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Your laptop as a TV studio

Hamburg (dpa) – What do rock groups, churches, universities and bloggers have in common?

All of them have jumped onto the trend of videostreaming – sending live video transmissions online. Professional equipment is no longer necessary to achieve this feat. All it takes is a laptop, a camera and a website, though some basic know-how helps.

Beginners shouldn’t be scared, says Blanche Fabri, a media researcher.

”A little computer knowledge can’t hurt,” says Fabri, who has streamed video for a variety of institutions. ”But mostly, one needs time and enthusiasm to get into it.”

Broadcast hobbyists need an account with a streaming provider, who will make sure that the transmissions gets up on a website where viewers can watch it. Transmissions can also be bundled into blogs or websites.

A lot of streaming sites also offer smartphone and tablet apps.

Archival functions are fairly standard.

Most streaming services offer free accounts with fewer functions or limited broadcast times, usually more than adequate for beginners.

Those who want unlimited broadcasting times will usually have to pay about 200 euros (266 dollars) a month, depending on the provider.

Major providers of streaming service include Ustream.tv, Livestream.com, Justin.tv or Twitch.tv, which focuses on streaming video games. The hangout function on Google+ is also a good place for beginners to get a feel for the technology.

”Our customers come from a variety of fields,” says Georg Lenzen, a technical project leader at Make.tv, a German streaming service.

Customers range from priests disseminating their sermons to business seminars to bloggers.

Technological advances explain the increasing popularity of video streaming.

”Ten years ago, the internet was there,” says Fabri. ”But people wouldn’t have been able to transmit or receive today’s transmissions with computers from back then.”

Fabri recommends a network cable internet connection when streaming.

”Wi-fi is too susceptible to disruption for handling the numerous tiny packets that have to be sent.”

Plus, upload speeds should be at least one megabit per second; twice that for HD streams.

It can be hard to pick the right camera. Camcorders deliver the best image quality, but are usually the most expensive solution.

Digital cameras usually produce good videos. But it can be difficult to stream video from camcorders or cameras onto a computer.

If the camcorder and computer are both equipped with Firewire, then a cable is all that’s needed for transmission. Computers can be quickly upgraded to Firewire with a special card.

Otherwise, streamers will need a special box to translate the camcorder’s HDMI signal for the computer, since few graphic cards have HDMI ports.

Beginners might find it easier to start off with a high-quality webcam, which can be connected easily to a computer with a USB cable.

A built-in model is more than adequate for testing out streaming.

”They’re usually astoundingly good,” says Fabri.

Don’t forget sound quality.

”A lot of people work on a computer while they’re watching a stream,” says Fabri. ”They don’t see the picture and are focused on the sound.” That’s why she recommends investing more money in a good microphone than a great camera.

Be careful what you film. Recording at a public gathering might lead to legal trouble, depending upon broadcast rights. Always check first for signs banning filming or photography.

Even if there are no warnings, not everything is up for grabs, since individuals still have a right in many jurisdictions to control the use of images of themselves. Even though that right is usually surrendered at public gatherings, it can never hurt to ask.