Houses of Worship: Making the Transition to HD Affordably

The landscape of media consumption has changed dramatically over the past decade, and people today consume video in the home and in the world at large much differently than they did in years past. 9/18/2007 11:22 AM Eastern

Houses of Worship: Making the Transition to HD Affordably

Sep 18, 2007 3:22 PM, By Pat Thompson, Senior VP of Sales at TV Magic

The Benny Hinn Ministries control room. TV Magic was involved in all stages of planning and buildout of its HD production studio. Photo courtesy of Brad Olander

The landscape of media consumption has changed dramatically over the past decade, and people today consume video in the home and in the world at large much differently than they did in years past. As media consumers have grown accustomed to HDTV and have become more familiar with web-based and mobile media technologies, their expectations of video in any setting, including houses of worship, have grown more sophisticated; they expect the same or better quality video at worship as they see within their own homes. Thus, houses of worship are changing along with the times and exploring the transition to HD now or will be within the next few years. Houses of worship are no different than any other organizations looking to move to HD. While the overall mission of production may be guided by a unique vision, such facilities face the same fundamental concerns in planning for HD: budget, distribution and workflow.

Building a Budget

The budget for the installation of a new production system or upgrade of an existing installation is the first consideration for any organization. Video equipment can be pricey, and it only seems natural that HD gear would be particularly expensive. Persuading the congregation or ministry that the investment in a fully HD-capable system is worthwhile might at first seem like a weighty challenge. With the changes in the broadcast and media production landscape, however, it has become more affordable then ever to implement good-quality HD equipment in a workflow suited to your organization’s needs.

Because few members of the congregation likely understand all the aspects involved in creating an HD production, it can be hard to illustrate the value of each equipment purchase. Instead, focus on the message being delivered and how it can enhance members’ participation in the life of the congregation or ministry. Rather than showcase new technologies, educate your colleagues and the membership in general about how HD production adds to the immediacy and quality of the religious experience, both during services and in complementary offerings, as in worship webcasts or DVD productions of special events.

When it comes down to numbers, it’s possible today to build a fully integrated three-camera HD production system from the ground up for as little as $150,000, depending on workflow, lighting needs, and how much of the installation can be performed internally. For extremely advanced, high-quality broadcast capabilities, the cost certainly will rise. With switchers and good field and studio cameras available for $10,000 to $20,000, houses of worship now have much greater access to HD equipment boasting an appealing price tag.

Benny Hinn Ministries studio director's booth. Photo courtesy of Brad Olander.

Identifying Distribution Targets

In creating media content, it’s valuable to know where and how that content will be distributed, both now and in the future. If a worship service is being produced for on-air broadcast, the equipment and workflow requirements may be very different than those of a simple live recording for archiving purposes. More and more opportunities for spreading the message are becoming available each day.

Your time spent exploring distribution options and goals can help define the HD production infrastructure capable of meeting current needs and flexible enough to support new means of delivering video and audio. Planning ahead can make for easy, cost-effective upgrades that in turn offer new ways of reaching members of the congregation or capturing the interest of potential members.

The key to creating an HD roadmap lies in identifying and understanding both your ministry’s goals and the audience it’s trying to reach. Work with church leaders to create a concise ministry media mission statement that outlines how media will be used to reach members of the congregation and possible reach out to the general population. Also communicate with and educate the congregation. Use informal conversation, a survey or a mailing to find out how members could be better served. Talk to members of other churches or religious groups. Use the Internet and industry publications to research trends in mobile and Web broadcasting and the most effective uses of those media.

If one goal is to reach a younger audience, then the ability to podcast or deliver mobile video may be important. If the goal is to create a national presence within a nationwide or global ministry, then the HD installation must be geared to support traditional over-the-air broadcast stations, satellite, or cable delivery. Once appropriate delivery methods are pinpointed, the planning team can move on to the matter of workflow.

Working Out Workflow

Workflow is defined by the way in which content is created. Some facilities will record a live service or production with multiple skilled camera operators and perform no post-production whatsoever. Others will create content that is heavily post-produced and requires a more significant investment in editing equipment. Some workflows incorporate live and/or on-location production capability, while others rely on a volunteer staff to record weekly services. Each of these approaches requires a specific workflow, and it’s only when you’ve clearly defined the workflow that the necessary equipment can be properly identified.

Flowcharts and floor plans help the planning and engineering teams set out the intended workflow or even find new and better ways to achieve the desired result. As raw content is acquired and passed through the HD production system to finished product, the flowchart maps out this process. Even if it lacks specific information about each individual piece of gear needed, it will act as a valuable tool in identifying the equipment and operators needed to complete production.

Using a floor plan to outline the workflow also brings a critical element to your planning process. As production moves from the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9, the physical layout of the stage, altar or other presentation area takes on a new importance, as well. The widescreen approach allows for incorporation of more set elements into the picture and onto the screen, providing better context for the message being delivered and often a richer, more visually interesting setting for music and other aspects of worship services. Dynamic set drops and props take advantage of the widescreen format to give the production a larger look and add to the power of the message.

With a greater variety of elements being incorporated into worship services for a more engaging and compelling experience, these elements contribute to production value and can help provide the look and feel familiar to your target audience from news and mainstream television programming.

Selecting HD Solutions

Once budget, distribution method and workflow are clear, the priorities of the installation also will be evident. Choose the must-have systems and functionality first, and then be prepared to make compromises where compromise is possible. For many facilities, the camera and switching systems are two of the most important pieces of equipment selected.

If the production plan requires a broadcast-quality studio camera, look for one featuring three 2/3-inch chips, the image-capture devices within the camera. The bigger, the better, though professional cameras also do come with three 1/2- or 1/3-inch chip sets, and lower-level cameras with a single 1/3-inch or 1/4-inch chip. Higher-end 2/3-inch HD studio cameras can range from $60,000 to $100,000. From the same manufacturers also come field-capable 2/3-inch cameras. Those that record to solid-state media (SD memory cards) or optical disk range in price from $35,000 to $60,000, depending on lenses and options, and can be adapted for some live production applications.

More affordable cameras in the $10,000 to $20,000 range include 1/3-inch HDV camcorders and genlockable and timecode-capable systems that output a native HD signal and can be used for live studio and field production. Some such cameras now feature full studio CCU and control options for intercom capability, remote camera matching, remote power, and video return for monitoring.

Pricing for HD switchers can range from $10,000 for a simple system with limited effects and inputs to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a much more sophisticated system. While effects capabilities are important, more basic is the number of inputs needed. Consider the user, as well, as a relatively flat learning curve and intuitive operation can ease the HD transition.

HD switchers in the $50,000 to $120,000 range are usually sufficient for high-end broadcast and production, and very affordable HD switchers available for less than $20,000 will do the job for simpler productions. One vendor offers a combination system that incorporates a character generator, clip store, multiview monitor processor, robotic camera controller, and HD switcher all in one solution, and all for less than $25,000.

Making HD a Reality

Affordable HD is here, and it’s here now. With the rise in viewer expectations and drop in high-quality HD production equipment prices, houses of worship really have no reason not to build their new facilities for HD. Regardless of the size of the installation, an experienced professional systems integrator who knows the benefits and shortcomings of HD technology can save the facility money and time by highlighting a selection of products that together meet the requirements of budget, distribution method and workflow. As an informed partner in the process, you can help your organization meet its goals for delivering the right message, in the right manner, to the right audience.

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