Many people are frequently asking what gear they need to start live streaming their church services. They usually receive answers ranging from don’t stream at all to you need to spend $100k+ to start. In this gear list, we are going to cover the best live streaming setup you can create for about $6000.
Maybe you have heard that software isn’t as good as hardware, and in some cases, that is true. Many app-based software solutions are nothing more than consumer electronics (hint, hint: SlingStudio) that are not suitable for creating a reliable quality production. However, don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. Both vMix and OBS are very capable of handling production workloads and are the only reliable programs that have innovative features. (We’re talking about you Wirecast 🙄) OBS is open-source software that, while it is excellent for what you pay for, has its limits, so we are going to be using vMix HD, which costs only $350 one time.
You can purchase additional years of updates for $60 per 12 months. It’s not a subscription and includes all major version updates and minor updates. You’re not getting locked in with anything like the infamous Telestream tax that Wirecast users are plagued with.
But there may be a problem. vMix only supports Windows. Isn’t Windows bad for productions? Well, no, not at all. It’s a common myth that Windows is unreliable, forces updates, and is more virus prone than Mac. That is wrong. All those are user caused issues that Macs suffer from too.
Even the once Mac-first Renewed Vision, the makers of ProPresenter, recommend Windows for production.
Now other skeptics will say that hardware switchers are better. We will get to that tin detail at the end of this gear list, but I want to take a moment to point out that vMix, unlike other programs (you again Wirecast) it is incredibly stable. I, along with many other vMix users, can not recall a time where vMix caused a loss of stream issue. It just doesn’t happen.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s get into the technical ability of vMix, what PC you’ll need to run it, and how much it will all cost.
First, let’s cover what we will run it all on. In this gear list, we are trying to stay under $6k, so to understand what vMix needs to run, let’s visit their reference systems page. There they list all their recommended hardware. One of the laptops they recommend is the Asus ROG Zephyrus M. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M runs at about $1500 on B&H. It should work great for our needs.
Now we need to purchase vMix. I recommend churches use the HD version because it is a delicate balance between price and features. vMix sometimes gives away licenses to churches, so it may be worth filling out the application form. If you don’t hear back from them, you can purchase vMix HD here for $350. vMix allows you to do a slew of things that usually take $$$$$ in gear and giant broadcast facilities to produce. Some of those included in vMix HD are:
- Theoretically up to 1000 cameras
- Fully NDI compatible on all versions
- Pre-recorded video playout
- DVD inputs
- Audio file playout
- Multichannel audio interfaces (including digital mixers such as the X32)
- Web browser input
- Multi bitrate streams to up to 3 destinations simultaneously
- Record to your computer
- Virtual camera output to other programs such as Skype or Hangouts
- SDI outputs for IMAG
- Built-in title animation software
- Digital zooming
- Chroma and Luma Key
- PC and Mac desktop capture via NDI Scan Converter
- vMix Call
- Delay and instant replay
- A built-in audio mixer that includes, EQ, gains, noise gates, limiters, VST3 support, and more
- 4:4:4 32bit color correction
- Waveform and Vectorscope monitors
- Four independent overlay channels
- Web and mobile app control
- SRT In and out
- MIDI controller support
- And much much more
Convinced vMix is the best by now?
Now that we have our computer ($1500) and software ($350), we are ready to move on to our encoder.
Wait, I thought you said we could stream to 3 different destinations with vMix? Yep. I did, but there are a few things you will need to be able to stream without as many interruptions as possible.
A slow or spotty internet connection can kill any production no matter what you are using. So make sure you have plenty of upload bandwidth to cover the bit rate you are streaming at and also allow room for other devices to do things such as moderating comments. Other than having the right internet service provider, there are a few things you can do to improve your connection. #1 Having a hardwires cat6 connection. The laptop we choose does have a cat6 port, so all you need to do is plug-in. #2 Having an up to date network. One of the biggest killers is having old and slow routers, network switches, or trying to use wireless. To stream and use NDI, you will need to make sure your network is up to modern standards. #3 Restricting access. Yeah, I know it isn’t always possible, but when it is possible, you want to be on a dedicated network and have a dedicated internet connection to keep other people from hogging up your speed.
Proper Stream Setup
It is vitally important to make sure you have your stream settings appropriately configured. When choosing a destination, we recommend Facebook and YouTube, you need to look on their website to find what they recommend you send. You can also simplify this by using the API, aka presets within vMix, that allow you to configure your stream directly in vMix.
Cameras and Inputs
We are starting to get somewhere. Now it’s time to find some cameras. For this gear list, we are going to go with the BirdDog P100 ($1599/each) camera with the BirdDog PTZ controller ($1495). The P100 is 100% full NDI and NDI|HX compatible, which allows you to easily control and capture your camera all over IP, therefore, eliminating the need for running tons of extra wires and buying capture devices. If you have a higher budget, I highly recommend going for the P200 ($2799), which brings with it a lot of all-around image quality improvements.
BirdDog P100 Features
- POE, which means a single cord to the camera
- 10x optical zoom
- F1.6 (W) – F3.0 (T)
- 1 / 2.86 inch CMOS 2.2MP
- 0.5 lux
- NDI/HDMI/SDI outputs
- Up to 1080p 60fps
Often you want to display a sermon title, Bible verse, or overlay lyrics on your live stream. Traditional systems make that hard, but vMix has a solution. With the advent of ProPresenter 7, there are now a few ways to do this. We will cover the old ways first.
Pro6: You can set up a separate computer running Pro with the master/slave module and have a green background. After getting the signal into your switcher, you can key out the green background and end up with transparent overlays. That’s a lot of work.
Pro7: Now, with Pro7, you don’t have to do that. Now you can create the green slide directly on your main Pro computer. Pretty sweet, right? But there is more.
Pro6 and 7: With this easy to use script, you can bring text directly from your Pro output into vMix as a text title that dynamically updates. I think this is the best solution because it allows your broadcast team to have complete control of the fonts, shadows, and sizes of your text.
Any Presentation Software: The final option is to use the NDI Scan Converter. All the other options have focused on getting transparent lyric overlays into your live stream. This option brings in an exact copy of our screen output into vMix. To use it simply run NewTek NDI’s free NDI Scan Converter on Mac or Windows, and then as long as both machines are on the same network, you can add the screen capture as a source in vMix via an NDI input. I recommend doing this alongside options 2 or 3 because NDI Scan Converter can efficiently run in the background.
Now let’s discuss maybe what is possibly the most essential part, sound. I have used the BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC1820 ($328), and it works great if you need to bring in more than one audio channel, but if you just want one, the smaller UM2 ($50) works aswell. For best results, take a mix bus off your sound mixer into the audio interface. You may want to include some ambient mics in the crowd to help make everything feel in person rather than distant. Once you get your audio into vMix, you will want to play around with the audio settings to find what works best for you.
Especially if you are familiar with hardware switchers, you will want a tactile control surface so that you can easily control vMix without having the constantly be moving the mouse back and forth. Here are a few I recommend:
BEHRINGER X-TOUCH MINI $79
The Behringer X-Touch Mini is a compact version of Behringer’s popular X-Touch control surface. The mini is perfect for vMix due to its small size and fader that works as a bar. With the mini, you get thirty-two layered light-up buttons, eight control nobs, and two faders, all of which are contained in 2 easy to toggle layers. There isn’t a better controller at this price range that can do all that the x-touch mini does.
X-Keys XKE-124 Video Switcher Bundle $900
The X-Keys t-bar video switcher bundle strongly resembles a traditional hardware switcher feel and allows operators easy control of virtually everything they will need in production. You can customize your controller to how you want to. It is for sure an investment but something I think is going to be worth it.
Our Setup vs. Blackmagic Design
- Computer Asus ROG Zephyrus M: $1500
- vMix: $350
- 2x PTZ: $3198 ($1599/each)
- PTZ Controller: $1495
- Audio Interface: $50
- X-Touch Mini: $79
That adds up to a total of $6672, plus wiring and mounting supplies. I know that’s a little over budget, but the extra camera will make all the difference in your production quality.
So what would a similar system cost to use Blackmagic Design gear? Let’s find out:
- Atem Television Studio Pro 4k (switcher and audio): $2995 We’re choosing the 4k model because it has built-in converters. If we purchase the HD we’d need to purchase additional converters which add up $$$.
- HyperDeck Studio Mini (recorder): $695
- BMD does not make PTZs, so we are going to use PTZ Optics’s comparable PT12X-SDI-GY-G2: $3518 ($1759/each)
- PTZ Optics Controller: $714
- Teradek VidiU Go: $1490
- Plus computer and monitors to go with the Atem: $$$$
We are already nearly to $10k, and we have not even begun to scratch the surface of what vMix can still do that this setup can’t.
As you can see, a vMix system is the only viable option for church productions in 2020 and beyond because of its versatility, affordability, and simplicity. Gone are the days where we need whole rooms full of gear to stream; now we just need a laptop.
If you have found any pricing issues or outdated gear above, please drop a comment below so that we can update this gear list to the latest and greatest. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below, and a fellow reader or I will try to answer your questions as soon as possible.