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iMag on a budget – Final Recommendations

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : uncategorized

Tags: ,


(Note: this is the final post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)

We’ve been through a lot here, and while this particular setup fit our church, your needs will probably be different. Adjust as necessary!

If you had no cameras or equipment, a great start would be the ATEM Television Studio, a used Sony FX7 (does 1080i), and a PC with HDMI out running PowerPoint (using a chroma key for lower thirds). If you camera was within 12′ of your TVS device, an HDMI cable would suffice to connect it, otherwise a BMD Mini Converter will run you signal great over SDI. Total outlay? Maybe $2,000 – $2,500, and you’d have a really nice-looking sermon recording.

From there:
Cameras that support SDI natively are a good bet, and the HPX250′s we went with are a steal. Redundancy of systems is nice with a really mission-critical application, but frankly in 5 months of usage, our Television Studio only crapped out on us once, and that was related to someone messing with the android control app. I wouldn’t go redundant if our sermon recordings weren’t being shipped to other churches every week.

Live Streaming:
With MXLight, you can do a direct pass-through of the H.264 stream from your TVS, which takes very little PC resources. If you have an old PC lying around, you might be able to repurpose it for such a use at little to no cost.

Pretty keying:
A Mac with ProPresenter running the Alpha Keyer is really beautiful, but hardly necessary. You can do great things without that expense if you’re a little creative with Keynote or PowerPoint.

If you have ambient light issues with your projection screens, check out Screen Innovations. Really.

Spend your dollars where it counts:
Let’s face it, we’re in the business of inviting people into eternal relationships with an infinite God. If you can get the job done well enough, and at the same time save some money on technology that could be better used in reaching the lost, why wouldn’t you do that?

God bless, and good luck. Questions left in the comments may or may not be answered with any sort of expediency, but it couldn’t hurt to try, right?

iMag on a budget – Redundancy

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : tech

Tags: , ,


(Note: this is the eighth post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)

The good news is that BMD devices are cheap. The bad news is that they can be, well, cheap. I had a friend from another church tell me they refused to use them because of reliability issues. Our current ATEM Television Studio is waiting to get sent back for a warranty repair on one of the SDI jacks that stopped working.

However, because these BMD devices are so incredibly cheap, not all is lost. If a “better” switcher is $5,000 and a BMD ATEM TVS is $1,000, I figure you just buy two of them, right? You’re still saving $3,000, and you have dual switchers to boot! (And, of course, even that “better” expensive hardware can fail.)

Well, not so fast I guess. If you want a live failover system, you need your cameras and your graphics feed to go into BOTH switchers, and you need BOTH switchers to feed into your projectors. My initial thought was to create frankenstein. You can get $46 SDI splitters from MonoPrice and $72 SDI switches from MonoPrice, so I could just buy 5 splitters (2 cameras plus 2 feeds for our Key and Fill plus one splitter for our SDI-out to 2 projectors) and 1 switch (to switch from one TVS to the other in case of failure), and call it good. Total: $302 plus a bunch for SDI cables and jumpers. Unfortunately, that would also mean 6 EXTRA boxes floating around, complete with their wall-worts (read: 6 more things that could fail). There is a ‘better’ way, but it’s also not as cheap.

$1,500 buys you a BMD Micro VideoHub. It’s a 16-in, 16-out SDI matrix, again for a fraction of a price of the competitors. It will do all the routing and switching you need in one rack-mountable unit.

Add on $495 for a rackmount controller with easy-access idiot-proof buttons, and now if one device goes down we can switch to the other with the press of a few buttons.

If you’re good at math, you’ll notice that the cost of cleanliness and convenience is about $1,700, which on our budget is considerable. Of course, if you could find a gently used VideoHub on eBay…you might close that gap a little bit. Your choice!

Either way, I’m still coming out cheaper than a single, more expensive switcher. I dare my Television Studio to fail…we’re perfectly poised for failover!

NOTE: Aside from redundancy, there are other benefits to having two ATEM Television Studio devices. Given that both devices have access to all the same video sources, we can show one live feed/mix to our in-house audience while simultaneously producing a second, different feed to our live internet stream through the second unit. For example, a wide-angle staging shot is helpful for a remote audience, but distracting for our live audience. This also can help keep your video operators from getting bored.

NOTE: The two BMD Video Matrix items I mentioned can also be purchased integrated into one unit. I prefer them as two in case of the small possibility that we will need to upgrade to a bigger router, which can utilize the same controller. It also allows me to place the control unit in a more accessible location without having a gazillion SDI cables plugged into it.

Next up: final recommendations

iMag on a budget – Projection

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : tech

Tags: , ,


Projectors are a project in and of themselves, and can easily cost you $10k-$100k or more depending on your needs. We already had OK projectors, but we made some updates to make them more, well, awesome.

Problem: ambient lighting. We have 5000 lumen projectors that are bright enough for our room, except for the awful amount of ambient light hitting our screens. It’s really bad, but we can’t turn down the lights because we preach from the Bible and we want people to actually bring theirs and read them with us. The net effect is washed-out video that looks like a cheap-o LCD from the early days. Ick.

Solution: Screen Innovations Slate screens. New to SI in 2014, you have to see them to believe them. The real solution is their Black Diamond line, but they’re so incredibly expensive that it will make your head spin. The Slate line is almost as good, but at a palatable price. We were able to get replacement screens for our setup for under $6,000, which is far short of the $10k+ per projector that we’d need to spend in order to get a similar performance boost out of projectors. It’s still a lot of money, but all it took was for me to get them to send me a sample. I taped it to our current screen, turned on our lights, played back a video through our projectors, and had our finance guy and our senior pastor look at the difference. Sold! We’re also about to experiment with double-stacking some entry-level 3000 lumen DLP projects for an affordable upgrade to our current 5000 lumen XGA projectors. (Optoma DH1011)

Problem: getting video to our projectors. Our current solution involved a VGA over Cat5 video sender, which was dodgy at best. Trying to maintain the right EQ and Gain balance for the signal was hard enough, but the scaler that downsized our video to fit on our 1024×768 projectors also messed with our signal. Our projectors could accept a 1080i or 720p signal, but getting that signal to the projectors untarnished just wasn’t happening.

Solution: HD-SDI can reach about 300′. Our ATEM Television Studio has 2 SDI outputs, so we just strung the output over RG-59 cable up to our projectors. The projectors can’t handle SDI in, so we used an HDMI-to-DVI cable to plug our projectors into the HDMI out of a ghetto-cheap SDI to HDMI converter.

Next up: final recommendations.

iMag on a budget – Live Streaming

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : tech

Tags: , , ,


(Note: this is the seventh post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)

Note: while we have done this in the past, we’re not currently doing this.

Note: we may never do this consistently.

Note: we will probably do this, at least on an occasional basis, so I did my homework.

Note: if you plan on doing this for your musical worship, make sure you update your CCLI license to cover that kind of usage.

As I mentioned earlier, the ATEM Television Studio supports a live H.264 feed over USB 2.0 to a connected Mac or PC. If you use Livestream’s service for live streaming, their producer software recognizes the TVS and makes it work like magic. You set the quality requirements to match your network’s upstream link speed, and it does the rest. We’ve streamed a few memorial services, and one children’s choir performance, using this method. I’ve also used it in-house for a quick-and-dirty overflow room, since you can just subscribe to your own Livestream event in another room with a computer connected to a TV or Projector and sound system! (It has about a 15-second delay round-trip).

If you want to use another streaming service, I’ve read a gazillion recommendations for MXLight (£55), which allows you to output a usable stream for just about any service out there. I’ve never tried it, but there’s so many people out there recommending it on every corner of the globe that I’d be remiss not to mention it.

If you don’t like paying for your live streaming, you can use YouTube live for free, now that Google is opening live events to anyone with a verified account. (This is our planned course of action). I haven’t done much research into PC requirements for this however (Adobe FMLE or MXLight should do the trick), since our initial forays into this consumed massive CPU resources. (60% or more of an i7-960) I’d hate to think that a PC crash could take down our live stream, and frankly I’d rather have that PC free for other purposes such as running the control software and saving our backup recording.

The perfect solution is a Teradek VidiU ($699). It’s a little box that supports HDMI input and does hardware H.264 encoding that is perfectly compatible with YouTube live. Plug it in, set a few settings, and you’re up and running.

Next up: Projection

iMag on a budget – Graphics and Lower Thirds

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : tech

Tags: , , , ,


(Note: this is the sixth post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)

Video is nice and all, but adding on those ever-popular lower-thirds graphics adds a bit of panache that makes your video stand out as professional, and not home-hacked. It’s also incredibly helpful for visual learners, and for underlining important content that shouldn’t be missed. We use them for word definitions, key points, and the text of supplemental scripture passages.

Thankfully for us, the ATEM Television Studio includes support for 1 upstream and 2 downstream keys. Definition time: keying refers to taking a video feed and cutting out parts of it based on color, luminance (brightness), or a separate feed. An upstream key happens first, typically, (think the weather guy in front of a green screen) and a downstream key is added after all video compositing is finished (think lower-third or logo bug). The both work more or less the same.

We started with a chroma key, as it’s super simple. Using ProPresenter, we set the background of our presentation to a bright magenta. (We chose this over green simply because our content was more likely to contain greens rather than magentas). This output went directly into our TVS using one of the HDMI inputs.

When we activated the upstream key, we set the chroma key to cut out anything magenta, which let the video of our pastor show through. This was OK, mostly. However, because of some problems, we eventually shelled out the money to upgrade to the “proper” solution outlined below. Those problems?

  1. The most ‘fool-proof’ method of using this key was to leave the key turned on during the whole service. Unfortunately, that meant that if we played back any video or other graphics through our system that included colors close to that precise shade of magenta, those parts of our slides would become transparent and show our video through them. Not great.
  2. The alternative method was to only turn on the key during the preaching portion of the service. However, if the operator missed turning on that key, the moment we went to the slide intended to be keyed out, a bright-magenta screen would show up instead. Since we usually show a pre-sermon intro video, this window was rather small. We had some purple screens show up, and that wasn’t nice. Furthermore, for some reason I had a hard time training our volunteers to understand the key well enough to ensure they wouldn’t screw it up again in the future. *sigh*.
  3. ProPresenter fades all of their transitions, even the swipey ones. When a graphic faded out, the magenta behind it would essentially grow brighter and brighter as it disappeared. Unfortunately, a chroma key is only so effective, so there was always a brief flash of dark purple on our screen right before the magenta got bright enough to be recognized as the key color. Our best solution was to make the fades go really fast (or use cuts), but that was very jarring and not ideal.
  4. The solution to our purple flashes would be to use PowerPoint or Keynote to run your slides, which could animate a slide-in motion of your graphics without fading. But we like the features of ProPresenter, and we paid a lot of money for it, so we weren’t going back to the stone ages of PowerPoint.


So what did we end up doing? ProPresenter has an add-on product that costs more than the software itself. (Yes, it’s stupid. No, there’s nothing we could do about it but pony up the cash.) For $1,000 you can get an “Alpha Keyer Module” that allows you to set ProPresenter to create two simultaneous outputs: one “Fill” that contains the graphics you want to show, and one “Key” that tells the switcher what parts of the screen to show, and at what transparency level. What stinks is that it only works on a Mac. What stinks worse is that it also requires you to have an extra piece of BlackMagic hardware that retails for about $1,000. I found one used on eBay for $600.

The great news is that once it’s properly configured, ProPresenter does all the heavy lifting. You plug in your UltraStudio 3D or UltraStudio 4K with a thunderbolt cable, and connect the two outputs to two of your SDI ports on your TVS. We set one of our Downstream Keys to use those two feeds (Fill and Key), and we can leave it on all the time. No purple involved, no human switching involved. We can use nice long fades and it looks absolutely beautiful. Expensive, but super-worth it. (Note, however, that leaves us with only 2 SDI feeds for cameras. There are still 2 HDMI feeds you can use if you need them.)

TIP: When we first started plugging our iMac into our switcher for graphics, there were some issues involved with the HDMI “handshake” that gets negotiated when you connect and disconnect displays. It caused us enough headaches that we eventually bought a ConnectPRO HDMI EDID Ghost. This handy device sits between your iMac and your TVS. It copies the handshake of your TVS and fakes the iMac into thinking it’s always connected. You can turn your TVS on, off, disconnect it, or even use an HDMI switch or splitter to send that signal to other devices as well, and your iMac will never know the difference.

Next up: Live Streaming

iMag on a budget – Recording

Posted on : 03-24-2014 | By : Andy | In : tech

Tags: , , , ,


(Note: this is the fifth post of a series on how to do iMag without a megachurch budget.)

Our initial plan for recording was to use the H.264 encoder built into the ATEM TVS. If you connect the switcher to a PC or Mac, using the free control software allows you to record already-compressed video to your hard drive. If you want to use Livestream, you can also use their software to stream directly from that same feed. It’s pretty slick. (See more on the streaming post)

All that aside, we had one occasion where the H.264 stream failed to start recording when we were also live streaming the H.264 feed at the same time. Granted, it’s possible that I just didn’t give it enough time, because since then we’ve noticed that it will frequently take a few seconds to get rolling (we’ve temporarily suspended live streaming). For my purposes, however, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable relying on a feature that had threatened to fail on us before. It also made me leery to trust such a high-importance item to a PC that may or may not crash at any moment. Our sermon video needs to get recorded right the first time!

The other problem with relying on the H.264 feed was quality. The compressor does a pretty good job, but the fact remains that H.264 is lossy compression, which means that you’re losing quality right off the bat. I want the option to be able to go back and edit the video in post-production, and I’d rather begin that process with pristine video.

Finally, we also wanted the ability to directly distribute our sermon videos in the highest-quality format with a minimum of work.

Enter the Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle 2. ($327) This compact device records uncompressed video to Solid State Drives. It accepts either HDMI or SDI input, and also supports loop through output. In other words, you can dump your live video into this device directly from one of the three program outputs on your TVS (It has 2 SDI and 1 HDMI program outputs), and even daisy-chain 2 or more of them together. After our service, we can pop the SSD out of the shuttle and plug it into an eSata dock. Given the speed of eSata and the SSD, we can edit the footage directly on the SSD and export either back to that same SSD or elsewhere. Very handy.

A new venue that wants our video can simply purchase their own dock and attach it to their video system/projector/TV via HDMI. All we need to do is dump the completed video onto an SSD and send it their way—no need for trying to master, burn, and verify Blu-Ray discs, no need to rely on network-based streaming, which is dodgy in some rural areas.

For recording, we use a 240GB Intel 520 Solid-State Drive, which gives us enough space for two 40-45 minute sermon recordings (we record both Sunday morning services), plus a little room to spare. For distribution of finished videos, we’d just go with a 120GB drive. The most important part is sustained read and write speeds, as uncompressed video is very high bandwidth. BMD keeps a list of compatible drives to guide you.

One of the biggest pluses here for me though is redundancy. Now we record directly to a solid state drive with the HyperDeck, and simultaneously make a backup recording with the TVS’s H.264 to PC feature. If either fails, we’re still golden!

You might ask why we don’t just take the digital recording from our fancy-schmancy new cameras and work from there? Well, precisely because the feed that comes out of our TVS unit already has graphics and overlays embedded in it, while the camera’s recording does. (We don’t want to have to manually add them in post-production) Which leads us to….

Next up: Graphics and Lower Thirds