The presence of video evolved greatly over the past decade. Where there was once debate about whether video was obfuscating the message, today it’s generally accepted that video is an essential component to helping people connect.
Interestingly, I see another trend. I think many people were concerned that as technology became more complex, the Worship experience would suffer and become less authentic. Instead I see the opposite happening. Simple video systems remind us of passive viewing. A standard projection screen is just like a bigger version of a TV. But people aren’t coming on Sundays to sit in their living room. They want to be involved.
Newer video systems break out of the traditional 16:9 mold. Wider aspect screens immerse us in an experience. Lighting can be synchronized with graphics, so that they become one collective experience instead of disparate systems. Lock-down shots show a teaching pastor at life size, so that we increase the feeling of interaction with satellite campuses. Environmental projection takes us away to another place.
It’s not just the hardware that’s getting better either. It’s the software and the people using that software. Having the ability to cover all of the walls with projection wouldn’t be very effective if we weren’t able to also cost effectively create content that blends with message. Today’s staff members and volunteers have the tools today to create engaging and appropriate content so that we are creating an experience, rather than just flashing images with expensive gadgets.
With this in mind, here are the top 5 trends that I have seen in Church Video System Design:
High Quality IMAG
Two decades ago, the mega church trend was in its prime. IMAG (Image Magnification) was an absolute necessity to get those standing on the stage to be visible to worshippers sitting in the seats all the way in the back seats. Today, we still have large facilities that require IMAG for the local viewers, but a larger component is often providing video for multi-site campuses.
This changes several things about the way that we handle video. For one thing, this typically requires a much higher level of technical proficiency from the staff at the main campus (not to mention a larger staff). In addition to satellite campuses, there is frequently a requirement to provide web streaming.
All three of the requirements above can dictate slightly different production. The people in the main campus have a frame of reference, due to line of sight view to the stage. The worshippers at the satellite campus may have the advantage of two video feeds across multiple screens for immersion. By contrast, those viewing on the web will often only have a single window, with varying video quality, depending on bandwidth. This has an impact on equipment, staffing, and workflow.
Multi Site Video
I referenced this above, but it deserves its own mention. Almost every Church that I have worked with in the past ten years has some form of multisite requirement. I’ve seen everything from SneakerNet one week delay, to streaming ten minute time slip, to real-time interactive multi-campus over dark fiber.
Each of these has very different requirements. It can be extremely easy to get in over your head. The best method is to start simple and build your way up. This can be more seamless if you put a growth plan in action from an early stage. Having a long term plan also helps you to appropriately gauge infrastructure requirements.
Blending has become some much easier and faster over the past few years. What used to require dedicated hardware is now frequently available onboard the projector. Projection blending is fantastic for creating an experience, because it takes us out of the TV on a wall appearance of 16:9 aspect ratios that we are so accustomed to.
Just like any other technology, you have to be able to not just create it, but maintain it. This means you need to carefully evaluate staffing for both content creating and maintenance. There are also a few design pitfalls that you need to watch out for. Rear projection blends will always suffer from some degree of Doppler shift, due to the path difference between the light source at the projector and the reflection at the screen. You can clean up the blend with a camera and vectorscope, but the effect will shift as you move across the room. Fixing it in one spot breaks it in another. Sometimes you will just have to stay away from those seams during content creation.
Obviously, the more projectors you have in a rear projection setup, the worse this will become. To make matters worse some types of projection lamps tend to experience color shift as they age, meaning that the effort that you spend in alignment will be quickly worthless. I know of at least one very large church whose well known design consultant used these types of projectors in a large rear projection array. There is no projection solution to this problem. Once you’ve designed a building based on a large number of short throw projectors, you can do mirror bounce to reduce the amount of projectors and seams, but the distance to the rear wall will limit your overall size.
Lighting and Projection Automation
I mentioned early about the benefits of creating an immersive environment and experience. A big part of this is to make all of those technology systems work together to create an overall experience. One of the best ways to do this is to create lighting scenes that are in synchronization with projection. There is a growing trend towards being able to link lighting and video over DMX, ArtNet, and MIDI.
These solutions vary in complexity. MIDI, in particular, offers a very simple way for Churches with smaller staffs and less experienced operators to create some powerful automation between systems. I have even seen people trigger lighting cues directly through Ableton LIVE. This is an interesting alternative to timecode and shifts some of the programming responsibilities in a unique way. I expect that these types of solutions will become more efficient and powerful over time.
One of the most exciting aspects of MIDI is the ability to easily automate rooms that don’t involve a highly skilled operator. Youth spaces are a great example. I am a big fan of simple automation and pre-determined workflows. You can create a powerful and automated system with just an X-Keys interface and a Mac Mini running QLAB, Pro Presenter, and virtual lighting software. MAC OS X includes hooks that allow you to route MIDI both internally and over the network, so there isn’t even any cabling involved in this type of setup.
I mentioned projection blending already, but there is one special case of projection blending. With environmental projection, we cover the walls with projection from ceiling to floor. This allows us to create the feeling of entirely new environments. Think about it as the ability to repaint the walls on command. Except that instead of using lighting which limits you to solid colors, that paint can include bricks, windows, decorations, outdoor scenes, imagery, or any other evocative emotional element.
When we start to think of projection in these terms, it takes the focus away from the screen as a distraction. Done properly, the effect itself fades away and simply allows immersion into the experience.
To my mind Church Video Design is one of the most exciting and rewarding types of technology design. Just a few years ago, the entire idea of video could be more of a distraction from the core message. Today, it can become an integral element that greatly enhances the overall worship experience by creating a connection on an emotional and spiritual level. I think that is a very exciting thing. Particularly, when opening people’s eyes to new options that really get them “out of the box”. There’s nothing better than communicating with people about something that gets them excited and thinking about new possibilities.