These are cameras, computer screens, and other image sources to be shown, as well as microphones, mixer feeds, and other sounds to be played in the stream.
This is the computer software or standalone hardware device that packages real-time video and sends it to the Internet.
The place your live video will become available online. Popular ones include YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook Live.
So your stream doesn’t freeze, buffer, or drop off entirely.
The basic setup and flow of a live stream
A stream of video data (from a camera, for example) for your live stream is called a video source. Respectively, a stream of audio data is an audio source. A simple stream might consist of just one video and audio source, while a more complex one may have two or more audio and video sources involved. Different combinations of video and audio sources are referred to as “scenes” or “layouts” (think full screen, picture-in-picture, or side-by-side layouts).
The video source(s) for a live stream may come from a:
>Phone or tablet camera
An encoder “translates” the video signal for the Internet. An encoder is a piece of software that compresses and converts the incoming audio-video signal into a digital, web-friendly format. You need an encoder because most video sources don’t come ready for live streaming: video cameras are made for recording large and bulky video files, not intended for streaming in real time.
Essentially, today you have the choice of going live from three types of encoding devices: mobile phone/tablet, a computer with streaming software installed, or a dedicated hardware encoder. While a mobile phone may be an all-in-one video source and encoding device, the live production capabilities offered by a mobile device are extremely limited. Let’s focus on the encoding tools that are able to handle more professional live streams, with the ability to add multiple cameras and layouts.
A software encoder is an installed application that uses your computer’s resources (CPU) to neatly pack up the video and send it online. As previously mentioned, a capture card is necessary to capture the video signal from your source to your computer.
There is a wide variety of free and paid streaming software available, including Wirecast, vMix, Streamlabs OBS, the ever-popular OBS Studio, and many more. You can learn all about the differences between them in our best streaming software article. OBS Studio is a good way to start learning about encoding because it’s free to download and install, all settings are easily accessible, and there are many online tutorials to help you along.
It’s important to remember that streaming software always takes a toll on the computer’s CPU. This means that if your computer is not powerful enough to handle it, your viewers may experience buffering and dropped frames while you experience a very laggy computer. We recommend having a machine no lower than an Intel Core i5 2.8 GHz with 8GB memory for a good live streaming experience.
A hardware encoder (i.e., streaming hardware) is a dedicated device that handles all the encoding. Audio and video sources are connected directly to the hardware encoder, no capture cards required. Modern encoders are capable of taking in multiple video input formats, including HDMI™, SDI, VGA, and DVI, as well as XLR and 3.5 mm analog audio. Naturally, hardware encoders need to be connected to the network (via Ethernet, or Wi-Fi, or cellular) in order to stream.
Hardware encoders can come in different shapes, sizes, functionality, and price points. Some are small and portable, with the ability to take in only one or two video sources Webcaster X2 Some are designed to be taken on the road: these use a bonded cellular signal for an Internet connection. Examples include Teradek VidiU and LiveU encoders. Others are much more complex and powerful, able to take in many video and audio sources, record, mix, scale, and switch between them. For example, Epiphan’s and Pearl Mini are professional all-in-one live production studios with incredibly vast functionality.
A streaming destination is the online site, platform, or app where your live video becomes available to others. These destinations are more commonly referred to as content delivery networks, or CDNs. Popular free CDNs include platforms like Youtube, Facebook Live, Twitch, and more.
There are paid streaming platforms as well. These offer much more control over where and how your live stream is presented, who sees it, and whether and how the stream is monetized. CDNs like Vimeo, Vimeo Livestream, Dacast, StreamShark, and others offer different monthly plans. Costs depend on the amount of data in gigabytes you upload.
Free or paid, you will need to sign up and log into the CDN of your choice. Some platforms (YouTube) require you to go through a few additional steps and wait for 24 hours before you can start live streaming.
Naturally, each CDN caters to a specific audience. As soon as you figure out what you are live streaming and who your main audience is, you can begin choosing a fitting CDN. Here are some examples:
Twitch is mainly for gaming. Twitch is free to start, with additional tiers if you need them.
Youtube (free) is for many things: personal, lifestyle, shows.
Facebook (free) is for connecting with your community, sharing immediate news, as well as growing your brand.More specialized paid CDNs like Dacast, StreamShark, and Vimeo Livestream are good for large events such as concerts and sports.Special platforms like Streamingchurch.tv (paid) are intended for live streaming church services and include many peripheral services.
Our advice would be to start with a free CDN, figure out all the ins and outs, and then move on to a paid one, if you need to. So yes, you could potentially start live streaming for free right now! Be sure to check out this how to choose a CDN article for more detailed information about the differences between content delivery networks.
Getting a steady network connection is often the trickiest part of live streaming. We found that the most reliable connection is a hardwired, dedicated Ethernet line. You can, of course, go live using Wi-Fi or cellular (4G/LTE) Internet, but these types of signal tend to fluctuate.
We can’t stress how important it is to perform a speed test beforehand. We recommend to always have approximately 1.5x your stream’s bitrate available to account for these possible network fluctuations. For example, if your live stream has a bit rate of 5 Mbps, then ensure you have at least 7.5 Mbps upload bandwidth available to ensure a reliable live stream.
We go into much more detail about the required Internet bandwidth for live streaming in a separate article. Be sure to check it out.