Live streamers often start out just using a cheap webcam and some free software, like OBS. Hey, it works!
There may come a time, though, when you want to upgrade that webcam to something that gives you a more pleasing image. I won't go into camera options in this post, but I will focus on my four favorite devices that you can use to get your camera signal into your laptop, whatever the streaming software you are using.
For those using a Thunderbolt equipped Macbook, Macbook Pro, or PC, Blackmagic Design makes the UltraStudio Mini Recorder, which connects to your computer via a Thunderbolt cable. The nice thing about this little device is that it has both HDMI and SDI inputs. If down the road you decide to upgrade to a professional camera with SDI, you can connect it without having to buy a new capture device. The potential downside to this device is compatibility. You need to verify that the software you are using is compatible with the UltraStudio Mini Recorder. Drivers for the device do need to be downloaded from the Blackmagic website, and installed, before your computer will recognize it.
If your laptop doesn't have Thunderbolt, never fear! There are three companies that make excellent capture devices that connect via USB 3. If your laptop is old enough to have only USB 2, then you are out of luck. You need a modern laptop!
Magewell offers a few flavors of USB capture dongles. The USB Capture HDMI will take the HDMI feed from your camera and convert it into a standardized webcam signal that your computer will recognize––without installing any drivers. Nice!
AJA (pronounce the letters A.J.A.) offers a really nice gadget for capturing SDI signals, called the U-Tap SDI. It's got full-sized BNC connections; one for input and one for loop-thru. The rubberized base is a nice touch and keeps the U-Tap from sliding off the desk.
Let's say you want to go crazy and stream 4K video. Welp, there's a great option for that too. It's called the Epiphan AV.io 4K. Of course, you will need a camera that outputs 4K via HDMI to go with it.
If you have vMix software, you can actually bring in a 4K signal and grab multiple HD "angles" from that one signal.
Well, there you go. Hopefully this gets some ideas percolating! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions; email@example.com.