What our streaming & home group setup look like (and how it has evolved)

A little while ago, when discussing what we were doing in respect to live streaming and home groups going forward. I thought it might be helpful to update you as to how we have evolved our setup and some new developments that might make elements of it more attractive for churches going forwards. You can read that original article here.

Our live stream setup has remained essentially the same. However, we were having some major technical issues with the sound clipping. The bottom line is that the mixing desk running straight into our mobile phones was creating an impedance mismatch. To resolve that problem, we purchased a USB interface (like this). Many podcasters, myself included, use USB interfaces to run studio microphones into their computer to give studio quality sound. In our case at church, we ran an XLR cable from the mixing desk to the USB interface and then a USB-C to USB-C cable from the interface into the USB port on the mobile phone. We altered the audio sample rate in the Streamlabs App to run at 48 khz and now we are getting excellent, clear quality sound running the video through a mobile phone and pulling the sound from our mixing desk.

One thing to watch out for if you choose to use this setup is that the USB interface needs to draw power from somewhere. Up to now, we have simply allowed it to draw power from the mobile phone itself. But, just to give you an idea of how power hungry it is, over the course of an hour’s stream, my fully charged 4000 mAh battery runs from 100% to somewhere between 40-50%. We also discovered that if your phone battery runs down to under c. 25-20% life, it will stop running through the USB interface and will revert to using its inbuilt (not particularly good) microphone.

Up to now, this hasn’t been a problem. We have made sure the phone is fully charged before each time we use it. However, we have now bought a USB extension cable repeater and plug (USB-A fitting), a USB-C splitter and a USB-A to USB-C cable. This will allow us to charge the phone whilst we are also using the USB interface so that the phone doesn’t lose power and the audio quality remains high.

All in, we have spent money on a mesh system to improve the church wifi, a large screen TV and stand for PowerPoint, a USB interface, changed light fittings, a tripod and a handful of different cables. You may be able to eliminate various elements of our setup if they work for you. For example, you may not feel the need for a big screen TV to show the PowerPoint on your live stream. Equally, if your phone is relatively near the speaker, you may be able to function adequately without a USB interface, using a directional microphone that plugs directly into your phone (this is what we used when we were streaming from our homes). The USB interface, the large screen TV and trolley and the light fittings were by far the biggest outlay. You may not need better lighting and you could have a simple setup for much less outlay than us if it works with your setup.

Of course, you could go for a much higher level setup with multiple, professional cameras and more expensive lighting options. We were told we could begin streaming for anywhere between tens of pounds and thousands of pounds depending on what we wanted to achieve. We feel we have paid relatively little to get a fairly decent standard of streaming quality. All in, we have spent around £500 to create this setup. You can decide whether that is money well spent by viewing our live stream here.

I also mentioned about good way to conduct home groups for those who could not come out. As it happens, Oldham has not been in a position since March to hold home groups in person. All of our home groups have continued on Zoom.

However, I recommended particularly for hybrid home groups – with most people in the room and some calling in – for people to get a Facebook Portal TV. Again, you can read my original article as to why I thought this was a good idea.

I predicted that Facebook would begin to roll out extra services and my faith has been repaid. I previously suggested that you would use WhatsApp or Messenger to get those calling in to join in your meeting. Facebook have just announced that they are rolling out compatibility with Zoom on all their portal products. This makes Portal TV a much more attractive option. Both WhatsApp and Messenger were limited in the numbers who could call in. Zoom allows for a far larger number of people on a call. What you will now get is Zoom capability on your TV screen (typically the biggest screen in your house) along with the excellent smart-cam that automatically pans and zooms to keep everybody in shot no matter where they are in the room.

The other benefit of Portal TV and Zoom linking up is it suddenly opens up other avenues that were previously not viable. For example, using the big screen TV we have now installed at church, we could place a Portal TV device onto that screen and conduct our English classes via Zoom. The class wouldn’t work brilliantly on a straightforward live stream, but the Zoom capability coupled to Portal TV in particular suddenly make English Classes entirely viable. There can be engagement from those at home whilst the smart-cam can pan and zoom on teachers and – if in future some people are able to attend in person – the class can be seen with engagement from those unable to be there.

There are other possibilities too that become more viable with this setup. Whilst we only have access to Zoom on a computer or a one-way live stream, helpful as these things are, we are limited by them. The Portal TV and Zoom linkup does open up doors for us. Whilst the device isn’t exactly cheap, at c. £150, the increasing compataibility with other services makes it more attractive. For example, Netflix, Amazon Video and Spotify are all compatible with Portal TV. This means the device can replace other devices – such as Fire TV stick – should you feel the need for those sorts of things too. Whilst from a church perspective, those other services aren’t so useful, for those getting one for homegroups but willing to bring the device into church for other things, it becomes a useful tool.

If you are still looking into live streaming and how to run home groups under existing rules, my advice hasn’t changed particularly. However, there are tweaks to our streaming setup (as above) that I would suggest. The USB interface has been most beneficial. Equally, if you were unsure about whether a Portal TV device was the best choice for you, developments and extra services being added may swing that in your favour. Facebook will continue adding services over time and so the product is only likely to become more useful still.