By Steve Gibbons 22nd March 2020
In this article I am sharing a simple low-tech recipe for broadcasting a small live-stream event to Facebook using just a single smartphone and a few relatively low-cost accessories.
With the current COVID-19 situation many small businesses, schools, churches and families are now facing the reality of event cancellation or at least a significant reduction in access to indoor gatherings.
Out of nowhere many of us are facing new challenges of how we can continue to operate and host meaningful events and classes using live-stream technology to engage with those who would normally attend in person. We are fortunate to have powerful technology in our pockets that can help us still host an event and stream it live.
Over recent months I have been thorough a bit of a learning curve experimenting with ways to live stream a few local church events without using expensive high end equipment. I am still learning, experimenting and improving. Here I am capturing a few steps that worked for me so I can remember it for next time, and also share with others who may be struggling with the same challenges.
I will start out by saying that this is not a guide to help you achieve a slick broadcast quality multi-camera production. It is aimed at those who just want to capture and share live information, broadcast a special occasion, or teach a class where attendees can’t be there in person.
A lot of this equipment you or a negbour may have already at home or can be easily purchased online.
Basic Equipment Needed
The sample equipment list below is based on components I personally had on hand or purchased to supplement what I had.
You will need to adapt the list accordingly depending on what smartphone you have as not all devices support the same cable connection jacks, compatible accessories or software.
- A Mono-pod (or Tripod) for your smartphone (e.g. approx. AU$130 for a Manfrotto Monopod). This will help you take the shakes out of your handheld live streaming. My Mono-pod also has support legs that can pop out to be self standing when needed.
- A phone Holder Attachment for the Monopod (AU$20 from JB Hifi).
- A Smartphone with decent video camera quality. In my setup I used my existing Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. Most two or three year old smartphones should be fine. You may need to purchase an additional adapter if your phone does not have a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack.
- A quality external mic. In my setup I used a “Rode VideoMic Pro” (approximately AU$225). It is not the latest model or the highest spec in the range but does offer very good performance and features for the price. It has a 3.5mm audio jack cable that can connect to a camera or phone via a 3.5mm mic jack to overrides the built-in microphone. Performance will degrade with increasing distance from the sound source and it will be affected by the direction it is pointing but the sound quality will be much better than the regular phone mic. The best alternative would be to use a high quality wireless digital receiver/transmitter which can send a richer audio mix from the sound desk. These are not low cost at AU$800+ and can experience side effects of audio/video lag. For these reasons I won’t be covering it in this guide.
- (Optional) Mic stand for the external microphone. You may need this if the mic needs to be positioned closer to the sound source than the camera to get clearer audio. The stand will need either a flash mount or tripod mount attachment to mount the Rode Videomic Pro. I just used a regular photography stand with a flash mount on top (approx. AU$20 on EBay).
- (Optional) A high quality 3.5mm female to male extension cable. This is to connect the mic to the smartphone if they are not co-located on the same mono-pod. For this I purchased a Rode VC1 cable which is 3m long (AU$20) after testing cheaper cables and longer cables I had lying around which resulted in poorer quality audio.
- An external USB power battery for the phone so you don’t risk running flat during the event. Consider using a pouch or Gaffa Tape to secure it to the mono-pod.
- A Laptop computer or tablet is useful to periodically test and monitor the live-stream quality.
- Wired headphones for the laptop to monitor the live stream audio quality. If you use Bluetooth headphones you will not get a true sense of actual audio delay in the broadcast material.
- Remember to stay safe and bring appropriate health and safety gear if you are likely to be working in close contact with others producing the event.
- Ensure the site has adequate reliable WIFI and internet to support live streaming. See if you can obtain the WIFI password details beforehand to test it. Be prepared to have a backup plan if the WIFI network conditions are bad. It is a good idea to have a second LTE mobile device or LTE router that could be the WIFI hotspot if the regular WIFI internet proves to be unstable or too slow.
Setup & configuration Instructions – A few days before the event:
- Create a Test Facebook Page where you can practice live streaming, as you will not want to put your friends through hours of boring testing and tweaking.
- In the Facebook page settings, initially set page Visibility to “Page Unpublished” to avoid having friends or subscribers being notified whenever you are broadcasting a live stream test.
- Open the Facebook page then configure and test the live stream setting. Install appropriate camera software on the phone for streaming to Facebook. In this example I used the “CameraFi Live” app available from the Android Google Play store. There are many alternatives to choose from for both Android and Apple smartphones. This one supports the RTMP protocol used by Facebook to receive live stream data. If you are looking at alternative apps for Facebook streaming, make sure it supports RTMP.
- Click on the “Live” button
- Click on the “Connect” button
- Tick “Use Persistent Stream Key” (this will save you from having to configure keys later each time you re-test)
- Copy the Server web address (URL) and Stream Key for the event into an email that you can send to your smartphone to avoid having to manually type these later when configuring it.
- On the right side of the page, choose where to post your live broadcast. e.g. select “Share on a Page you Manage” and the “<name of your test page>”. Initially you don’t want to be broadcasting to the real page that people are actively following, so be sure this is an unpublished page with no subscribers apart from those in your production team who are helping you set things up.
- Set the Event Title.
Streaming the Event
- Launch the “CameraFi Live” app on the smartphone.
- Click on the RTMP button for streaming output
- Set the RMTP URL and Stream Key to the values for the Facebook Live event that you emailed to yourself earlier. Note: using a persistent Stream key in Facebook Live saves having to change these settings on the phone each time you test it.
- Press the OK Button
- Press the Start Button on the main CameraF1 Live App page.
- Select the mic option of “Internal Mic / Wired Mic”
- The camera preview starts playing.
- Press the Red GO button to start streaming from the camera. (it won’t be streaming to Facebook yet)
- mount the phone on the tripod connect the external mic
- Open Facebook page where your event is posted.
- Click on the Create -> Live button
- Click on “Connect”
- Select the “Use persistent Stream Key” checkbox
- Give the event an appropriate title.
- Click on Go Live
- Use a laptop or tablet with wired headphones attached to test the stream and audio levels, preferably during a live practice of the event. Take note of audio volume and quality and any audio and video lip sync issues. In this simple setup where there is no computer processing before sending to Facebook I am attempting to avoid significant audio/video delay issues by capturing the audio in the same smartphone that is capturing the video using a quality hard wired mic.
- When all the equipment has been tested to satisfaction, repeat the setup instructions to configure the stream for the page that the intended audience follow and do a quick test at least 15 mins prior to the event to ensure the stream is configured correctly.
You will find that this is a very basic streaming solution using components that can typically be acquired at low cost and may provide a suitable workaround for those who cannot attend small events in person.
There are a few limitations with this streaming solution:
- It only provides for single camera coverage. It is not easy for the audience to engage with long presentations with only one camera angle. Consider keeping your live-stream sessions concise and relevant to the audience.
- It will be hard to display additional multimedia sources material such as audio visual content and Powerpoint slides that is typically displayed on projectors during a regular event.
- There will likely to be audio quality challenges covering all aspects of the event unless the microphone can remain within a few meters of all the presenters which is hard to achieve when presenters and performers tend to move around a lot. In a small venue there may be opportunity to position the mic close enough to the front to pick up adequate (not necessarily high quality) audio signal but it will be hard to cover all the audio dialog if presenters are not at a fixed predictable point. There may also be challenges balancing musical items where there are typically several singers and musicians.
- If you chose to use Radio or Bluetooth mics some additional audio delay may be introduced that cannot be eliminated when streaming directly from the phone. With significant audio lag you may need to use a separate laptop/computer running software like OBS Studio which does let you adjust the audio/video delay before it is streamed. This is a more complicated scenario than the one presented in this guide.
- If you need a more interactive 2-way conversation experience to allow remote attendees to actively participate, consider using the Zoom videoconferencing platform (https://zoom.us). A subscription will be required to host videoconferences for events longer than 40 minutes at a time or to support larger audiences.
This guide is intended to help some at least think about how they can get started testing the waters with simple live-streaming to their Facebook social media pages.
In a future post I intend to cover another how-to “Recipe” which includes using the opensource (free) “OBS Studio” software application running on a laptop to provide additional capabilities such as live switching between predefined scenes that are pre-configured to use multiple cameras and/or stream Picture in Picture multimedia or video content from multiple sources while live streaming to a YouTube channel.
I welcome you to reply with comments and suggested improvements (I’m learning too!). I will attempt to keep this guide up to date with all relevant tips.