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Maximizing Your Ministry’s HD Investment

Whether you are building a new production system or upgrading an existing one, the real question isn’t whether or not you should start HD production, but rather, what equipment you should choose to make HD production possible. To decide which HD equipment is right for your church or ministry, begin by asking yourself these important questions:

What is my budget?

What is my workflow? (live-to-tape, post-produced service, field production, etc.)

Where will my production be distributed? (on-air broadcast, Internet delivery, DVD, video tape, podcast, mobile phone, etc.)

Budgeting for HD
Let’s first tackle the 800-pound gorilla: budget. We all know that video equipment in general is expensive, and when we think HD equipment, most of us assume it must be really expensive. Justifying the cost of production equipment is probably a part of your job that you dread, as few people in your congregation or ministry are likely to understand what it takes to produce a quality program or service. They think that picking up a camcorder at Best Buy is all it takes to produce in HD.

It can be difficult to demonstrate the value of what you do, so it’s important that you focus mainly on the ministry and the message and less on the latest whiz-bang gadget you’d like to purchase. Every equipment purchase made should be made with the ministry and the message foremost in mind.
Now, for the good news: There are many affordable product options in the HD space, and there are more coming out all the time. For example, you can buy a good-quality HD field camcorder for under $10,000. For studio production, there are several new lower-cost switchers and cameras available.

If you’re building an HD production system from scratch, you can create a fully integrated three-camera system for as little as $100,000, depending on your workflow, your lighting needs, and how much of the installation work you do internally. Of course, if you require extremely high-quality broadcast capabilities, the cost is much greater. The bottom line is that today, HD equipment has reached an accessible point for many different types of budgets.

Evaluating Your Workflow
Workflow tends to get overlooked as plans are made to upgrade an existing system or create a new one, but in looking at a move to HD, it’s critical to think about how you will work to create your content. If you are recording a live service or production with multiple skilled camera operators and no post-production, your needs will be different than if you are creating content that is heavily post-produced. You may have a need for both live recording and location field production capability. Or perhaps you have an all-volunteer staff that tapes weekly services. These are examples of the many different workflows that exist, each one with different needs.

To get a handle on your workflow, try creating a few flowcharts and even a floor plan that addresses what you want to do. Think outside the box and consider new ways of doing what you may already have done before. Follow the flow of the raw content (the camera-acquired video and audio) through to the finished product (tape, DVD, web stream etc.). If you have multiple workflows, sketch these out as well. What you’re trying to determine are the fundamental systems needed to deliver your end product.

You may not know all the technical pieces of gear that you’ll need, but you can outline the major pieces of equipment items required and the people needed to make it all work. You may require camera operators, someone to run an audio board, a graphics person, even a director, and their individual talents are important considerations. For example, the person who can create graphics on the fly probably won’t be able to operate the system you’re using for live switching.

Your workflow can drive your equipment and HD format decisions, and vice versa. Some cameras can operate both as field and studio cameras, while others are not as flexible. If you are not post-producing the service that you recorded live, then you will be less concerned about editing capabilities and more concerned about the quality of the camera and the live production aspects of the equipment.

Delivering and Distributing Media
Today’s media professional can choose among a myriad of delivery options, and these should be considered alongside equipment- and system-buying decisions. What’s the delivery medium you will be using today and, just as important, in the future? Are you planning to broadcast your production or service on local television or nationally syndicated TV? Will you be making your content available on the web, live or on demand? Perhaps you’ll be making DVD or tape copies available to your congregation.

One of your biggest responsibilities is to maximize every dollar that is spent on HD gear for the purpose of getting your message out. If you’re not broadcasting today, but your facility has it on the roadmap, you need to plan for that possibility and consider building an upgrade path into your system. To understand what your distribution method should be, you must understand your ministry’s goals and the audience you hope to reach to achieve those goals.

The first step is to sit down with your pastor or church committee to create a ministry media mission statement. Formulate a concise statement of how you will use media to reach the goals of the church or ministry. Goals may range from serving strictly the members of your congregation to reaching out to the general population in your city or region. For example, if you are attempting to reach a younger audience, you probably want to consider adding podcasting or mobile video to your delivery outlets. If your goal is to create a national presence in the Christian ministry, you’ll need to think about establishing traditional over-the-air broadcast stations, satellite, or cable delivery.

Knowing your audience should not be underrated. Just because you build it (or broadcast it), don’t assume they will come! How do you get to know your audience? Talk to people at church about what you’re doing and how you might better serve them. Create a survey to hand or mail out. Ask other churches or ministries with similar audiences what is working for them.

Making Your Purchase
Once you have delineated your budget, your workflow, and your distribution method, your equipment choices will become clear. Let’s start with a look at HD camera options.

If you need a broadcast-quality studio camera, you’ll want to get one with three 2/3-inch chips. The chip is the image-capture device and, all things being equal, the more you have and the bigger, the better. Professional cameras generally come with three 2/3-, 1/2- or 1/3-inch chip sets. Some lower-level cameras come with a single chip, usually 1/3-inch or 1/4-inch chips. Hitachi, Sony, Grass Valley, Ikegami and Panasonic offer three 2/3-inch HD studio cameras ranging from $60,000 to $100,000 and outfitted with adapters, accessories and lenses. Many of these same manufacturers also offer field-capable 2/3-inch cameras. Panasonic and Sony make more economical field camcorders that record on either solid-state media (SD memory cards) or optical disk. While not made for studio applications, these cameras – ranging in price from $35,000 to $60,000 depending on lenses and options ñ can be adapted for some live production uses. Hitachi, Panasonic and Sony all offer high-quality robotic cameras and control systems.

Moving to the more affordable camera options, Canon and JVC both make 1/3-inch HDV camcorders ñ both genlockable and time code-capable ñ that will output a native HD signal that can be used for live production. You can synch these cameras up in a multicamera environment and send their feeds to an HD production switcher. This provides both field and studio production capabilities in one low-cost camcorder.

JVC goes one step further with the GY-HD250 camera with full studio CCU and control using either the company’s own CCU or a system from Camplex. These controls offer extra benefits such as intercom capability, remote camera matching, remote power and video return for monitoring. The JVC and Canon camcorders are right around $10,000 each. If you need the full CCU capability for the JVC unit, it’s another $10,000 each.

If you are not producing live or live-to-tape content, then Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, Hitachi and Ikegami all offer a variety of HD camcorders at different price points. Some are tape-based, but many are going to alternative recording methods such as optical disk, solid-state technology or other portable media.

Selecting a Switcher
High-quality HD switchers are available from manufacturers including Ross, Sony, Grass Valley, Panasonic, Snell & Wilcox, For-A and Broadcast Pix. HD switchers can run anywhere from $10,000 for a simple system with limited effects and inputs all the way up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Before choosing a system, determine how many inputs are needed, how complex your effects and keying need to be, and who is going to be operating the system. Many HD switchers in the $50,000 to $120,000 range should be more than sufficient for high-end broadcast and production.

Panasonic offers inexpensive a very affordable HD switcher with limited effects for under $8,000. If you don’t need a lot of effects and keying, this could be a good option. Broadcast Pix has created an interesting switcher called Slate, which incorporates a character generator, clip store, multiview monitor processor, robotic camera controller, and HD switcher ñ all for under $25,000.

Work with your pastor and church leaders to develop your mission statement before purchasing equipment. If you decide to build a system from scratch, your best bet is to work with a qualified systems integrator who knows the technology (including pitfalls) and can design, install and support your facility. A good integrator can save you money and time by helping you choose the right products to make your system work for you. Do your own research and see as much of this new technology in person as possible. Remember that your main objectives are to maximize each dollar you spend and to keep your eye on the message, not the technology.