Utilizing streaming video, churches can show sermon videos or Sunday morning lessons, sometimes live, to people who can't make it there in person. Campus ministry groups can hold conferences for college students who can tap into the video and audio from their home computers. On a wider scale, streaming video lets a church go far beyond its geographic limitations and connect with people anywhere in the world.
Ministries have steered clear of streaming video because it is technologically complex. It's expensive, hard to install, and requires an investment in time and maintenance.
Event by Wire (eventbywire.com), a new start-up based in San Ramon, Calif., hopes to overcome that technological hurdle and introduce churches, campus ministries, Christian radio stations and international missions groups to its easy yet powerful new streaming video system.
The system consists of a high-resolution video camera and tripod, a laptop, proprietary software and all the necessary cables. The idea is to let any ministry broadcast good quality video just by hooking the laptop to the Internet and operating the video camera.
It's an all-in-one package that does not require configuration, so you can start using the system right away just by clicking a few buttons. You can stream live video for an event or create an archive of videos.
"We have developed a portable broadcast system that lets a church of any size create a TV station and broadcast from anywhere to anyone," says Dan Grumley, Event by Wire's co-founder. "It works for 10, 100, 500 or 5,000 people who want to simultaneously watch the same live or archived video over the Internet."
Grumley and his brother, Mike, started the company in 2006 to enable any ministry or company to stream video in ways that were previously just too technical and expensive.
The Event by Wire system costs $2,700, which includes the camera and laptop. There's also a monthly fee customers pay for Event by Wire to host and archive the videos on their Web site. The base fee is $295 per month, but may increase depending on the number of views videos receive.
The hardware cost is comparable to similar equipment, if you figure that most laptops cost about $2,000 alone, plus $400-$500 for a video camera. The real costs in streaming video are programming an interface, configuring a webcam service and, most importantly, figuring out how to handle the Internet bottlenecks that occur.
"There's a real barrier to entry," Grumley says. "You normally need an information technology staff, software engineers and consultants to help you determine how to handle the bandwidth for streaming video. A T1 broadband connection can cost about $600 a month or more, and even with that speed you can only host an event over the Internet for about 15 people or it will break the system."
Both the Grumley brothers have experience working for software companies in Silicon Valley, and the system they have developed is powerful. It can run smoothly in a 300x300 or 600x600 pixel window on a standard broadband connection. In testing the system, the video looked smooth at 1.5 MB per second. Grumley explained that ministries can use a connection as low as 200-300 KB per second and still stream video smoothly.
Since the system is portable, it's possible to do a live broadcast from anywhere, from a street corner to a hospice to the mission field.
The laptop can connect to the Internet using wireless networks and even high-speed cellular connections.
"This can be part of a weekly church service—it's an opportunity for people to be part of a service who are not able to attend," says Chris Dobbrow, an independent technical consultant and former executive at electronic media companies ZiffDavis and Red Herring. "If there's a wedding or a funeral service, people who can't be there physically can attend virtually."
Of course, one obvious criticism of a streaming video product is that not everyone can access it. You need a computer and an Internet connection, which many people, particularly the elderly, do not have. Grumley notes that many elderly people are able to access a system at a library or a family member's home, even if they do not own a computer.
The Event by Wire system itself is mobile, but viewing the broadcast does require a high-speed connection and won't work with a standard television, which is the broadcast medium of choice for many local churches. But Event by Wire is not meant to be a competitor to television.
Another potential issue is connecting over a wireless card or a cellular connection, which are essential for mobile broadcasts. The system can do it, but since the laptop does not allow you to access Windows directly, the Event by Wire system manages the connections through its own interface.
"Our integrated system provides options for manually configuring both Ethernet and Wi-Fi settings if desired," says Mike Grumley, Event by Wire co-founder. "We are currently testing cellular cards which will be supported in a future release. Cellular cards have extra complications with network latency and bandwidth speeds for broadcasting."
While the company just recently started, it seems poised for growth. The plan is to expand quickly and become the standard for streaming video—providing quality picture without all the typical technical headaches.
It's a service the church should look into taking advantage of.