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Technological Advances in House of Worship Audiovisual Systems

House of Worship audiovisual systems frequently utilize some of the most technologically advanced electronic components available today.

Over the last five decades there have been significant advances in audiovisual electronics, and Houses of Worship have been in the forefront to embrace these “marvels of technology”. From Churches to Synagogues, from Temples to Mosques, and everything in-between, audio, video, and system control electronic components are an integral part of their daily activities.

Worship services, weddings, funerals, educational seminars, special events (both indoor and outdoor); it is hardly the case where any one of these functions will not have some form of audiovisual technology to help get their message across. Even day-to-day activities such as educational classes are including the use of electronic components in their curriculum.

The first inklings of technology started to creep into Houses of Worship in the fifties and sixties. PA (Public Address) systems were the first. These systems amplified the human voice and/or musical instruments. Components were a microphone, amplifier, and one or more loudspeakers. Quality was low (compared to what we are used to today), costs were high, and the actual implementation of these new devices often yielded poor results.

The loudspeakers were often incorrectly located, and the electronic components were typically improperly adjusted (or tampered with by the dreaded “knob turner”). In some instances this would even worsen the ability for attendees to hear clearly. To further exacerbate the acceptance of this new technology, equipment frequently failed, whether or not this was caused by misuse, or equipment defects, it didn’t matter. Getting the audio equipment repaired properly was difficult, if at all, so more often than not, it was never done, causing the systems to lay dormant for years.

By the time the seventies rolled around, larger and more reliable systems were being developed as musical performances were the new rage. The audience size kept getting larger and larger driven by profits from increased ticket sales. As the touring aspect of the music industry grew by leaps and bounds, so did the electronics industry, each benefiting from the other’s growth.

With live concerts also driving increased sales of artist’s records, so was the need for higher quality, more reliable equipment for the concerts. There is still a constant drive to improve the quality of these systems. During this era audio equipment first started to be mass-produced by companies sprouting up both here and overseas. The reliability, quality and availability went up, while the prices went down.

An aspect that is often overlooked that helped drive the commercial audio boom, was the consumer electronics end of the industry. In both consumer’s homes and their cars, for the first time you were able to come close (in many people’s opinions) to recreating a performance by your favorite artist or artists in your home or car with very low distortion and at very high volumes. Freedom from distortion at loud volumes became commonplace, and the difference in quality to just ten years earlier was significant. Concertgoers became more inherently aware of “good” and “bad” sound as their home systems improved. Vocals or instruments that they never heard before on their albums were prevalent, and the artists during live concerts were striving to duplicate the full range, quality sound that they previously recorded in a studio.

Music stores started popping up all over, with their growth based on increased sales of musical instruments as well as the new electronic components that went along with them. And then it happened, an unknown date that will go down in infamy! Somewhere a House of Worship member got the idea of incorporating a high quality PA system into their facility. That event, at an unknown “House of Worship” in “anywhere, USA”, started the revolution, or evolution of the incorporation of high quality electronic equipment into Houses of Worship.

During the eighties the capability of concert quality sound became an every-day occurrence for Houses of Worship with a medium amount of funds. Now it wasn’t only the largest and best funded churches with concert quality equipment. Although a significant change, it was probably not as noticeable as video. The biggest change for the eighties was the advent of portable (yes, I am using the term loosely) video projectors. These CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) projectors have three lenses, up to 9″ in diameter each, that when combined and projected on a screen would come close to duplicating images only seen before in a theatre.

Once again, as previously described an unknown “House of Worship” in “anywhere, USA”, got the idea of adding a video screen (or screens) and projector (or projectors) to enhance their service. No longer was “audio” the only rage, hence the addition of video to audio only systems.

After one House of Worship installed an audio and video system, well, the “keeping up with the Jones'” rule applied. Houses of Worship with only an audio system were losing members to other Houses of Worship that had both audio systems and video systems. The competition for technology started to grow as the ability of a House of Worship to stay in existence and provide for its members is a function of its membership, a life and death battle was under way. To this day, when meeting with new clients, references are almost always made to other systems they have seen and heard. Frequently they always want better, bigger, brighter systems than their counterparts.

The nineties were extremely influential for many reasons. Audio systems really came into their own. Quality continued to get better while “black boxes” started to make their way into the mainstream. These black boxes, as they were referred to are single electronic components that are able to perform the same signal processing that was previously handled by as many as five, or more components.

With the advent of LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) technology applied to video projectors, even small Houses of Worship were now able to get involved in video. This is attributed to increased availability, ease of use and set-up, and lower prices. By the late nineties it was commonplace to see projectors and screens in many Houses of Worship.

While these advances in the audio and video realm were significant, the most influential and astounding advances in technology in the nineties was the Control System. Using computer codes, special devices called “controllers” were able to communicate with electronic components and control their operation. This was accomplished using direct point-to-point wiring from the controller to the device. No longer did you have to take an infrared remote control and walk around to turn components on and off, and sunlight no longer had an effect on your ability to operate these components via infrared remote.

With the addition of touch-screen technology on LCD panels, although the programming and set up of these systems became more complicated, the actual end-users’ ability to control a plethora of functions was simplified. With as little as “one” touch of “one” button on a custom made user interface page, everything from volume, source selection, lighting, motorized screens and drapes, etc., could be controlled.

Other significant changes that technology has brought about (although not commonly thought of) are the differences to the actual building itself. Both the size and construction materials used for Houses of Worship have changed dramatically. No longer are Houses of Worship designed around such limiting factors as length, width, and special considerations for acoustics so that the un-amplified spoken word can be heard.

The narrow, long cathedral designs of the past have given way to modern fan shaped sanctuaries with concert quality audio, video, and control systems capable of seating ten or more times the capacity of older Houses of Worship. With such large seating capacities, Houses of Worship are now doubling for multi-media type presentation rooms. In fact, their level of quality and sophistication rivals the systems found in the most modern convention centers.

Now what does this mean for technological advances in House of Worship audiovisual systems in the 21st century? One of the latest advances on the horizon is a relatively old concept with a new twist. While the cost of flat-screen monitors (plasma and LCD) keeps dropping, system control technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Many of these monitors are now being used for electronic signage. The new twist is that the management of the content is from a remote location.

At some point there may be an LCD panel outside every classroom, hallway, sanctuary, and chapel door. Worshipers, students and passers-by at a glance will know the current and/or future scheduled activities for that room. In fact the idea of advertising products on these monitors has certainly been bantered about for its revenue generating capabilities!

Who would have guessed fifty years ago at the first “Worship Center” in “Anywhere USA” that as many as 10,000 or more would frequent Houses of Worship for everything from a gospel concert to a seminar on building wealth, from a worship service to a funeral? The last fifty years has certainly changed forever how services are presented, and viewed in Houses of Worship. Whether or not it has been for the better, is for you to decide!