I don’t do much consulting work these days but every once and awhile I help an organization (usually a non-profit) livestream an event or meeting. My approach is to train people in the use of the software and equipment so they can be empowered to go live whenever they need to without the need for additional staffing or expensive consultants.
I’ve found that most organizations don’t need to do something for mass consumption but rather for small to medium sized groups of members, congregants, etc. In those instances Zoom really can’t be beat for that purpose.
Zoom automates a lot of the stuff that can add to complexities on other platforms (especially when it comes to video encoding and audio levels), and it’s very forgiving when there’s a technical hiccup that happens locally or over the Internet. Zoom also has a webinar package that prevents unmuted participants from disrupting meetings. The biggest issues I’ve encountered with it usually involve scheduling meetings and getting the right Zoom links out to participants.
One of the things I recommend for volunteer organizations is that they have one person in charge of the video switching and another in charge of the Zoom (I call them a Zoom operator). The reason is that if they’re not opting for the more expensive Zoom webinar package they need to police the participants and be ready with the mute button! It’s also helpful for that person to monitor the chat for AV issues but also questions coming from the audience.
As far as hardware is concerned I like the following:
The ATEM Mini
I love the ATEM Minis. They are super affordable and amazingly full featured. They come in three flavors with the lowest cost option starting at around $295. They allow for live switching of HDMI video sources along with titling, green screen, overlays, and all sorts of neat stuff. The best part is that once it’s configured it boots up and works the same way every time – all a volunteer needs to do is push buttons.
The ATEM interfaces with a PC via its USB port and the video output shows up as a webcam on the host computer. It plugs right into Zoom and works reliably every time. Can’t beat it.
As for cameras there are many options – pretty much anything with an HDMI output will work so often I recommend people start with what they already have. You can also run computers through the ATEM’s HDMI ports to get its output on screen.
For those with a little more money PTZ (pan, tilt zoom) cameras are a great choice. I like cameras from Birddog and PTZ Optics – both offer cameras that can be controlled remotely and support video output via HDMI along with NDI for more advanced video production switchers.
Audio & Microphones
Microphones can be a bit trickier. The ATEM has analog audio inputs so you can plug mics directly into it if your cameras don’t have external mic support.
If you have deep pockets I love the Sennheiser AVX system which is a wireless system that has both handheld and lavalier microphones available. See my full review here. It’s truly a bulletproof system. I’ve used this system for about six years now and have never, ever had a problem with it – even in busy places like CES and other large events.
More recently I looked at the DJI Mic system from the popular drone maker. It’s a wireless microphone system that integrates the mics along with a recorder and wireless transmitter. It’s super simple to use and a low cost alternative to the AVX system.
I always recommend groups start with the “minimally viable product” and slowly build up their capacity based on need. All too often I see groups budgeting for huge equipment buys that go underutilized. Many groups don’t need a broadcast level production but rather need something that just works to get the word out to their staff, membership, congregants, etc.
When you are ready to take the next step I recommend going with Vmix. It’s a software video production tool that delivers performance on par with super expensive Tricasters at a fraction of the cost. It runs great on gaming laptops for portable productions.
In the photo at the top of this post we were running Vmix on a Lenovo Y740 laptop for a high school graduation stream. We used NDI to bring in three camera feeds into the laptop so we didn’t need to use any capture cards! I detail the whole production here:
No Right or Wrong Way..
The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to stream something. If it works and your audience gets the information they need you’re good! Starting off in the simplest way possible will grow your confidence, give you some ideas as to how to improve the next stream, and help build your skillset as you progress.