Specifying an Effective Church Projection System
By: George Tsintzouras
Engaging and inspiring today's congregation is increasingly difficult in a world saturated with corporate and secular images. The solution for many churches is to make each service more creative and interactive – specifically, to use large-screen projection to support the message each week. Bright and colorful images large enough to be seen from every seat serve to capture and hold the congregation's attention, allowing the essential messages to be easily delivered and understood.
However, a single projector and screen may not be sufficient to meet this goal, especially in larger buildings and auditoriums. There is a limit to how large a screen a single projector of reasonable size and cost can properly illuminate. The ambient light inside most churches compounds this problem, since worshippers usually need enough light to read by.
The preferred solution is a multi-projector system, with a large, main screen displaying one image/message and possibly one or more smaller satellite images on physically separate screens.
When choosing a projector, there are several key considerations. One factor is built-in support for warping and blending of the projected image. This is critical for combining images in either a tiled or stacked configuration, since each projector will typically be aimed at the screen from a slightly different angle.
The next important consideration, particularly for a tiled array, is the projector's illumination system. It may be tempting to use lower-cost, commodity projectors with a high-gain screen to compensate for their lower typical light output. However, the tiled nature of the composite image will be immediately obvious to any viewer not directly in front of the screen's center. Low-gain screens are necessary to avoid this, which requires projectors with higher light output.
Another valuable feature, which makes setting up and maintaining a multi-projector system easier, particularly if it is necessary to physically move it to a new location, is an automatic blending and stacking system. This option, available for certain projectors equipped with the aforementioned image warping and blending functionality, requires very little training to operate and can completely automate the process of stacking and edge blending, saving time and resources.
There is also the option to create the images in stacked configurations, with each projector displaying the same image on the same screen, each adding its light to the total or providing redundancy to ensure the service continues if a projector fails. As well, a multi-lamp projector provides additional built-in redundancy (if a lamp fails) and ensures that the show goes on and the overall presentation is not compromised.
Regardless of configuration, a multi-projector system obviously requires more equipment than a single-projector system – certainly more projectors, typically more or larger screens, potentially more sources of content, and a matrix switcher and/or multi-window processor to deliver a given source to a given projector. Multi-window processors, in particular, can be used to combine and layer images from a number of different sources, including real-time, live video feeds.
The task of putting together a projection system of this complexity can be made considerably easier by specifying the right equipment. First, a universal matrix switcher is an ideal way to connect many different sources to several different projectors simultaneously. Look for a model that supports a wide variety of video and computer-graphic image formats and a broad range of different physical connection standards for both input and output. The ability to convert a wide variety of image formats implies built-in format transcoding, de-interlacing, and image scaling functionality. A matrix switcher, so equipped, can replace almost all ancillary equipment— reducing cost as well as power and cooling requirements—and eliminates the cabling that would normally be required to connect all the pieces together.
More advanced matrix switchers can actually combine images from multiple input sources, tiling them or layering them in an output image. This could be used, for example, to key logos and entrance effects over a primary image or to implement picture-in-picture. To make this functionality even easier to use, some matrix switchers accept and store stills in a variety of standard file formats on a local hard drive ready to be called up and combined with incoming sources.
The most advanced matrix switchers and/or multi-window processors combine all of the above features, and more, with explicit support for tiled arrays of projectors. This allows the creation of composite images with very high pixel densities, beyond what the majority of single projectors can support. Such switchers also provide the ability to create soft transitions between the images from individual projectors, blending the overlapping edges together for a seamless result.
The images from today's processors can also be of very high complexity, combining many different input sources in multiple ways with a variety of effects, such as soft matting and drop shadows. They may also allow individual source images to be animated, with separate motion trajectories for each.
A system consisting of one or more matrix switchers or processors and multiple projectors can be challenging to set up, operate, and maintain if the wrong equipment choices are made. Switchers, processors, and projectors that provide easy-to-use, Web-based interfaces and/or custom PC programs for control of multiple devices over Ethernet are preferred for this reason.
In today's tough economic times, cost of ownership is likely the most important factor in the purchase of a projection system. Here, too, careful selection pays dividends. The optical efficiency of the projector is likely the largest contributor. A high-efficiency projector requires less power for a given amount of light output, thus directly reducing ongoing operating costs as well as helping to reduce a church's environmental footprint.
The cost of replacement lamps is also a factor; the small lamps used in multi-lamp projectors usually last longer, provide redundancy, and cost less to replace than the larger lamps used in single-lamp projectors to achieve the same light output. Air filters, which typically must be replaced regularly, are another ongoing expense; a projector than can operate without them provides an obvious advantage.
Low-cost, commodity projectors don't usually provide the capabilities described above that lead to lower operating costs, hence, they may actually end up costing more in the long run.
An effective church projection system, regardless of its size, must be bright, flexible, and reliable. It also must meet the needs of the church leaders and congregation and fit within a defined budget.
To ensure that all requirements are achieved, the first step is to hire an experienced system integrator to specify what is really required. This valuable step will help to ensure that the right equipment is determined upfront, which avoids costly upgrades or replacement purchases later, provides a smoother experience during the installation phase of the project, and ultimately delivers the right solution fit for church leaders and their congregations.
George Tsintzouras is the director of product management for business products for Christie, www.christiedigital.com.
By J. Paul Jackson
Presentation software sounds pretty "techy" and many in ministry are still trying to figure out how much visual technology makes sense for their church. Computers, projectors, switchers, and all of the other gadgets should help us communicate the message of love and compassion rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
Effective uses of presentation technology differ from one congregation to another. The question to ask is, "How do the people I want to communicate with get information about other aspects of their lives at home, at work, and at school?" The savvy church leader should then tailor similar communication strategies for music, sermons, and church life. What is effective for one church may not work for another. A rush to continually implement the newest innovations may actually be counterproductive to effective communication. The key is to know your constituents and meet their specific communication needs.
If technology is to serve the church's needs, look for what is going to provide the most flexibility, give access to the most information, and allow for maximum spontaneity. Presentations in church are about a relevant message delivered with maximum impact supported by as much appropriate visual representation as possible. Can your technology respond to your needs as quickly as the needs arise and change?
Does your presentation software allow you to incorporate and interact with other tools and resources? There is no single solution for presentation media.
If one thing is certain, it is that whatever you do today, you'll want to do more in the coming weeks. When using technology, don't just look for a simple solution for right now. Think about the investment serving you when there are more people, more topics, different music styles, and new facilities. People change, and the way you communicate with them today will certainly be different in a few months or years. Can you add to, upgrade, and connect your software with other tools that you may not even have now?
Be flexible, creative, and resourceful. Always remain sensitive to your audience and whether your methods of presentation are helping communicate or distracting them from the message itself.
J. Paul Jackson is the vice president of MediaComplete, www.mediacomplete.com.
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