Audio is fairly easy. There are loads of tutorials online, gear is easy to come by – especially used – and almost any church geek can help you get set up in a few hours.
But video is a whole other animal. In fact, it’s probably not even an animal at all. It’s a monster.
I have been asked countless times (no – seriously – I’ve lost count) to share just how we’ve wired New Life’s live video production department. The reason? There’s very little out there on video. And what’s there requires a very steep learning curve, tons of proprietary information, and a skill set that – among other things – necessitates the discipline of monitoring gear that changes monthly. That, and the equipment is expensive enough that you can’t afford to make mistakes.
The other factor is that there’s very little out there for mid-size budgets.
Sure, anyone can plug a home video camera into a computer via firewire and get a livestream.com or ustream.com account for their church. We’ve done that, and it served it’s purpose for a season. But it won’t last long, unless your viewers love when your senior pastor’s message gets interrupted by a 30 second Teen Wolf commercial of a guy groping a girl. (True story).
And on the high end? Well, you don’t even want to know. I followed a lead that my friend in a 5,000 member church gave me for what they use: a Spider box from Vista Systems. Oh, it did everything I wanted, and then some. Even had the name recognition of being used in FoxNews studios, CNN, the NFL, and other major production facilities. And for an entry level price of $53,400 I immediately understood why. “Yeah, I’m going to have to pass on this one,” I politely said and then hung up.
Back to the drawing board.
After joining nearly every video message board, having emails and posts go unanswered (or under answered) for weeks on end, and researching far more than I had time for, I decided no one was going to help me the way I needed, and that I didn’t have the budget to hire a consulting firm (only then to spend more money on the actual gear I needed).
I was going to have to create something from scratch.
The following represents 6 months of work (with even more research before that from my Video Director, Tim Desormo), a lot of sleepless nights, and the inevitable call from my “video savior” Mike Ricks of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville, FL, who – after seeing one of my final desperate pleas on a message forum along the lines of, “Will someone just please tell me if this schematic I’ve created will work?” – wrote me back and said, “Bro. It will totally work. We’re doing the same thing down here. Call me.”
I’m making this schematic as well as a detailed description below available completely free because, a) this is the Kingdom, and we share our successes as well as our failures, and b) I don’t want others going through the hardships I went through.
Many thanks go to Mike Ricks, Eric Dally (LCM), Jeremy Bielawski (TFH), Dave Bode (Elim), David Seaman (Revive), and my own production team, Tim Desormo, Tammy Desormo, and Joseph Gilchrist. Without your patience and input, we’d still be interrupted by Teen Wolf every Sunday.
NEW LIFE VIDEO SCHEMATIC OVERVIEW
MAC PRO: Our main hub is an Apple Mac Pro 8 Core tower. We have a cinema display and a wireless keyboard and mouse. It’s hardwired into our router, serviced by Westelcom’s screaming fast fiber optic lines that provide us with amazing 17mbps up and 10mbps down service. Among other video editing and ripping applications, our main use for the system is Wirecast. Tied with it is Desktop Presenter which I’ll discuss under the iMac section.
WIRECAST: Rather than going back to physical hardware (TV monitors, switching consoles, lots of cable, and a $15-$20,000 price tag), I wanted to stay digital, knowing software was easier to upgrade, and I had more than enough power. Wirecast by Telestream was the answer, especially at $400 for the por version. It allows for mixing of multiple shots in multiple layers all in real time, including chromakeying and clear background PNG overlays (that we produce in Photoshop for each series). Even more important than the mixing features is the encoding abilities. Wirecast has the ability to assign our final signal to multiple locations at once, including our in-house projectors, video and audio archiving, online iCampus streams (flash), and our iPhone and iPad streams.
LIGHTCASTMEDIA: Unrelated to Wirecast, LightCastMedia is the largest Christian live-streaming servers in the world (if not the largest), and provides the backend of all our delivery, bandwidth, and storage needs (see LifeChurch.tv). Erik Dally has been an indispensable wealth of knowledge, and represents a company that provides amazing customer service and reliable products.
CAMERAS & VIDEO CARDS: Until we’re ready to make the jump to HD, we’ve been buying up used Cannon GL2’s (broken tape drives, bad mics) and utilizing their great white balance options for low light and their great glass (lenses). We’ve been running BNC cable (available cheap and fast from monoprice.com), but for longer distances – and the eventual conversion to HD – we’re starting to use only cat5 with RCA converters on either end. The video cards that work best and have the least amount of lag are Decklink’s Blackmagic Intensity Pro cards. Each one will run you about $200, but your lag time will be about 13ms. (The only better solution that I know of is the Spider box. Refer to price tag previously mentioned). The Mac Pro can handle up to 3 cards (with one camera per card), and each card comes with the wiring harness that allows for all sorts of marvelous connections concoctions. I ordered ours through B&H Photo out of Manhattan. (Note that each card must be installed and set up one-at-a-time. A fairly simple process, but you’ll bugger it up if you do them all at once).
iMAC: We use a new iMac to run ProPresenter 4 by Renewed Vision. In my opinion it’s the simplest and most straight forward display program on the market, especially if you’re an Apple user. Making the switch for a few of my PC-only users has taken some getting used to, but they are enjoying the OS. (Side note: at New Life we stress that we’re not Mac or PC people – we’re Kingdom people. I’ve seen geek loyalty, which I’m the first to be guilty of, get in the way of friendships and stir up dissension. Make a policy on your team to celebrate the use of technology for the Kingdom regardless of your allegiances. I can truly say I celebrate someone’s new Droid as much as I celebrate someone’s new iPhone). The tricky part here is that – because the Mac Pro can’t except a fourth video card – we had to figure out a way to make Wirecast “see” the iMac as another camera. This is where Desktop Presenter comes in (included with your purchase of Wirecast). This little app lets you select a screen on the originating computer (in our case, a cheap Dell monitor that ProPresenter is sending a full-screen output of it’s master display to), and Wirecast – using it’s internal Desktop Presenter protocol – “senses” the IP address of the sending computer (our iMac) and treats it as a “new shot.” Because we edit the shot on Wirecast to chromakey out green, and logically make all the slides in ProPresenter have a green background, a always have song lyrics displayed over top of camera shots whenever the Media Director (on the iMac) changes slides – all in real time.
AUDIO: The last component is actually sometimes the trickiest to run. Our audio. That’s because we’re using the Mac Pro not only as a receiver for audio coming from our console (which is how our online audience hears the services), but we also play videos in-house from Wirecast – which means if we don’t mute the incoming console feed, we’ll get a feedback loop (as the viewers would hear both the original play-video audio, as well as the audio coming back through the front-of-house console). Like wise, the in-house audience hears a wild looping delay. So making sure our Video Director stays on top of things is key. (It’s one of the biggest jobs we have on a Sunday morning and requires a lot of practice, diligence, and discipline). You’ll also note the implementation of a small powered Mackie 1202 console, which you can pick up super cheap. This has been one of the only solutions we’ve found that conditions the line-level output of the main console into the Mac Pro without frequency oscillation issues or ground hums. It also allows us to use extra outputs or aux sends to power speakers placed thorughout our production suites so we can hear what’s happening in the sanctuary (as we’re all enclosed in glass up top).
As with any church entity, we’re already looking to expand, adding more projectors, better cameras, bigger screens, and more effects. But for now, the guts of our system will stay the same.
I’m happy to try and field any questions you may have, so ask away. If I don’t know, I’ll reach out to someone who will.
“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.” Proverbs 4:7 ch:
UPDATED – 2013.07.24: Here is a more recent version of the schematic, which still doesn’t fully reflect the entire system we have today (I need more time to document it); our newest schematic should include our new audio mixing system, and the addition of a third, center-screen projector run from a MacBook Pro handling Wirecast and the same lyric feed from the ProPresenter iMac. Hope it helps! • ch: