Thursday, December 3, 2020

Behind the Streams

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Ah, good ol’ March of 2020. We innocently still thought we would be celebrating Easter together. Ha!

As our lives changed in our attempts to (rather successfully at first) slow the spread of the virus, one shift that quickly took place was offering a live stream of some of our celebrations. Here’s a little behind-the-scenes of that experience.

The Early Days (i.e. April-ish?)

Bishop Mark jumped in, asking Tim Yaworski (AKA the “Living Sky Guy”) to broadcast Mass from our smaller Queen of Peace Chapel. From what I recall, Tim cobbled together a collection of cameras, tablets, smart phones, lights (and probably more) to get something going. He quickly discovered how poor our wifi coverage was in certain areas (like that small chapel). It wasn’t perfect, but it (mostly) worked.

For Easter, they moved into the large main church. More wifi dead zones were discovered. We borrowed some equipment from the school, and Tim’s personal collection also started to expand. He discovered that Facebook wasn’t as reliable as YouTube for video. We ran a cable from the sound board to his cameras to improve the quality. Larger cameras replaced tablets. Things started settling into a rhythm.

As parish staff, we had done some other live streaming in the past, and expected that we could easily do so again. But it was around this time we made an unfortunate discovery: our “magic streaming box” was no longer functional. Without that, we couldn’t easily take over. Fortunately, for the time being, Tim was still able to handle the live streaming, but we knew we needed to get our own system up and running at some point.

The Latter Days (i.e. September-ish?)

Now that we had Fr. Gerard settled in as our pastor, Bishop Mark wanted to start visiting other parishes as well, and Tim went with him. We’d been slowly getting things set up for live streaming on our end. Assuming that we might be getting into this long-term, we wanted to make things as simple as possible. One of our office computers was repurposed to control the stream. In the past we had used some wall-mounted cameras for showing Mass in the meeting rooms (to help the Children’s Liturgy leaders know how much time they had) and for expanding into the Main Hall for Christmas and Easter celebrations. Those cameras are now also tied into the live stream setup.

These days, we tend to switch between the two setups as needed:

  1. Tim works with Bishop Mark, either here at Holy Family or elsewhere in the diocese, streaming to the Diocese of Saskatoon YouTube Channel;
  2. or I’ll work with Fr. Gerard or Fr. Deyre, here at Holy Family, streaming to the Cathedral of the Holy Family YouTube Channel. (I recommend subscribing to both of them, if for no other reason than it makes me feel special.)

The Current Days (i.e. our current setup)

For those who are curious, our current setup involves:

  • Two Vaddio 720p (I think?) wall-mounted cameras. If you’re in the church, you can see them up near the baptismal font and near the sound desk.
  • A Vaddio video switcher (to control the cameras, zoom, fade between cameras, etc.).
  • A Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle (to connect the video switcher to the computer).
  • A basic Dell laptop (with Windows 10). I think it’s about 2 years old now, but it works well enough for our purposes.
  • OBS running on the laptop. OBS is the magic sauce. It lets us add graphics & titles, overlays for things like the Creed, and easily send everything off to YouTube. It took a little time to get used to it, but it’s sweet (like a chocolatey treat).

The Future Days (i.e. probably in a week or two?)

Some of our hopes & plans for the near future include:

  • Simplifying things, especially in OBS. Personally, I love overly complicated setups that let me tweak everything I could possibly want. Hopefully I’ll have it ready for a normal person to use soon as well. We may be able to start streaming other events as well, once the setup doesn’t depend on my presence. I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to bilocate (yet).
  • Connecting our big camera. We have a fantastic Sony camera, but it’s not working with our video switcher right now. I’d love to get that working. It would give us another camera angle to work with, and it provides much clearer images than the little wall-mounted ones.
  • Improved internet connection, which should allow us to get a clearer video out to YouTube. Once that’s in place, we’ll mostly be limited by the capabilities of that laptop. It’s a fairly minor change, but should be a nice improvement with little-to-no effort on our part.

So that’s it. If you’ve been curious, now you know what we’ve been doing. If you haven’t been curious, well, hopefully you didn’t read this far down. If you did, you deserve a cookie.

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