great value here, HDMI based switcher that will allow you to connect 4 sources (cameras + graphics) or 3 sources if one of them is going to be keyed using a linear key, in which case it takes 2 inputs for 1 source.

Encoder: OBS Studio (FREE*)
OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) Studio is FREE software. But, you need a computer available to run it; so if you have one available, then great, you can use this free software. Under the hood, OBS uses all the latest/greatest compression software (x264) so you are not sacrificing quality using this free software. It runs on either Mac or Windows. If you do not have a PC available then I recommend you purchase one for this purpose, there are other hardware encoder options available but they cost the same or more than buying a new PC and offer less visibility/functionality.

Video/Graphics: ProPresenter ($400)
This software will allow you to show lower thirds, full-screen graphics, and video playback. You will need to ensure you have 2 outputs on the PC running the software to take advantage of the ability to use a linear key through the ATEM Mini.

Server: Luzento ($ varies by church size, starting at $15/mo)
Luzento allows you to stream your live services to your congregation and community wherever they are. We take the video from your encoder and distribute it to your viewers through many different channels: Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitter Live; you can embed your video player on your own church website and we’re compatible with the Church Online Platform for building a live community. In addition, we can create branded Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV apps to get your live stream on the best screens in your congregation’s houses rather than gathering the family around a mobile phone or PC screen.

Cables/Connections
You will need to purchase a few cables to connect things together. You need an HDMI cable long enough to run between your camera and your switcher, one per each camera. You will also need to purchase a USB-C cable to connect your switcher to your computer.

Mounting
Where do you want to put your cameras? Buy a wall mount, ceiling mount or tripod for each camera.

Putting it all together

The camera(s) will connect to the switcher via HDMI, audio connects by a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack (aka headphone plug) and graphics connect to the switcher by one or a pair of HDMI connections. The switcher connects to the PC by USB 2.0 and will appear in OBS as a Video Capture Device. You configure OBS to stream video to Luzento, click “Start Streaming” and you’re live! Be sure to purchase an HDMI cable long enough to connect the camera to the switcher.

Last things to consider

  • You should not attempt to stream live video over WiFi, so make sure the PC is hard-wired into your church LAN.
  • If you know you need more than 4 inputs then choose something other than the ATEM Mini. Remember, graphics may take up 2 inputs leaving only 2 remaining for cameras.
  • HDMI has a limitation of 50′ so if you need to position your cameras more than 50′ from the switcher, then you’ll need to also purchase an HDMI extender.
  • Live streaming always has some amount of latency, your viewers are about 20 seconds behind “real life”, so if you’re doing some live interactive polling or Q&A then be sure to consider that.
  • Consider the resolution you want to stream at. 1080p is the high end of streaming quality, but it may be a bit overkill and requires more bandwidth on both the encoder side and also the viewer side. You probably want to stick to 720p which is lower resolution but lower bandwidth requirements.

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