Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2009 (Page 2 of 2)

Reader Question: LCD TVs on 24/7–Good Idea or Not?

Here’s another one from the virtual mail bag. Don in Ohio writes:

I’m an avid reader of your blog. [Always point out you’re an avid reader of the blog, it pretty much guarantees I’ll answer ‘;-). mike] I am the Worship Minister and guy over the tech area at our church of about 800.

We recently got LCD tvs in our lobby and we leave them on 24/7. I know the technology has improved a lot in recent years and in the past there have been issues with plasmas degrading over time, which was why the recommendation was to turn them off to lengthen the life of them.

Well, these being LCDs, I don’t really see the need to turn them off. I have had a few people mention to me that we should have them on timers to turn them off at night.

Is this worth it, in your opinion? I think the TV would become obsolete or something before we would ever run the life out of them by leaving them on.

I’d love to know your professional opinion.

Well Don, I’m happy to share my opinion, though I question myself on how professional it is. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

tv_lobby

After doing a little research, I would recommend turning them off at night (and probably more often than that, actually), but perhaps not for reasons you might expect. First, as to the lifespan of an LCD panel; most are rated around 60,000 hours of use. Left on 24/7, that works out to about 6.8 years. So your point is well taken that they may be “obsolete” before then. On the other hand, they may not be. I have  broadcast CRT monitor that’s over 15 years old, and still useful, at least for another year or two. Even turning them off for 12 hours a day would double their lifespan, and pretty much ensure that we’ll be on to another video standard before they burn out. Also, remember that while the panels are LCD, the light sources do degrade over time. As the backlights grow dimmer, the color will start to shift. You may have to replace them sooner than you’d like simply because the color is no longer accurate.

While lifespan alone is, in my opinion anyway, enough reason to turn them off for at least 12 hours a day; another, perhaps larger reason is electricity usage. Without knowing what TVs you’re using, it’s impossible to get this right on the money, but I’m taking an educated guess. A 42″ Sharp LCD TV uses 235 W of electricity, which works out to 5.6 KWh a day. At roughly $.09 a KWh in Ohio, you’re burning $.50 a day, per TV. Turn them off for 12 hours a day, and you save $.25 a day–which isn’t a big deal, though it does add up to $90/year per TV. Again, if you have 1, it’s not that significant If you have 5 or 10, it starts to add up. 

Additionally, one could argue that leaving them on 24/7 is plain wasteful. Sure the cost isn’t really that much, however, it adds up to electricity that doesn’t need to be generated. Regardless of one’s views on global warming, it seems to me that as Christ-followers, we should be leading the way of be good stewards of the planet we’ve been entrusted with. Leaving TVs on all night in an empty lobby (or all day if it’s still empty) hardly strikes me as being a good steward.

So if it were me, I’d either set them up on a timer to turn them off for half the day, or turn them on only when they’re actually being used. I see a lot of church lobbies that sit empty during the week, so you would likely win even more “green” points for turning them on only when needed. Personally, I think it’s time the church stand up and lead the way on issues of conservation. That’s my opinion anyway. Thanks for asking!

Video Conference on Wireless Mics and DTV

Jason Cole, Dave Stagl and I will be hosting a TokBox video conference on Thursday, Feb. 12 at 9 PM CST to talk about wireless mics, DTV and the 700 Mhz relocation. We’ll be updating everyone on the current state of affairs as it relates to next Tuesday’s original date of the DTV transition, the new June 12 date and how the new owners of the 700 Mhz spectrum plan on moving forward. 

If you’ve not already been following it, this transition means times they are a changin’ when it comes to the use of wireless mics. Churches need to be planning on relocating out of the 700 Mhz spectrum very soon, and we will try to help you figure out a plan.

I’ll be posting a conference link via Twitter at 9:25 [UPDATE–Sorry had a brain freeze] 8:55 PM CST on Thursday for the session. You can check back here Thursday night if you’re not a Twitter user, and view the tweet on the sidebar. We hope this will be informative and fun, so plan to join us. You do need to sign up for a TokBox account to take advantage of the conference, but it takes just a minute and costs nothing.

We’re looking forward to seeing you!

Reader Qs: Feeding TVs from a Laptop & DVD Player

One of the things I enjoy about this blog is that it’s given me the opportunity to help people in churches all over the place. I love getting e-mails from people asking for advice; which I’m happy to oblige if I have anything intelligent to share. Being a little CDO (that’s OCD in alphabetical order), I tend to put a lot of effort into replying to said questions. It occurred to me that there may be others who might have a similar issue and could benefit from the response. It’s also selfish on my part as I can kill two birds with one stone–answering an e-mail question and generating more content for the blog. It’s what I like to call a win-win-win.

So here’s our first question: Michael (no relation) writes:

I am in charge of the limited technical needs at my church which is about 4 years old, in an auditorium that seats about 80 or 90 max. We just bought two 42″ hd lcd tvs (720p, 1080i) to use as our first screens. I’m planning on running them from my laptop for a while. (not sure if it matters but the laptop is widescreen and is running Vista.)

[W]ould you be able to point me in the direction of what I need to convert the vga signal from my laptop to something the tvs can use? I bought a vga to s-video cable but found out that’s not enough. 🙂 The tvs do have vga inputs, but I need to convert the signal so I can run it through a switcher along with a dvd player.

And here is my response:

Based on what you’ve told me, you have a few options.

Option One

First, you could downconvert your computer signal to video (either S-video or component), then run that and your DVD player into a switcher and send either S-video or component video to your TVs. As you’ve discovered, you lose significant quality when you go that route. If you were to do this, you’d want a high quality can converter (like a Scan Do Select–$1,200), and a S-Video/audio switcher (like an Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YC–$575). The Ocean Matrix might be a bit overkill–it’s 4 in, 4 out, but since you need 2 out already, this saves you the expense of a distribution amplifier (which you’d need otherwise to drive your 2 TVs). There are less expensive options out there, but these two products would do the job well, or serve as a standard to judge others against.

Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YC Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YCOption Two

Second, you could upconvert your video to the same resolution as the computer video, then run VGA cables from the switcher to the TVs. A great solution for this application is the Analog Way Easy Cut ($1,450).

Analog Way Easy Cut AV Analog Way Easy Cut AVIt as 4 inputs and will convert everything to the native resolution of your TVs. You can feed it VGA from your laptop, component video from the DVD player and up to 2 more sources. Send it out on VGA to a VGA DA (like a Communication Specialties Twin Split–$265), and off to the TVs. This would give you very high quality playback of both your laptop and DVD sources. This saves you a little $$, and will be much higher quality. Again, there are cheaper scalers than the Analog Way, but I really like their stuff. You can also control it from your PC via their control software, which is very slick. Stay away from inexpensive scalers (under $300 or so). They really bugger up the computer signal and really aren’t that much better than your VGA to S-Video cable.

Option Three

Third, you could abandon the DVD player altogether and just use your laptop. If you’re not using one already, I would strongly recommend a dedicated presentation program such as ProPresenter (for the Mac) or Easy Worship (for the PC). Either program would let you run sermon notes, lyrics, videos and DVDs right from your laptop. At this point, all you would need is the VGA DA and some VGA cables. This would the least costly option, and give you the most power. We’re doing this in our new sanctuary. We won’t have anything but my MacBook Pro playing back all of our media for every service. It’s completely seamless and works great. Of course, you may have other events that would require a DVD player, so the second option would be the best for you in that case. Or you could combine #2 and #3.

If you go with option 2, make sure to set your scaler to the same resolution as the native resolution of the TV 1366×768. That will give you the best picture. If you are playing back 4:3 aspect ratio, standard def DVDs, you can tell the scaler to preserver the aspect ratio so it’s not all stretched out.

All the products mentioned can be found at my favorite video supply store Markertek, or a local dealer who specializes in installed presentation equipment.

Saving Audio-for-Video Levels

Let’s say you are assigned to shoot an interview video. You set up the location, position the lights, mount the camera on the tripod and test the mic. Everything is in order. Your interview subject arrives, sits in place and as the tape rolls, the interview begins. The shoot is a success–or at least you thought it was. Once back in the studio, you discover that your normally soft-spoken subject actually got quite loud. So loud, in fact, that the audio clips most distressingly, and most frequently. Or perhaps a typically outspoken subject is overcome by emotion and whispers their way into tape hiss. Either way, your audio is not what it should be.

I’ve been burned by the too-loud or too-soft audio thing too many times. One solution is to bring along a dedicated audio guy to keep tabs on the level. Bigger crews have that luxury. However, the typically one-man-band church video dude (or dudette) has a lot to keep track of. Between lighting, composition, exposure, set dressing and making sure the tape is actually rolling (that’s another post), audio is just one more thing that is easily overlooked.

Yesterday, I was reminded of a little trick I learned a long time ago. Now, this only works when you’re interviewing one person at a time, but it just might save you from the pain and duress of bad audio. Set up your mic input so that both channels are getting the mic signal. We use a GL-2, and that is easily accomplished by using the 1/8″ to 1/8″ cable from the wireless mic receiver to the mic-in jack on the camera. Other cameras with XLRs can often be set to send one input to both channels (the JVC GY-110 oddly takes Ch. 2 and will send it to both 1 & 2). 

Once you have the same signal on both channels, set one channel’s level to get pretty close to full-scale at normal talking level. Not so it’s peaking, but getting up there around -6 dB or so. Now, set the other channel to top out at -15 to -18 during normal talking. 

If your person talks softly, you are probably still going to have a useable signal from the higher channel. If they are really loud, the first channel will be blown out, but the second will be fine. And if they are very dynamic (this is where this technique really shines), you can switch back and forth as needed. 

This has saved me on several occasions. I normally set my main channel to have solid signal when a person is speaking normally. However, should they get really excited and get loud, the main channel will run out of bits and get grossly distorted. The second channel, set 12 dB lower, will just be coming on line. It’s a quick few slices with the digital razor blade to pick the best channel in the editor the next day. With the judicious use of compression, you can level the audio out so it still has plenty of dynamic range, yet will still be present and crystal-clear.

This technique is kind of like car insurance. You hope you never need it, but if you do, it’s nice to know it’s there.

RSS M-48; Now it’s Official

So maybe my previous post about the RSS V-Mixing system Personal Mixer was a bit premature. However, on Monday, it hit RSS’ website, and is now officially announced. And honestly, it looks better than I expected. 

m48_intro

As I’ve written previously, the main limitation of the Aviom is 16 channels. The M-48 gets around this by making all 40 channels on the REAC network available as 16 Stereo groups (meaning each group, as a whole, can be panned L or R). Each personal mixer gets it’s own selection of channels. You can send individual channels, aux mixes, DCAs or even a set of individual channels to a group (ie. combine all the Toms into a single group).

That part is cool, but they added some other features–some small, others not so small–that really make it shine. First, there are 2 headphone outputs on the back; a 1/4″ and 1/8″. This means one fewer adapter to keep track of, or makes it easy to have two musicians share a mixer. They also included a balanced stereo pair of 1/4″ outputs for driving a wedge or hotspot. Each mixer has a 1/8″ record out and a 1/8″ aux in. Finally, and this is brilliant, there is an ambient mic right on the back of each mixer. This would make it easier for on-stage communications, or just getting a sense of the room. The mic has it’s own dedicated volume control.

Also included is reverb for any of the groups. A 3 band, semi-parametric EQ is on board. And it has an adjustable limiter. As previously reported, it works (actually, it only works) with the proprietary RSS 1 in, 10 out switch, the S-4000D, that supplies both the REAC signal and power to up to eight M-48s. They call it “Embedded Power,” but it sounds a whole lot like Power over Ethernet to me. Either way, it eliminates a lot of wall warts.

Oh, and I almost forgot. The FOH engineer can monitor and take control of each personal mixer in case a musician gets in trouble. I can’t think of anything else they might have added. They even include the mic stand adapter in the box. This system opens up a whole new set of possibilities for church sound.

Overall, I’m still really excited about this, and am looking forward to getting my hands on a system. I have not heard details of pricing or availability, other than it will be “competitive” with Aviom. 

So there you go. Check it out at RSS America’s web site.

Review: Keynote Version 5.0 Pt. 2

Back to our two-part review of Keynote Version 5, introduced as part of iWork 09. We’ve covered Templates, Auto-Shrink and Animation Enhancements, all of which are nice. But what about actually presenting from Keynote? Read on, grasshopper…

Better Presentations

Finally, they’ve made some improvements to the presentation mode. One of my biggest complaints about trying to use Keynote for sermon note presentation is the lack of easy, random access. Our pastor tends to jump around sometimes (this may never happen to you…), and it’s nice to be able to click right to the proper slide when he jumps. Keynote used to require you to advance through the deck, which is sloppy. 

In ver. 5, you can mouse to the top of the screen and click “Slides.” This brings up a horizontal row of all the slides. Click on the one you want and you’re in business. They also added little blue orbs that represent each step of a build slide. As you step through the build, they turn grey. It’s now easy to know where you are in a build.

Remote Control

OK, I admit, this one seduced me. I’m a total geek when it comes to remote control. I’m smitten with Apple Remote for controlling iTunes from my iPod Touch, and I’m crazy about ProPresenter Remote. And even though I don’t really do that many presentations at the moment, I spent the $.99 for Keynote Remote, just because it was cool. And it really is. It works similarly to Apple Remote and allows you to connect to Keynote over Wi-Fi. This allows presenters who want to wander away from IR range the ability to control the presentation from their iPhone or iPod Touch. You can see the current slide, upcoming slide and presenter notes. To change slides (and this is just so cool), you swipe the screen. I used Remote last week for a church meeting, and loved being able to control my MacBook Pro from the back of the room. Make sure your iPhone is charged, though, as Remote keeps it from sleeping. This is good while you’re presenting, but it will sap the battery.

keynote-remote 
Miscellaneous Changes

There are also additions to the charting and MathType capability, but I doubt those will make a big difference the average church presentation. A few people may miss the Export to Flash feature, but again, I don’t think that will matter to techs like us.

Perhaps the biggest change that could be viewed as a shortcoming is changing the file format. It used to be that Keynote saved presentations in “files” that looked like files, but were actually folders. This worked swell, except they could break when you sent them via e-mail. The new format is a complete package that will move over the internet just fine, but take a little longer to save. They are also incompatible with the previous version. 

Apple also introduced iWork.com; a collaborative site designed to make it easier to share iWork documents. I haven’t played with it yet, and I’m not sure how much use that may be for the average church. However, it may be a nice way to empower volunteers to build presentations from home, then easily transmit them to the church without having to set up an FTP server or e-mail huge files.

Conclusion

Is the upgrade worth it? Good question. I’m not sure there’s anything in here that will change my life. However, the additions are welcome and will save some time. Given the relatively modest cost of the upgrade, and the fact that you get an improved Pages and Numbers as part of the deal, I’d say it’s worth it. I already ordered one five-pack, and I have another on the way, if that tells you anything.

How does it compare to PowerPoint? That is perhaps another article. Having used PowerPoint extensively (and I mean extensively), I can say that Keynote is far better to work with. The interface of PowerPoint has always seemed cluttered and hard to navigate, and most annoyingly, master slides never seem to work the way they should. In contrast, Keynote’s interface is clean and easy to get around in. And most importantly, masters actually work. They work really well. I can spend a few minutes every week tweaking my masters for the backgrounds prior to Sunday, and my volunteers can quickly format the slides based on those masters. Everything drops into place just the way it was supposed to, and it works every time. So if you’re coming to Keynote version 5 from PowerPoint, it’s a huge upgrade. Better and cheaper. That’s something almost every church can benefit from right now.

Review: Keynote Version 5.0

At MacWorld a few weeks ago, Apple introduced iWork 09, which brought us Keynote version 5.0. Keynote is, of course, Apples answer to PowerPoint. While PowerPoint has long been the scourge of boardroom meetings–a phrase has even been coined, “Death by PowerPoint”–Keynote aims to be the sexier, cleaner and more Apple alternative. I’ve mentioned my fondness for Keynote before, and I was excited to get my hands on a copy of the new version to see if it has anything new to offer us church presentation techs.

While Keynote does indeed include some new features, I’m not sure it’s a must-have upgrade from the previous version. On the other hand, at $79 for a single license and $99 for a 5-pack, it’s hard not to upgrade; especially if you find useful the upgrades to Pages and Numbers (and I do). 

New Templates

I’ve now spent some time with 5.0 and I am impressed. The first thing you’ll notice when you launch are the eight new templates, bringing the total to 44. As always, the provided templates are very clean and well designed. I’m not normally a fan of templates; however sometimes when we’re in a hurry, it’s good to have them as a starting point to put a presentation together.

My Favorite New Feature

We use Keynote every week to put our sermon notes together, and I was hoping to see some new features that would make my life easier. As I looked over the interface, nestled in the middle of the formatting bar is a little check box labeled, “Auto-Shrink.” This feature alone might be worth the upgrade. When checked, ideally in the master, if more text than will fit within the confines of the bounding box is entered, the text will shrink to fit. We do this manually to make headlines and scripture slides fit, but now it will happen automatically. I like that.

keynote-auto-shrink

Animation Enhancements

While we don’t use Keynote to actually present the notes (we export as jpgs, and play them back from ProPresenter), there are some excellent enhancements to the animation capabilities and presentation mode that almost make me want to present from Keynote.

First, a new feature called Magic Move will take an object, say a photograph, and create a smooth animation between two points. For example, if you want to start with the picture small then zoom it larger, you simply place the start position and size on one slide, the end on the other and select Magic Move. Keynote will create a smooth animation between the two points. 

There are also enhancements to path animation, if you use that feature. It is now easier to edit the paths, and even use one shape as a path for another. I’m not sure how much this would come into play in a sermon illustration, but you never know.

Something I discovered while playing with 09 (and was a part of 08–guess I missed it) is Smart Builds. If you need to show a series of photos, rather than create a bunch of slides, each with a photo on it, you can simply insert a Smart Build, add photos to it through a simple drag-and-drop interface and present (or export) the whole series from a single slide. There are several useful animations for transitioning the photos that would tastefully add some life to a presentation. I will be looking for opportunities to use this feature more in the future.

keynote-smart-build

Tomorrow we’ll continue with the review and look into enhancements made to presentation mode, and compare it to it’s nemesis, PowerPoint. That should be fun!

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