Switcher Studio - a Live Streaming Solution for Church Services
As churches get used to publishing sermons and services online for their members at home, Switcher Studio could help your live streams and set you up for a possible hybrid return to meeting together.
None of us really know what the next three to four months are going to be like for churches as they meet on Sundays, but we can make some educated guesses.
The Hybrid Service
One of the more likely outcomes of the easing of restrictions is that we will have to pursue some kind of hybrid model of meeting – where some are able to meet in person and others connect through the live streams that have maintained our services during lockdown.
For churches with buildings, there are some relatively straightforward, albeit expensive, solutions to this problem. If you are recording in your church building, you’ll have dealt with some of the technological solutions already. However, you will have to be a bit smarter when the building has people in it.
For churches without buildings, the thought of yet another thing to set up (and invest in) fills us with dread; that’s certainly how I feel. A decent video camera that can record from the back is going to cost you the best part of £500-£1,000 or more (for example a Canon XH11). You’ll need HDMI converters (and possibly video mixers) and some way of getting audio into your stream.
A Streaming Solution
That’s why I’ve been particularly keen to test a soft solution called Switcher Studio: a subscription-based video mixing app which utilises the cameras on mobile devices connected over a WiFi network.
It has to be said that, at the moment at least, it only works with iOS devices or Mac computers (Windows is in beta, no Android yet). But it’s attractive to me: no hardware is needed (I’ll explain further on) and you can connect up to nine devices to make as many cameras as you need (though you will need to scrape together some people in your congregation who have iOS 13.0 iPhones or iPads with the free app downloaded).
Your main device (best if it’s a tablet with a bigger screen) is the video controller, mixer and, if you want, recorder.
The interface is easy to learn and works like a standard video mixer, allowing previews of cameras as well as reasonably sophisticated remote control of connected devices (you can remote zoom a connected iPhone, for example, as well as alter white balance and so on).
You can also broadcast slides, videos, bottom third titles, multiple views, overlay text, and more: pretty potent for a tech junkie like me. Then there are direct set ups for live stream to Facebook, YouTube and other platforms – and access to live comments too.
I have been playing around with it and done a short demo video which you can watch below.
For a church set up I would envisage one camera on the leader/preacher, one on the music team or musician, and one wide shot from the back.
At my church, we won’t have to buy anything but will simply utilise members’ phones and tablets (although we might invest in some phone holders for stability). Then any slides in PowerPoint (or in our case Proclaim) can also be broadcast to the mix, either as full screen or picture in picture.
There’s a two-week free trial so you can try before you buy, as I have (the Switcher logo is removed when you subscribe).
There are two key limitations, other than the restriction to iOS devices. First, it’s not cheap. The basic package will cost you $39 a month (around £32) which is a fair chunk of cash. Although it is cheaper than the equivalent physical kit and, because it is billed monthly, you can cancel when you no longer need it. Frankly, I would happily pay £8 a week just to avoid the setup hassle.
The second limitation is that the audio feed has to be in the main device. The remote cameras operate as cameras, not as audio-ins. So, you’re going to have to find a way to take an audio mix into the main device. For us, this is fairly simple as we can run an Aux-out from our mixer into the iPad and set up our own mix for the live stream. We are already doing this in fact, but it’s something you will need to think about.
To their credit, recognising the worship market, Switcher Studio has help guides online for places of worship and lots of other help articles and videos. And they are essentially utilising the super cameras that most modern mobile devices already have.
So in summary, although it is not cheap, Switcher Studio is neat, easy to use, gives a professional-looking output, and is easy to set up. I like it a lot. And we will probably use it.
We are grateful to Switcher Studio for their offer of a discount for FIEC churches: use the discount code FIEC10 to get 10% off all plans (monthly or annual). This offer is valid until 30 September 2020.