July 26, 2016

Getting Started with Live Streaming

This is part one of a two-part article on live streaming. Check out part two, No More FOMO: Building a Modern Live Streaming Strategy, here!

So, you’re thinking about setting up a live stream, but you don’t know how to get started?

Well, worry no more. We’ve got you covered.

Live streams can range from a simple talking head video featuring your charismatic CEO, to a full-fledged production featuring a dozen audio and video feeds, lighting, special effects, and cuts to commercial breaks.

For all live streams, there are essentially four components that come together to deliver a stable and scalable experience worldwide. These are:

Put Your Videos to Work Create, host, manage, and share your videos.
Sign Up Free

1. Video Camera

This is a no-brainer. You actually need something to capture the video and the audio. In more advanced setups, you could have multiple cameras hooked up into a switcher before it sends to step two.

2. Video Capture Card

The video encoder takes the video recorded by the camera and prepares it to stream. For video capturing you have two options:

  1. Use an external peripheral hardware device, or
  2. An internal capture card in the computer.

USB enabled cameras like webcams can generally be plugged directly into your computer to work with your software encoder. If you choose a USB camera, you can get away without using a Video Capture Card.

However, most Standard Definition (SD) and High Definition (HD) consumer, “prosumer”, and professional-grade cameras are equipped with at least one of the following outputs:

  • Composite
  • Firewire
  • Component
  • SDI
  • HDMI

And these outputs generally require a video capture card (either external or internal).

In general, large and more complex streams should use External Hardware devices, while simpler streams can get away with a USB camera plugged directly into your computer.

3. Laptop/Desktop Computer with Encoding Software

Whether you stream through peripheral hardware or directly to your computer, you will still need to send the feed to software to manage the video and audio inputs, transitions, and most importantly, send the video feed to a live stream enabled-player and CDN.

Encoding software is where you preview and manage the stream as it’s being sent online, and where you’ll add all of the other fancy stuff like overlays, sound effects, and star wipes.

4. Live stream Enabled-Player and CDN

Lastly, you’ll need a live stream enabled-player and CDN, which will host and display the final product from the encoding software. This is what the viewer will experience. This will be cloud-based tool that will take the stream and generate embed codes and webpages where the video can be displayed online.

This component is also responsible for syndicating the content to locations around the world, so the stream can be effectively played from anywhere.


Switching gears now, it’s your first live stream, so what camera should you buy?

There are so many out there on the market that it’s easy to get lost. Thankfully, what’s important isn’t the specific brand of camera, but the output. Depending on your camera’s output, you will either be able to connect it directly into your computer to encode the feed, or you will need to attach it to a video capture card or hardware peripheral. You can expect to come across a number of different outputs in your research, with some common ones being USB, HDMI, SDI, and analog.

USB cameras like high-quality webcams are the quickest and easiest way to get set up on a live stream. They can be set up in minutes and can connect directly to your computer without the need for a capture card. On top of all that, they often cost as little as $100 (or they’re already built in)!

However, webcams aren’t perfect, and lack a lot of the advanced features you might be looking for in high quality broadcast. Most of them don’t have zoom or advanced focus controls, and you might find the picture quality to be lacking.

If you’re looking for something a little more configurable, HDMI enabled cameras are a great choice. You can get a professional quality picture at a relatively low price point. The pros will often use SDI output, as the connections are lacking and you can have very long cable runs. However SDI cameras can be very expensive, so a common workaround is to use an HDMI camera with an HDMI-SDI converter.

Video Capture Cards

If you are using any non-USB camera, you will need to feed your stream through a video capture card to convert the stream into a format that is usable by your software encoder. Video capture cards are also a great way to manage multiple inputs and offset some of the processing load on your computer. With video capture cards, there are two choices: internal or external.

Internal cards are generally more configurable and tend to be less expensive than external cards. Unfortunately, they are often incompatible with laptops and require a little bit of computer “surgery” to get them installed. External capture devices are plug-and-play and usually just need a driver to get them up and running. Whichever card you end up buying, it’s important to first check that it’s compatible with your software encoder of choice. Vendors like Wirecast have lists of tried-and-true capture cards readily available on their website.

Broadcasting Software

Now that you’ve got your cameras set up and feeding into a video capture card, you need a program to actually manage the broadcast and distribute it from your computer. There are a lot of quality offerings out there, both paid and free. Here’s a brief list of some that we have used here and can recommend:

  • Telestream’s Wirecast
  • NewTek’s TriCaster
  • XSplit Broadcaster
  • OBS
  • FMLE

Although these products all have different interfaces and features, their basic capabilities are similar. They provide you with a central location to manage all your streams, mix them, and push the feed out in real time to a player. These programs also have a place where you can input your RTMP credentials provided to you by Vidyard when you set up a live stream.

Live Stream Enabled Player

The final step in your live streaming journey is what the end user is going to see: the player. This player will likely be embedded on your website or a landing page so that people can tune in when the stream goes live. Vidyard is one of many providers that can help you with this step by providing you with a live streaming-ready player and a global CDN to stream your content the world over.


Live streaming can sound like a daunting task at first and there definitely are a lot of moving parts. With the right technology and set-up, it’s a great way to extend the reach of your content.

In part 2 of this article, we talk about some lead generation best practices with live streaming, check it out here!

Put Your Videos to Work Create, host, manage, and share your videos.
Sign Up Free
Zack Lipton

Zack Lipton

Zack was a former Solutions Consultant at Vidyard. When he's not showcasing the power of video to the masses, Zack spends his time perfecting regional dialects in Spanish, reading Stephen King novels, and traveling to see Phish. His "lame-but-still-awesome" superpower is guessing the bill at Costco ("Price Is Right" rules, of course).

Record and send videos for free

Vidyard helps you create engaging presentations for clients, onboard new customers, keep your teammates in the loop, and more – all with video.

Learn More
900+ glowing reviews
10+ glowing reviews