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How We Livestream General Assembly

A speech livestreamed from GA 2013 using Ustream, and captured on a Macintosh backstage for later posting.

If you’ve been wondering about live-streaming video of events from your Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation, here’s some background about what the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) did for General Assembly (GA) 2013.

Events in the Plenary Hall

Live-streaming video from the plenary hall is easy, because a professional videography company is already on hand with cameras, mixers, an audio board, and all the equipment needed to project video of the speakers, words to hymns, and other video on the big screens behind the podium. A consultant dealt with all the copyright issues around the music and poetry. All we have to do is to get the video signal onto the Internet, which we do with an Internet connection, a live-streaming account, and software.

For GA 2013, we chose Ustream, which provided a reliable, easy-to-use system. Ustream provides free encoding software that runs on your PC, Mac, tablet, or even smartphone and converts a video signal into a video stream and uploads it to their website. (We used fancier encoding software called Wirecast so we could splice in other video or stills when needed.) Livestream is another good service. YouTube allows live streaming, too; google “youtube live introduction.”

People could watch GA plenary events live on our page at the Ustream website, or at UUA.org, where we embedded the Ustream video player on a page. We paid about $900 for about 3,000 viewer hours during GA.

Ustream not only displayed our live video, they also stored it so we could download the video files, put them on our own web server, and display them on UUA.org at no additional cost. Once GA was over, we cancelled our paid account.

Other Events

But what about events outside the plenary hall, where we’d have to provide the video camera? Low-end video cameras, even digital ones, usually can’t live-stream video. Even if they come with a cable to connect to the computer, this allows you only to transfer video after you’ve shot it, not live. We found that our best bet was to use a phone or tablet with uStream’s free app. To live-stream the public witness event, we used an iPad with a tripod, an adapter to mount the iPad on the tripod, the Ustream app, and a cheap 20x zoom lens. We had to turn off all the notifications that might pop up on the iPad (from messages, email, Twitter, etc.) to prevent them from interrupting the video. We had bought an external battery that we could plug the ipad into but we didn’t need it.

Even with no hook-up to the event’s sound system, the audio was acceptable, which was surprising.

This GA 2013 event page shows plenary video in the large player and the public witness event in the small player in the right-hand column. 

The public witness event posed one other issue—no Internet connection, not even Wi-Fi, since it was in a park. We rented a 4G cell-based Wi-Fi access point from TeleCom Square for $13 per day. (We didn’t have access to a 4G smartphone that supported “tethering,” which might also have worked.) Even with only three bars, the connection was good enough to stream video.

By Margy Levine Young, Manager of the UUA’s ITS Web Team, 10/11/2013

Outdoor event livestreamed using an iPad 2, from GA 2013.

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For more information contact web@uua.org.

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