Live Streaming On a Budget (Part 1) – Genesis

I promised everyone at MinistryTECH way back in April that I’d rehash my presentation on my blog. Here we are almost 6 weeks later, and I owe you all!

In the beginning…

In April of 2008, we were asked to stream one of our Easter services live on the Web as an experiment. It was a very simple concoction of a Firewire cable coming out of one of the Sony DVCPro decks in the video rack, running into a Dell Optiplex 745 with a cheap add-in FireWire card, and Windows Media Encoder.  We made some slide loops into videos that we could bumper the live stream with (WME is good at switching recorded sources into a live stream like that), and broadcast the IMAG feed. It was simple, and we streamed 320×200@15fps to an audience of about 200 using a traditional streaming CDN. Total cost was about $300.

When our senior pastor started casting his vision of an Internet Campus which would revolve around a live (or nearly-live) stream of worship, it became pretty apparent that this was not going to scale well or cheaply. Over the course of the summer of 2008, we started exploring creative ways to do the impossible with nearly no money. We even looked at what it would take to run our own streaming servers, and that was also ruled out quickly due to the sheer bulk of cash that would have to be thrown at it and our lack thereof (this would have been so much easier if we were Congress and able to print it at will!).

One of the key requirements for our streaming platform was that it be able to stream Flash video in the interest of cross-platform compatibility. We love our Mac viewers enough that we didn’t want to subject them to Flip4Mac week after week. If we had any Linux viewers, we’d love them too, not wanting to let the lack of a Windows Media player keep our penguin-loving friends from hearing the Gospel.

It was around this time that Andrew Mitry, one of the regulars in the CITRT chat, informed us of Amazon’s fledgling cloud computing offering called EC2, which allowed for on-demand computing at ridiculously low prices. We were exploring licensing a software platform and creating our own images when we discovered that Wowza, one of the software platforms was available as a paid image for EC2.

Not only were we excited at the prospect of a software company that was willing to embrace this new platform, the ability to pay for that software based entirely on usage with no up-front licensing was very attractive for an experimental project with virtually no money available to it.

We now had a platform, it was time to start looking at how we were going to encode the video and get it up there.

Continue on to Part 2: Encoding

4 Comments On “Live Streaming On a Budget (Part 1) – Genesis”

  1. Awesome stuff. I’m really glad you were able to find an affordable solution.

    Our congregation (Stony Point, NY) is looking ahead at possibly streaming our services as well. I will definitely keep your experience in mind as we move forward.

    Pray for us 🙂

    Reply

  2. Stay tuned, I’ll be going into more detail about the production process and the mechanics of distribution soon, I just don’t have the energy to write any more tonight! 🙂

    Reply

  3. I certainly don’t want to steal any thunder from Ian’s excellent information and solution, but for churches looking for a more turn-key solution that is equally affordable, check out SermonAudio.com. Much of the information he gives here still applies – the encoding system, video input considerations, etc.

    For more webcasting / streaming / media hosting providers see this page @ the Church IT Roundtable website: http://citrt.pbworks.com/Webcasting-and-Media-Hosting

    BTW – On Linux, VLC and MMC will play Windows Media streams well.

    Reply

  4. Since I wasn’t clear SermonAudio does video webcasting and hosting too- http://www.sermonaudio.com/help_webcast.asp

    There are lots of different solution out there though, some better than others – be sure to check the page I listed above and contribute to it as well if you are aware of others.

    Reply

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