Switching Gear: Unifying New and Legacy Technologies for Better Worship Broadcasts

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Integrating broadcast technologies into a church setting poses a unique set of challenges. Many houses of worship not only show video within their sanctuaries, but also broadcast on the local airwaves. Their services may even be nationally syndicated or may periodically supply a feed for a national news network. Such varied needs mandate that the church have an audio/video installation that offers a high degree of flexibility.

Most broadcast facilities today, whether they are churches or television stations, work with a variety of different audio and video formats. It’s also likely that they are operating with an assortment of older equipment that they’re reluctant to discard, not only because of the financial investment, but also because they are part of a familiar workflow and valuable archival material is often stored in older video formats. However, with the shift of television broadcasting to digital, support for analog systems is gradually coming to a halt.

The driving force behind manufacturers’ move away from analog systems and toward varied digital and HD-capable equipment stems largely from the governmental demand for higher-quality audio and video— the FCC digital mandate that has changed the way television broadcasters operate. With consumers (and church members) becoming accustomed to improved picture quality and more sophisticated production techniques, expectations within the worship arena also have risen dramatically in past years. The ability to integrate these new digital and HD formats with legacy analog material is critical in allowing churches to feed dynamic, high-quality video to their big-screen displays.

A combination of timing and cost typically dictates the choices a church can make with regard to new broadcast systems. A church can only make the best decision possible based on what the market has to offer, and for many religious institutions, the gear purchased is expected to last for 10, 15, or even 20 years.

Because churches update their broadcast systems less frequently than do commercial broadcasters, the products they select must be able to handle the formats already in use at the church edifice or its broadcasting facility and also serve as future-proof solutions that will enable to facility to work with newer, better signal types and broadcast technologies down the road.

With the rapid move into the digital realm, facilities of all types are forced to find new solutions that maintain the capacity to handle older technologies. One option for production in the church environment is the use of modular conversion gear, which allows facilities to add and remove modules as the technologies evolve, without the expense of a facility overhaul. Like many other churches that rely on member donations, this was certainly a concern for Florida-based First Baptist Church of Orlando.

“When we made our first step into digital, we bought a Snell & Wilcox SD112 switcher and an IQ module to convert analog signals to digital,” said Mark Topkin, television ministry director at First Baptist Church of Orlando. “Modular systems are key in television ministry because churches don’t have the resources to replace entire systems. As our operations change and technology improves, we’ll be able to update our IQ modular converter easily and affordably simply by switching modules in and out.”

Depending on the specific needs of the church, compact modules can be added to the frame to provide different degrees of conversion capability. Options such as an integrated synchronizer allows the user to take analog signals to digital, synchronize that material, and embed audio (analog or digital) into the same stream.

Say a church has an audio mixer for mikes, organs, and other audio sources, and they’re all analog signals. With the appropriate conversion system, the process of putting those outputs through the conversion module and converting to digital and embedded audio is seamless. Once set up, it’s a transparent solution that allows a facility to extend the utility of analog equipment within a digital environment. Transformed into a completely digital stream, the signals from older gear can be incorporated as a valuable part of a live production, fed into video servers for storage or later playout, or transmitted via satellite.

One of the main advantages of working with digital video is the improvement it brings to picture quality, and pre-processing modules can be incorporated into the analog-to-digital conversion process to deliver significantly cleaner, better-looking video.

In addition to providing the viewer with a vastly improved visual experience, artifact-free video is key to efficient compression. As audio and video are compressed into MPEG streams for storage or broadcast via satellite, any “garbage” in the picture is compressed as well. When the same material is decompressed, artifacts tend to be exaggerated, resulting in deterioration of image quality.

Modular pre-processing units can be integrated into the conversion process easily and affordably to perform automatic cleanup, in turn allowing the production team to focus their energies on the message rather than the technical aspects of their live broadcasts. The simplicity of these conversion and clean-up processes also makes digital operations easier for less-technical operators, as some volunteers in church production are likely to be.

Churches serving larger audiences typically will use a production switcher for live presentations. The production switcher is the system in which all signals come together, and it also gives the operator the ability to introduce dissolves, wipes, transitions, titles, graphics and other enhancements to the production. For larger congregations that are considering working in HD— or providing feeds to broadcasters who might be transmitting in HD— the flexibility to output in multiple formats and standards is a valuable capability.

How can a church be certain that its investment in a basic product now will leave a viable upgrade path for a more feature-rich installation in the future? Modular systems that can be upgraded easily or swapped out relatively inexpensively prevent the problem of obsolescence. This flexibility allows a church to expand a system incrementally and affordably, replace or upgrade modules selectively, or add functionality without making a wholesale replacement of an existing system.

In addition to adopting flexible systems and technologies, a church can benefit from a positive relationship with a manufacturer of those solutions. Few churches have the capital or desire to replace equipment regularly, nor do they have the resources to maintain a full-fledged engineer on staff. Consequently, customer service and support is critical. The vendor’s responsiveness must be a key consideration alongside the functionality offered by any product the company sells.

Finally, any church looking to build a flexible, future-proof installation should be committed to establishing a broadcast system with the quality necessary for long-term operations. Most churches have found that they will long reap the benefits of an investment in high-quality gear. The purchase of reliable equipment now can reduce future expenses. The time and cost associated with maintenance or replacement of an inferior solution can outweigh the savings of the initial investment. Working with a trusted vendor can help a church find the right functionality and the right product at the right price.