Transition From the Overhead Projector to the Video Projection System
Remember the first time you saw an overhead projector being used to project lyrics in the church instead of a hymnal? The benefits of transparency overhead projection were obvious. Instead being locked into a set of worship material determined by someone in another city, the local church was free to introduce new material into the worship experience. Noses were no longer buried in hymnals and the sanctuary took on a refreshing ambiance of eye contact. And, of course there were economic benefits, with the elimination of the hymnal and the ability to spontaneously introduce a recently written song.
For some churches, the usage of an overhead projector for lyrics served as a sign of church progressiveness, and youth during the Jesus Movement would often attend or avoid churches based on usage of an overhead projector or stuck in the hymnal mode, respectively. Many churches sprouted up with only a preacher, handful of songs and overhead projector, often operating in borrowed spaces such as gymnasiums and college campus chapels.
A Paradigm Shift
A similar shift is happening today from the overhead projector to the video projection system. Instead of the lyrics projected on only one screen as in the overhead projector model, identical video projection images can be numerous to accommodate church size, scaleable to church growth. And the same system can be used to project any computer and television image. Of course, all this comes with a price tag a bit higher than the overhead transparency projector, but the video projector is as important to the church of 21st century as the overhead projector was to the church of the mid 1970’s.
With the transparency projector, transparencies are projected with an optical light amplification system to result in a single image. A church that had a low ceiling and a large congregation required two overhead projectors and two operators. The overhead projector has to be a given distance from the screen for a given image size.
With the video projection system, the lyrics from a single source can be distributed to a single video projector or array of projectors and televisions. Only one operator is required as a minimum to result in one or many images. The source of the image can be located in the back of the sanctuary, onstage, or on the front pew. The source of the projected image varies by congregations but is either the video document camera or computer.
The Video Document Camera as Source
In the video document camera-as-source scenario, the lyrics can still originate on transparencies, but a video camera converts the optical image to an electronic image, which is then distributed to a projector or projectors, and peripheral devices. The video document camera provides the smoothest transition from the overhead projector to the video projection system, as existing transparency archives can still be used. The document camera can also be used to show an actual Bible as it is being read from, newspaper articles that relate to the sermon topic, color photographs and illustrations, and small objects such as a coin. The downside is that the filing of transparencies is and will always be an organizational chore that is clumsy at best.
The Computer as Source
In the computer-as-source scenario, computer software provides the ability to archive and call up worship song lyrics in random order from a hard drive or network. Software can be purchased with a database of song lyrics, or lyrics can be keyed in to the computer. Filing lyrics is much easier with the computer, and the Music Minister is able to compose lyrics on his/her home or office computer and then load the new lyrics on to the worship computer, without the need to generate an overhead transparency. The downside is that computers can sometimes freeze, although the meantime-between-failure has increased significantly in the age of the Pentium computer.
The computer-as-source scenario requires, at minimum, a skilled computer operator, and preferably, a second computer and operator. The second computer serves as operational redundancy and the ability to change song lyrics with quick fluidity by switching between computers. Of course, in addition to song lyrics, a computer can be used to play video clips, display web sites, scanned photographs, and Bible scripture.
There are a number of software packages that can be used for lyric projection. The key for successful operation of a lyric computer is the ability to select different songs, verses, chorus, bridge, etc., randomly from a cue screen, while the main output of the computer feeds the video projection system. This function is called nonlinear operation or random access, and adds polish to the service.
The primary output of the computer feeds the projector and is called the main output or primary output. The second output of the computer is called a cueing monitor. Microsoft PowerPoint has the ability to gang two computers so that one computer’s output is the main output and the second computer’s output is the cueing output. Other hardware/software and software packages are available that permit cueing outputs and come pre-loaded with libraries of traditional and contemporary worship lyrics, a definite time-saver.
A Word of Advice:
I don’t recommend that a church pinch pennies on computers allocated to lyric projection. Buying new is a good policy for equipment that the church depends on for congregational usage. If you can’t afford to buy new, do not settle for anything less than a 200MHz Pentium computer loaded with a minimum of 96MB of RAM memory. If you cannot afford to meet these specifications, your church is not ready for lyric projection by computer.
Don’t Overlook the Infrastructure
Some form of switching, conversion and distribution system is important to the operational flow, and is often overlooked during the purchase of video projection system. However, this topic easily constitutes a separate article and can be covered at another time. A consultant or integrator is useful for complex arrangements. If you want to teach yourself how to interconnect video components, there is a plethora of technical information to be gleaned from web sites noted at the end of this article.
Onstage Video Monitors
An added bonus to usage of video projection systems is the implementation of onstage video monitors (OVM). Like onstage sound “foldback” monitors, OVMs are video monitors that face those on the stage. The use of onstage video monitors helps the pastoral staff, choir members and musicians to still feel connected to projected images that are usually out of their line-of-sight. If a video clip is being shown to the congregation, it is only fair that the choir gets to see the same video clip. In the case of the choir, the onstage video monitors act as a prompter so that forgetful members can see the lyrics.
Most churches that implement an OVM will encase the monitor in a cosmetic casing. The cosmetic casing can be covered by the same carpet as on the stage, wood grain veneer plastic laminate, or covered to match the sound foldback monitors. This casing also assists with angle issues, eliminating the need to prop up the front of the monitor.
The OVM should never use a RF distribution system to receive the signal, as disruption of the signal will result in video snow and white noise sound, a guaranteed showstopper. A composite video signal should always be used for economic and dependability reasons. If you can afford it, a professional video production monitor is preferable over a consumer television, because a master power switch can power the monitor up. Most consumer televisions must be individually switched on after power is supplied to the monitor. However, a 25″ consumer television can be purchased for a few hundred dollars these days, economy that is difficult to dispute.
Master Antenna Television System
Another bonus to using a video projection system for lyric projection is the ability to feed the visual aid video source to a master antenna television (MATV) system. Televisions are so inexpensive today; an MATV is one of the best investments that a church can make to prevent volunteer burnout and feelings of isolation. For churches that stage large scale drama events, the MATV system provides the ability for waiting actors to watch the performance and know when to report for their scene.
The MATV system is used at many churches to provide a live video feed of church services to peripheral video ministries located away from the sanctuary, such as baby sitters, nursing mothers, church kitchen workers and ushers posted far from the sanctuary. Traditionally, a camera is pointed at the stage and a mixing console output is fed to the MATV system, where the modulated audio and video are distributed to a multitude of televisions located throughout the facility. This is a good start and provides basic functionality.
However, reasonably priced effects devices by manufacturers such as Videonics or Kramer permit a picture-in-picture (PIP) multiplexing for the transmission of both the camera image and the image projected to the screens. With the PIP, church members working during the service might see lyrics or scripture in 75% of the image, and a picture-in-picture with a camera image of the stage in the bottom right corner.
Aesthetically, it is important to note that Americans read left-to-right, top-to-bottom, so the PIP naturally falls in the bottom right quadrant for minimal graphic competition. If you must place a podium where a PIP system is implemented, place the podium on the stage left side and the OVM on the stage right side. Should the presenter look at OVM, the PIP image will show the presenter “looking” at the visual aid, when in fact the presenter is merely looking at an onstage video image.
Video-savvy churches are implementing multifaceted video projection systems in recognition of today’s visually oriented society. Scaleability means that you can start with a computer, a video projector on a cart and a video projection screen, and grow from there. But all this comes at a price, in both hardware and maintenance.
Do not buy projection equipment, thinking that the system will take care of itself or that volunteers can be counted on to maintain the system. Projector lamps burn out, troubleshooting needs to occur, and volunteers need to be trained. Smart churches that implement video projection and distribution to a large degree have at least one video engineer or Media Minister on staff. Audio-visual that the church depends on for worship is infrastructure, and churches should have a professional on staff to keep the visual presentation sharp and on cue.