How as a House of Worship you should prepare for live streaming of services

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House of Worship outreach is not new but it’s becoming more important than ever in this new changing world.

How to get on air and service a congregation that needs support more than ever in these tough times is now paramount. Building systems that can also be leveraged for income, or cost offset, is also an important consideration.

There is a very broad range of both needs, and products, to service the House of Worship live production sector. There is not cookie cutter solution that works for all.

How do you cut through all of the technical complications and product nuances, specs, connectivity etc. to:

  • get started simply
  • build a system that’s easy to operate
  • build a system that is easily upgradable and expandable as needs change and grow
  • provide either a good, better, best quality web stream or high broadcast level deliverables
  • how do you do that on your budget?

Well, Vistek has many many years of experience in live production, at every level, and we have done a lot of the hard work for you!

So the best place to start is by creating a plan!

Like every plan you up need to look at what your objectives and goals are both short term and longer term. You need to take stock or inventory of what equipment you already have. Then you need to look at the resources you have available both human resources and also form a budget perspective.

Obviously the first and most important step is connectivity. Do you currently have internet connection and does it have enough bandwidth to support streaming?  Where is it located do you need to have connections extended from the office to the sanctuary or the “planned control room” area for video live streaming.

Wifi can work but it is usually less reliable and the connection speed is usually slower. You also should check the WiFi you router have and or see if you need to perhaps add a repeater or WiFi amplifier if you are not getting a strong signal.

Newer routers are usually better so if you have a router that is more that a couple years old I recommend you replace it. Also 5G connection is better as there are less things using it and it is faster but again the distance is not as far as 2.4G WiFi so as above take the necessary actions to insure you have the best signal if you intend to go WiFi.

Also Note that WiFi might work when testing in an empty sanctuary but once filled with people and their phone and other devices turned on there could be issues.

There are also some systems like SlingStudio for example which might be great when starting out as cameras, even smartphones or tablets can be used as video sources but again as above since they run on WiFi there can be interference in some situations.

Also these systems are great for a type of follow along program creation but if you are doing a lot of music production etc that might require timely camera cuts then the latency of a Wifi system will not suffice.

So be sure you have set a budget for improved internet service and proceed to get this installed and tested as step.

Do a speed test on the current connection when all other users in the building are up and working doing what they would normally do. Run this program ideally the results need to be better than 30MBPS download and 10Mbps upload – if your results are lower you need to speak to your provider about improving your service.

House of Worship - Control Room

Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels

Wait, what did I say earlier about a dedicated room? Yes the dedicated control room area, you have set aside to support your live streaming production effort.

Now if you are just starting out you may be able to get away with a mobile cart with equipment that you can roll in and set up cameras event PTZ’s on Tripods etc. and set-up and tear down each time making sure to tape down wires etc. if required but this does take effort and also leaves more possibility of issues if the system is hooked up quickly and incorrectly or not properly tested each time.

Ideally you should have a permanent control room as it will help you to create better overall productions by reducing the stress of having a mobile set up that has to be connected and tested each time you use it.

Having it adjacent to the sanctuary is ideal it can be further away but that will complicate and lengthen cable runs and mean you need to have other means of communication etc. all driving up costs further.

Cables etc as well, should be permanently installed so as to avoid tripping hazards etc, and insuring tyou have the right connections in the right places.

In your review of the resources you have a couple things that are critical.

How are you working sound in you sanctuary currently and what lighting support do you currently have.

You may have to make adjustments to both. Or augment and set up additional audio and lighting.

Zoom LiveTrak L-8, 8-Channel Mixer (6 combo, + 2 TS)

Zoom LiveTrak L-8, 8-Channel Mixer 

From a sound perspective likely you do not have enough things miked for live streaming you will need to also mic the audience as well you will likely need additional sources miked,depending on what happens in your service, like perhaps drums etc. that you may not need to have miked now for a live audience.

Usually, the dynamic range (volume level from soft to loud) of a live mix is too overpowering for a video broadcast so you may also have to have additional mics and perhaps a completely separate mixer.

To start, can you tap a sub-mix from your existing board? This will at least get you going.

You need to ask how will that be wired to the new video control room? Is it better to just configure a whole secondary system to feed the video?

Note: you may be able to employ a wireless audio transmitter in the interim from the main mixer to your video setup if you can’t run wires.

For lighting this is probably my most important tip. You need to have better lighting! Having worked with many churches they all want to find a camera that makes good pictures in low light. Well first off I have to tell you that this is not an economical solution and even then, adding more & better lighting will give you better pictures overall. Even a bad camera will look reasonable if you expose it properly.

Also the other tip re: lighting is that you have to remember that the camera does NOT have anywhere near the dynamic range of the human eye so you have to work very hard to eliminate hot spots, light pouring in through windows back light etc. and overall narrow the dynamic range as much as you can so you have good quality images in the main areas of the production. Rec 709 which is the video standard you are likely to work in only supports 6 stops dynamic range.

Next thing to check is are you running any sermon software like Proclaim or Easy worship, ProPresenter, Zionworx or so many others or perhaps even Powerpoint, Keynote or Google slides. How do you plan to integrate these graphics into your video Livestream. You may require capture cards etc. to be able to connect this feed, and where is this operator located? Perhaps they can go in the same video control room?

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

If you have any existing video cameras that you want to start with how old are they and what standards do they support?

Ideally, you will want to feed HD and the most common and simple way is with an HDMI connection.

Depending on the size of the sanctuary you may have to have an SDI cable running to the cameras as they can go further than HDMI, or you might want to have LAN cables etc but we will talk more about that later.

So now that you have done a review of what you have, you will likely have to come up with a budget on how to improve or fix that infrastructure first and then turn you attention to the video systems.

First thing to decide is where or how you want to stream to, basically what streaming service you want to utilize. If you are just starting out you may want to use a free service like Youtube or Facebook to get you started. The thing to know here is that because these services are basically free there can be advertising etc inserted at the beginning of streams or playback or recorded streams.

Many people would prefer to use a dedicated private service so they have better feedback, documentation, analytics and customer support and can play on other platforms like Roku or Apple TV.

Some popular subscription platforms include:

Or perhaps using a religious stream provider may help to bring you a bigger audience? There are many religious stream platforms here are links to a few:

Next you want to decide how you plan to encode your stream to send to your provider. This can be done several ways.

There are interface/capture boxes that can get your video into a computer and the computer can do the compression (H.264 normally). This is enabled by a streaming providers Applet or by using streaming software you have loaded on your computer.

Note: Though to do a proper job of this you need a reasonably new, good quality computer or laptop, and not a budget office one, a good one ideally  a minimum 7th gen quad core I7 or newer/better with a good graphics card, so this level of computer can set you back a few thousand dollars.

There are also dedicated hardware streaming boxes, these external hardware boxes can improve reliability, simplify the encoding and recording process and do the heavy lifting of the encoding at a comparable or lower cost freeing up your computer investment to do other things.

Some external multi-source video switchers will require an additional interface or capture card to get the video into a computer to stream. Some smaller switchers have the USB interface built in.

Remember at a minimum you will want another computer or device so you can monitor your stream off the internet so you can insure there are no technical difficulties.

Understanding what video production gear you might need for you control room is really more about understanding the scope of the planned productions. Cameras how many? Will they be manned, fixed or PTZ remote operable. Do you need remote paint and control of the cameras so they are well matched in color etc.

PTZ cameras are not inexpensive compared to using consumer or prosumer photo video cameras but they can save you on required human resources and can also be used to perhaps generate other revenue streams outside of being used to stream you main services. You can perhaps with a smaller crew record or stream other events like weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, concerts etc. because PTZ’s can be manned with next to no crew you can offer these economically and usually at a profit.

Sony SRG300SE HD PTZ Camera with IP Streaming

Sony SRG300SE HD PTZ Camera with IP Streaming

Another important thing about PTZ cameras is, depending on the sanctuary design, they can be mounted in somewhat inconspicuous places and provide discreet coverage, where a larger camera tripod and live operator can interrupt sightlines for parishioners.

Remember as well that you can mount them on a tripod or stand and placed where they minimize obstructed views.

For best overall production value I often recommend a mix of several manned cameras and a minimum of 2 PTZ cameras.

PTZ’s provide some coverage but operated cameras can provide real production value like panning, zooming and pulling focus exactly as the director requires.

By having 2 PTZ’s simple one or two camera coverage options can be offered for other events and provided with minimum operators.

Once you have decided on the number of sources to be involved in your regular main services then you can start to look at things like switchers etc.

Note: I would normally consider a system of 3 camera’s and some sort of sermon graphics feed as being a small setup and that you would likely want that to grow on that over time so investing in a larger switcher upfront might be prudent.

The cost of cameras you choose will come down basically to the type of production and therefore the lensing you require. The thing to note is higher end professional Video cameras have what are called Parfocal lenses which make it easier to change framing by zooming and maintain focus. This can really help your volunteer operators and make the show have better production value.

PTZ cameras have programmable snapshots or pre-sets, ideal for capturing things going on in different locations or having shots set up for more people in the shot – but most go a little wild as they move from one snapshot to another so you have to have other shots to switch to as cover you can’t let those moves go to air.

Now that you are starting to formulate a plan and a budget again don’t forget about communication, if you have camera operators, audio mixers, lighting operators in various locations they will likely need to be able to communicate during the production. So you may need to consider an intercom system.

Finally one last point is one of copyright especially if your service includes music you will likely have to pay some license fees and usage rights for various selections. You should be sure to investigate Canadian Copyright for religious services.

So now that you have an idea of all of what’s involved, taken stock of your existing resources, and you have set your goals, and examined available budget, it’s time to go shopping for the gear you need to get your house of worship online.

Vistek has worked to try and make the process as easy as possible, by building pages filled with related technical articles, and popular product choices, perfect for creating a wide range of Live streaming & production solutions.

As well we are there to help you in person in our stores, with live chat on the web or via our commercial solutions sales department.

At Vistek we can help make your Vision a reality!

Cover Image Credit: Wendy van Zyl from Pexels