Building a streaming set-up can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. And it doesn’t have to be as technically challenging as you may think it does. Here is my no nonsense guide to putting together a simple set-up to get you started.
Before we get started, please allow me to point out that the set-up illustrated below was what I was using in May 2020. Since then, it has changed to include a gaming PC dedicated to streaming. Not everything in the illustration is required. Those items not required will be discussed as such in this post.
Let’s start where this set-up actually ends, and what your streaming will rely on – Your Internet Connection. To keep it simple, you’ll need a connection with an upload speed of at least 1.5Mbps, preferably higher in order to stream successfully at 720p. For the most reliable connection from your streaming computer to your router, use a wired connection with a good quality ethernet cable. Wireless connections are generally too unstable.
Processing Power – PC or Laptop
Working outwards from the brains of the set-up, you need a PC or laptop with enough guts to power the cameras, software and through the stream out through the internet. The laptop I was using was pushed to the limit with 2 cameras (see below), a Stream Deck (see below) and a wireless mic (see below). It has 16GB of RAM and a 2.6Ghz processor. You could get by with a bit less, but you may find your machine will struggle.
Sadly, streaming isn’t as simple as plugging your cameras in and hitting the ‘Go Live’ button on your chosen website. You need some software to encode your camera and audio inputs into one streamable format before pushing it into cyberspace and your chosen streaming provider. The most popular encoding software is OBS. But OBS isn’t the only software available. Streamyard, eCamm Live (for MAC) do the same job, but slightly differently
By setting up the software properly you can use it to switch between cameras, turn your audio on and off, include the use of overlays and a host of other creative things to make your live shows uniquely yours. All these software options have good support pages and forums to help you get going.
To push the stream out as cleanly as possible with the internet connection I had, the software was set to stream at 720p at 1300kbp/s. It proved to be the perfect settings for my internet connection. It is certainly worth testing out different settings to make sure your stream is smooth and clean.
Note: Encoding software puts quite a lot of pressure on your computer processor as it puts the audio and visual inputs into a streamable format.
External Camera/Source Switcher
Optional, but not required is an external method of quickly and easily switching camera views. Often, this is an external mini keyboard or a fantastic product from Elgato called a Stream Deck. My preference is the Stream Deck. It’s an expensive option but incredibly flexible and comes with preinstalled actions for operating the popular encoding software (above) without having to touch the laptop or PC. YouTube has plenty of instructional videos on using the Stream Deck.
I was using a tablet device to view comments and monitor the stream on YouTube or Facebook as the laptop screen was too small split in half to monitor both the streaming software and YouTube at the same time. You don’t need to use a tablet, but I found it very useful.
Ranking consistently high on streaming webcam review sites for nearly 8 years is the Logitech C920. The set-up here utilises two of these great cameras connected on either side of the laptop to balance the power through the machine. The camera built into the laptop was also used as a ‘Face Cam’, so I could speak to viewers directly. In total, there were three cameras to capture the action. Together, these cameras produced excellent quality video, even at the 720p I was streaming out at.
Other cameras are available of course, but Logitech provide superb quality cameras at a reasonable price. (At the time of writing, they are hard to find in the UK and those available are vastly over inflated in price).
Whilst it is possible to connect video cameras and some dSLRs to a laptop or PC, they are not generally ‘seen’ by the computer as a webcam. To have your computer ‘see’ video cameras or dSLRs requires additional software to encode the camera video input into the streamable format that is then further encoded by the streaming software. Using software to do this will put additional strain on your PC or Laptop. This may cause it to either crash when streaming or struggle processing the data if it doesn’t have the power to deal with the extra load. Canon have recently released software to do this for a limited number of their products. At the time of writing, it was still in Beta testing so is likely to be quite buggy. I would not recommend using beta software – especially for paid demonstrations
The other option is to invest in a ‘video capture device’ which encodes the video input into a format that can fool be used by the encoding software (OBS for example) without using much (if any) of your computers main processing power and ensure the video camera is ‘seen’ by the computer as a webcam. This is an expensive option – much more expensive than investing in a couple of decent webcams, in my opinion.
To get started, normal camera tripods will be sufficient, just make sure you place them (and the cameras) in positions that when you are turning, they are not obstructed by your arms or elbows….or head! I’m using microphone stands screwed to a light bridge (which you certainly don’t need if you’re getting started).
Good quality audio is imperative if you are going to stream. Nothing puts a viewer off more than poor audio. Wherever possible, if you are serious about streaming, do not rely on the microphones built into the webcams. They are ‘omni-directional’ meaning they capture sound from everywhere around the camera because their primary use is for talking to, and not filming running lathes. Because of this, a running lathe through a webcam mic sounds awful.
Use an external microphone – preferably wireless for safety reasons. Either one like an actors stage mic that sits round the ears with a thin mic to the side of the mouth or a lavalier mic clipped to your smock or clothing. The receiver will likely need the 3.5mm jack on your PC or laptop which may knock-out the use of your speakers. This isn’t a problem for YouTube or Facebook, but will be a problem if you intend to stream via Zoom. For this reason, when streaming via Zoom, I was using an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker.
Don’t underestimate how important good illumination of your lathe and work is. Webcam sensors require a lot of light to work at their optimum level. Your workshop lighting is unlikely to be enough to give the camera sensors the amount of light they need to work at their best. Have a look at LED panels to push more light into the work area.
Make sure this additional illumination is ‘soft’ and even to avoid harsh shadows and bright highlights. Webcams struggle with high contrast situations.
And that’s about it really. Whatever you choose to do, there will be a lot to learn if you are new to streaming and/or Audio-Visual set-ups. Do read as much as you can to learn how to do it yourself. Whilst I would be able to tell you how to do it, going through the learning process yourself will ensure you are better equipped to understand your set-up and deal with any problems that may arise.
Below is one of the live demonstrations I performed on YouTube using the set-up in the illustration above.