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Video End-to-End for Worship

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

Answers to the most commonly asked questions

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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.

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