Buying the Right Equipment for your Streaming Setup
Configuring a high-quality streaming setup is incredibly important. You not only have to own a pretty solid computer (hardware-wise) and internet connection to pull things off, but you also need a camera as well as a microphone.
However, before delving deeper into what’s available on the market, let’s focus a bit on why it’s so important to reach a certain level of quality before you start streaming.
You Have to Achieve the Standard
If you’re starting out as a streamer, you’re essentially entering a huge world that’s oversaturated with content. There are so many people that are trying to succeed as streamers that you’re going to need any upper hand that you can get if you want to get noticed.
Because of this, you’re going to have to achieve a certain standard when it comes to stream quality if you want to stand out and grab someone’s attention. With so many streamers to pick from, people generally don’t have much time to give – they’re always on the lookout for someone new and interesting. With thousands of people competing, you absolutely should achieve a certain level of quality before you can consider yourself a streamer.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to set up a very respectable camera and microphone combination. Even if you decide that streaming isn’t up your alley, you’ll still end up with some very solid equipment that you can use for other endeavors.
When I started creating content focused around League of Legends, I had not only reached the standard that was present in the scene, but I was able to overtake the majority of other content creators – and it wasn’t that hard.
I had a very solid mirrorless camera, a great lens as well as a fantastic microphone. People didn’t expect that level of quality from a “newcomer,” and it paid off as I accrued a small following fairly quickly.
Now you don’t have to shoot in 4K RAW to be competitive and relevant, but if you’re shooting videos on your mobile phone while talking into the built-in microphone, people won’t give you a chance – and with good reason. There is so much content out there right now that it’s hard for people to break through.
By reaching a certain visual standard, viewers will give you a chance and then if your content has certain qualities they will stay and perhaps even become fans. The same goes for streaming and many other facets of creative work.
So in other words, try to reach a respectable level when it comes to stream quality before publishing content.
First of all, you’re going to need a webcam.
So what are your options?
As a “go-to” streaming webcam, you have the Logitech C920. It’s fairly small and can record in full HD. It also has built-in dual stereo microphones (although you won’t be using them, it’s still a nice addition), and it’s compatible with all versions of Windows and Mac. It has pretty solid auto-focus and is fairly usable even in low light situations.
The best part? You can get it for a measly $80 from Logitech’s official store, or for as little as $50 from certain sellers online – depending if it’s on sale or not.
There are a plethora of newer options as well, especially considering that the C920 was released in 2012, but you won’t be getting more value for the money spent. The reason why it’s still available on the market is that it satisfies the needs of almost every customer.
If you’re feeling like spending a bit more, you can get the Logitech BRIO. It’s a lot newer, and arguably a bit fancier looking. It also records in 4K which is nothing to scoff at, it can automatically adjust exposure, has High Dynamic Range (HDR) that will do wonders in low lighting conditions, and it has fantastic auto-focus as well as a wide field-of-view.
It’s a top-tier webcam, but it also has a top-tier price – up to $200.
That said, you won’t be getting a ton of extra value since you’re going to be taking up a very small area on the stream anyway, and the C920 is still a phenomenal webcam that’s more than enough to get the job done. It’s better to start off “small” and then upgrade in the future if you want to, especially because investing around $200 for a webcam isn’t an easy pill to swallow.
Regardless of the webcam, you decide to go for; it’s going to be connecting to your computer via USB. The benefits of using a USB camera is that it’s incredibly easy to set everything up. You can get it running in a matter of minutes. They’re also fairly cheap in general, but they can get a bit pricey if you want additional features.
However, if you want the absolute best solution that you can get, then buying a webcam isn’t the right choice. These cameras have very small sensors so you cannot get shallow depth of field and you’re often stuck with just a single shot – you can’t change the lens or go for some creative adjustments.
The alternative is buying a mirrorless camera or a DSLR that you can use for streaming purposes.
Taking Things to The Next Level
Now setting up a stream with a mirrorless camera requires a lot more time as it isn’t exactly plug-and-play, but it’s nothing too complicated. Fortunately, there are dozens of good tutorials on the internet (both in written and video format), so you’ll surely find a ton of help if you decide to go down this road.
I don’t recall stumbling upon a Twitch streamer that does use it, but then again I’m not on Twitch that often. It’s a lot more prevalent in YouTube streaming, especially with YouTubers that do video work. Many professional streamers don’t use this kind of set-up, but when you stumble across one that does, you’re going to notice the difference immediately. It’s like night and day.
Why would you use a mirrorless camera instead of a standard PC webcam? The reasons are a-plenty. Better image quality, the mirrorless camera has a bigger sensor (APS-C or Micro Four Thirds), and you can change lenses depending on what you want to achieve. Want shallow depth of field? Not a problem, get a fast prime lens with a wide aperture! The possibilities are endless, and the image quality that you can get from a full-fledged camera is vastly better than anything a webcam can produce – regardless of price.
So what are your options? The cheapest mirrorless camera that will do the job is perhaps the Sony a5100 or the Panasonic Lumix G7. You could also find a used Panasonic GH4 which will be more than enough for the job. Now, these cameras vary in pricing, and it’s generally better to find one used but in good condition.
As an example, you can find an a5100 with a lens included for around $400, perhaps even less if you stumble upon a good deal.
However, a camera is just one half of the equation. You’re going to need a converter (or a capture card) that takes your camera and essentially allows Windows (or Mac) to treat it as a webcam.
Converters can get a bit pricey as well, but something like the Elgato Cam Link (around $130 on Amazon at the time of this writing) or the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro 4K (around $200) should be more than enough to get the job done – just make sure to check the manufacturer’s website to see if it’s compatible with your camera.
The best thing about streaming with a mirrorless camera is the fact that you can always use it for other projects as well. If you’re someone who loves photography, vlogging or creating video content in general, then you’re getting a camera for multiple purposes, and that’s fantastic.
Also, cameras have fairly solid re-sell value, so even if you decide to get back to something a bit more basic, you won’t lose much money.
Next up, we have audio. Now, this is also fairly simple as you can either buy a USB microphone or a microphone that connects via XLR.
Now you could, in theory, go for a full-fledged professional microphone that has an XLR output, but that’s a bit overkill. There’s nothing wrong with a USB microphone set-up, and your viewer base won’t notice a difference in audio quality anyway – at least not in most cases.
If you get an XLR microphone, not only are you going to be spending more money, but you’re also going to need a mixer/mixing board as well, which can break the bank. A USB microphone is more than enough to give you crisp and clear audio, and it’s incredibly easy to use – plug it in, and you’re ready to go!
However, which one should you go for?
The best option on the market right now is, without a doubt, the Blue Yeti. You simply cannot beat the value that a Blue Yeti gives you in that price range – around $120 brand new. It’s incredibly well built, it’s sturdy and has a ton of on-mic controls for volume, gain as well as a mute button. Perhaps the most interesting and alluring feature is the fact that the Yeti has multiple microphones beneath its capsule.
Because of this, you can record in four different patterns – cardioid, stereo, bidirectional and omnidirectional. So you can record yourself when you’re in front of the microphone, you can record stereo sound by using both the left and right channels, you can record yourself and the person that would be speaking in front of you or record sound from all directions.
Now while you will mainly be using the cardioid mode, it’s still very nice that you get additional features for such an acceptable price.
You can also detach the Yeti from it’s included metal stand and attach it to an extension arm.
Another alternative is the Rode NT-USB. It’s a bit more expensive, but you can get it for under $170. Like the Yeti, it has multiple on-mic controls; it comes with a tripod stand as well as a pop shield (also known as a pop filter) included!
Now you could also go for a more affordable option, something like the Blue Snowball (around $60-$70) but the difference between the Yeti and the Snowball is huge, and the Yeti isn’t that much more expensive.
It’s flat-out better to save up more money and go for the “big brother.” It’s one of the most popular USB microphones in the world for a reason.
It’s also very important to buy a pop filter as soon as possible – if you don’t already get one in the box. These filters negate plosive sounds (like the hard ‘P’ noises) when you speak.