In the worship space of the future, streaming videos will carry worship and pastoral messages all over the world from one church in New Zealand to a watcher / worshipper in Alaska. There are many churches that are driven by the evangelistic possibilities of the Internet to take their church online. The question is- what do you need to get started?
Streaming- A Brief Overview
While streaming technology is nothing new to the net, it is definitely the brave new frontier for churches. However there are a few key communities who are producing at the corporate level of broadcaster and re-purposing that for the web. For this article I will use the terms streaming video and downloading video interchangeably. It’s up to you if you want to make the video content available as a download. There are inherent differences in streaming versus downloading.
First, streaming data plays almost immediately-the viewer doesn’t have to wait for the downloading of the file which depending upon their connection can be substantial for video content. Also, in a streaming video, the viewer can scroll ahead once it has loaded into the browser – there is still some waiting but not for the entire file to download. However downloads are more permanent and once downloaded are often easier to watch and less jerky as well. People can auto download a file in a service like iTunes podcasting and watch it at their leisure, somewhat like Tivo.
Second, most streaming servers have multiple stream capabilities depending upon the connection. This means viewers can potentially have the same recorded content on their desktop PC at home, their handheld computer, and their iPhone™ or other video cell phone. If only downloads are available, multiple file types need to be created and then stored. The viewer then needs to find the correct file, if it is available, for their viewing purpose.
Third, the streaming server and data stream are optimized for streaming while downloads are optimized for a compromise of size versus quality which means the video quality may be better than a downloaded file.
Finally and perhaps most importantly for larger churches, a streaming media server can simultaneously serve video to a large number of viewers, while a shared web server (that most people are subscribed to) have a smaller capacity for simultaneous downloads.
If the proper research has not been done ahead of time the user may experience timeouts or ‘media unavailable’ messages or even worse, the traffic may shut down your online media server.
There is room for an entire series of articles on the server side of data transmissions, however in this article we’ll be focusing more on the production of video content for streaming media.
Where to Begin
So you are a church with media hopes – where do you start with streaming technology? You know you want to get your message out to your immediate congregation and perhaps out farther, but how does it work? What does it take to make it happen? What is the cost investment?
Let’s start by getting a general overview of the signal chain for the streaming video process. You may already be hitting all the steps and you are ready to go live, but my guess is that most are somewhere in between- looking to upgrade to this kind of capability. Here is what I would consider the essential steps for producing content.
5. Capture or Compression
1. Content: While this seems like a no brainer, it’s actually the most important aspect of this article. The content is the purpose and should lead the technology. The content needs to be compelling, watchable, and engaging. The content will also determine your budget and your purchases. Start with the idea that content will be what attracts and ministers to people, not technology. Every decision should be made to enhance the content.
2. Lighting is so important. In general for any talking head, there needs to be three positions of lighting; two side lights focused on both sides of the face and one back light that will give depth and dimension. While lighting can be very expensive, it’s the single most important aspect of capturing great video. No matter how good the camera is, it’s not going to save your bad lighting. Spend a little bit more here, and better yet get a professional lighting design done and your viewers will be much happier with the result.
3. Camera. Now that you have the lighting designed, choosing the correct camera to capture the magic becomes crucial. Budget permitting, try to go for a three CCD chip camera (see this link for definition http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3CCD), which will give you the best color and capture.
4. For a single camera shoot with a non-broadcast camera, you can use the built in tape recorder for the camera. That tape will become your master, which you will then convert for the web. In most broadcast situations, you will output your signal to a recording device rather than have a tape recorder built into the camera. This enables you to have multiple cameras process through their Color Correction Units (CCU) and mixed live via a video mixer by a director. The final mixed output is then recorded to a stand-alone digital video tape recorder or hard disk recorder.
5. Capture and compression: Once you’ve finished editing your video (or audio), you’ll need to greatly reduce its file size so that it can be transferred over the Web effectively. Compressing audio and video can be as much an art as a science, so I have attempted to simplify the process here. You’ll need to make some choices about what dimensions you need your video to be to work with your web page design, as well as how much to compress it to retain maximum quality while addressing the bandwidth needs of the viewers.
Format: Real, QuickTime, Flash or Windows Media format? Each format has its own strengths and weaknesses. I recommend QuickTime because of its high quality, wide compatibility, and low cost (free). Because all Macs support QuickTime creation and playback natively, and because iMovie and Final Cut Pro generate QuickTime by default, QuickTime is an especially convenient choice if most of your media is generated on Macintosh computers, but it’s not limited to macs by any means.
Compression: Basically, the more you compress, the smaller the file size will be. However, more compression means throwing away more data (bits). In general, high compression means low fidelity and vice versa. I suggest you plan to deliver two types of files: A high-quality, high-bandwidth version for cable/DSL users (approx 30% of the households in the US) and a low-quality, low-bandwidth version for anyone else.
6. Server: There are some great free server options to start. Youtube of course is king but is limited to approx 10 minutes of video at one time and the uploaded file is converted to the Youtube Flash format, which as we all know is not the highest quality. Google Video allows you to upload without any size limitation (I know!) and is a perfect solution for churches on a budget. There is also an assignable price option if you wish to sell your videos. Both of these options allow you to host your video on their server and then link the video back to your own ministry webpage to stream if you don’t mind the branding logo on the video. Of course with YouTube, you also run the risk of having your video sandwiched in between other videos which may not be optimal, given that there is a wide variety of content on YouTube, some of it decidedly not appropriate content for a house of worship audience.
There’s a new option that is quite interesting, which may be a solution for you. It’s called ustream.tv This site is different in that you allow them access to your camera as it is recording live. This site enables anyone with a camera connected to a computer and an Internet connection to have a live stream as it’s happening. The site detects your camera and does the conversion to flash. Just remember this is live TV though – no editing.
Hosting on your own church shared server or inhouse server requires a lot of homework to find out if your current server has the capability and if your service provider allows you the bandwidth. There are also higher associated costs with implementing dedicated streaming servers specific to your church.
The same solution will not work for all churches- so you will need to ask your team what the goal is, and determine which of the solutions best fits how to achieve that goal- while also leaving room for expansion into the future.
Thanks for reading!