New Program Makes the Most of HD Format on Stage and at Home
The World Harvest Church (WHC) in Columbus, OH is one of the top 10 Christian broadcasters in the nation. Beaming to about 877,000 households, the church felt the imperative to answer to the federal government’s mandate for the switch digital broadcast by February 2009. At the same time the engineers are answering to a higher authority and decided to go high-definition while they were at it in order to expand the scope and format of the program. Rod Parsley, the pastor, wanted the HD television studio to incorporate a live studio audience for his show, Breakthrough with Rod Parsley, with forward-thinking control spaces to lend support to that effort.
The integrator was ROSCOR, out of Chicago. They had done several projects for World Harvest in the past, notably their eight Avid edit systems. “The video portion of the project involved design of a new technical operations center coordinating all signal flow within the new HD production center, and to the 5,200-seat sanctuary approximately 750 feet away,” said Mark Beall, senior editor on Breakthrough. Placed on a set in-the-round with a slew of flat panel displays to visually complement the pastor’s points, the new format of the program is a combination of a talk show, news magazine, and teaching session with a live audience and live band coming in and out of segments.
Cooke Pictures is a media consultant for the church and the television ministry and was asked by World Harvest to be the liaison between the church and ROSCOR. Cooke’s Truett Hancock, a producer with a technical background, got together with the church’s team to determine their goals were for the groundbreaking HD studio. “As it did before, the show still uses footage from the services but the energy level and excitement of being in a big studio with a live audience and a band has really enhanced the look and feel of the program,” said Hancock. “That’s what they were going for. Something that was more contemporary, more viewer-friendly.”
Mid-way through the construction of the new studio, a radical decision was made to put the band on stage. “That wasn’t in the original plans,” said Beall. “That meant the studio needed a lot more audio support. It needed a console inside the studio itself for a live mix for the audience and the coordination of more wireless frequencies.”
Joe Sindorf is the executive producer for Breakthrough. His role was to take an excellent technical facility and work with Pastor Parsley to put together a production plan for making great TV out of it. “You can have a great facility but it needs to take on the personality of the program,” said Sindorf. “One of the challenges was to take a limited staff and take full advantage of all the tools and toys we had at our disposal overnight. It’s been a fun and exciting learning experience for everyone. We look at it as a tremendous new ability we have to communicate the gospel in an exciting way.”
WHC maintained its production capability at seven cameras in the new HD environment, and uses Grass Valley LDK4000 cameras preset at 1080i resolution. The LDK cameras were chosen for the native use of triax. “Because of the current triax installation, and the higher maintenance costs of fiber to the cameras, we preferred the use of triax,” said Beall. “Since we have a lot of volunteers either as grips or camera operators, I was concerned about how fiber would perform getting pulled around a pew, getting broken or damaged in the middle of a shoot. Triax is a little more robust and can handle those stresses better.”
The church also produces programming on location to document its humanitarian efforts in disaster areas. Even though Sindorf has plenty of work back at home as executive producer, he also could find himself at various locales around the world where help from the World Harvest is needed. In September, he was in Texas in the middle of hurricane Ike devastation in Galveston. “I was there to produce a TV special on the church’s relief efforts,” said Sindorf, “but you get involved in the work relief at the same time.” On location, two Sony XDCAM HD cameras were chosen for acquisition. They provide a variety of different compression choices and the longer recording times.
Back home at World Harvest, the technical operations center includes DVCPRO HD100, DVCPRO25, Digibeta and BetaSP for cross-format duplication and up-conversion of legacy material. There are two video control rooms, both using Avitech multi-viewer processors. The main production control room is a bi-level traditional workspace with a Grass Valley Kayak High Definition production switcher as the centerpiece. “The design of the Kayak allows us to utilize two different switcher control surfaces from the same frame,” said Beall. “In our design ‘Presentation Control’ takes one M/E bank, and switches either the IMAG display for the sanctuary during a worship service, or the matrix of 22 plasma displays during a studio production. The main control room uses the other two M/E banks, or can take control of the presentation control feed if needed. Three Grass Valley Turbo DDRs allow for instant playback of clips and packages to support the worship service or daily program. “We feed fiber from the tech operations center back to the sanctuary,” said Beall. “Feeds are then split off from there to feed the flat panel displays that are in the sanctuary itself.
One of the big challenges integrating this HD studio was on the audio side of things due to the large number of audio signals. “What we’re using the fiber for between the two facilities is mainly for audio,” said Beall. “There are 48 channels in the sanctuary and all that is transmitted back to the technical operations center by fiber. In the studio itself, we have enough for 96 channels of audio because the studio programs also involve a live band and an audience.” The audio is multitracked both in the new facility in Pro Tools and there’s also a back up or tape-based multitrack located in the sanctuary just as a fail-safe. In a unique design, the church is using a dual Pro Tools set up. “We put in a Digidesign Pro Tools live console and then used a second existing pro tools console to operate two different consoles at the same time,” said Beall.
Switch to Digital and HD
The switch to digital broadcast combined with the switch to high-def meant some allowances for the learning curve involved since the first new production on August 8. “We’re surprised at how much longer HD is taking on the editing side dealing with so much data,” said Beall. “Coming out of the non-linear, it takes a lot longer to write back to the HDCAM.”
Broadcasting is more complex in the digital format because it is handling both high-def and standard-def signals. “Our broadcast partners and networks are not quite ready for HD,” said Beall. “It gives us some time to work through these problems before they are ready for HD. That’s a good thing.” World Harvest is shooting everything in HD and editing natively in HD. At the final process, they are converting down to standard definition and using a 16:9 letterbox so none of the picture is cropped off.
Sindorf is especially pleased about working in 16:9. “The visual of it – the image on the screen being in that cinematic format and new framing is a nice feeling,” he said. “I really enjoy creating in it. We have a deep and intricate set and 16:9 – especially in HD – allows us to take advantage of that and show it off.”
HD Considerations and Benefits
The studio is making heavy use of LED lighting. “This is unique to World Harvest,” said Hancock. “It allows them a lot of flexibility in lighting the set and in being able to change colors and textures at will without having to change gels. It also saved a huge amount of money in air conditioning costs. The LED lights run much cooler and they use less power.”
Since part of the show’s format is for Pastor Parsley to get up and walk around, the studio and its lighting is designed to be flexible. Tungsten lights are combined with the LEDs and spotlights are used to fill areas that are not covered.
In HD, the camera picks up a lot of detail that would not have been noticed before in standard-def. “We can’t leave notes or music on the floor,” said Beall. “We have to work with our live audience to make sure they understand that it’s not good to pile all your books or purses under the seat because you can see those too.”
The consensus among those involved seems to be that the quality of high-def has added to the overall experience of what they are trying to communicate because of both the clarity of picture and the greater depth of field. “It opens up more tools for us creatively in the use of plasma displays and server based playback,” said Beall. “We roll things onto screens in the sanctuary that go along with what’s being taught or talked about on the program. It gives us more opportunity for creativity and a much more forward looking program which is exciting for Christian broadcasting.”
Sindorf finds the new format of the show to be a great opportunity that requires some forethought when shooting. “As we pre-produce the show, we have to think visually about the 22 monitors and eight channels of information and how we take what he is going to be saying and visually communicate it,” said Sindorf. “So we’re complementing his message visually. That takes a whole lot more time than what we used to do. You can’t just walk in and wing that. You have to do some pre-production work on that.”