How’s the Water Taste in Our Live Stream?

In early 2015 I posted a blog with all the data I could gather regarding how we built our service live streaming product. (Click here to read the original blog.) We have since simplified our process a great deal so it seemed timely to post an update. How we do this now is not only simpler and easier, but it really does look and sound better than what we did before.

I will repeat this disclaimer from before: Keep in mind that the info listed below is what works best for our particular setup, situation, congregation, and workflow. We make our fair share of mistakes in the production world, but one thing we try to get right is how much time, effort, and research goes in to some of our production systems and processes. I HIGHLY suggest you maintain your own level of due diligence and never adopt a strategy just because you saw us (or anyone else) do it. There is NO replacement for doing your own homework. Sorry, no shortcuts in production.

Here’s the basic info on our current setup:

  • Service Provider: Stream Monkey
  • Encoder: Telestream Wirecast running on macOS
  • We output a single, high-quality 720p stream to Stream Monkey, which provides a transcoding service that produces the other lower-quality streams for cellular connections, etc. This reduces the amount of work our encoder needs to do and the amount of upstream bandwidth required.
  • Computer: iMac configured with the fastest CPU available
  • Input to iMac: Blackmagic UltraStudio Express using 720p59.94 SDI with embedded audio

Source Routing

  • The primary stream video feed comes from a general purpose aux on our main video switcher. This allows us to send separate sources from the switcher to the stream if needed.
  • Example: If we take our video walls to black in the house for a segment or as an effect, we can still route live camera images to the stream to maintain continuity for the viewer.
  • This video output is combined with the program audio mix using an SDI audio embedder. (Click here to read more on how we put together our live audio mix.)
  • This video and audio feed then hits a Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K video switcher allowing us to add any additional stream-specific graphics or transitions.
  • The audio can be further processed by the ATEM if needed, allowing us to add sound effects, achieve some level of gain control, or mute channels.
  • We take this ATEM output to our main video router allowing us to capture the same feed for recording, archiving, and distribution.
  • Finally, we send this output from the router to the live streaming iMac computer via the UltraStudio input device.

A few notes about web interfaces:

We created a custom website (COTMLive.com) that simply embeds the standard player provided by Stream Monkey. This custom site gives us better control over when the stream is visible, allowing us to hide the stream while we are rehearsing or setting it up for internal use only.

Before you take a dip in the stream:

I said something like this in the streaming post from two years ago (perhaps it’s important enough to make note of—hint, hint):

All this streaming info is cool and all, but if your service output doesn’t look or sound good, it won’t matter how much time and effort you put into your stream setup, it still won’t look or sound good. In fact, in most cases, you’ll find that it’s much worse.

I encourage you to work on making sure your live presentation is rocking BEFORE you spend time, resources, and anguish putting a live stream product together. How does your video shoot look? How does your mix sound? Can you hear the worship as if you’re in the room? Evaluate your room AND your live product before you put in a streaming setup with the expectation for it to look and sound like a million bucks. Streaming can be a great way to broaden the effectiveness of your ministry, but paying attention to some of these basic production details first will make a huge difference.

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Andrew Stone
Production Manager
Andrew Stone is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 27 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM's live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He's been married for 20 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (stone.rocks), and is a blog contributor on Seeds, COTM's free resource site.
@stone_rocks