Thanks to the growth of broadband access and increasingly efficient compression and transport technologies, the geographical borders of the church are rapidly dissolving. The ability to deliver live sermons to individuals virtually anywhere, through computers, cell phones and mobile devices, opens a whole new world of possibilities for houses of worship wanting to expand their faith-based outreach.
Historically, the preferred method for broadcasting live video from a main campus to remote locations was through satellite hookup. The point-to-point transmission relied on a traditional broadcast workflow; a switched video program feed was modulated, transmitted via satellite, demodulated then transmitted via closed-circuit television feeds or broadcast through standard terrestrial transmission systems. Not surprisingly, this type of live video delivery was cost-prohibitive for most churches, potentially costing $20,000 or more for each month of service.
Today, that same live program feed can be encoded locally on the church campus, and then distributed as an IP stream through a public or private network to any number of potential viewers. The IP video stream is then decoded by the media player (Windows Media, Flash, etc.) installed on the laptop computer or mobile device of the end-viewer. One of the key advantages of Web-based video delivery is that even small churches with limited budgets can establish a meaningful video outreach on the Web.
The fundamental building blocks required for successful live video delivery over the Internet include a program source, broadband network access, video encoders to capture and stream your baseband video feeds, a scheduling and automation solution to manage it all, and a CDN partner to ensure a satisfactory viewing experience.
The program source is any live or pre-recorded video. It can vary in length, quality and production value depending on the church’s particular communications requirements. Some churches may already possess many of the tools needed to produce live video. A single low-cost camera streaming to the Web can be a great starting point in spreading your message more widely. And, as budgets allow, additional production capabilities, such as lighting, multiple cameras, production switchers and audio equipment, along with the required streaming systems can be scaled up to meet the need.
Since you will be transforming your live or pre-recorded source video into a live IP-based video stream and delivering it over the Web, broadband network access is required. Rather than sharing what might be a limited DSL (or similar) access account that currently services your church’s administrative needs (email, Web browsing, etc.), dedicated connectivity that supports your streaming encoder exclusively is best. This will help guarantee uninterrupted performance in delivering the best user experience to your viewers. The quality of the streams you decide to serve may vary considerably depending on your particular application. Generally speaking, the higher the bandwidth, the higher the video quality, so the stream should be configured to deliver the best possible quality within the limits of available bandwidth. For example, a DS-1 connection will adequately support most video streams, from low bit-rate encodes for mobile applications to full resolution streams.
However, if you are considering high definition (HD) streaming, you may want to opt for a DS-2 connection, which provides even more available bandwidth.
Selection of your streaming media encoder is another important element of successful Web-based video delivery. Encoding appliances are now available that include streamlined embedded operating systems optimized for all the tasks required to encode and deliver video over an IP stream. Additionally, encoding technologies have advanced in operational simplicity to the point that they are easy enough for novice users to operate via a simple browser-based interface. It is important to keep in mind that not every viewer will be viewing your broadcast on the same type of device or using the same decoder or media player. Each device requires a different type of encoding profile to accommodate the user’s available bandwidth and screen resolution.
In order to optimize the user experience, it’s best to select an encoding solution that can be configured with multiple pre-defined encoding profiles to accommodate a wide variety of streams and resolutions.
Software solutions can dramatically streamline and automate the process. These solutions enable the ability to define a programming schedule, automatically operate the video encoders according to that schedule, provide an interface to monitor the broadcast activity and, ultimately, deliver the video streams to end-viewers. These solutions are analogous to the traffic and automation systems in traditional broadcast operations today. In some cases, it may even be possible to integrate existing traffic/automation systems. Some products may also provide advanced capabilities for delivery to end-viewers and the ability to record and archive programming for on-demand viewing later.
If you plan to stream your service to a single remote location – perhaps a live simulcast to an offsite congregation, point-to-point distribution of one stream is probably acceptable. However, if you want to distribute a single video stream to the Web to be viewed by a large number of individuals simultaneously, the services of a Content Delivery Newtork are essential.
Once the encoder is configured with the network address provided by the CDN, and physically connected to the network, the unit can begin delivering streamed content to the CDN server array. With a custom and repeatable profile already programmed into the encoding system, even non-technical church personnel can initiate a new streaming session, often with a single touch of a button on the encoder’s front-panel interface.
The Internet has significantly altered the costs and complexities associated with live video distribution. Online broadcasting and innovative compression and transport technologies offer today’s Houses of Worship an easy-to-use, highly engaging, cost-effective way to communicate their spiritual messages to a global audience.