SVC: What’s your worship style at Perimeter Church? Is it a young church with live music or is it an older, maybe more conservative congregation there?
Zach Kale: No, man, I think it’s maybe a little bit of everything. It’s beautiful. It’s young. It’s old. We’ll do a hymn and right next to that we’ll do a song that has just been written either by one of our writers or it’s on the radio. So it’s all across the board. It’s a rich heritage of a lot of different styles and diversity of people
What did the church want to get out of this when they made the investment? What was the general idea for the LED displays?
Zach: This is strictly opinion at this point. Here’s what I see as happening, though: our pastor has been around for 40 years and he’s closing in on stepping back over the next decade. The model of our church is to develop disciples. We mature and equip and deploy disciples. And so in the same way we want to hand off discipleship to our congregation and our members, we also want to hand off our technology in a really honorable way to the next generation. This is a new technology. How can we get this now and set up the next generation for success and not just hand them an old ship that has a lot of holes and cracks and it’s sinking. How can we say “We love you guys. Have fun for the next decade.”
What did you have before the NanoLumens displays? I assume that you were coming from a projector environment like most churches have.
Jacob Springman: Yeah. Actually if I go back, our auditorium was built in 1996 and at that time we actually had two rear projection screens built into the proscenium wall of the auditorium. And they were very small and recessed and really hard to engage with worship because it was sort of like looking at a TV at a very offaxis angle. So several years ago we installed front-projection screens approximately the same size as the LED walls. They were around 18 feet projection with 20,000 lumen projectors. And when we installed them we actually angled them out from the proscenium wall to make for a much more engaging experience for the congregation.
Okay, so you’re familiar with the projector situation and all of the limitations and challenges that it has, I’m sure.
Jacob: Yes. Absolutely.
The church has huge windows in the sanctuary. That’s not your typical layout. Was ambient light level the problem that led to using the LED displays?
Jacob: Yeah. That was definitely one of the factors. The windows actually have shears that can be lowered and they also have blackout shades that can lower. But even with the shears down there was so much ambient light that came into the stage that it was really hard to get the screens to really pop and so a lot of times we would really keep the screens down so that IMAG or any sort of video element would look vivid. And really now with LED it’s really like having your living room TV hung up on both sides of the stage. Regardless of the ambient light they’re bright and crisp and engaging.
Yeah, I guess glare is not a big problem now. Was it sort of a testing scenario where you had to look at it from just about every seat in the house to see what you had?
Jacob: Well, because we hung the new LED walls in the same orientation as our projection screens and we were comfortable with that location from years of use, glare wasn’t a factor with the new screens. The architecture of the building meant that it’s really very rare that we have any direct sunlight that hits those screens and so they’re positioned for sight lines from the entire auditorium.
And another central consideration is just getting the video signal to the display. I would think you’re still using the same method of getting the video signal to its destination. What specific type of signal conveyance are you using?
Jacob: The back end of the video system is all HD-SDI, which is what we used prior to the upgrade. So our native signal is a 1080i 59.94 format which stays in SDI; we have a router and a FOR-A production switcher on the back end. When we added the new screens we added a Spyder X20 processor which is allowing us to do some front-end processing for the screens because they’re greater than 1920 x 1080. So we actually had to split the image up into quadrants up on the side screens and in two sections for the center screen. By having that Spyder it’s given us the ability to do some more advanced routing and sizing images across the screens with the combination of a key box. So right now on the front end is essentially sources and IMAG computers hitting a FOR-A production switcher and a Spyder. And then once we leave the Spyder it leaves DVI to NanoLumens DIU processors where they convert to twisted pair. And due to length limitations we actually convert down in the basement our twisted pair to single-mode fiber which is sent up to the stage area, where it’s broken back out to twisted pair that leads to each display.
And where do you control all this from? Do you have a control room somewhere in the back?
Jacob: Yeah. In the balcony of the auditorium we actually have a control room that has a large window in it. So our graphic ops switcher/ shader, and our technical director, will stay in the back of the auditorium where they have sight lines to the stage and the screens at all times.
I noticed from the pictures I have that you have the screens on each side of the stage and I think you added one upstage in the center. How do you use that center screen?
Zach: It’s been a challenge because you can do so much with it. Our challenge is really not what can we do, it’s more the question what should we not do? Because the natural inclination when you have new technology put in place is like well, let’s just use it. If you get a new car and it says 180 on the speedometer, it’s like, this car goes fast. We should probably not take it fast. So the challenge has been just because it has a lot of pixels let’s not use every one of them. My role as the creative here is to figure out well, is there a way that throughout the service we can tell a story with a screen and not overwhelm you with screen? We don’t want our worship services to feel like Times Square. We want it to feel like an invitation to worship. And so we have succeeded and we’ve failed and we’ve tried different things, and so even the program we’re planning for this upcoming weekend we’re doing so many different things with the screen. Sometimes it may be a motion background that actually enhances lighting effects, or we may do an actual video on the wall of trees moving and it’s snowing and different things. So we’ve been able to use it as a resource in worship and not just this awesome thing that we can all get tied up in and try and make it just as bright and as busy as possible. We’re trying to slow it down a little bit and say: all right, how can we use this in a non-taxing way to our eyes?
Did you have to make any changes to the lighting to accommodate these new LED displays?
Jacob: So as a result of the LED displays we didn’t, but one thing that we noticed as a side effect is it’s actually a lot harder to get beams and haze on the stage now that we have an LED wall behind it because it competes. So that’s just a good thing for people to know, but it hasn’t really been a problem. We’re all right with that.
Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought of that but now that you mention it, once you get all of the effects going and you have live music you could see right through all of the stage effects to that big LED screen in the back.
Jacob: That’s where you have to get creative and go “we probably shouldn’t do a white background as we’re trying to move some stuff off the stage during a quiet moment because you’re going to see every bit of movement.” And so it’s figuring out how to get creative and use it as a tool.
Have you got cameras in the sanctuary of Perimeter Church?
Yes. At the moment we have two that are permanently installed. One is a manned camera and the second one is a robotic cam. For our Christmas production or Easter we can bring in additional cameras and go in other positions in the auditorium or stage cameras. So the two cameras that are installed permanently are used every single weekend for worship.
And the one that’s manned, is that used mainly for IMAG? Is that the way you use it?
Jacob: Correct. That’s typically our tight-shot for IMAG. And our robotic cameras typically are wide shot or special shot.
When you first got the displays up and tested them, did you notice some things in the image that weren’t that noticeable before? Were there some little warts and moles in the signal that didn’t show up before?
Jacob: Especially in the graphic stuff. We don’t do a ton of video, but yeah the graphic stuff. The way we were getting some of the graphic stuff was through like .jpgs and we’ve had to go “no, no, no.” We can’t have a lower-quality image. It has to be dialed in right, like a .pdf or something like that or it’s going to look blurry on the screen.
What do you have to do for upkeep on the new LED displays? Is it just keeping them dusted off and that’s about it?
Jacob: There really isn’t upkeep. That’s actually one nice feature. There are no fans on the power supplies so there’s no dust being pulled through the units. So really, keep them in an environment where they’re safe and have good power fed to them so you’re not destroying power supplies and otherwise let them go.
Now that they’ve all seen them, what’s been the reaction of the congregation when you unveiled these new NanoLumens LED displays?
Zach: We had a reveal service. The curtains were closed for a couple of weeks, I think, as they were going in. We showed a video and it had some drone footage of a flyover of the church and the property. You definitely could hear and almost feel the “Oh my gosh,” as soon as they saw them.