Streaming live video is now a must-have marketing channel for any business, and at the same time, many people are looking to start a live streaming channel as a business. While it’s no doubt that live video content is booming at the moment, starting a live broadcast is still relatively technical, and we’d need the right equipment and tools to ensure the best possible audio and video quality for your live stream. First things first, check the equipment you already have. If you have a decent smartphone with a decent camera, you can use it as your video source–even as a backup. They can be a major money saver so you don’t need to invest in new, expensive equipment. Here is our guide to the essential live streaming equipment you should have, and how you can use them in your setup.
Barebones Essentials of Live Streaming
Although live streaming might be an intimidating task at first, once you know the basics, setting up your live streaming is actually pretty simple.
You can technically run a live broadcast with just five key components:
- Internet connection: pretty obvious, but to stream your content, you’d need a reliable internet connection with a sufficient upload bandwidth
- Video source: the source of your video. In live streaming, this is mainly a camera, but it can also be your computer (playing prerecorded video files) or any other source for prerecorded videos.
- Audio source: similar to the above, this will be your microphone or any other source for audio files.
- Encoder: can be a software program or dedicated hardware, an encoder translates feeds from your camera into an internet-ready format.
- Streaming platform/video hosting: the streaming solution to distribute your live broadcasts to your audience. This can be a free social platform like Facebook Live or professional platforms like Viloud.
In general, the basic flow of your setup should be your audio+video source—>encoder—> video hosting platform. Then, you should simply set up the internet connection between your encoder and video hosting platform, and you are ready to stream right away.
Pretty simple, right? However, for each of these, we now have a wide variety of options, and now we can dive into each of these major parts in more detail.
Live Streaming Equipment: Breakdown
As mentioned, the main video source in a live streaming setup is typically the camera, and below we will discuss three common alternatives in live streaming camera setup:
Budget camera setup
Here, you are going to use a single affordable camera that you probably already have like your smartphone, a portable camera, or even a webcam. Depending on your setup, you might need a tripod to stabilize your smartphone/webcam, and now a tripod for smartphones is fairly affordable.
Then, simply connect your smartphone or webcam to your computer, connect to the encoder and video streaming platform via the internet, and start streaming this video.
The main advantage of this setup is obviously affordability, but this is also the most limited setup regarding video/audio quality and latency.
In this setup, we use a single professional or semi-professional (like a mirrorless DSLR) camera. With this, we get the benefit of a higher video resolution and a more seamless stream. You might want to look for cameras that are designed for video shooting (most DSLRs aren’t made for this purpose), but a high-end video camera recorder can be extremely expensive.
Choose one according to your budget and needs, and you might also want a tripod or a hardware encoder with this setup (more on encoders later).
If you need more than one angle in your live streaming, then you will need more than one camera. This setup might be a little complex and it can be something like this:
- Multiple cameras
- Tripods for each camera
- Switcher (to switch between angles with just a push of a button)
- Audio mixer (if you use more than one microphones)
- Computer graphics software to process your graphics needs in real-time
You can combine professional cameras with lower-quality cameras (webcams) in this setup, but generally, you’d want more than one of the same type of camera for uniformity in picture quality.
This is obviously the most expensive setup of the tree, but might be necessary if you’d like to stream events in larger venues or if you are absolutely in need of covering multiple angles.
Video Source Setup: Tips and Tricks
Actually the least expensive option for your video source is to use a computer screen as a video source, and you can stream whatever’s on your screen with a screen recorder software. Keep in mind that this is a very viable option if you want to stream tutorials, presentations, how-tos, and other similar content.
In choosing between the different cameras, the main factors to consider are:
- The standard nowadays is to deliver 1080p 60 fps footage, and 4K streams are getting more common. However, if you are on a tight budget, make sure that your camera can capture at least 720p quality in 24 fps, which is still pretty decent.
- Smartphone cameras and webcams won’t work really well in capturing objects that move around
- DSLRs and high-end cameras might not be able to connect directly to your PC in a live stream setting, so you might need a capture card or a hardware encoder
- Again, if you use more than one camera, you might need a switcher to easily switch between different cameras
Most computers don’t have HDMI input, so if you are using a DSLR or professional camcorders but are not planning to get a hardware encoder, then you’d need a capture card. The capture card, as the name suggests, will capture whatever the camera is seeing, and then relays it into your encoder or computer (if you are using a software encoder).
Since we have discussed encoders so much already, let’s just jump into it.
In its most basic sense, an encoder encodes or converts your live stream as one continuous video file instead of individual images (which is what most cameras do). This allows the streaming platform or video hosting to broadcast the video more efficiently, lowering the latency.
This is why an encoder is very important in live streaming. An encoder compresses your video file without compromising the quality, so you can stream a high-quality video without burdening the viewer’s bandwidth.
To summarize, an encoder is important because:
- Reduce the overall file-size, very important in live streaming so it can reduce or eliminate buffering
- Change video resolution in real-time
- Change audio format as needed
- Meet a certain bitstream rate
- Ensuring the video is compatible with as many devices as possible
With those benefits being said, we have two main options in getting an encoder: hardware or software.
Hardware encoders, as the name suggests, is a dedicated device that will encode incoming data from your camera into a streamable video. They can come in a fairly small size, although there are also large, high-end ones. In general, hardware encoders are more expensive than their software counterparts but are more reliable with lower latency.
Software encoders, on the other hand, are programs that run on your computer (or even your smartphone). They are pretty reliable nowadays and are generally much more affordable than hardware encoders. OBS Studio, for example, is a free and reliable software encoder.
Your audio source can be a microphone, a music file, or any other sources of audio.
Before anything else, check what you already have. Your smartphone obviously has a built-in microphone, and if you’ve got a camera, it might come with a built-in microphone.
However, if you want a higher audio quality, then you might want to get at least one external microphone. There are three main options you can choose:
Lapel mic (lavalier)
A small wireless microphone that is designed to clip on to the speaker’s lapel. It is a wireless microphone with its dedicated receiver. It is a decent choice to pick up speeches, and if your live streaming content involves a lot of live talkings, then you might want to get at least one lapel mic.
Now we have a wide variety of USB microphones that can connect directly to your computer. They are generally much cheaper than professional XLR microphones (both wired and wireless). However, they generally don’t pick sounds as good as XLR microphones.
Also, they tend to have latency, which can be a big issue in live streaming. However, there are a lot of pretty decent USB mics nowadays which also come at a pretty affordable price.
Professional XLR mics
While XLR mics are generally the best in quality, they are also the most expensive options, and you’ll also need to invest in an XLR cable, an audio capture device (or a mixer, since your computer doesn’t have XLR connection), and a wireless receiver spending on your needs.
This is the best option if you do have the budget, but if you are tight in budget, don’t force it.
There are two main ways you can use to live stream your videos. First, you can stream your content in consumer-grade video sharing platforms like YouTube or Facebook Live. However, they do have a lot of limitations, such as:
- Limited monetization capabilities, you can’t, for example, make certain videos pay-per-view
- Many workplaces and schools often block these platforms, limiting your reach
- You are tied to the ‘rules’ provided by the platform. Facebook, for example, doesn’t allow live streaming for more than 4 hours.
This is why if you are serious with your live streaming, you might want to get a professional-grade online video platform. There are now various affordable options for these platforms. Viloud, for example, allows you to live-stream your content from the encoder for as low as $99/month.
A quality video hosting platform allows you absolute control for your content from its security (you won’t be affected when, for example, YouTube is hit with a DDoS attack), monetization, customization, and your content will be censor-free.
You also get the following benefits to using a professional video hosting platform:
- Speed and reliability: a reliable video hosting platform can distribute your content with much lower latency, especially if it also features CDN (Content Delivery Network). A CDN will deliver your content from a virtual server closest to the viewer, bypassing the local network.
- Security: you get an extra layer of security with a professional platform, and will protect your website from potential security attacks
- Quality: due to more optimal content distribution, you can consistently distribute high-quality video
Your video is delivered to the streaming platform via the internet, so obviously a reliable and sufficient internet connection is very important in your live streaming.
During a live broadcast, your encoder uploads data in real-time continuously throughout the live stream, so your internet connection must be able to handle this consistently.
In general, here are some important principles about internet connection in live streaming:
- Your upload speed should be at least 20 to 50 percent higher than the bitrate of your stream. For example, if you are aiming for 5,000 Kbps stream, you’d need at least 6Mbps of upload speed. If you can, aim to get twice the target bitrate (in this case, aim for 10Mbps).
- Remember that the upload speed advertised by your ISP might be much lower in practice. Always test your download and upload speeds, there are various free tools to do this.
- Don’t only aim for speed, but you also need a stable connection especially if you plan to run a prolonged broadcast. Aim for a wired connection (don’t use WiFi), and disconnect as many devices as possible to prevent them from using the upload speed.
In live streaming, your equipment is very important since you don’t have the luxury of editing and post-production. Without the right audio and video quality, your viewers will simply leave.