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Live-streaming Video from Your Congregation
Communication, Communication

Have you thought about enabling people to be able to watch your worship service or other events live on the Web?

Live vs. On-Demand

There are two ways you can offer video online: live and on-demand.

  • Live-streaming means that people can watch while the event is happening. It provides a sense of being there, and you can provide ways for people to participate via a chat box or email. However, live-streaming limits the viewers to people who are available at the time of the event, and it’s usually more expensive.
  • On-demand video is recorded and then posted on the Web for viewing anytime. Since it’s after the fact, viewers can’t participate. However, they can watch at their convenience, pause, and restart the video.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) provides both live and on-demand video of major General Assembly (GA) events; we stream them live, record them, and post the recordings on our website. The Church of the Larger Fellowship streams worship services at their Quest for Meaning website, although segments are pre-recorded.

What You Need to Live-Stream

You need a streaming service, encoding software, a computer, a fast Internet connection, a video camera, and microphones.

  • Streaming service: You upload a video stream to a streaming service, which provides a website where people can watch it. Free services may display advertisements, which may not be acceptable to your congregation. Both Ustream (which the UUA uses for General Assembly) and Livestream (which the Church of the Larger Fellowship uses) provide reasonably-priced, reliable paid services which don't include ads.
  • Encoding software: The video signal from your camera must be encoded into a streaming format before you upload it. Livestream and Ustream provide free encoding software. Most services allow you to use the free Flash Media Encoder. Livestream provides their own free encoder. The UUA has also used Wirecast, which provides additional features.
  • Computer: Any PC or Mac of recent vintage should have the power to do streaming, and tablets like iPads work, too. Check the specifications provided by your streaming service's encoding software.
  • Internet connection: You need a DSL or faster Internet connection, with at least 400 Kbps upload speeds. Dial-up just isn't fast enough.
  • Video camera: Many video cameras record, but don’t stream, even if they have an HDMI cable connection to a computer. High-end HD (high-definition) webcams have the quality for streaming events and cost $100-200. Some older DV analog-output cameras can stream using their RCA video connector. Make sure that your camera has an audio-input jack (for an external microphone) and an AC adapter (so you can plug it into the wall and won't run out of batteries in the middle of an event). Ustream has a list of cameras that work with their streaming service; Livestream also has a camera list.

    You can also use a tablet computer, like an iPad, if your streaming service provides an encoder app for it. Both Ustream and Livestream have apps for iPads.
  • Microphones: Sound quality is more important than image quality. People can put up with a fuzzy image, but if they can’t understand what speakers are saying, the video is useless. If your congregation uses a sound system, get the output from that system as the audio input to your camera. Otherwise, put a good microphone near your speaker and plug it into your camera’s audio input jack.

Privacy and Copyright Concerns

Some parts of your service may not be suitable for live-streaming or posting on the Web, because they may include personal information that congregation members do not want to share. Consider omitting the Candles or Joy and Concern or similar parts of your service. Also, if you plan to include video of your congregants, provide an area that you never video, where people can sit if they do not want to be in the video.

If you are live-streaming or posting video on the Web, you cannot include copyrighted material for which you do not have permission to do so. This includes readings, hymns, and music performances. See Copyright Issues Related to Worship.

To ask questions and share expertise about web video and other website issues, consider subscribing to the Websters discussion list or participating in the "UU Communications Lab" Facebook group.

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