There are two key factors fueling the need to stream. First, video technology has made it easier for anyone to pick up a camera and live stream. Second, the streaming audience has grown, with an impressive 1.1 billion hours of live video consumed in 2019 alone. If you were thinking about live streaming content, now is the time.

But taking that first step is always the hardest. How do you start? Thankfully, there are resources to help you hit the ground running. We’ll break down the ins and outs of what you need to go live for the first time.

This article will break down how to live stream, gear for every budget, and the different live streaming platforms so you can find the right destination for your video content.

Getting started with live streaming

Before jumping into a streaming setup, let’s talk about content.

There are plenty of highly produced, multi-cam broadcasts in the world, but it doesn’t mean everyone needs to break the bank to start. Remember: your gear and setup can only get you so far — what really matters is your content.

Think of your last video call with friends and family. Maybe you were catching up or sharing an impromptu meal. Just like your last video call, live streaming has a simple purpose: to connect in an authentic and conversational way.

How to live stream for the first time

Once you have an idea of what to stream, we can jump into the nuts and bolts of your live streaming setup.

Here’s a checklist of equipment you’ll need before you start live streaming:

  • Audio input
  • Camera input
  • Switcher and encoder 
  • Internet bandwidth
  • Live streaming platform

Live streaming terms

Before we go further, there are few terms you’ll want to know. These are just the tip of the ice berg to help you dive into streaming lingo for the first time.

  • Bitrate: the rate at which data is transported from point A to point B. It’s typically measured in kilobytes per second, and can vary based on a variety of factors, including: source and receiver network connections, video compression, resolution, and more.
  • Compression: in the context of live streaming, compression increases processing efficiency by decreasing the overall size of the streaming video. The industry standard is H.264 (better known as MPEG-4). Vimeo uses this compression for both our uploaded and live videos.
  • Encoding / transcoding: when video is first recorded, it exists in one of a variety of formats depending on your equipment. Encoding — sometimes called transcoding — is the process of converting raw, analog, or broadcast video files to digital video files.
  • Frames: the series of still images that make up your video. Think of these like the pages of a flip book. The less motion per frame and the more frames per second, the smoother the video. They’re measured in frames per second (FPS), aka the number of frames displayed per second of video.
  • Redundancy: a variety of backup techniques during a live stream. A fully redundant live set includes backup camera feeds, backup data source streams coming out of the mixer, backup RTMP streams, backup signal types, backup encoders for each master feed, backup streams or profiles for playback, and backup CDNs that each set of streams are being served from.
  • Simulcast: any live event that’s streamed on multiple platforms simultaneously. Simulcasted live streams include content that’s airing live on television, in addition to digital platforms. They can be exclusive to digital platforms, like Vimeo.
  • Switcher: also known as a “video mixer” or “vision mixer,” a switcher is a device used to select between several different video sources. In some cases, switchers can be used for compositing (mixing) video sources together to create special effects.

Don’t feel the need to memorize everything at once! Feel free to go back and refer to our comprehensive guide of live streaming terms.

1. Pick your audio and camera

Let’s dig into some of the best options for your streaming setup for beginners. If you want to stream without the hassle, you can always use a smartphone or built-in webcam to start.

Whatever video and audio setup you choose, make sure your broadcast looks great by using the following tips:

  • Use a clean, interesting background
  • Make sure you speaker/presenter is set up in the center of the frame
  • Set up lights or try to use natural light in front of you, not behind you
  • Find a quiet place and remove background noises
  • Try to keep things static and minimize movements

If streaming with equipment seems a bit intimidating to start, don’t fret! You can easily pull out your mobile phone and live stream like a pro. Apps like Vimeo for iOS and Android allow creators to quickly simulcast to social destinations to reach followers.

If you want to increase your image and audio quality to a professional standard, we’ve got some great ideas you can explore for your cameras, audio and lighting setup.

Entry-level recommendations:
Camera: Mevo Start ($399)
Microphone: Rode VideoMic ($150)
Lighting: Aputure MC ($90)

Intermediate-level recommendations:
Camera: Canon XA15 ($1,800)
Microphone: Rode ProCaster ($229) 
Lighting: Neewer’s ring light kits ($19-$110)

Professional-level recommendations:
Camera: PMW 300 ($7,500)
Microphone: Shure SM7B ($399)
Audio Mixer: RodeCaster Pro audio mixer ($599)
Lighting: Aputure 300dii ($1,100)

These are just some basic recommendations for each level. We encourage every content maker to explore other cameras, audio recorders, lights to find the right look and styles for your productions. 

If you’re looking for a deep dive on live streaming gear options, check out our recommendations for the best live streaming equipment for every budget

2. Choose a switcher and encoder

Once you have your audio and video sources locked in, you’ll need to look at switchers and encoders.

Software encoders

An encoder is critical for video distribution. It’s the device that processes and transforms video data into a format that is more compatible with different platforms like Vimeo, Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, etc, so your viewers can watch your content.


While some cameras have built-in encoders, you may need to work with a hardware encoder (more on that in the next section) or a software encoder.

What is an encoder?

An encoder is a device that can process and transform video data into a format compatible with different platforms like Vimeo, Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, etc. 

When looking into how to choose a software encoder, we focus on three key factors.

  • Ease-of-use
  • Accessibility
  • Evergreen software

These three factors will ensure you have an encoder that’s easy to use with the technical support needed.

Hardware encoders

Hardware encoders are best used when pushing high quality video, audio, and multiple camera and video sources into your stream.

And for those looking for some great gear recommendations for your hardware encoding kit, Vimeo has you covered. Here are some basic pieces of gear that you’ll need centered around one (or multiple) Studio HD550 switcher as your workhorse encoder.

These recommendations should cover everything you need to handle encoding on an on-site live stream production. It also includes all the extra bits and pieces that should cover any additional streaming needs that might pop up when working with a brand or client for working with multiple cameras and in some of the highest quality streams. If you’d like to read more, here’s the full list for all the essential gear for your live streaming equipment setup.

Switchers

A switcher does exactly what the name suggests. It allows producers to switch between audio and video sources. They’re commonly used for multi-camera setups so that you can switch between shots during your stream.

Similar to encoders, you do have different options for both hardware and software switchers. However, for those first starting out, We recommend looking for a software option that combines all the elements that you’d need for both encoding and switching.

Livestream Studio, which is Vimeo’s native switcher/encoder software, gives users the power of a live production control room to tell compelling stories.

3. Check your internet bandwidth for live streaming

Now, we can address the elephant in the room: connectivity. 

No matter how nice or professional the setup — your live stream is only as good as your connection.

Before we go over how to get the best upload speeds for your streams, there are two terms you should know.

The first term is bitrate. This is the rate that your data will upload through your encoder and out to the various streaming services or platforms that you’ve picked. Generally speaking, the higher the bitrate the higher the stream quality. However, higher bitrates also mean large data size which can slow down a stream.

The trick is to find the right balance for your bitrate and your connection. One way to do this is by considering aspects like your frame rate and resolution.

What is your frame rate and resolution for live streaming?

Your frame rate is the number of images transmitted and displayed per second on screen. When live streaming to online audiences, 30 frames per second (FPS) becomes standard and, in fact, many streams opt to transmit in 60 frames per second for more detail for sports or video games.

Your resolution reflects the size of the frame of your video. Just because everyone wants 4K video for their cameras, televisions and content doesn’t mean it’s the best option for live streaming. Unless you have the capacities for the huge file sizes, instead consider more practical resolutions like 1080p or 720p which are much more manageable for streaming and keeping your bitrate reasonable.

4. Choose the right platform for live streaming

Once you’ve considered all the different aspects of live streaming from cameras to encoders to bitrates, you’re ready to choose your live streaming platform. 

To begin this process, you’ll want to make sure everything is synced and your encoder is properly connected with the stream key (or RTMP URL or stream address) for each platform. Most of these options will outline all the steps you’ll need to follow before broadcasting or simulcasting to multiple platforms.

  • Vimeo Live: with Advanced and Enterprise plans, streamers have access to a suite of live streaming tools for your videos and events. In addition to live streaming features, Enterprise includes all the video hosting and collaboration tools to support your entire workflow. Explore plan options
  • YouTube Live: YouTube’s live streaming service is a standard, free-to-use offering for affordable streaming.
  • Facebook Live: Facebook Live might be best for those looking to add live streaming content to their brand’s Facebook page.
  • Twitch: one of the biggest names in video game live streaming, Twitch is one of the most popular platforms for its community and niche styles of content.
  • Mixer: Microsoft’s live streaming platform attracts video game streamers and competes with Twitch’s audience.
  • LinkedIn Live: recently launched, LinkedIn now offers its own live streaming platform tailored for the business and networking community.

The best platform should compliment the type of video content you plan to stream, as well the audience you want to engage.

For small businesses, influencers, marketers, and brands that are looking into how to set up a live stream for the first time, Vimeo offers robust support and features to help you get started on the right foot.

Boost your live streaming skills

Interested in starting a live streaming business? Join the Vimeo Experts community to access in-depth courses on the gear, software, and tools you need to build a professional live streaming business.

5 tips to optimize your internet bandwidth for live streaming

Plan to test out your stream on your smartphone, web cam, or external camera before your go-live date. For example, if you’re used to video chatting on zoom calls all day from your laptop on the couch, you might expect your live stream to look about the same under those same conditions.

1. Connect directly to the router when possible

Once you’re ready to maximize your stream quality, one easy step is connecting directly whenever possible. This means going directly from your router or modem to your computer with an ethernet cable. If you’re working with a webcam or digital camera, connect to your computer rather than relying on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. In general, it’s preferable to work with physically connected devices over wireless connections. This will help you maximize your streams.

2. Close and remove other sources

Similar to the advice above, when you’re first starting out it’s perfectly fine to try out streaming under your normal home or office conditions. Another trick that you might want to try though is to close and remove all other sources that might be occupying your connectivity and internet speed. This includes all other Wi-Fi connected devices, computers and any and all background programs that might be automatically synced and using up bandwidth.

3. Max your upload speed and bandwidth

No matter where you’ve chosen to stream, remember to check internet speed and bandwidth caps outlined by your internet service provider (ISP). If you plan to go live on a regular basis, consider upgrading your plan or finding an ISP that can give you a higher upload speed and bandwidth.

4. Set up a buffer

Set a buffer to ensure you’re operating at a safe bitrate. This helps minimize speed changes throughout your stream. A good rule of thumb is to keep your upload speed at least around 30 percent higher than your bitrate speed to ensure a seamless and issue free broadcast.

5. Test extensively

When in doubt, test it out. 

Testing your live stream will help you find that sweet spot that maximizes elements like resolution, frame rate and bitrate without the risk of having an audience in attendance. Also be sure to do several dress rehearsals or practice runs to make sure everything is to your liking.

Wrap up: start your live stream today

Live streaming can be surprisingly simple. By investing the time to get the right equipment up front, you can focus on the big picture. This includes honing in on your live streaming content and perfecting your own style and sensibilities before going live.

Now that you’ve covered the basics, it’s time to take the plunge and broadcast your content with reliable, professional video. If you need a refresh, check out our tips and tricks to get the components of your stream in order.

Go live with Vimeo

Originally published on March 1, 2021 and updated on August 10, 2022.