BoxCast Team • March 26, 2019
Back in 2013—when we started working with broadcasters—live streaming was limited and complicated. Creating great live video was a complex process and, for many organizations, the low-quality, low-impact results often didn't justify the hassle.
Now, live streaming is more approachable and more relevant for all.
While broadcasting content is easier than ever before, understanding all the many factors involved in the setup can still be overwhelming. The various hardware, software, and platform options can create a barrier to getting started.
Every day, members of our team consult on the live streaming setups of beginners and experts alike. This post condenses the internal knowledge that we've developed over the years to help those with little-to-no-experience with video or broadcasting wrap their heads around it all. It provides an overview and highlights potential pitfalls.
There are many ways to set up a live stream.
You can pull out your phone, open Facebook, and start streaming to Facebook Live on the spot. Alternatively, you can build a multi-million-dollar TV studio with dozens of cameras and hire full-time staff to run it. Unsurprisingly, most organizations find themselves somewhere in between those two extremes of the spectrum.
To understand where you fit into the picture, we're going to break down the live stream process into four different parts:
In the past, if you wanted to broadcast, you needed a video camera. Now, you can stream from all kinds of devices.
The cameras on our phones and tablets are getting better every year. In 2014, you couldn't broadcast video from your phone—even if you could, it wouldn't be high-quality video. Now, not only can you broadcast from a phone, but you can do it well. All you need is a live streaming app like Facebook, Periscope, or Broadcaster.
Mobile devices—paired with a live streaming platform—are extremely reasonable options for the live streaming beginner as long as:
(a) you mount your mobile device on a tripod,
(b) you connect your camera to a better audio source than its internal mic,
(c) you have a really good internet connection,
d) you choose the right platform,
e) and you have no intention of zooming in.
While mobile devices are now a legitimate alternative, video cameras remain the best way to broadcast high-quality video.
There are thousands of types of video cameras. To simplify, we'll look at four specific types of video cameras—consumer, prosumer, professional, and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras.
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Consumer cameras are a great place to start if you're streaming for the first time. Built intuitively and at a low price point, these cameras can still pack a punch. You'll forgo some of the additional elements of top-of-the-line cameras, but you can create great video.
Prosumer cameras are a step-up from the consumer cameras in terms of lens capabilities and overall picture quality. These mid-level options are ideal for small or mid-size organizations looking to create a very professional stream.
In this space, we like to recommend the Canon XA15 because of its zoom capabilities and professional-level outputs.
If you have a professional videographer on staff and cameras with the latest technology—plus a decent budget, of course—you can create visually-stunning video content. If you're buying a camera for the future, make sure it has 4K output capabilities.
We love the Panasonic AG-DVX200 because it can output 4K and expanded dynamic range capabilities.
PTZ cameras mount on a wall or ceiling of a room. You can control them with a remote or leave them alone as a stationary camera.
You can use different types of cameras to stream. Some DSLRs, IP cameras, and GoPros will work in certain situations.
If you do choose to use a non-standard video camera, make sure to double-check your specs before building your setup. You should look at the maximum length of recordings and ensure there is a clean HDMI output.
👂 Your audio setup. Too many people spend too much time thinking about picture quality, and not enough time considering sound quality. In most situations, a live stream is only as good as your ability to hear it.
⏭ Doing too much, too fast. If you're broadcasting for the first time, do yourself a favor and make it simple. Start small by building a smooth workflow for you and your team. You can always grow your production down the road.
Production elements are the additional features—overlays, titles, switching between cameras—you bring into your stream to improve the viewer experience. While using production tools is a great way to increase viewer engagement, they also require additional manpower. This brings us to our first point: you don't have to enhance your stream with production elements— they are a nice bonus.
If you can't actively produce a live stream, that's okay. You can set up a feed from a PTZ camera in the back of the room or a video camera on a tripod and not have to worry about anything else.
If you have the staff for a bigger production, there are a couple bang-for-your-buck additions that will create a better viewing experience. Switching between cameras can add variety to your broadcast. Overlaying images and titles or other elements—like scoreboards—provides better context for your viewers tuning in.
Sometimes, you can get away with adding simple production elements without an extra piece of hardware. A few live streaming platforms—like BoxCast—provide a built-in graphic overlay feature for placing images on top of the video mid-broadcast. If you want to change between two camera angles a few times in a broadcast, you can do so with a basic HDMI switch.
Outside of those simple production enhancements, you'll need a hardware-based or software-based video switcher. We recommend hardware, but here are our favorites of each type for beginners.
😫 Making things too complicated. We've said it previously, and we'll repeat it once more: make your workflow easy. Don't try to add too much production too fast.
👩💻 Considering the staff or volunteer time required. Video production requires producers and camera people. Whenever our team produces a live stream with heavy production, we have a handful of people involved.
More fun stuff creates more work to do—it's the broadcaster's trade-off.
Up to this point, we've covered capturing video and adding optional production elements. To live stream, you also need to send that video to the internet in real-time.
You have two big questions to answer:
Where do I want to send my stream?
How am I going to get it there?
Your own site is the place where you can best serve your viewers with your brand and your resources.
Of all of the streaming platforms, Facebook Live is the most popular because of its social power. When you already have a large audience on Facebook, you may find Facebook Live an important destination for your live streams because of its potential for high viewership.
When you think about video on the internet, YouTube is the biggest name in the industry. With over 1 billion unique viewers each month, the platform is an effective space for sharing your digital video content.
Periscope is the platform of choice for Twitter. Periscope is increasingly more natively integrated with Twitter— it's now essentially “Twitter Live,” even though it still maintains its own platform separate from the Twitter-sphere. Many organizations with active Twitter accounts can benefit from streaming live video to that destination.
There are many other places you may want to send your live stream. Each one of those comes with its unique advantages and disadvantages.
You don't need to stream to every destination. If you don't have a YouTube audience already, it's probably not worth your time to manage a stream there. Pick a few spots that work for you and focus on growing your audience in those places.
All live streaming destinations require sending your stream to the internet.
If you're using a mobile device for capture or a software switcher for production, your video is already one step closer to the internet, since it's sitting on a phone or computer.
If you're using video cameras for capture and a hardware switcher for production, then you'll need to connect to a local network.
If you're capturing or producing your video on an internet-connected device, you don't need a hardware encoder. You do need a platform—app or software—with encoding and content distribution.
On your phone, your Facebook app or your Periscope app can encode video. Unfortunately, those apps will only distribute the video for their own platforms. If you rely on those social apps for encoding, you'll be limited to streaming to one destination.
If you want to stream from an iOS device, but also need to stream to multiple destinations, consider the BoxCast's Broadcaster App. Broadcaster is the most powerful way to broadcast 1080p60 HD live video directly from your iPhone or iPad.
If you're not using an internet-connected device for capture and production—the most common scenario—you'll need a hardware encoder to send video to the internet from your camera or hardware switcher.
At BoxCast, we offer two hardware encoders, built specifically for organizations. The BoxCaster is an easy-to-use, powerful encoder that can stream up to 1080p. The BoxCaster Pro is BoxCast’s most powerful encoder— designed for easy, automated, professional-level streaming.
Simulcasting is the name for live streaming to multiple destinations—your website, social platforms, mobile apps, smart TV apps—simultaneously.
Multi-destination streaming a great way for organizations to grow their audiences. If you aren't sending your broadcast to various platforms, you're missing out on viewership.
At BoxCast, we simplify simulcasting setups by allowing you to set up a broadcast with as many destinations as you need with a single click. You can save time and plan ahead by scheduling broadcasts days or weeks before you go live. The BoxCast Platform also lets you set recurring broadcasts and upload your events in bulk.
🔼 Your internet upload speed. The top priority for you as a broadcaster is to ensure you maintain a good network for your live stream. Whether you're using wifi or a cabled connection, read up on minimum bandwidth requirements and the factors that affect them.
🚨 Facebook Live's simulcasting rules. You can simulcast to as many destinations as you want—unless one of those spots is Facebook. Facebook Live wants you to only stream to their platform, so they don't allow sending streams to other social platforms like Periscope or YouTube Live 🤷♂️. You can still stream to your website and Facebook Live simultaneously. Here's more on that policy.
The last aspect of live streaming is what happens to your video when the stream is complete.
In many cases, the recordings of those broadcasts can be just as important for viewers as the live video.
Consider where your recorded broadcasts will be hosted for on-demand playback, how to edit them, who has control of them, and how long they will be available to you.
Once your live stream is complete, you'll have an opportunity to improve the recorded video for easier viewing. You might consider a platform with the ability to do the following:
If you send everyone to a specific link to watch the live video, intuitively, you want the recorded version of that video available in the same spot. In this way, your viewers will see your content when they click on the old links.
Downloading and re-uploading videos for on-demand playback is painful. Avoid that process.
If your stream starts late or ends early, you may end up with unneeded footage at the beginning and end of your broadcast. You need a way to cut out any unnecessary video at the beginning or end of your broadcast.
Whether you want to upload a locally recorded version or replace it with a post-processed video, a broadcast replacement option can make this easy. This tool should ideally maintain all existing listings links, embeds, and analytics from the original broadcast.
Video markers allow you to tag significant moments in your broadcasts so viewers can reference them easily. Whether you are tagging the topics of a city council meeting agenda, marking the moment of a goal in a soccer game, or breaking apart a five-hour business presentation, video markers can help your viewers find what they are looking for.
You may assume that any content you create is owned by you. It's not. If you stream to Facebook Live or YouTube directly, those companies own your videos.
In addition to owning your content so that they can monetize it, YouTube and Facebook need complete control to stop video that they deem in violation of copyright law. In theory, it seems good that these platforms crack down on copyright law, but in practice, the policy can be a big concern for organizations. These platforms have algorithms for picking up video and sound that infringe on copyright material. Those algorithms are not always accurate.
We often encounter cases where organizations lost access to their account or were unable to access their own videos because of faulty algorithms.
All this to say, you should keep your copy of your video content in another location, where you have control. With a platform like BoxCast, you have ownership of the material. You remove it when you want to, you manage it, and keep it as long as you need.
⏳ How long you actually need you archives around. For most organizations, viewership of recorded streams decreases over time. Have a certain length of time you want to keep your broadcasts available in mind. Forever isn't always the answer.
⬇️ The ability to download. Make sure you have a way to download your broadcasts for internal record-keeping. It's always good practice to keep a backup copy.
Hopefully, you found that overview helpful in scoping out your live streaming project. We didn't cover everything that you should consider when building out a live streaming setup, but that would be impossible. There's always more to learn.
From here, I'd recommend checking out our Live Streaming Resource Hub, where we cover new live streaming topics each week.
Want to talk to a real person about all of this?