Beginner's Guide to Live Streaming

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Producing a live streaming video broadcast has become easier and easier as technology has advanced. With just a cell phone and a free account with one of many live stream providers, you can instantly stream your events live to viewers around the world.

How Live Streaming Works

Live streaming involves delivering live video, over the web, directly from your camera to viewers around the world. There are many live streaming service providers, which vary in cost and in the services provided.

Personally, I like to use Livestream, because it offers free accounts and, in my experience, works very smoothly for live HD broadcasts. Google Hangouts can also be used for simple live streaming.

What You'll Need for Live Streaming

  • A video camera (or cell phone) - Phones can be handy for live streaming, because they are already web-enabled, so you can move around and get a variety of shots. However, you'll have to deal with some of the limitations of recording video with your cell phone (including poor audio), and the image may not be too great. An HD video camera will give you better images and sound, but you'll be tethered to a transcoder and won't be able to move around the room. Webcams can also be used for live streaming, but, again, you won't have great images and you won't be able to move around.
  • A transcoder - The video format that comes out of your camera is not in the same format as the video you watch streaming on your computer, so it needs to be converted to a different codec before it can be shared. If you're recording with a cell phone or webcam, your device will automatically do the conversion necessary for live streaming. If you're using a traditional video camera, you'll need to be connected to a computer or other device for transcoding the video. Livestream has software that you can download and use on a computer, but depending on the power of your computer and the type of camera you are using, you may need to purchase other tools for live streaming conversion.
  • An internet connection - For your video to stream live, it needs to get on the internet of course! With a cell phone or a web cam, it should be easy to connect. With a video camera, you'll need to be able to get on the internet through a laptop connected to your camera or transcoding device. A hard-wired internet connection (instead of wi-fi) is best, because video files are large, and a slow connection will impact the quality of your live stream. 
  • An account with a live streaming service

Choosing a Live Streaming Service

The live streaming service you choose will depend on the nature of the event you are broadcasting, and on the makeup of the audience who will be watching. Most live streaming services offer a free account option, with limitations, of course. For example, when broadcasting with a free account on Livestream, your video will be hosted on Livestream only, and viewers will have to have their own account in order to log in and watch. You can make it easier for your viewers by paying for an account, which will let you embed the stream on your own website and share it with anyone, whether they have a Livestream account or not.

Depending on the provider or service level, you can also create live stream events with multiple camera inputs, add graphics into the video as it's streaming, or store the video for viewing after the live event. Many of these services offer monthly accounts, so you can pay for an account in the month of your event, and cancel afterward (but remember - your video won't be stored if your account is inactive) Again, the right service really depends on your event and your audience.

Going Live

Once you've made the necessary decisions about services providers and recording and transcoding technology, you're ready to go live.

Because you won't have an opportunity for multiple takes or editing, it's important to prepare ahead of time and get the details right. Check out this article for tips about planning, producing and archiving live stream events.