Written and updated by Nathan Hippenmeyer on September 2, 2020 at 9:25am
Gear Guide for Live Streaming
($1,200) HP Workstation Z2 Tower G4 PC
This is the PC the YMCA of Greater Brandywine is using for their live streams. Currently backordered, but a perfectly capable computer, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD storage, i7 Processor and Windows 10 Pro included!
($1,700) XPS 15 Laptop
With a 256 GB SSD, 16 GB or RAM, and an Intel Core i7, you can't go wrong with this Dell Laptop for live streaming.
What we are looking for in a computer is a great processor, which is essentially the energy center of your computer - it determines how much you can do and how quickly you can do it. Your RAM is also important for streaming because there are so many simultaneous tasks being performed at once. The minimum amount of RAM to use in live streaming that we suggest is 16GB. Less than 16GB and you could run into performance issues.
I like to recommend NVidia RTX Graphics Cards for their superior hardware encoding performance, which you will need to capture raw video and audio data from your camera, convert that data into compressed files (called encoding), and then upload it to the Internet in real-time. You're going to have various applications running at the same time such as OBS, live chats, browsers, and overlays.
You really don't want to get cheap on these options and you'll future-proof yourself more by upgrading your computer beyond what is suggested above.
A note to Mac Users:
Yes. I know. I listed ZERO Mac/Apple options above! Outrage! Trust me, as the lead Mac/Apple apologist for the YMCA Movement, it burns my soul to display nothing for those of us who solely use Macs. We are better than the PC user. We are more refined. We have culture. We live on the cutting edge of life. But that is not the type of people we have at the YMCA. So we must submit to the PC gods.
You can TOTALLY still use a Mac for live streaming. I ask that you follow similar specs above as you build your Mac. Minimum of 16GB of RAM, get a nice processor and opt for whatever higher-end graphics card Apple is offering at the time. I use a 2017 iMac with an i7 processor, 32GB RAM, and a Radeon Pro 580 8 GB and live streaming works great. Shop in the B&H Photo Used section and you can score some sweet deals on iMac setups. The new Macbook Pros work wonderfully as well. And if you happen to have more money than Jeff Bezos, feel free to buy the new Mac Pros with 28 Cores of power.
($139) Acer V7 Series
A 27" - 16:9 Full HD (1920 x 1080) monitor. 250 Nit. Black frame. Used by the YMCA of Greater Brandywine for Live Streaming
($300) Philips 32" Curved Frameless Monitor
This Philips 1080p computer monitor features a curved VA panel for wide-viewing angles and accurate color reproduction. HDMI, Displayport, VGA and audio in and out connectivity all available here. A great budget option monitor with great stats.
Depending on your setup, you may want one or two extra monitors at your desk. You can technically do everything with one monitor if you want to! The separation just makes it easier to produce a single person show. We imagine a setup like this:
Main Monitor: OBS/Streaming Software
2nd Monitor: Browser/Application if you're sharing your screen
3rd Monitor: Viewer Comments for your trainer to see so they can interact with the audience
($130) Elgato Cam Link 4K
A great budget-friendly option for you. Unfortunately, during COVID-19, there is a lot of price-gouging going on--so the price of these is rising up to $300. You can use 2 Cam Links at the same time, so if you need 2 or more cameras, you have a couple of options. 1) Mix and match a Cam Link and the AJA U-Tap, or 2) Install the Blackmagic Internal capture card
($249) Elgato 4k60 Pro MK.2 (Brandywine Option)
Capture up to 4k HDR footage flawlessly. A state-of-the-art capture solution for your desktop build. Allows simultaneous capture of video on multiple apps. Works out of the box with all streaming software including OBS Studio, Streamlabs OBS, Ecamm, Vmix and more. You can slot several 4K60 Pro cards into one machine.
($345) AJA U-TAP
Currently back-ordered, but expected to arrive again mid-June 2020. The AJA is compatible with Mac, Windows, and Linux, negating the need for additional drivers. This ensures compatibility with a wide range of professional software applications. This compact capture device is bus-powered and supports frame rates up to 1080p at 60 fps (frames per second).
Capture cards connect your DSLR or cinema camera (recommendations for cameras below) to your computer so that your software can access and display your camera. If you are using an iPhone for streaming or a webcam, you will likely not need a capture card. Don't forget to get yourself an HDMI to HDMI cable or Micro HDMI to HDMI or Mini HDMI to HDMI cable to connect between the capture card and your camera. We recommend getting at minimum a 25 ft. cord since you may need some space between the camera and your computer.
($80) 3-Channel Bluetooth Audio Mixer
If you're looking for a more beginner-friendly mixer, this 3 Channel Bluetooth Audio Mixer is an excellent place to start. The mixer has wireless and Bluetooth compatibilities meaning you could use your phone or another device to help set up features like music or a soundboard. Being able to combine sound from multiple sources without all the wiring is a nice bonus that comes with this mixer. As long as you are not looking to make any large adjustments to your sound, this mixer gets the job done. The sound quality is pretty good too, but isn't the highest among mixers currently on the market.
($248.99) Behringer X1204USB
This is a bit much for a mixer for most live-streaming but will work great for the purposes of multiple audio sources at the same time and for those who want to tweak/have control of all aspects of their audio output. This mixer features premium ultra-low noise, high headroom analog mixer with 12 inputs. For those who are not audiophiles we suggest some of the other options listed below.
The GoXLR is an amazing piece of equipment, specifically designed with streaming in mind. With four audio sources, most streamers will have everything they need. The UI of the design is easy to follow and intuitive and after a little practice, you'll be seamless at mixing audio and adjusting as needed. Despite being on the pricier end, you're paying for high quality and consistency. If you don't want to work with a bulky, standard, ugly audio mixer, then the GoXLR is the right choice for you.
Fine-tuning the audio of your stream is essential to creating the right experience for your viewers. Poor sound can ruin an otherwise spectacular live stream. How many times have you wished the streamer would turn down their music? If you want to create a truly seamless streaming experience, the soundscape has to be a top priority. Most streamers will have at least two audio sources that need to be mixed from separate sources into one track. For fitness classes, we need to have a music source and a wireless mic source, typically through a lavalier. Don't forget to see how your wireless or wired mic connects into your mixer. You may need to pick up some spare XLR cables (get extras because they do tend to go bad) or XLR to 3.5mm cords.
($179) Saramonic Blink 500 B1 Wireless Mic System
If you want an extremely small, feather-weight wireless microphone system that delivers broadcast-quality sound to use with cameras and mobile devices, look no further than Saramonic's line up of microphones. Use the mini shoe on the top of your DSLR to mount the receiver into your camera. The audio from your camera will be used with your video source inside of OBS/Ecamm/Vmix (or whatever your broadcasting software of choice) to provide a clear, crisp sound from your trainer. This is not my favorite option, and some users have had issues with syncing the Mics. Thankfully, Saramonic will replace your unit if you face issues.
($199) Samson Go Mic
Designed for mobile filmmakers, the Samson Go Mic Mobile System can be used with your phone or computer to provide a great audio source for your trainer or Y staff. The receiver, which is dual-channel, can mount directly to your smartphone or DSLR camera, and allow you to transmit 48 kHz audio directly to the destination of your choosing.
($599) Sennheiser EW 112P G4
Sennheiser is a leader in the audio industry and this G4 camera-mount wireless lavalier microphone system features the proven combination of reliability, flexible control, and broadcast-quality sound that has made the EW series an industry standard for content creators all over the world.
Sound influences our perception of a video's quality perhaps even greater than the image quality itself. The audience will readily forgive a poor quality picture before they forgive poor quality sound, so it is your job to make that sound as pleasant-sounding as possible.
You're going to want to get a mic for each person who is on screen. That mic will count as one "audio input source" in your broadcasting software (Streamlabs OBS, Ecamm for Mac, VMix, etc.) The microphones listed above will all work as great options to provide your audience with crisp, clear audio from your presenter. You will hear a noticeable quality difference as soon as you go from a microphone on your camera to one of the wireless lavalier microphones listed above.
Some Y's say, "Why can't I just use my mic that I already use in the studio?" You can totally do that. But in my experience, when these mics feed into OBS, you begin to hear your voice sound like it's talking on a telephone. Do a test on these mics first to see if you're satisfied with the audio.
($448) Sony A5100 (with 16-50mm lens)
While there are limitations to both the A5100 and A6100 (older autofocus systems, which are still very good, but not top of the line), the A5100 is the best budget option in 2020 for live streaming. This is one of Sony's earlier models of the Alpha series and still packs a powerful punch. If you are looking to save money without sacrificing quality, this is your best bet.
($698) Sony A6100 (with 16-50mm Lens)
A great mid-range option for Live Streaming with DSLRs. Great autofocus. All the bells and whistles of the A5100, but the big thing that distinguishes this model versus the A5100 is that the A6100 has a mic jack. If you are planning to be bringing your audio into your mixer directly from your camera (with a mic attached to the camera itself) then this would be a better option than the A5100.
($999) Sony A7 Mark II (w/28-70mm Lens)
This is the camera that the YMCA of Greater Brandywine uses for live streams. A full-frame DSLR with 5-axis image stabilization. This DSLR also boasts a "remarkably fast camera autofocus system" which will be helpful when your trainers move quickly and change positions. The A7 features a 24.3 MP CMOS sensor, quick Hybrid Phase and contrast autofocus that is head and shoulders above the autofocus of the A5100 and A6100.
You'll notice that we are suggesting ALL Sony mirrorless DSLR Alpha series cameras. Sony makes excellent, budget-friendly cameras that are tailored for live streaming, unlike some other unnamed companies that rhyme with the word "Banon." These Sony cameras all have the ability to provide a "clean signal." Many cameras--particularly those not designed primarily for live streaming - can only output a signal with display icons. As a result, you get a live video that looks like this image below.
Also, please make sure to pick up this camera power adapter ($23) with your Sony Camera above to make sure you never run out of power during your shoot. Also, running straight from battery or USB can overheat your camera, causing it to shut off. Best to use the power adapter above to make sure you can stream for as long as you want.
(FREE) OBS (Open Broadcaster Software)
OBS is the king of live-streaming software. It's free and open-source for video recording and live streaming. Compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux. Not the most user-friendly option, but an incredibly powerful tool that is easy enough to pick up by watching YouTube video tutorials. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Streamlabs OBS which is a much more user-friendly version of OBS. Streamlabs allows you to personalize your streams utilizing already created pro themes. These themes help you look more professional with better overlays, apps, and graphics. To get access to these streaming tools, it's an extra $12/month.
($144-240/year) E-Camm Live for Mac
Mac users--I have not forgotten you! E-Camm Live is an incredibly user-friendly live streaming broadcasting software. While it took me a few YouTube videos and clicking around to get started on OBS, I opened up ECamm Live right away and could figure out pretty much everything without having to crack open a manual. Intuitive, seamless, and dare I say, SEXY--Ecamm Live is everything you would want in a Mac broadcasting application and more.
($60-1200) vMix Software
vMix has the most advanced features, controls, and flexibility of any of the software listed here. vMix has a somewhat antiquated pricing model. Instead of a subscription model, you pay for the software one time and then get free updates for a year. The $350 version lets you do HD live streams and lets you have 1 guest on your live stream. Take a look at what tools you are going to need based on the different pricing plans that vMix offers. My guess is that most Y's who choose to use vMix could get away with the $350 option and get great use out of it.
12,000 Tracks at $199/year is nothing. With unlimited downloads that you can use in any project (not just live streaming) is unheard of in the broadcasting industry. Artlist is the most straightforward, legally-speaking, of the options listed here. Lifetime use of songs that cover live streaming on Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, and all other online platforms. Some of our trainers have reported struggling to find 32 phrase, 8 count songs with high energy, and have found it's best for calmer workouts. However, with 150+ new tracks added per month to the Artlist music library, you can't go wrong.
4,000+ Tracks at $66/month is not a bad deal. But I will say, of all the popular music services, this one might be the most frustrating. Any song can be used more than once. However, you have to give the name of the project you are using the song for, and then get a single-use license for that song for that one use. Single-use licenses never expire, but since the company adds and removes the songs all the time, they might not be there down the road, and therefore, Soundstripe can be very cumbersome. Your workflow will suffer and you want to remove any boundary that is getting in the way of you creating content for your digital memberships.
30,000+ Tracks. Custom Agreements. Legally speaking, Epidemic Sound is less restrictive than Soundstripe, but more so than Artlist. They are way more expensive for large Y organizations. Custom agreements for larger Y's can be as high as $500-$4k per month. Livestreaming is covered on all platforms of course. They have the largest library compared to nearly any other music service. Nothing else compares since Epidemic has been around since 2009. They also, like Artlist, add 150+ songs per month. It's been noted by the YouTube channel "Live Streaming Pros" that Epidemic Sound is the one music service that doesn't flag you on YouTube and Facebook. Artlist and Soundstripe tend to, at times, flag your videos for using their music, even though you already paid for their service and are using it legally. Not having to fight these miniature appeals on Facebook and YouTube is a huge win in the Epidemic Sound column.
($99/light) Promaster Cool Light
An affordable key and fill light. Grab a couple of these if you want to fill up a wider shot. Mounting these to the ceiling will help you keep these out of your frame. If you choose to mount on the ceiling you'll need either a scissor clamp for a drop ceiling or a wall plate for ceiling mounts. As always, make sure that your lights are safely mounted if you go this route. Falling lights are not a fun experience for talent.
($67) Backlight with Reflectors
Separate your subject from the background by mounting these lights to your ceiling and pointing them down at your subject from behind. These lights are about as affordable as they can get. You get two lights for the price of one!
($795) Dracast LED Light
Dracast makes excellent battery-powered LED light panels which allow you to take these lights on location with you wherever you go, even if you have no power! For color accuracy, you can change the color temperature of these LED panels from 3200K-5600K. This means you can quickly match the prevailing ambient or artificial light balance in your studio with the simple twist of a knob. A dimmer knob also allows you to have control over your light intensity. These frequently go on sale (currently this light is only $395) so pick up a few of these when they do!
($3,326) Kino Flo 2-Light Kit
If you want industry-standard lights for your studio, look no further than Kino Flo. These 4-foot lights feature accurate color rendition, flexible power supplies, and soft, wrap-around light quality. The fixture takes daylight and tungsten lamps, and are lightweight enough to maneuver around. They can even be taped to a wall if needed. I suggest not going this route and rather using some scissor clamps to mount to a drop ceiling or using a wall plate for solid ceilings. Super easy to use, and beautiful light quality. Once you use Kino Flo lights, you'll understand what makes them stand out. Dimmer is integrated into the light for better light control. Pick up a Kino Flo 4Bank Full Flozier to diffuse your light even more. Combine this set up with a Diva Light as your backlight, and although you might be $5k into lighting, you'll have a gorgeous virtual studio set up.
Lighting for video absolutely, 100% matters -- but if you are live streaming in one your fitness studios at the Y, chances are your lighting is pretty good to begin with. If you want to go for a special look with dramatic lighting or stand out, by all means, GO FOR IT. But if you are trying to save money, the lighting might be the best place to start. I would invest in amazing sound quality far earlier than I would a dramatic lighting setup. Remember, this is something you can invest in down the road, but doing it right out of the gate isn't your number one priority. If your trainers do happen to be in a dark spot in your studios, I would consider mounting some lights in the ceiling where they will be streaming and running a cord to an outlet that you can simply turn on and off with a light switch. The easier you can make the live streaming setup, the more likely you will create content. Simplicity is key, and you don't want your trainers to feel like they have to haul lighting gear around to get their live stream done.
When we speak about Internet speed, it's important to note that their are two different types of Internet speed -- your download speed and your upload speed. Download speed is how fast your internet connection can transfer data from a server to you. For example, when Netflix starts getting grainy, your download speed has probably gotten really, really slow.
But download speed is not nearly as important to live streamers as the upload speed. Upload speed is how fast your internet connection can transfer your data to a server. Upload speed is what you use to send a stream to your social network.
Best Internet Speed Practices for Live Streaming:
- Get fiber internet in your live streaming studio/fitness studio whenever possible -- AT&T U-verse, Verizon Fios, Google Fiber -- see if it's available in your area. It's a more dedicated, consistent speed. Coaxial cable has too much variation in speed.
- Use an Ethernet, wired connection for live streaming. If you're sending 4 MB/s to Facebook and 10 MB/s to YouTube, and you're on coaxial cable, on WiFi, then you are going to have a ton of fluctuation in your Internet speed. You'll drag your stream. Audio is going to get out of sync. It's just going to look really bad. To send to YouTube along, you'll be sending about 10 MB/s to get good quality. 1080 HD stream go to YouTube at 14 MB/s. If you are going to just Facebook on one page, then 10 MB/s is fine. But most Y's will be streaming to multiple Facebook pages at the same time.
- To Simulcast to Facebook, YouTube, etc. try to get around a 50 MB/s upload speed at minimum. The last thing you want to do is have a pixelated experience. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) doesn't always have a list of upload speeds on their site. You may need to call a manager on the phone. Some customer service reps at ISPs don't even know what upload speeds are...so make sure you speak with someone knowledgable.