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Video End-to-End for Worship

Answers to the most commonly asked questions 4/10/2012 12:56 PM Eastern

Video End-to-End for Worship

Apr 10, 2012 4:56 PM, By Jan Ozer

Answers to the most commonly asked questions




Your client has decided to shoot their weekly services and share them via streaming and optical disk. They probably already have a sound system, but they will need cameras, a video switcher, some mechanism for streaming the video, and a DVD/Blu-ray recording and replication gear. In this article, I’ll cover the questions to ask before choosing all four of these products/services.

Choosing A Camera

Camcorder, digital SLR, OR PTZ camera?

Camcorders are traditional video cameras; digital SLRs are digital cameras that shoot video with incredible low-light sensitivity and depth of field. PTZ stands for pan/tilt/zoom cameras that you can install on a ceiling or wall mount and drive remotely. Which one is right for your client?

Virtually all DSLRs have recording time limits; some as low as 12 minutes, which disqualify them for all but the shortest services. Camcorders and PTZ cameras also offer a greatly expanded range of outputs like SD/HD-SDI, so they are easier to integrate into a live, multi-camera environment. DSLRs work well for non-live shoots, but they aren’t well-suited for broadcast.

Both camcorders and PTZ cameras have their pros and cons. Camcorders work well for multi-purpose shoots throughout the week, and because they’re larger, they can deploy larger imaging sensors—and three sensors as opposed to one, which generally translates to better low-light sensitivity and quality. However, they’re more obtrusive and require a tripod as well as an operator and communications gear if the church AV techs intend to change the framing during the shoot.

PTZ cameras have a much lower profile than camcorders, so they can be installed close to the action without ruining site lines or being overly noticeable. A single operator can drive multiple PTZ cameras, reducing staffing requirements, though the back-end gear that enables this obviously adds to system costs. PTZ cameras don’t have local storage, so there’s no local backup of the event, and image sensors are typically smaller, which may limit picture quality in low light. Finally, PTZ cameras are best installed in a single, permanent location, making them unsuitable for multiple shoots during the week.

What’s the best output for connecting to the mixer or capture card?

Most integrators prefer HD/SD-SDI because it uses locked in BNC connectors (as compared to HDMI) and has the longest unamplified cable distance. If you’re buying or recommending a camera for deploying in a large auditorium, make sure it has SD/HD-SDI output.

If opting for a camcorder, should I choose a traditional camcorder or DSLR in a camcorder body?

Multiple vendors ship camcorders that use DSLR image sensors, so they offer great low-light sensitivity and depth of field, but they don’t have the recording time limits of digital SLRs and offer a range of output options. This type of camera makes a lot of sense if your client is seeking a filmic look in a full-featured camcorder that they can also use to broadcast their services.

One relatively inexpensive option is the Sony NEX-VG10, which retails for less than $1,800, but it has received mixed reviews and offers only HDMI output, no component, composite, or SD/HD-SDI. At the high end, check out the Panasonic AG-AF100, which costs less than $4,000 for the camera body only, but offers HD-SDI output, making it a natural for broadcasting over the weekend and other duties during the week.

Buying A Video Switcher

If your client decides to deploy multiple cameras, they’ll need a video switcher to select among the available camera angles. If you’re choosing a video switcher to install on a client site, here are some issues that you need to address.

Hardware or software?

Hardware switchers are standalone devices that let you choose between video sources with buttons and/or T-bars. Software switchers are programs installed on Mac or Windows computers with software controls for choosing between the various video sources connected to your computer via capture cards.

In a nutshell, software programs like Telestream Wirecast, which starts at $499, provide much more functionality than hardware switchers in the same price range, even if you factor in the costs of the capture cards. For example, Wirecast can switch between multiple HD and SD feeds, create and overlay titles, composite greenscreen video into a virtual set, and add hard disk-based videos or even moving screen captures from another computer—which are typically features unavailable on inexpensive hardware switchers. Wirecast can also output a compressed stream to your live streaming service provider so your client won’t need a separate encoding station.

On the other hand, hardware switchers are typically drop-dead simple to operate, which comes in handy on those early Sunday mornings when you’d rather sleep in than answer a tech support call. Also, because they’re self-contained, there are fewer moving parts than a software switcher, where buggy drivers from a capture card (or viruses downloaded from the Internet) can interrupt smooth operation. Few hardware switchers can encode the compressed stream necessary for live streaming, so if that’s a goal, your client may need a separate encoding station. For the most part, though, hardware and software is typically a matter of preference; either can work just fine.


Video End-to-End for Worship

Apr 10, 2012 4:56 PM, By Jan Ozer

Answers to the most commonly asked questions




Recording Optical Discs

Choosing a hardware video switcher.

If you go the hardware route, you need to choose a system with inputs that match the desired outputs from your cameras, and can connect to your existing sound system. Beyond that, ask the following questions.

  • What’s the titling strategy? This can range from an internal titling tool (expensive) to the ability to overlay graphics added to the system via SD card (simple) to overlaying graphics from a connected computer (cheap, but complex).
  • What are the monitor requirements? There are two issues here: First, does the device include an embedded LCD monitor, which really makes it simple to install and operate. If not, can a single monitor display feeds from multiple devices in a window (usually) or will you need a separate monitor for all video sources?
  • Can the video switcher handle on-demand files? Most low-end units can’t; most mid- to high-end systems can play video files made available on SD cards or other external drives.
  • Can the switcher record the stream or will you need an external recorder?
  • How does the switcher connect to your encoding station? Few switchers can encode a stream and deliver it to a streaming service. However, some output a stream via a USB port that you can connect to a separate encoding station, potentially saving another digital-analog-digital conversion, and simplifying the capture requirements on the encoding system.

Selecting a streaming service provider.
Once your client has a camera and mixer selected, it’s time to choose an approach to live streaming. If you have a live streaming server installed in your shop, it’s a natural to bring this business inhouse. If you don’t, consider signing on for a multi-channel plan for a service like Livestream, which will allow you to offer your clients advertising-free streams with a player custom-branded for their house of worship.

Why have a general-purpose live streaming service provider (LSSP) over a church-specific service provider like mychurchlive.tv or SermonCast ? Primarily because general purpose LSSPs can amortize development costs over a much broader base, their features sets are more advanced.

For example, most general purpose LSSPs either currently offer or will soon offer multiple-bit-rate adaptive streaming, providing the best experience to parishioners irrespective of connection speed. This is obviously important to most houses of worship since often those who can’t make it to services have the slowest Internet connections and oldest computers. Other cutting-edge features offered by most general- purpose LSSPs include live streaming from a mobile phone, so if your client’s pastor gets an inspiration during a walk in the country, she can share it live with your parishioners (assuming there’s a cell tower nearby, of course).

On the other hand, worship-specific sites may also offer some advantages that general-purpose sites don’t offer. For example, some sites offer web campuses or portals that package the video into a multiple-mode presentation that includes moderated chat, private communications between parishioner and minister, and integration with social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. Other worship sites offer the ability to convert live streams to DVDs or podcasts for delivering via iTunes. On the other hand, most worship-specific sites contract directly with the church, so you may find yourself advising your client as to how to choose a solution rather than supplying the solution.

Whatever the service or business arrangement, how should you choose between the available service providers? At a base level, most services are fairly similar. The church encodes a live video stream onsite during the services and streams that to the service, which delivers the live streams and makes the videos available on-demand once the live broadcast is over. All services offer a channel page that the church can customize for those viewing on the service’s site along with the ability for the church to embed that page in their own site.

From these basics, the services diverge, and here are some of the most important questions to ask:

  • Can the service deliver to mobile devices like iPhones and Android tablets?
  • Does the service offer a church-oriented portal, and if so, what are its features?
  • Is the delivery adaptive or single stream only, and if single stream, when will adaptive streaming be an option?
  • What’s the maximum resolution supported? HD should at least be on the short-term roadmap if not currently offered.
  • Does the service offer a custom encoding software program or hardware option? While there are free options available, a custom encoding solution, whether software or hardware, simplifies connecting to the server and customizing encoding options.
  • What are the social media options? At the very least, your client will want some moderated chat function, with integration with Facebook and Twitter highly desirable.
  • What’s the availability of technical support? Obviously, Sunday staffing is critical.
  • If desired, can the video be produced as a DVD or podcast?
  • Can the service password protect videos (say for board meetings or other non-public videos)? ffer videos via pay per view?
  • Can the service publish to an over the top (OTT) network like Apple TV or Roku?

Finally, price. You’ll see all sorts of plans available; probably the most relevant comparison metric is cost per viewer minute. For example, if a service charges $49/month for 1,000 minutes, that’s $.049 (less than 5 cents) per viewer minute. At this rate, it will cost you just less than $3 for each viewer who watches for a complete hour.

This cost may convince some churches to investigate free, advertising-supported options. Here, a dedicated church-oriented service is almost certainly the best option because advertising shown on general-purpose sites may not be suitable for church audiences.

Recording Optical Discs
While the availability of streaming media has reduced the need for optical disc recordings of sermons, services and other church-events, many houses of worship continue to use optical media, whether for a high-quality archive or for distribution to parishioners. If your client is asking about optical media, here are some questions to ask to isolate their true requirements.

Blu-ray, DVD, or both?
If you’re shooting and mixing in high definition, there’s a natural tendency to want to distribute in HD as well. However, Blu-ray players are nowhere near ubiquitous, particularly among shut-in congregation members that may not be able to attend services or watch over the Internet. So while you may want to suggest that your client buy Blu-ray recording and/or duplication hardware at a slight premium to avoid early obsolescence, or to create Blu-ray archive copies for the church itself, they’ll probably duplicate mostly DVDs.

Virtually all Blu-ray gear is backwards-compatible to DVD, so you can buy one system that supports both outputs. However, if your goal is fast replication of both formats, you may have to buy two systems. That’s because high-volume tower replicators work by reburning a previously recorded and finalized disc. That means if you want to replicate DVDs, you need to record a finalized DVD. If you want to replicate Blu-ray discs, you need to record a finalized Blu-ray disc. If you want to replicate both as quickly as possible, you need to record both.

Is your client creating archive copies, copies to distribute immediately after services, or discs to make available in non-realtime?
If your client is simply creating archive copies, they may be able to use existing equipment like a computer with a DVD or Blu-ray recorder. Simply record the video to hard disc using digital disk recorder software like QuickTime Pro on the Mac, and then master your DVD or Blu-ray disc using a program like Roxio Toast. Or you can buy a standalone DVD or Blu-ray recorder, which records in realtime and takes the computer out of the picture. For non-technical clients seeking a simple solution, this is the way to go.

If the client wants to hand out discs as soon as possible after the services, they’ll need a DVD or Blu-ray recorder and a tower replicator, which can come with 11 or more drives, though some vendors let you daisy chain towers together to burn a much higher number of discs simultaneously. The big variables here are format (Blu-ray or DVD), speed (up to 24X for DVD, 12X for Blu-ray), and the number of drives. While fast, these systems all need humans to feed discs into the drives, so they are more labor intensive than the printer/recorder devices discussed next. If the client wants to distribute discs in non-realtime and reduce labor or volunteer hours, they should consider buying a robotic DVD or Blu-ray duplicator. These devices allow users to insert more than 1,000 blank discs, walk away, and return a few hours later to fully replicated discs. Variables here include format, speed, and whether the system includes a printer.

Does your client want high-quality printed labels, etched labels, or handwritten labels?
You may have heard of a technology called LightScribe , which uses the laser on an optical drive to etch a label onto compatible discs. While this saves toner costs over traditional printed labels, you have to manually turn discs over in the drive to print the label and it can take up to 35 minutes to print a high-quality label with graphics.

Ink jet printing is usually a much better option for both speed and print quality. For small quantities, you can recommend a standalone printer that usually costs less than $200 and print on inkjet printable discs. For larger quantities, your client should consider a robotic printer/recorder, which all use inkjet print heads and deliver replicated and beautifully printed discs with no human intervention after loading the blank recordable/printable discs. With fast, high quality print options available for less than $200, hopefully you can dissuade your client from adopting the Sharpie approach—although that’s certainly an option if the client has the time, man power, and legible handwriting.

Selecting a streaming service provider.

Once your client has a camera and mixer selected, it’s time to choose an approach to live streaming. If you have a live streaming server installed in your shop, it’s a natural to bring this business inhouse. If you don’t, consider signing on for a multi-channel plan for a service like Livestream, which will allow you to offer your clients advertising-free streams with a player custom-branded for their house of worship.

Why have a general-purpose live streaming service provider (LSSP) over a church-specific service provider like mychurchlive.tv or SermonCast ? Primarily because general purpose LSSPs can amortize development costs over a much broader base, their features sets are more advanced.

For example, most general purpose LSSPs either currently offer or will soon offer multiple-bit-rate adaptive streaming, providing the best experience to parishioners irrespective of connection speed. This is obviously important to most houses of worship since often those who can’t make it to services have the slowest Internet connections and oldest computers. Other cutting-edge features offered by most general- purpose LSSPs include live streaming from a mobile phone, so if your client’s pastor gets an inspiration during a walk in the country, she can share it live with your parishioners (assuming there’s a cell tower nearby, of course).

On the other hand, worship-specific sites may also offer some advantages that general-purpose sites don’t offer. For example, some sites offer web campuses or portals that package the video into a multiple-mode presentation that includes moderated chat, private communications between parishioner and minister, and integration with social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. Other worship sites offer the ability to convert live streams to DVDs or podcasts for delivering via iTunes. On the other hand, most worship-specific sites contract directly with the church, so you may find yourself advising your client as to how to choose a solution rather than supplying the solution.

Whatever the service or business arrangement, how should you choose between the available service providers? At a base level, most services are fairly similar. The church encodes a live video stream onsite during the services and streams that to the service, which delivers the live streams and makes the videos available on-demand once the live broadcast is over. All services offer a channel page that the church can customize for those viewing on the service’s site along with the ability for the church to embed that page in their own site.

From these basics, the services diverge, and here are some of the most important questions to ask:

  • Can the service deliver to mobile devices like iPhones and Android tablets?
  • Does the service offer a church-oriented portal, and if so, what are its features?
  • Is the delivery adaptive or single stream only, and if single stream, when will adaptive streaming be an option?
  • What’s the maximum resolution supported? HD should at least be on the short-term roadmap if not currently offered.
  • Does the service offer a custom encoding software program or hardware option? While there are free options available, a custom encoding solution, whether software or hardware, simplifies connecting to the server and customizing encoding options.
  • What are the social media options? At the very least, your client will want some moderated chat function, with integration with Facebook and Twitter highly desirable.
  • What’s the availability of technical support? Obviously, Sunday staffing is critical.
  • If desired, can the video be produced as a DVD or podcast?
  • Can the service password protect videos (say for board meetings or other non-public videos)? ffer videos via pay per view?
  • Can the service publish to an over the top (OTT) network like Apple TV or Roku?

Finally, price. You’ll see all sorts of plans available; probably the most relevant comparison metric is cost per viewer minute. For example, if a service charges $49/month for 1,000 minutes, that’s $.049 (less than 5 cents) per viewer minute. At this rate, it will cost you just less than $3 for each viewer who watches for a complete hour.

This cost may convince some churches to investigate free, advertising-supported options. Here, a dedicated church-oriented service is almost certainly the best option because advertising shown on general-purpose sites may not be suitable for church audiences.

Recording Optical Discs

While the availability of streaming media has reduced the need for optical disc recordings of sermons, services and other church-events, many houses of worship continue to use optical media, whether for a high-quality archive or for distribution to parishioners. If your client is asking about optical media, here are some questions to ask to isolate their true requirements.

Blu-ray, DVD, or both?

If you’re shooting and mixing in high definition, there’s a natural tendency to want to distribute in HD as well. However, Blu-ray players are nowhere near ubiquitous, particularly among shut-in congregation members that may not be able to attend services or watch over the Internet. So while you may want to suggest that your client buy Blu-ray recording and/or duplication hardware at a slight premium to avoid early obsolescence, or to create Blu-ray archive copies for the church itself, they’ll probably duplicate mostly DVDs.

Virtually all Blu-ray gear is backwards-compatible to DVD, so you can buy one system that supports both outputs. However, if your goal is fast replication of both formats, you may have to buy two systems. That’s because high-volume tower replicators work by reburning a previously recorded and finalized disc. That means if you want to replicate DVDs, you need to record a finalized DVD. If you want to replicate Blu-ray discs, you need to record a finalized Blu-ray disc. If you want to replicate both as quickly as possible, you need to record both.

Is your client creating archive copies, copies to distribute immediately after services, or discs to make available in non-realtime?

If your client is simply creating archive copies, they may be able to use existing equipment like a computer with a DVD or Blu-ray recorder. Simply record the video to hard disc using digital disk recorder software like QuickTime Pro on the Mac, and then master your DVD or Blu-ray disc using a program like Roxio Toast. Or you can buy a standalone DVD or Blu-ray recorder, which records in realtime and takes the computer out of the picture. For non-technical clients seeking a simple solution, this is the way to go.

If the client wants to hand out discs as soon as possible after the services, they’ll need a DVD or Blu-ray recorder and a tower replicator, which can come with 11 or more drives, though some vendors let you daisy chain towers together to burn a much higher number of discs simultaneously. The big variables here are format (Blu-ray or DVD), speed (up to 24X for DVD, 12X for Blu-ray), and the number of drives. While fast, these systems all need humans to feed discs into the drives, so they are more labor intensive than the printer/recorder devices discussed next. If the client wants to distribute discs in non-realtime and reduce labor or volunteer hours, they should consider buying a robotic DVD or Blu-ray duplicator. These devices allow users to insert more than 1,000 blank discs, walk away, and return a few hours later to fully replicated discs. Variables here include format, speed, and whether the system includes a printer.

Does your client want high-quality printed labels, etched labels, or handwritten labels?

You may have heard of a technology called LightScribe , which uses the laser on an optical drive to etch a label onto compatible discs. While this saves toner costs over traditional printed labels, you have to manually turn discs over in the drive to print the label and it can take up to 35 minutes to print a high-quality label with graphics.

Ink jet printing is usually a much better option for both speed and print quality. For small quantities, you can recommend a standalone printer that usually costs less than $200 and print on inkjet printable discs. For larger quantities, your client should consider a robotic printer/recorder, which all use inkjet print heads and deliver replicated and beautifully printed discs with no human intervention after loading the blank recordable/printable discs. With fast, high quality print options available for less than $200, hopefully you can dissuade your client from adopting the Sharpie approach—although that’s certainly an option if the client has the time, man power, and legible handwriting.


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