What Worked for Worship During the Pandemic … What’s Here to Stay?

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By WILL WATERS

As 2021 comes to a close, there are still questions about how to best proceed with worship services as they relate to pandemic protocols. The desire of congregation members to gather with their community remains high. Yet, the guidance surrounding safe social gatherings remains in flux.

It’s a challenge, to be sure, but not one that has proven to be insurmountable over the past 20 months. The world of worship has been at the forefront in innovation in something increasingly being labeled as “better than broadcast” – or the idea of providing a back-and-forth communication conduit between on-site and remote participants in a service.

Take, for example, a recent story out of Chico, California, where Bidwell Presbyterian Church has utilized many digital offerings, including a mobile app and live video of its worship services available to all, to continue worship offerings during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In this example, a NewTek TriCaster live production system offered a powerful and affordable tool to help craft more stories, better told. Live production systems put an entire suite of media production capabilities at a creator’s fingertips. The systems offer native video conferencing integration – perfect for bringing remote callers into a video. This, of course, enables real-time, two-way communication between participant and presenter. This can be used in scenarios as large as a Sunday service or in setups for small group coursework.

Bidwell TriCaster

AV-over-IP

Further, when combined with NDI – the free-to-use video-over-IP protocol that allows video signals to be made instantly available over the network – the system can make use of NDI PTZ cameras. These cameras require only a single Ethernet connection for setup, power, operation, and signal flow.

Bidwell’s video control room sits in a building across the street from the church. This helps meet social distancing requirements and, as the two locations are on the same network, there is no issue with taking complete control of the production remotely thanks to NDI.

“It’s been very convenient to where if we need to adjust cameras at the main campus, we don’t have to walk across the street or phone somebody to make those quick adjustments,” said Miykael Goodwin, Director of Technology at Bidwell Presbyterian Church. “We can do it all on the fly. Or if we do see a problem, we’re able to address it quickly.”

This capability – socially distanced production offering two-way interaction – is one that is likely to be tweaked going forward. Still, it won’t be a capability that is thrown out entirely once the effects of the pandemic finally subside. These capabilities provide long-term value in connecting a larger congregation together in a way that is intuitive, elegant, and widely accepted by people who have utilized video calling software increasingly over the past two years.

It is far from too late to begin investing in your live video workflow. That said, what does a live video workflow setup look like? How do you get started with such a setup? And will it work in any size worship space? Let’s review:

Many manufacturers are now adopting AV-over-IP (AVoIP) across many different product lines. Using network-based protocols for audio, video, and control allows systems and workflows to be both interoperable and the connection between devices future-proof. It also removes the expensive burden of point-to-point cabling. Instead, the ubiquitous network cable provides all the connections required to send content throughout a location.

Using AVoIP as the backbone of a system allows for a uniquely flexible setup. A virtual meeting room application can be created – such as Zoom™ or Microsoft Teams™ – instantly connecting remote participants. The VMR can be connected via AVoIP to the live production system at the worship facility. From there, the production team can deliver any source to any destination. Further, every source becomes a destination simplifying the challenges of separate audio, video, control, and data paths. Live song or service, one-on-one meeting, small group session – it’s all quickly and easily set up on the network.

The AV-over-IP capabilities today involve more than audio and video transport. Discovery and registration of devices, control for cameras and media playback, metadata sharing, and even SDK’s such as NDI® now allow for applications and products to interoperate with little to no configuration. Many major PTZ camera manufacturers provide product lines with an IP protocol natively implemented and operable with a single cable connection. Conversion devices that translate SDI into an AVoIP protocol are also available for those who own HDMI or SDI cameras.

Bidwell interiorLive Production Systems

At the center of a live video production in the worship space is the live production system. These systems have become increasingly affordable, flexible, and easy to use over the past few years. They provide elegant, streamlined, and robust offerings in one product. They can integrate the VMR discussed above onto the system itself, allowing for seamless production using video sources from on-site facilities and remote participants. All passing along a strong connection to the Internet.

Live production systems also provide the capability to switch between video sources, add graphics and text, and live stream a final product out to many video and social media platforms.

Cameras and Other Devices

With the correct AVoIP setup in place and the right live production system installed, the next step is simply adding your endpoints. These are often cameras but can also be any video source you can think of if you use the suitable protocol. Computer displays and mobile device cameras are just as easy to add to the production as a PTZ camera is.

Again, the use of AVoIP greatly simplifies and expands the offerings available to you. Using converter units and additional capture capabilities in PC setups, you can find a way to add nearly any video source to your broadcast.

To sum it up, it is far from too late to consider adding such a setup to your worship space. These resources offer a dynamic and forward-thinking element to your service that helps reach new audiences and engage more congregation members.

By working with partners – including the proper manufacturer and integrator team – you can have your system set up in short order and at a price point that works for you and your worship team. Connection to the sound, lighting and projection systems can be integrated with success. Training, support, and long-term guidance are also available from these partners – ensuring you have the confidence to provide an energetic and impressive worship offering no matter what challenges the future holds.

As NewTek’s Head of Global Product Management, Will Waters works to bring products and technology to storytellers through video. Will specializes in broadcast production workflow design through 15 years of experience working closely with houses of worship worldwide.

As seen in our December 2021 issue