In today’s world of digital media, Houses of Worship all across the world have embraced streaming media technology in their respective worship environments. For a period of time, websites have generally been the approach for Houses of Worship to disseminate news and information about their ministries. Now, it takes streaming video or audio to electronically bring the cyber world inside Houses of Worship. People can realistically join in a “LIVE” worship service or watch, listen, and download archived media streams from a “streaming server” via the ministry’s website.
We still have several hands raised to ask questions about what streaming media is, and how it works. How does a church or ministry get started in streaming media? What equipment is needed? What are some of the requirements to get started? What can Houses of Worship accomplish by setting up a streaming media procedure and what are some of the benefits? Many churches believe streaming media is technically complex and expensive. Neither is the case. Often streaming media can be set up from scratch in a single day with minimal costs. This article is written to assist and demystify streaming media technology in today’s Houses of Worship.
Streaming Media: what’s all the hoopla about?
Streaming media is a sequence of “moving images” and or sound that are sent in compressed data form over the Internet and displayed or heard by the user’s computer. With streaming media, a Web user does not have to wait to download a large file before seeing the video or hearing audio. Instead, the media is sent in a continuous data stream and is played as it arrives. Streamed data is transmitted by a server application and received and displayed in real-time by client applications. The user needs a media player, to play the encoded stream as it arrives to the users computer.
How to start a 24-Hour Worldwide Streaming Ministry Network?
Begin with a website and digital media content.
Media content is very important; knowing how to have the right content in order to deploy the best video or audio stream to your clients is imperative to a successful media stream. In the video world; non-linear digital systems, lighting, cameras and trained technical teams are a must to produce a high-quality “LIVE” broadcast or archived stream. An all-digital workflow space will give you more flexibility and a greater impact on your audience experience.
Houses of Worship should always capture video in the best possible quality; you can never improve it later on. As for audio, having the right professional analog/digital console board, trained technical teams, microphones, compressor/limiters and E.Q./mixing is essential to the user’s overall experience on the Internet. To successfully deliver streaming media over the Internet means detailed planning and thorough preparation.
There’s an old saying, “garbage in, garbage out”. You want to ensure that your digital media content is of good to high quality coming in to your equipment so that it may go out on the other side with the same quality or better.
As for your website, simply place a “Watch Live”, “Listen Live” and/or Archived links on your website and/or embed a media player window inside one of your web pages. Either of these functions will pull from the streaming provider’s servers and within seconds your audiences are watching, listening or downloading digital media content. This places no drain on your website provider nor does it use any website bandwidth. “Audience experience matters more than anything else.”
Secure an Internet connection
Broadband internet connection is wide spread and is available in almost all areas of the globe; LAN or Wireless. For “LIVE” video broadcast streams the upload connectivity derived from a cable-modem, DSL or T1 (typically 500Kps, 1.544Mbps and up depending on the target video encoding quality that you desire to be transmitted) is needed to stream video. Live audio-only (28-56Kbps) streaming of an event can be accomplished with a good quality dial-up Internet connection. For, Houses of Worship a live-streaming service is only as good as your upstream connectivity.
Purchase an encoding workstation
This is a computer that is dedicated to capturing your video and/or audio into encoder software and transmits the data streams to a streaming provider which will then broadcast to your audiences. In order to do this, you will need an input device for your computer. For video streaming you will need some type of video capture device such as Osprey 230 from Viewcast (http://www.viewcast.com), Winnov (http://www.winnov.com), Pinnacle (http://www.pinnaclesys.com) or another manufacturer.
For audio streaming the input device can be your computers sound card, most capture devices come equipped with audio and video. Video inputs can range from Composite, S-Video and B&C while audio inputs can be RCA (red and white connectors), XLR and 1/4 -mini connectors. Video/Audio streaming capture devices can be obtained for less than $300; do your homework and find the best video or audio device for your particular application and system.
After choosing a video and/or audio capture device getting a desktop computer to handle the job of ingesting video and audio data and sending that data back out can be a thwarting task. Your computer system must be able to get the video and/or audio in and out in real-time. When CPU resources run low; encoding quality suffers and affects every single viewer watching and/or listening to a “LIVE” broadcast stream. Normally a Pentium II with a least 128 MB of RAM is good but a PC running Dual Quad Core processors, 2 GB of memory and a large SATA drive (100 GB or more) for storage is highly recommended. As for Mac users a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro will suffice, all of which is dependent on which encoder software you select.
Knowing beforehand what audiences you want to bring to your website is important in choosing the right encoder software (the “encoder”). There are several digital formats available to stream such as (Windows Media, Real, QuickTime and Flash), some of these media file extensions are (.wmv, .wma, .flv, .swf, .mov, .rm, .ra, .mp4). By far Windows Media format is the most popular streaming format globally but recently Adobe/Flash has brought on strong competition with such websites as YouTube, MySpace and others. Windows Media Encoder 9 Series is available from Microsoft’s website for free and Adobe Flash Media Encoder is also free. While QuickTime (QuickTime Broadcaster) and Real (RealProducer Basic) have taken a back seat in the streaming media arena they are still viable free encoders. It is recommended that you use the encoding software that is provided by the streaming provider of the streaming format you have chosen. Live streaming of the worship service is digitized with the encoder and sent through your Internet connection to the streaming service provider.
Selecting a streaming service provider
A streaming provider must meet or exceed several requirements in order to provide the highest quality bandwidth data stream with few buffers to your intended audiences and continuous data flow with no disconnects and the highest possible download speed. If this is not achieved and there is even a momentary break in data flow pauses, skips and buffers can occur, and the audience media experience becomes adverse.
Streaming providers should be well connected with multiple Internet “Tier One” connection carriers called Border Gateway Protocol or BGP. BGP directs streams to their destination using the best carrier to get it there in the shortest amount of time. You can find out more about BGP at (http://www.bgpexpert.com). The streaming provider must be capable of handling thousands of simultaneous dial-up and broadband listeners and viewers in a single data stream. A single-connected streaming provider will suffice for some audiences, but others may have difficulty connecting or staying connected. They should be able to handle simultaneously LIVE streaming broadcasts and stored archived streaming media content on a single streaming account, and use players that the majority of audiences do not have to download and install.
Streaming providers should allow Houses of Worship to control their streaming media content. Houses of Worship should be able to adjust encoding bitrates as needed in order to select audience quality, regulate streaming costs and set up video/audio Podcasts. Houses of Worship that normally stream video should have liberty to offer audio-only content as needed, which uses a fraction of the bandwidth costs that video uses.
Furthermore, a streaming service provider should provide streaming statistical reporting software such as (http://www.sawmill.net), (http://www.paessler.com/prtg) or (http://www.cacti.net) for Houses of Worship to view at any time. Statistics should provide documentation of bandwidth used, how many people are watching or listening to which streaming media content, where their audiences are located and download activity. Support from streaming providers should be 24-hours a day any day of the week, holidays included, either by phone, email or online. Customer service is very important. If your “LIVE” broadcast stream goes down on Sunday morning, it does you no good to talk to a machine.
All of these services from streaming providers should be flexible and affordable and come at a realistic cost. Streaming media service plans can be found starting at $200 per month and up. This should include more than a thousand broadband and dial-up viewer-hours, listener-hours and storage of archived streaming files with media downloads of any digital format. There are usually set-up fees and long-term contracts. There are several streaming providers available: Netbroadcasting.tv, VitalStream, Akami, StreamingFaith, 316networks, FaithHighway, Lifestream.tv and many more to select from. Breath of Life Christian Center selected Netbroadcasting.tv as our streaming service provider. The key is to find a reliable, customer service driven, dependable, experienced and affordable streaming media provider. Best of luck to you in your search!