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


  1. I started our church’s broadcasting with a $33 investment. Granted, we had an old computer sitting around and already owned the Sony Handicam camera.

    Video: I took the Sony Handicam output > RCA cable > Diamond VC500 capture device > computer via USB 2.0. I run the free desktop version of Ustream,
    Audio: Soundboard output to rca input of the Diamond VC500 capture device.

    Pro’s: CHEAP! Its a proof of concept to see if there is a need for broadcasting our services
    Cons: Free Ustream account limits views to 100 per month (no problem for now), and broadcasts only at a resolution of 480p.

    For us, at this time this setup meets our needs. The Ustream desktop client allows up to stream live and record (for upload to youtube). If the need arises, we can work new equipment into our budget.

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