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My Sabbatical

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/oliverkendal/

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/oliverkendal/

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I’m no longer working at Coast Hills, or any other church for that matter, as a TD any longer. I wrapped up in May and have begun a whole new adventure as system designer/project manager for Flexstage, which is part of the architecture firm, Visioneering. Several people have asked me recently, “So, what does your Sunday morning look like now?” When a question comes up more than a few times, it usually becomes a blog post. So here you go.

I’m on Sabbatical

Usually it’s the pastoral staff that gets to take sabbatical. Every few years, pastors often take a month, two or several off to refresh, pray and study. It’s a good concept, and one that I fully support. We all need time to recharge. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. For the last few months, my Sundays have been sleeping in, writing, going for walks and sometimes watching a NASCAR race in my PJs. 

I had originally planned on taking a month off, but it’s turned into more than that. Now, I feel compelled to give some disclaimers at this point. I am not mad at the Church. I don’t feel burned by the Church. I don’t hate the Church. I’m not quitting Church to focus on my business. I just need a break. I will be back.

It’s Been a Long Time

I didn’t grow up going to church. My family and I went once in a while, but in the absence of any meaningful experience, I didn’t stick around. When I met the Lord in 1988 (almost 26 years ago to the week…), I immediately started attending church weekly. Except for a 4-month period in 2002 when I had to work weekends, I’ve attended church pretty much every weekend since 1988. I calculated that by my last weekend at Coast, I had worked approximately 380 of the previous 400 weekends. In that time, I mixed, lit, ran slides for or TD’d well over 1,000 services. 

Along the way, I started equating, at least at a subconscious level, going to church with working. I didn’t even know I was doing it until I stopped. It really wasn’t until a few months ago that I figured it out. So right now, I need to re-program my mind. 

Building New Models

As I write this, I keep thinking back to January when I took Jamie Anderson’s Smaart class. He kept saying, “This is hard because we’re building new models of how sound works in our heads. Building new models is hard. Don’t worry, it gets easier.” That’s what I feel like I’m doing. I have to build a new model in my head of what going to church is. 

Of course, I know what going to church is. But in my mind, I need to get to a place where I’m not critiquing the mix or lighting while I’m there. I need to be able to not feel like I should be working while I’m there. And quite frankly, I need time to rest. My new job has been great, but because I’m learning and refining a whole new skill set, it’s mentally exhausting. Working on staff at a church takes it’s toll even under the best of circumstances. I’m realizing now, three months out, how taxing my time at Coast really was. 

Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

I say this a lot, but I’m telling you what is going on with me, not what you should be doing. I know guys who have been doing the TD thing for many more years than I have and they’re well-adjusted and happy. That is wonderful. This is just what I’m doing right now, nothing more. Like I said, I’m not mad and I will be back. I just don’t know when. 

I remember my first pastor, Ron Boehm, going on vacation one time and saying that he didn’t go to church that weekend just to prove to himself that he could do it. I think it’s important that we know why we’re going to church. Do we do it because we work there? Do we go because we need to get our card punched for the week? Is it to see our friends or social circle? Is it just our habit? Or do we go because we can’t be anywhere else? Because we are compelled to go. Those are important questions. 

Right now, I’m experiencing my time with the Lord in a new way. It’s a lot less programmed and more organic. And it’s very refreshing. I look forward to going back when I’m ready. Until then, I will continue to serve the church through this blog, the podcast and my work with Visioneering. It’s what I feel called to right now. And it’s good.

Roland

What's the Difference: Pre-Fade vs. Post-Fade

Today, we’re back to our What’s the Difference series. These are going to be short posts where we look at commonly misunderstood terms in the tech world. Nearly every audio console offers aux sends with a pre-fade or post-fade option, but what does that mean?

It’s the Pick Off Point Again

As we discussed in the last episode (AFL/PFL), pre-fade and post-fade are really all about the pick off point. That is to say, at what point in the channel strip is the aux send being picked off. A pre-fade aux takes the signal before (pre) the fader. So, the level of the fader has no impact on the level of the aux send. A post-fade aux takes the signal after (post) the fader so the level of the fader does impact the level of the send. Sometimes, it’s really that simple. See, I told you these were going to be short posts.

Options, We Have Options

Back in the days of analog consoles, it was often possible to change the pick off point. I remember reading the manual of our old Soundcraft Series 2 in which it described breaking solder jumpers to move the pick off from pre-fade, post-EQ to pre-fade, pre-EQ. Sometimes, it could be done with jumper blocks on the board.

With the advent of digital consoles and DSP, it’s now easier than ever to change the pick off point. For example, Digico allows for pre-fade, pre-mute; pre-fade, post-mute; and post-fade, post-mute options. Pre-fade and pre-mute are both pre-processing while post-fade is after the processing block. Even the Behringer X32 allows for each aux of each channel to be set pre-EQ, post-EQ, pre-fade, post-fade. 

I especially appreciate the signal flow diagram showing your aux options. 

I especially appreciate the signal flow diagram showing your aux options. 

You’ll have to break out the manual to see what options your board has.

Why Use Them?

Generally speaking, we use pre-fade sends for monitors and post-fade sends for FX. Post-fade sends are also useful for things like broadcast mixes, and feeds to ancillary rooms. We want monitors to be pre-fade because we don’t want to be changing the musician’s mixes each time we make a house mix adjustment. If you’re getting complaints from musicians that their mixes keep changing, make sure you’re set to pre-fade auxes. 

For FX, we want the level going to the FX processor to be tracking with the dry signal going to the mix. If you sent pre-fade signals to an FX processor, even if you pulled the channel down, the FX would still be in the mix. Similarly, if you’re using a post-fade aux bus to mix broadcast, you want the fader changes of the mix to track to the broadcast mix. 

Adding to the Confusion

Some manufacturers make analog boards with a few pre-fade auxes and a one or two knobs labeled FX. The FX knobs are simply post-fade auxes that often feed an internal FX system. Typically, there is an output on the board to use an external processor with those FX sends, so don’t be limited to the internal FX (which may or may not be any good). 

Many analog boards will let you switch the send for each aux or a pair of auxes to pre or post. Again, be sure the switches are in the right spot if you want to keep your musicians happy.

Pre-fade and post-fade is one of those concepts that is really quite simple, but can cause a lot of problems if not implemented correctly. Hopefully, this post helps with that.

“Gear

Today's post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.

Today's post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.

CTA Review: Livestream HD500 Studio

Streaming video continues to be a hot topic amongst churches, and it’s a topic I get asked about frequently. More and more manufacturers are building turnkey solutions designed to make it easy and we’re back to look at another one. This time, from what is likely the most popular streaming destination for churches, Livestream. 

Livestream recently released a series of products called Livestream Studio. As of this writing, there are four hardware solutions along with the standalone software. We received the mid-range and highly portable HD500 model for testing, though the software is consistent across the line. 

Self-Contained and Portable

The first thing you notice about the HD500 is that it looks like a small desktop PC with a handle on top. It ships with a magical carrying bag from Tom Bihn (seriously, this bag is nice!) What sets the unit apart is that it also has a 17” 1900x1200 LCD screen built into one side, protected by a removable metal cover. Weighing just 15 pounds, it’s easy to carry around, and would certainly qualify as carry-on luggage. 

Inside the box is a six core Intel Core I7 running at 3.2 GHz. An Nvidia GForce GT520 graphics card drives the built-in display, along with an external one that can be set up as a multi-viewer. There is a 2.5” 500 GB hard drive inside, and with 7 USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0 ports, you have plenty of ways to add more storage. 

Each of the Livestream Studio systems are built around Blackmagic cards; in this case a Decklink Quad and a Decklink Studio. The Quad gives you 4 HD/SD SDI inputs, and the Studio can be configured for input or output for a local live mix. In output mode, one can mix four cameras (along with internal graphics) to both a stream and local video output. 

The cards support embedded audio on the SDI inputs. The Decklink Studio card will accept analog and AES inputs, or you can use a USB audio interface. The built-in audio mixer in the software allows you to mix sources or have audio follow video. 

Everything you need fits neatly into the carry bag, making this an ideal solution for portable churches even if they don’t want to stream. The latest software update to the Studio software now allows for recording of up to four video streams at once. You can select from iso camera feeds, and a pre-graphics “clean” or post-graphics “dirty” feed. 

Full-Featured Software

Rather than relying on third-party software control, Livestream built their own. It has a clean, modern interface, and is easy to learn. Whenever I test systems like this, I always try to see how far I can get without looking at a manual. With this system, I had multiple inputs configured, was able to switch both a live feed and get a stream running in about 20 minutes. 

For the demo, they also included the Livestream Studio Keyboard. It's an Apple Extended keyboard, with custom key silk screened icons for every function. In no time at all, I was switching between our four cameras, adding lower thirds, and sending video to my Livestream account. 

I’m not exactly sure why, but the latency from the HD500 to what I saw on my laptop via my Livestream page was a matter of seconds. Most streaming appliances I’ve tested add a good 20-30 seconds of latency; this was more like 2-3. Setting up my account was as simple as entering my username and password, then hitting “Stream.” 

Built-In Multi-Viewer

The built-in screen will display the four camera sources plus preview and program. The source windows are too small for accurate judgments of focus and exposure. But, the system provides both VGA or HDMI port, which allow for a configurable multi-viewer of any size. There are quite a few screen layouts to choose from, and with a simple drag-and-drop interface, you decide what goes in which box. You can even add a clock, a stream window (to verify it’s online) as well as a viewer count. 

Much to my delight, when I plugged the second display in, it was immediately recognized by the system and the multi-view window appeared. I had fully expected to at least re-start the software, if not the OS. In fact, this rather summarizes my experience with this box; everything works pretty much as you’d expect without a lot of fiddling on your part. You can pretty much plug in and go. 

Graphic Options

Livestream Studio features a two-channel graphic engine with some pretty cool features. It’s easy to build lower thirds and full screen graphics in the editor. Where it gets interesting is the dynamic features. The graphic window offers a design mode, where as you might expect, you layout your graphics, text, logos and other features. Once complete, you enter data mode, which allows you to change the content of the text boxes on the fly with minimal trouble. For example, you could build a lower third graphic with dynamic text. Then, create several possible lines of text for different pastors or speakers. Simply clicking the line makes it active. In just a few minutes, you have a full set of graphics for your staff. And there is only one layout to update with new graphics for each new series.

Moreover, the graphics can contain video windows. Thus, you can build complex multi-input picture-in-picture effects that go to air with a single click. What I like about the software is that once everything is set up, it’s easy to operate, and completely visual. While it’s not hard to set up, it would take no time at all to train a volunteer to handle fairly complex graphic overlays. 

Other Cool Features

A new feature called Remote Camera allows you to turn a computer desktop (via network) into an input. Studio will accept network camera feeds from a variety of sources. This includes Google Glass, Android and iOS devices, and Windows PCs.  This could be handy for including sermon notes on the stream or IMAG screens. Even better, imagine the interactivity you could create for special events. You can also pull in content from your Livestream account as another input source. I didn’t get a chance to test this feature, but it may make it possible to stream from one location to another easily. Quality would be my main concern—but, the quality of the stream I sent from the HD500 was quite good.

Each of the four inputs has a scaler available to it, making it easy to mix and match input formats. For my tests, I pulled in a SD SDI feed, a 1080i output from my switcher and another 1080i camera. It converted each source to 1080i as needed without issue, sync'ing everything up in the process. For IMAG systems, everything should be running genlock, and the system allows that. 

Tally is not supported directly, but a recent software update makes Studio compatible with the tally system made by metaSETZ. Tally is often forgotten with these systems, and I’m glad to see it’s available. 

While this unit is obviously made to stream to Livestream, it’s also possible to send video to UStream, or YouTube Live. You can also use any RTMP compatible server or CDN, such as Wowza Media Server, Akamai, Flash Media Server. 

Conclusion

With an MSRP of $8500, the HD500 isn’t inexpensive (though you can find it for considerably less). But, when you consider that you can walk into a venue with a bag on your shoulder and in under 5 minutes be ready to stream, switch and iso record a service, it’s a compelling option. It’s easy to use (I never once consulted a manual or help file to figure anything out), and as far as I could tell, stable. We had no problems streaming a weekend, and the video quality was quite good with minimal latency.

The inclusion of the built-in monitor makes it especially appealing for portable churches. Not having to trudge a monitor in and out each week would be a huge benefit of this system. The system comes with a year of  phone support a one year warranty and software updates are free.

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.