It seems as if the world is moving to HD, and it’s happening at a blistering pace. Churches that are slow to migrate to a fully HD system may soon find that they aren’t communicating in their audience’s native tongue.
In 2008, 24% of American households owned an HDTV. The most recent statistics suggest that nearly three out of four households will have HDTV by 2012.
While the statistics of HD adoption in the church market are less clear, it’s likely that less than 10% of churches have made the HD migration.
This could mean of course that in many cases it just isn’t necessary for the house of worship to make the migration. Cost, compatibility, cost, and also… budget, are usually the main factors in delaying the shift.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with not having an HD system, especially if it is working right now for you and for your congregation. However what you may want to consider very soon is amassing parts of the signal chain that are scalable to HD, so that when the time is right, you can make the transition somewhat smoothly.
Any gear you purchase today should be HD capable to future-proof your system. You will avoid wasting money on equipment that you won’t be able to use after the next five years. Buying SD gear today only to replace it with HD tomorrow means you purchased the same gear twice. Buying HD gear from now on, even if you use the equipment in SD mode for the time being, will allow for more comfortable expansion in the future. The positive part of this is, these days you have to look very hard to find SD-only equipment for sale.
If you need to save some money, you can buy HD core components with SD price tags. For instance, you can purchase SD video switchers that have a software upgrade to HD. When you’re ready for HD functionally you get a software key that unlocks the HD operation, and you don’t have to replace the entire switcher.
What needs to be upgraded to HD when you’re ready to make the move? In short, almost everything. Because HDTV is technically a different sized image, with more physical pixels than SDTV (this is why HD looks so good), it requires a mechanically different signal path that is verified and rated for HD transmission. Everything from the cameras, cabling, switcher, routing, and displays will need to be replaced to support HD bandwidth if these systems do not support HD. The irony is, if you don’t have any gear, your barrier for entry to HD is very small. It’s the facilities with massive SD infrastructure that will be disappointed to learn that all their gear needs to be replaced to duplicate existing functionality.
The NTSC SD camera technology that has been around since the 1950’s only has 345,600 pixels to create images, whereas new HD cameras have over 2 million pixels. With that enhanced resolution, the camera captures any imperfection in the lens. Lens manufacturers responded by developing HD glass that has better HD optic qualities.
Similar to Category-5 cabling being superior over Category-3 telephone cable for data and computer transmission, HD required the development of new coaxial and fiber cable to support the higher data rates for HD signals. HD signal standards are 3 Ghz of bandwidth and above. Normal coax cable that was installed by the cable company or that you bought at the hardware store won’t support these HDTV data rates. All that cable is connected to your terminal gear. The terminal equipment in television production, switchers, routers, patchbays, all the digital glue that makes TV happen, has the same bandwidth problem as the cable. Any device in your system must be able to handle, process, deliver, encode, and see a digital HDTV signal.
Finally, the monitors or displays must be able to receive and display an HD signal. In a normal control room a bank of monitors for every camera source allows the director to see each camera signal, as well as program and preview monitors. Those legacy NTSC monitors don’t work in the HDTV world.
More and more multiviewers are used to display sources in a control room. A multiviewer is a hardware device that takes in multiple video sources and displays them all on one screen its like 12 picture-in-picture windows on one screen.
Your legacy projectors may or may not display HDTV signals properly. Any new projector can see the signal and display it, but depending on its specifications the projector may crop, letterbox, or ‘aspectize’ the image in some way, contributing to a delay in the signal. Recently introduced HD projectors, that have 1920 x 1080 pixels natively, are designed to reproduce HD signals with one-to-one pixel accuracy if your HD format is 1920 x 1080.
Creating A Migration Plan
Some thoughts on creating an HD migration plan:
1) Start with a plan. This may be a formal, bullet-points-with-timeline-poster, or it could just be grease pencil on a mirror that says “I choose to go to HD”. Without a plan, you’ll never get there.
2) Buy a Blu-ray player and start watching HD for yourself. Invest in some great live concerts on Blu-ray and watch one a week. Take notes on how the camera frames the 16:9 shot, and then watch the concert again with the director’s commentary turned on to learn how others are exploiting HD technology. The act of being an HD student will get you in the HD habit.
3) Even if you don’t have HD gear, make the transition to 16:9. Change your projector aspect ratio and force it to go wide, then mask off your current screens or buy new 16:9 screens. Donate or get rid of your legacy tube TV’s in the foyer and replace them with LCD’s. Tell your PowerPoint computer that you want to output WXGA. This will be a painful process as you experience the challenge of reformatting your content to make it fit on the screen correctly, but it will be worth it! Going 16:9 now, even if it is just SD, will save you so much time in the future as you learn the 16:9 workflow without the HD expense.
4) Only purchase equipment that is HD. When your SD camera flakes out, and you need to buy a new one, don’t replace it with one of similar capabilities. It’s time to replace it with an HD camera that you can run in SD mode. This way over time you are building your HD arsenal- your toolbox of awesomeness that is all HD capable. By upgrading one piece of gear at a time, some day in the future you will have more HD gear than SD gear and you can “flip the switch” and go all HD. To be clear, any SD equipment you buy today is already obsolete.
5) Build a team and build consensus. Cultivate a group of people and share with them the dream you have to migrate to HD. Tell them why you should, tell them the plan and tell them how they can help. Watch HD concerts together as a team. Don’t try to do everything yourself, lead your team by pulling them together to carry out the HD migration plan. Together you can be playing HD X-box in the Sanctuary in no time!
By Brad Herring
Doug Whitney, a video director for a large church in America offered his thoughts on the HD transition as it relates to Houses of Worship. Doug’s church utilizes IMAG (image magnification) for all of their services.
The image is pristine and beautiful. At a glance it appears HD, but when you look under the hood you learn the truth – they are faking HD!
Doug told us, “What is really important is that the image looks good. We have high-end cameras with high quality projectors. While the signal is all SD, which saves the church a ton of money, the image is projected in 16:9, and appears HD to the average church-goer.”
Doug’s church utilizes 7 Hitachi Z4500 SD cameras shooting in 16:9 widescreen format. These cameras are all connected to a CCU at the director’s station via SDI cable. This helps them achieve a stable and beautiful image. The switcher then routes the final switch to a pair of Digital Projection Inc.
Lightning 28sx SD projectors. Doug chuckles as he says, “They are so old they don’t event make them anymore. But at 18,000 lumens they give us a great image.”
These two projectors (one on each side of the stage) are rear projected onto a large 16:9 format screen. The end result is an SD image with an HD appearance, obviously at a huge cost saving to the church.
When asked about switching to HD, Doug replied “As far as IMAG goes, I don’t know that we’ll ever need to switch. The image is great and it serves our needs”. The problem, of course, comes with distribution to the masses.
For now, the services are not on TV. They are broadcast live to the internet and archived online for viewing. Again – no problem being 16:9 SD. For the time being, a third party handles all DVD distribution. The SD image is high enough quality that even when played back on DVD to an HD monitor it holds up well. Doug admits as time goes on and HD standards become more prevalent they will probably have no choice but to reconsider how they distribute a physical product to the masses.
However, for now, “Faking HD” works great and saves the church a ton of money that is utilized in other areas of ministry!