This is a post for both B2B and business-to-consumer users! If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to setting up video streams for any purpose at virtually any budget, read on for our survey of the field, as well as recommendations on the best live streaming equipment for your type of content:
- How to Set Up a Live Stream
- Necessary Equipment for Live Streaming
- Live Streaming Equipment for Independent Content Creators
- Live Streaming Equipment for Enterprises
Video streaming is having a moment–sure, absolutely because millions of people were stuck in their homes for several months. But well before that, businesses were creating video content to engage with clients and customers, holding remote meetings, and experimenting with live-streamed virtual events, while consumer platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook Live were attracting critical masses of viewers. As you might guess, live streaming equipment is the cornerstone no matter your operation, and you’ll want the best you’re able to get. However, there’s also a significant gulf in budget and expectations between setting up a home stream as a fun hobby or side-hustle and producing high-end video and event content. We’re separating use cases into two extremes, of course, but the approach is instructive. In this article, we’ll identify two broad categories: enterprise content creators and independent content creators. That way we can assess the scope of each type of content operation, and bottom-line the best live streaming equipment to meet your needs.
Enterprise content creators
Businesses’ (and other mid-to-large organizations’) use of video content is BOOMING right now. As video production costs have fallen, digital cameras have become more ubiquitous, and internet bandwidth has dramatically expanded, it’s become a cost-effective strategy to engage with your customers, employees, and other businesses through streaming video. Enterprise content creators/producers have an interesting set of requirements to fulfill. They’ll immediately have an audience to serve or speak to and must keep in mind they’re “ambassadors” for their brand. While the broadcast quality of every virtual event doesn’t need to be up to the level of a US Super Bowl show (… for purposes of this article we consider companies already in the business of producing mass media and entertainment–TV, movies, Netflix’s production studios–in another class), choosing good quality live streaming equipment, providing a quality stream and having the ability to scale up to a large audience quickly will nonetheless be very important. Enterprise creators may have some advantages, however, as they may have access to previously purchased gear or an institutional budget to help them deliver quality content. Additionally, enterprise streaming can have unique advantages or disadvantages, either in that streams are serving an essentially captive audience or delivering to very limited or preselected groups. (However, if your enterprise streaming plan is doing branding for your business or organization via high-quality content on a live YouTube channel, throw that last observation out the window.)
Independent content creators
social media has taken a real turn, not just providing a virtual space for socialization and leisure-time activity, but also a platform for both professional-grade content and independent content creators who range from unpaid amateurs to full-time professionals. Independent content creators have a different challenge than enterprise users: they may start with no “built-in” audience (even one as small as 6 employees on a video call). On the other hand, there’s also no upper limit to the number of people who could end up watching–highly successful streamers could have millions of subscribers and, at peak popularity, 1-2 million viewers on a stream.
It’s on the streamer to be able to deliver content that people want to watch, on a much smaller budget than enterprise creators, and their live streaming equipment needs to check a different list. The burden is on independent creators to provide stream audio and video that won’t turn off incoming viewers. Conventional wisdom is the average viewer will tolerate about 90 seconds of a stream if they don’t find it watchable or listenable–not great for collecting subscribers. The good news is, if you have a much smaller production to cover (for instance, someone doing a “talking-head” to camera) even if you insist on buying the most leading-edge gear, your live streaming equipment budget will still most likely be significantly smaller. Additionally, there’s the possibility that a lower-fi production quality can feel, to some extent, more intimate and “authentic” to the stream’s viewers.
How to Set Up a Live Stream (A Practical Guide)
So, what do you need for setting up a live stream? Yeah, live streaming equipment. This includes audio/video sources, encoders, a delivery method, the whole ball of wax. We’ll get into that a bit more below. Meanwhile, for those who’ve never so much as attempted it, here’s an outline of your essential steps:
- Connect audio and video sources to your streaming encoder
- Video and audio “source” is the material you’re streaming. It could come from a microphone, a camera crew, or just your tablet’s video camera.
- If you’re completely new to streaming, you may ask “What is a streaming encoder?” Luckily, we’ve covered this before.
- Configure your encoder
- Configure your streaming settings to your destination
- Connect your CDN to your encoder
- CDN = “content delivery network,” in other words, your destination
- In some cases, this will be as simple as copy and pasting an URL and stream key from the CDN into the encoder
- Select “Start streaming” (or similar) on your encoder and go live!
This is all easier said than done: some streaming setups are more complicated than others. And as we pointed out above, different types of broadcasts are going to have different needs. You’ll need to make choices about your live streaming equipment, but we’re here to help you through the process. Keep going below and we’ll give you a run-down of some great live streaming equipment choices at different price points for both independent creators and enterprise-level content production.
Necessary Equipment for Live Streaming
Here are the main components you’ll need to produce and deliver a video stream:
Video Input Devices
Video streaming depends on having “video source.” In other words, images being input by cameras. This could be anything from a cheap lightweight webcam or built-in device camera to a professional 4K video camera.
Audio Input Devices
What professionals might call a microphone, to pull in your audio. The common wisdom is that quality audio is even more important than quality video, so getting an audio input that goes above and beyond the low-to-medium quality of the onboard mic on a camera or device is advisable.
Mixers and Switches (optional depending on scope)
These are devices that capture multiple video and audio inputs and allow you to switch camera angles and/or create a more pleasing mix of audio sources, just like professional concerts and live TV. But they’re not mandatory for everyone, it depends on how much action you’re covering! For instance, they’re probably overkill for capturing a single, stationary streamer who’s sitting down while speaking directly to camera.
As live streaming equipment goes, encoders are another key item. The encoder compresses your video/audio files through engineering algorithms, adjusts file size and format (usually to find the smallest, but still the highest quality type of file to stream out and to maximize compatibility across devices), and sends the data out to the internet by way of your streaming destination.
Hardware vs. Software
Hardware encoders are dedicated devices for processing video, that come in portable boxes or as large fixtures. A potential drawback is that hardware encoders tend to be pricier than software encoders.
Software encoders are programs that run on some sort of desktop or mobile computing device. Usually, they need to be combined with a capture card or other live streaming equipment that will connect cameras to the computer.
Finally, you need a way to get your content out to your audience. The main distinction here is between consumer video platforms (your YouTubes, etc., of the world) and professional video streaming platforms. It will depend a lot on the type of streaming operation and content which one is more ideal for you.
If you’re an independent creator with no specific organization or brand to represent, and whose content tends toward discussing pop culture or current events, tech reviews, or video gaming, then yes by all means head to Twitch! (…or other consumer platforms.) If, on the other hand, you’re a business or organization, a professional platform will have a lot to offer, including branding options and improvements on speed, video quality, and security while delivering content to your audience.
This is live streaming equipment “Step 1,” but for the most part we’ll assume that any individual, business, or org who wants to stream recognizes they’ll need an internet connection and already has one. But to drive the point home: not only do you need to have an internet connection, make sure that it’s stable and has high enough bandwidth to meet the challenge of streaming your content. You can find more info about managing your bandwidth and bitrate here.
Like an internet connection, this is another baseline for most streams. Your streaming software and software encoding will need to run on something, and even some hardware encoders need an interface (i.e., your monitor, keyboard, and mouse). Just making sure that it’s been said and said clearly!
Maybe you want to go ultra-light and low budget and stream off a phone/mobile device. In that case, we’ll acknowledge that the above list no longer applies–your primary audio-video gear may already be in your pocket.
Make sure you have a new-ish smartphone with high-quality video and audio up to the task. While every phone has a camera, most will still be poor quality for streaming–look for 12-megapixel cams and above. The desirable capabilities for a phone are at par with recent flagship releases from companies like Samsung or Apple (depending on preferred OS). If you’re well-resourced, consider the Sony Xperia models packing ZEISS optics, though they usually retail above $1K. (You know what, that still might be cheaper than some camcorders, plus you can make calls with it.) To sort your streams out, you’re also going to want a mobile streaming app.
Nonetheless, there are a few additional items of kit to elevate the most professional-grade phone video. Live streaming equipment augmenting a mobile stream should include a handheld gimbal (a stabilizing arm to keep your picture steady–think of it as the tiniest Steadicam); some type of multifunctional phone tripod; an on-camera microphone; and portable lighting gear–we’ll discuss the benefits of lighting below.
Live Streaming Equipment for Independent Content Creators
So now let’s look at a few different tiers of live streaming equipment setups. We’ll start with a beginner and advanced level setup for independent streamers. Always keep in mind the type of content, audience expectations, and of course, budget, for the stream you want to present and plan accordingly.
Entry Level Live Streaming Equipment
Cameras: For very basic streaming your video gear can start as simple as an HD webcam with a USB connector, like a Logitech StreamCam. These kinds of cameras are small, cheap, and easy to set up but still provide you with reasonable picture quality.
Audio: One of the most basic options for audio input is a lavalier mic, the type of small microphone that TV news announcers can pin on a jacket lapel or collar. There are many acceptable brands on the market, so we won’t do any callouts. If you’re going really small scale, built-in microphones on many cameras/devices can suffice.
For beginning streamers without a lot of demands, accessories aren’t required but they’ll up your game. One of the things that separate an “OK” stream from a great stream is lighting. Sunlight can provide a beautiful looking stream (especially when captured by a quality camera), but sometimes it’s not possible to take advantage of natural light. A relatively low-cost lighting panel or ring light can do wonders for holding viewers’ attention with a nice-looking image. These are easily found on Amazon and at most photography retailers.
“Entry-level” setup also applies if you want to dip your toe in the water by streaming off a smartphone. But as we discussed above, even when shooting with a smartphone there are accessories such as tripods and phone-sized light rigs to make your job easier and your images more attractive.
So, you’ve moved on from speaking directly into your phone camera? Here’s a higher tier of equipment recommendations.
Advanced Live Streaming Equipment
Cameras: At this level, you’ll be looking for a “real” digital camera, particularly something that may allow you to swap lenses or at least adjust framing and focus. Exemplary cameras for an advanced-level streaming project include the Sony a6300, a mirrorless digital cam, or the Panasonic AG-CX350 which is a “prosumer” camcorder straddling the line of professional gear.
Audio: It’s also going to be important to level up to a dedicated, good-quality microphone. Solid picks include the Blue Yeti series of USB microphones, or if you’re comfortable with something more complex than “plug’n’play,” the Shure SM7B professional microphone. Cons: professional audio mics are the point at which you’ll also need to invest in a mixer for handling XLR connections.
We already mentioned the need for mixers when moving up to professional mics. Also, you’re wasting your high-quality camera’s potential if you pay no mind to lighting and “grip.” First of all, better quality cameras are going to work best with (and are usually designed for) a tripod. This is also where key lighting (a.k.a. photographer’s lights or film lighting) will significantly improve your images–there are many quality products in this area, so we’ll leave it to the reader to investigate.
Live Streaming Equipment for Enterprises
We’ll assume a higher budget level and expectations for enterprise streamers’ videos to be at least clean, clear, well lit, and HD, if not necessarily “highly artistic.” Therefore, we’re going directly to “advanced” as far as equipment recommendations.
Cameras: The proverbial “big guns” start to come out at enterprise level, and while we aren’t trying to endorse one camera manufacturer above others, Sony has a range of professional camcorders ranging from the FS5 to the PXW-X320 which are considered “industry standard” great options.
Audio: We’ll reaffirm the usefulness of a professional mic like the Shure SM7B once you’re doing professional-grade work. But if you’re able to mix multiple mics, the Rode VideoMic shotgun mic or other types of add-on camera mics or boom mics will give you additional inputs and the ability to tailor your audio. Related, the absolute necessity of using an audio mixer comes into play here.
Key lighting is still appropriate on this level, likely even more so. One product that comes recommended for professional streaming is the Aputure 300dii, a powerful and lightweight lighting system that can fit in nearly any space. As mentioned, an audio mixer is also needed for a high-level setup.
Finally, if you’re up to using multiple-camera coverage of your live stream, switchers will be necessary to move between different cameras and angles.
To sum up, virtually anyone can get into the video streaming game, but your live streaming equipment needs depend on the size of your operation and events. Whether you want to dabble in content creation or go full-bore into professional-level live event streaming, we hope that we’ve given you some tips to start investigating a streaming setup that works for you!
Of course, a robust live streaming solution will also need to be a key part of your toolkit. Especially for enterprise-level content, we strongly recommend Kaltura’s webcasting and live streaming platform. We make it possible for you to confidently broadcast any event of any size, ranging from departmental meetings to international conferences. Our platform enables your team to create and manage highly engaging webcasts that can be primed for high-quality delivery at scale to any device and any destination; we can even offer full production support. Kaltura’s mission is to empower virtually anyone to be a broadcaster–users can create and launch webcasts directly from Microsoft Outlook, stream from a desktop, or deploy more advanced live broadcasts from a video conferencing solution or even production studio. Request a demo of our live broadcasting solution today and check out the features for yourself; we’d love to power your video experiences and provide our flexible, reliable end-to-end live streaming platform to meet all your live webcasting needs.
Got all the equipment you need? Let’s set up your live stream … with Kaltura!