Field Guide to Renovations: Key Technologies

Well, we’ve taken a few weeks off from our series on renovations. In case you missed them or forgot where we left off, we started off talking about when the AVL guys should be brought into a project, how to develop some system objectives and how to get started on a ballpark budget. Today, we finally get to the fun stuff; choosing key technologies.

This is the point of the process that we start to pick out the big picture items of the project. Sometimes the church tech team has a good idea of what they want for these key components, other times, the integrator will make suggestions based on their experience and knowledge of the church. Either way, it’s time to start looking at gear.

Know What You Need To Accomplish

You read the post about defining system objectives, right? So you know what the system is supposed to do. I’ll use audio consoles for examples for this post because A) they illustrate the points well and B) I’m an audio guy at heart and I like audio consoles. But the same principles apply to lighting consoles, video switchers, projectors and video walls, cameras, etc. The questions vary, but the concept is the same.

We go back to defining our objectives. Start by asking these questions:

  • How many inputs?
  • How many outputs?
  • How many mix buses?
  • Do we do monitors from FOH, a monitor desk or personal mixers? Or a combination?
  • Do we need remote (iPad) mixing capability?
  • Do we want digital snakes? If so, which protocol? Or does protocol matter (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t)?
  • What kinds of processing do we need?
  • Who will be operating it? Can we train our engineers to run it?
  • Is the system scalable? Does that matter?

Once we have an idea of what we want the system to do, we can start narrowing our choices. But first, I want  to hone in one question. 

Who Will Be Operating The Equipment?

This is a question that is often overlooked. Case in point: You probably know I’m a huge DiGiCo fan. I’ve mixed on an SD8 for four years, and I’ve used every other console they make. I’d rather mix on a DiGiCo than anything else. However, for a project we’re doing at Flexstage, I recommended a Yamaha QL over a DiGiCo SD9. And while my friends at DiGiCo might be bummed, the QL is the right choice for this church. 

The SD9 is overkill and more complicated than their volunteers need it to be. The QL will give them capability they need with an easier to use interface. Personally, I’d take the SD9 any day (sorry, Yamaha…). But  for this team, the QL is the better choice. 

Don’t make the mistake of buying equipment that your team can’t use. I’ve seen a church wipe out their entire team because they bought a mixer none of them understand how to mix on. And without a full-time TD to take the time to learn it, the church was stuck. Think this through carefully.

Evaluate Your Options

The best way to decide between different choices is to try them out. Ideally, you can narrow the choice down to two or three then rent them for a weekend to see how they go. If that isn’t an option, go to a trade show and get your hands on them. Failing that, try to find a church in town that has the equipment you’re considering and go try it out. Most tech guys I know love to talk about gear, and will happily show you their system and tell you what they like and don’t like about it. 

Don’t expect your dealer or the manufacturer to give you free demos of your equipment, especially if it’s a smaller piece of gear. They may help you out with it to close the sale, but don’t expect it. Just don’t skip this step. Mixers, lighting consoles, video switchers, video walls, projectors, cameras; these are all expensive pieces of gear. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you spend your church’s money.

Pick the Building Blocks

After you do your homework and research, you should be able to pick out the big building blocks of the system. With those in place (on paper anyway), you can be sure they all work together. This is the time to make sure the personal mixing system you want to use will interface with your console of choice. Most cameras work with most video mixers, but be sure. 

Often, different pieces need to work with each other. For example, you might want to get your center screen graphics into the video switcher. There are many ways to do that, but it’s good to know how easy or hard (ie. expensive) it will be.

It might be good at this phase to simply pick out what types of equipment you’re going to use. For example, a digital audio mixer, a standalone, professional-grade lighting console, computer-based center screen graphics, a video system for streaming/recording only and a video wall. Or it may be an analog audio console, a conventional lighting board, no video and a projector for song words. Exact equipment choices can come later. 

Sometimes your choices will be motivated by preference. Just be careful to be sure your preference doesn’t put the church in a tough spot when you leave (and you will leave—someday). These can be hard decisions sometimes, so take the time to think them through. Consider every angle and talk to other users of the equipment. 

Once you settle on the key technologies, it’s time to start designing the system. And that’s what we’ll get into in our next installment. 

Roland

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