Video Distribution in Satellite Worship, Part 1
Sep 2, 2010 11:04 AM
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When the Unification Church in New York decided to reach dozens of remote branches by video transmission they took a different approach instead of using an expensive high-bandwidth dedicated link they sent their broadcasts out on the Internet. Neil Morrison with LMG Systems Integration is here to tell us how he set it all up and how things are going with it.
Neil, thanks for being with me here on the SVC podcast, and it’s great to have LMG Systems Integration here. It looks like a very timely topic because there seems to be a fairly big trend among churches and reaching out and establishing satellite churches through video links rather than more brick-and-mortar in one place. Tell me a little bit about LMG; how long has the company been around?
Well, sure Bennett, and I appreciate your time today. LMG is a multifaceted company. We’re based in Orlando, Fla. We have offices in Orlando, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. We’ve been in business for over 25 years, and we provide equipment, personnel, and technology solutions within the corporate meeting space, concert touring industry, and facility integration. [Timestamp: 1:31]
Well it sounds like LMG is into a lot of different things. This project in particular was certainly huge in scale where the Unification Church is bridging out to satellite locations by video. What sort of services does the Unification Church have and how did you get involved with this project in the first place with them?
Great, yeah. The Unification Church was founded in Korea in the 1970s. It’s a non-denominational church, and they have a lot of diverse interests and a growing world-wide congregation with their primary headquarters in New York City at the New Yorker Hotel. We came into contact with them via reference from a previous client and also through the vendor relationship that we have with Streambox. They were looking for a unique solution and knew that we were folks that were very familiar with delivering those kinds of solutions. [Timestamp: 2:20]
And when they came to you with this project, what did they tell you they wanted? What was the situation they presented to you?
Well, it’s the age-old tale. They had tried all sorts of solutions to try to do this multisite worship wide-area distribution of their content to help unify their message and to help deliver information to their congregation—which is, literally, based all over the world—affectively, timely and consistently. They were having a lot of problems with reliable transport of their signals out to their locations. [Timestamp: 2:56]
How tech savvy were they on this? Did they just say, “Here’s what we want to do and you take it from there,” or did they have a pretty good idea of what they wanted to do as far as the hardware and what they needed to do with it?
Well, they had done some research within the worship community as to what people were using and had a short list of equipment vendors that they wanted to look at and solution providers. And at the point, we entered the primary contact was their IT director, and she’s really not a production person. [She’s] primarily someone who was managing the network for the hotel and for the church itself so she didn’t really have a lot of understanding as far as encoding and different styles of distribution, streaming methodologies, that sort of thing. So we really did have to start from the ground up, but very quickly we were able to put a solution together for them. [Timestamp: 3:52]
Well, sometimes it seems as though the biggest challenge is in the translating what they really want to do and then when you come up with a solution it’s translating back what is going to happen and why they’re paying for this gear or that service and making the solution back into nontechnical terms. Was that a challenge on this one or did that part of it go pretty smoothly?
Well, it’s interesting because quite often we’re entering into a relationship with a client that is far more production savvy—tech savvy on the cameras and the switchers and audio equipment, that sort of thing—and are fairly new to wide-area network distribution, large scale IT frameworks. This client was unique in that they already understood the level of internet service provider they needed, the amount of bandwidth that was required, so it was actually an easy discussion on the side of the connectivity, which is quite often the bigger challenge with most of our clients. And then, of course, the other connectivity to their legacy systems, their switchers, cameras, that sort of thing, was a fairly easy process. [Timestamp: 4:58]
I’ve heard a good bit about the trend toward churches branching out over video, which is a great idea, but in most cases I’ve read about it, it seems to be a dedicated link—very costly thing—that they set up permanently. This one seems to be a different approach where they’re sending as close to broadcast video as you want to get over the Internet.
Right, one of the unique things with the Streambox solution is that with their proprietary codec, the ACT-L3 codec, it allows for forward error correction, which, simply put, is a way in which to recover those lost packets. which is the primary barrier for doing video over the Internet is always those lost packets and not being able to recover them, getting very jumpy video, very inconsistent performance from first mile to last mile. The beauty of the Streambox solution is that we are able to predict a certain amount of loss within the network and accommodate that with their forward error correction. [Timestamp: 5:55]
Some of these video links use Flash or Windows Media, but this one’s a little different; we have the video transmission in a special format.
It is a proprietary thing. It’s not like a Flash or a Windows Media or something like that. The ACT-L3 codec is one that was built from the ground up, and it is a very, very effective codec. [It] came out of the space program and has been made available commercially now so that it’s meant to deliver on fairly hostile networks as opposed to those very, very high cost point-to-point networks. [Timestamp: 6:30]
And what type of video formats can they feed into this from their production gear?
Anything from composite video up through HD-SDI, so any of the analog formats, composite, component, what have you, or standard FHSDI or HD-SDI. [Timestamp: 6:46]
And I know you’re associated with Streambox, but this is a fairly crowded field on video streaming. What’s the technical advantage in using Streambox for the signal to the churches larger campuses?
Well, for the larger campuses, again, they’re dealing with feedback from the people that are at those campuses, and the challenges that they’ve had is, in the past, was that the performance was spotty. Some weeks it was great; some weeks it was not so great, so we needed to deliver them a solution that would make the congregation feel like they didn’t have to sit on the edge of their seat waiting for the pastors face to freeze up or for the audio to go out. It was very, very important for them to have excellent quality video and audio, and more importantly that it would be consistent and not be interrupted. [Timestamp: 7:31]
And so what are they doing with this as far as the program content? Are they sending the whole service down line or are they having local services and then part of it coming in on the video? How are they doing that? It’s a two-hour service, and it includes all the praise and worship pieces with a 15-piece band, and then all the teaching from their pastor and any other content, live roll in contents. Pretty much everything that if people had come to the service locally from walking into the door to walking out—the entire service soup to nuts. [Timestamp: 8:03]
OK, so just one service being sent out from a central location and the people at the satellite locations are just viewers and listeners to that. They’re not doing anything local as far as production.
Nothing extensive. In fact, in every campus they do have a campus pastor who is the coordinator for that location and then they have other ministries that happen at those individual locations, but the service itself is a wholly contained unit. [Timestamp: 8:28]
And what did you go with for the live and on-demand links to the smaller campuses? Is that a different format, lower bandwidth, or is it the same type of signal?
We used a product from Digital Rap. It’s their TouchStream product, which is more of a conventional streaming product. They had been using something that was just a plug-in card type of arrangement—very low-end encoding device. The Digital Rapids box is a purpose-built device, which is extremely high-quality and takes digital SDI in so that you’ve got a very high-quality signal going in. Digital Rapids has their own flavor of a flash encoder that is extremely high-quality over low bit-rate; we’re doing a very nice quality stream at 300K, and we’ve connected them with Acme for distribution so that the distribution side of the equation is vastly improved. They were managing that themselves before. So with the addition of the Digital Rapids and the Acme piece, they were now able to distribute in a much wider, much more effective way. [Timestamp: 9:34]
And all of this is coming from a central production point. I think you touched on that before. Where is the church based and what sort of production environment do they have there?
The church is based at the New Yorker Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Part of that facility is a commercial production facility with several sound stages and several large rooms where they do different television taping and things like that. There’s a core-technical facility within that facility that all of the triax runs come into that all of the switching equipment is in, and basically, we just installed the equipment in that core facility. [Timestamp: 10:08]
OK, so that was made-to-order rather than trying to retro fit a regular church and that would seem to be a lot easier task than going into some of the churches and even having to do some re-architecturing and things.
Yeah indeed, quite often when we’re working with churches, there’s not a good place for an encoder that’s got loud fans in it and that sort of thing. With the Streambox solution, there’s the encoder as well as a distribution server, so there’s quite a bit of fan noise associated with that and predominantly that tends to be one of the biggest challenges we have in these installations, but with this facility, that core-technical facility was tailor-made for it. [Timestamp: 10:48]
All right, Neil Morrison, director of systems integration with LMG Systems Integration in Orlando. It’s been great to have you here for part one and letting us know about what the Unification Church is doing to use video links for their satellite church locations. Thanks for being here.
Thank you Bennett.
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