The $300 (ish) live-streaming system

I’ve written before about minimal live-streaming systems, but I got a question that puts minimum in a new light. One of my twitter followers was given a budget of $300 to upgrade their live-streaming system from USB webcam to a better camera.

First off, recognize that $300 is tight. The encoding devices I normally recommend (like this Teredek Vidiu) are $500-750. So, $300 for a capture AND a camera is less than you really need.

With that said, here’s what I’ve come up with. You should know that I’m assuming an existing computer (because without one, you can’t do it for less than $700 unless you’re willing to risk it on equipment that may or may not work, or may only work for a short time).

I should also say that if you have a laptop without USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt (like I do), you’re out of luck, too. You need either a desktop computer with an open PCIe card slot, or a computer with USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt.

Let’s start with capture devices. You need to get the video into the computer with one of these, depending on the connectivity your computer has:

Capture devices:
PCI: Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Recorder, PCIe Capture Card for 3G-SDI and HDMI $137.75 (as of 10/7/15)
Thunderbolt: Blackmagic Design Mini Recorder (Thunderbolt) $137.75 (as of 10/7/15)
USB 3.0: Blackmagic Design Intensity Shuttle $189.05

Next, we need a camera. I bought this model, so I know it will work, although it doesn’t have all the features I’d like. Still, since the budget is so low, it does work, so I’d consider it.

If you have more money, get a better camera, but if you don’t, start here:
Vixia R40 $209.00 (refurbished).

Prices are current on 10/7/15.

For encoding software, you’ll need to use something free, like Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder or Open Broadcaster Software, since you’re already over $300 with the hardware, but be advised that Adobe FMLE is processor intensive, so don’t use a 10 year-old computer. It’s going to take a better machine than that. OBS may be better, but I haven’t tested it to know for sure. I know that wirecast is better, but it’s $500, so that’s a non-starter for the $300 budget we had.

So, the total for the hardware is $346.75-$398.05. That’s a little over-budget, but it’s actually a lot closer than I thought I’d get. Also, you might be able to save a little by buying used or watching the prices on the camera for a sale.

By the way, the article above is filled with Amazon affiliate links. They don’t cost you extra and the little bit of $ that they pay me helps to support free content from

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Lexington City Church (formerly Quest Community Church) in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to a peak of 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines. He has thousands of members of his ProPresenter Users' Group on Facebook and thousands of subscribers to his YouTube channel.