Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Software (Page 2 of 5)

System Design Software: AVSnap

I’ve been posting pictures of my video system design lately, and each one generates at least 3-4 tweets asking what I’m using to do the drawing. So I figured I would just to a post on it. Spoiler alert, I’m using a piece of free software called AVSnap. AVSnap is a free (yes, free) program produced by Altinex. It’s relatively easy to use and is capable of producing some pretty detailed drawings. 

Image from AVSnap’s website. I didn’t draw this…

One of the best things about AVSnap is the training videos they have on their website. At first, the software might make no sense at all, especially if you don’t have any experience with system design software. However, spend a little time watching the videos, and you’ll be building components and dragging wires around in no time. Hint: Watch the one on creating libraries. It will save you a lot of time. You can thank me later.

If you build your components correctly, AVSnap will even give you a materials list when your design is done. The caveat is that you have to specify each connection point, which takes about 5 checkboxes in a pop-up. It’s not hard, just tedious. The good thing is, once you design a component, you don’t have to do that again. You can also connect components with virtual cables, then drag those components around the page without loosing connections. Sometimes you have to do some adjusting to keep things neat, but you don’t have to re-wire (so to speak). 

It’s not a perfect program, and I’ve encountered a few interface anomalies but overall, it’s a great package. And when you consider that it’s free, it’s really hard to complain much. The only real downside for most of us church tech guys is that it is a Windows only program. I personally run it on my MacBook Pro inside VMWare and it works just fine. And since VMWare maps Mac keyboard shortcuts to Windows ones (CMD-C to CTRL-C for example) it’s actually not bad to use. 

You can export DXF files when you are done, though I wish it were easier to create PDFs. Altinex does provide a link to download PDF Creator from the AVSnap download page, so it’s not impossible; I’m just so spoiled at being able to quickly create PDFs from anything in the Mac OS. 

AVSnap does a whole lot; a lot more than I’ve even explored at this point. They even built in a online meeting module that will enable others to join a conference and collaborate on a design. I haven’t even tried that yet (not that anyone on my staff would need to use that feature). So far, I’ve just been doing fairly simple system layouts, and it works great for helping me see shortcomings in my original thought process, or helping me brainstorm ideas on making a project better.

So if you’re looking for some way to do cable diagrams, system design or just want to learn some additional software (and who among us doesn’t?), check out AVSnap. It’s free; what do you have to loose?

What would you design in AVSnap?

Using Keynote Master Slides

One of my favorite things about Keynote it that Master Slides actually work. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in PowerPoint only to be forever frustrated with their master slides. Sometimes they worked like I expected, sometimes they didn’t work at all. When I got my first copy of Keynote a few years ago, it was life-changing. It occurred to me that some people might be out there duplicating slides and changing text instead of simply using masters so I thought I’d run through a quick example or two on how we use them.

You probably know that we use ProPresenter for all our presentation to screen. However, we use Keynote extensively to create many of the slides that end up there. The most obvious use is for sermon notes. We have a wonderfully talented designer that produces all of our themed graphics, and part of that package is a notes background. I take that background, drop it into my Keynote masters (most of which simply have to be tweaked from series to series) and the presentation operators make the graphics. Here’s how it works.

The first step is to create a presentation that matches your screen resolution—we use 1280×720 for our main screen. You can start with any of the Apple-supplied templates, but I recommend the basic white or black background. That will give you what you need without a lot of extras you don’t. Next you’ll need to view the Master Slides.

From the "View" icon, chose Show Master Slides.From the “View” icon, chose Show Master Slides.Once you have them in the sidebar, you can select them and start editing. Nearly every master slide will include a Title Text and a Body Text box. Those become the basis for my masters. You can change the fonts, shadow, color, position, size of the bounding box and a host of other options. New in iWork 09 is a checkbox that will auto-shrink text in a text box to fit the confines of the box. This can be a great help for scripture slides.

I have created a whole series of masters that accommodate almost any likely sermon note slide request. And when a new one does come up, I’ll make a new master for it. I create a current series Keynote master file that I lock in Finder so our presentation volunteers don’t accidentally over-write it. If I have to add a master or tweak it, I simply unlock it, make the changes and re-lock. We save a new Keynote file every week.

Every time we change series, I drop the new background it the masters slides. I first delete the old one (no sense having it in there slowing things down), paste the new one in, then send it to back. I’ll make any text position, format and color changes to match the design and we’re done. I recommend hiding the Master slides once you’re done editing. It’s way too easy to select one when you’re building a show and think you’re creating a slide when you’re actually editing a master. Don’t ask me how I know this.

In use, masters couldn’t be easier. When you click on the + button, a new slide is created. From the Masters menu, choose your template.

We'll select a template, in this case Scripture.We’ll select a template, in this case Scripture.Once the slide is created, you simply double click each text box to edit. You can type whatever you need to in each box, though I find that time-consuming and error-prone. Since our pastor normally sends us a Word document with his slides, we simply copy and paste—with a twist. If you copy text from a Word file, for example, it’s likely to be 12 pt. Times. When you paste that into your master text block it will appear as…12 pt. Times. What gives? I thought masters worked in Keynote? They do, but you need to paste correctly.

Once you double-click on the text box, Right-click and select “Paste and Match Style” from the dialog box. That will format your pasted text exactly the way the master text box is formatted. Perfect!

The key to cutting and pasting.The key to cutting and pasting.Once you get a good library of Master Slides, it takes but minutes to get the sermon notes formatted and ready for the screen. Once we’re done creating the slides in Keynote, we export them as JPG files, import them into ProPresenter and display them from there. We could also play out from Keynote, but I like the easy, random access ProPresenter affords in case the sermon changes.

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Skype On The Big Screen

There seems to be a fair amount of interest in doing Skype calls during services lately. It seems I’ve seen 3-4 threads on doing just that in the past few months. We had to do a little Skyping today for our SVBS program; we did a video call with a woman in Kenya. While setting up a Skype call is something your grandmother can do, integrating it into your projection, video and audio setup can be a bit more challenging. Here’s how we did it.

Video

This is perhaps the easiest of the three—getting video into Skype. While you could do it with a built-in laptop camera, the better option is to send a video feed through a video card or FireWire converter. We have a MacPro at presentation, with a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card. The Intensity Pro will input and output HDMI and Analog video, along with analog audio (and S/PDIF out). 

For our system, we sent a composite program output from our switcher (actually it was from the DA) to the Intensity card. While the card can do component, I figured composite would be good enough. We originally came straight out of camera 1’s CCU, but then realized it would be good to be able to return the audience cam to the woman in Kenya. So we switched it. That let us get a shot of the person on our end doing the talking, and add in the kids as well. Which leads to audio…

Audio

Skype audio can be tricky. No matter what audio interface you try to use, Skype will only use the first channel (or left) for input. We have an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra at presentation that we use for playback of videos and such. After playing around with a bunch of different options, we determined that we could use the Fast Track for both input and output. 

We routed Skype’s output to the M-Audio, and sent an Aux from the SD8 back in. It’s important to use an Aux (or a Matrix, or perhaps a group if you must) to send the audio to Skype to avoid feedback loops. Do not send program out or you will get feedback. We sent only the interviewer mic and a little bit of the audience mics (post fader) back to Skype.

Getting the call set up before going “live” can be tricky. You need to be able to talk to the person on Skype, and hear them before going to the house. For us, that means solo’ing up the Skype audio feed in our NS-10s at FOH to hear the caller, and using the talkback mic to talk to her. The SD8 makes it easy to assign the TB mic wherever we want, so we sent it to the Skype Aux send.

If our FOH position was closer to the audience I would probably put on cans, but because we’re in another zip code, we can get away with the speakers at low volume. And now, how do we get the Skype video feed onto the main screen?

Presentation

This part really only applies if you’re using a Mac with ProPresenter (which you should be anyway…). There is no easy way to route the Skype screen to the ProPresenter output screen directly. You can’t use the “Web” function, because Skype doesn’t work that way. You need a way to get the video image from the Skype window onto a slide.

Enter a nifty little program called CamTwist. It’s a free little app that does a lot of things, but what we’re interested in is a feature called Desktop+. Desktop+ allows you to not only turn the contents of a user-definable capture window into a video feed that ProPresenter can use, but it will do it while the window is behind ProPresenter. 

So that means you can set up the call, select the area, then bring ProPresenter to the foreground and pipe CamTwist in as a live video input and voila, you have Skype on the screen. We created a slide with a background JPG and added a smaller live video window in front. So all we had to do to take Skype to the screen is to hit that slide. Easy.

Of course, if you had even a semi-decent switcher feeding your main screen this is pretty easy. But we don’t, so we make do with this. One thing to keep in mind is that the order you launch programs is important. 

You must first launch Skype, then CamTwist, then ProPresenter. If Pro starts up before CamTwist, it won’t recognize the CamTwist input and you’ll get a blank screen. Also, Skype audio can be funky; play with it a lot to make sure you get the settings right before trying it out during a service. We found that sometimes we just had to re-start Skype to get a setting change to stick.

So there you go. That’s how we do a Skype call to the main screen.

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In Search Of: The DAW

The last few months, I’ve spent some time on and off looking for a new DAW. I don’t need the power (or expense) of ProTools; and Logic, while great, is out of my budget. Really, I have fairly simple needs for my application. I want to be able to edit a few tracks quickly, apply simple effects like compression and EQ and bounce the finished mix out as an MP3. Now, there’s always Audacity, which is a great, free editor. However, it’s a terrible platform to edit on, and none of the effects happen in real-time so it’s very difficult to audition anything. So while that’s on my HD and I do use it from time to time, I needed a little more.

Ah, Soundtrack. If only Apple would sell it separately…
My starting point for this type of DAW is Apple’s Soundtrack–honestly, it’s one of my favorite audio editors. It’s very powerful, yet has a simple and accessible interface. And the Platinum compressor is one of the most transparent I’ve ever heard on dialog. The problem is that Apple doesn’t sell it separately. It’s only available as part of the FinalCut Studio suite or bundled with Logic. We don’t have extra licenses for either at work, and I really can’t justify the cost of either.

So that set me on a journey to find something like Soundtrack that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I found two so far (and I should also mention that I’m on the Mac platform, so Windows-only DAWs need not apply).

The Ardour interface is very complete and highly customizable.
Ardour

Ardour is an open-source, cross-platform DAW that’s actually quite impressive. The feature set is extensive and simple tasks like editing regions and tracks are just that–simple. It comes with a good collection of plug-ins that can be inserted on any tracks, just like a live-mixing console. Track automation is included as well. The interface looks good, if not a little under-developed. As you use it more, it becomes clearer that it’s an open-source project. The menu system is extensive, and a little less cohesive than commercially developed products. I’ve also had problems doing basic tasks like bouncing tracks out to a stereo file, with automation and FX intact. Also, Ardour is cross-platform. As such, they use a third-party audio routing utility called JACK to get audio in and out of the mixing engine. On the one hand, this gives you a lot of options for how to route your audio. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a pain to set up and configure every time you want to do some editing. It took me a while to get all the boxes checked and all the right selections made before I had it set up properly to record and play back.

Ardour, with the Harrison MixBus Mixer on top.Ardour is essentially free, though they encourage you to donate $40 to help continue development. You can also buy Ardour as Harrison MixBuss. As MixBuss, Harrison has put their DSP processing on top of Ardour for the mixdown process. That interface is very nice and is developed around the one knob for one function model. Right now, MixBus is available for $79, which seemed like a great deal. I was almost ready to go that route until I found my next option.

Reaper’s interface is very clean and fully functional.Reaper

Right up front I want to make it clear that Reaper is not free. I’ve had two people tell me to check it out, use it and it’s great because it’s free. This is not correct. There is a 30-day evaluation period during which the entire program is fully functional. After that time, the licensing agreement clearly states that if you want to continue using it, you have to buy it. Their philosophy is simple; make a good product, let people try it, charge a fair price. Personally, I think this is the right model and we as end users should support by purchasing the product, if it’s a good one for us. A full commercial license is $225, a non-profit and personal use license is only $60; so if you use it, pay up.

With that out of the way, let me say I really like Reaper. The interface is clean; almost Apple-like. Reaper is a full 64-bit capable, cross-platform program. Unlike most DAWs, the application download is 4 MB for Windows, 7.8 MB for Mac; this means it’s not full of 50 Gigs of samples and sound effects you may never need or use. It will handle MIDI sounds as well as audio files, even on the same track. I like that the automation is rubber-band based, making it easy to set levels for your mix (you can playback, mix down then later tweak the points). It comes with a decent selection of plug-ins, and runs most major plug-in types. The program is fast, and requires minimal setup to get it working. I tested the included compressor plug-in on some dialog recording and it sounded almost as good as the Platinum comp in Soundtrack.

Based on my initial testing of the software, I will be sending them some cash and going forward with Reaper as my DAW. One other nice touch is that they give you two full version updates with each license. That means if you purchase 3.4 now, you get free upgrades all the way to 4.99. Know of any other software company that does that?

Now, clearly, I’ve just skimmed the surface of these two products. My intent was not to give you a complete review, but make you aware of them so you can check them out for yourself. In an age where it’s almost impossible to get demo versions of DAW software (I checked, non of the major commercially available packages have demos), these are two refreshing alternatives. Check them out.

Multi-Track Audio in QuickTime Movies

This year for Good Friday, we need to run some video. But not just any video; it needs to have two tracks of synth/pad and music stuff, a sound effects track and a click track. And each track needs to be discreet so we can mix it with the live music (not to mention send the click to just the musicians). I was pretty sure that QuickTime could handle multi-track audio; I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I spent the better part of a day figuring it out (with the help of the Twitter-verse), so I thought I’d share the process, if only so I don’t forget how! First up, we need to spend some quality time in FinalCut Pro (you could probably do this in Premier, Vegas and just about any other NLE, but I don’t have any of them–so I can’t help  there).
Found under the Sequence Menu; Sequence Settings…The first step is to set up the sequence properly. In our case, we had the need for 4 audio tracks. The default sequence has 4, so we’re good. However, by default, FCP is set to mix down all tracks to stereo, and that won’t work for us. Make a trip to Sequence -> Settings… and select the Audio Outputs tab. Change the Outputs from 2 to 4, then select Dual Mono. The Downmix (dB) setting will switch to -3, change it back to 0. Click OK. You will probably get a warning that your output device does not support 4 tracks (unless you have a multi-track output device attached). Ignore the warning, and don’t tell it to downmix.

Right-click on each track.Next, go to each track and right click over on the left side somewhere next to the green channel on indicator. Select the correct audio output channel for each track. I kept our simple and mapped them 1:1. Stereo tracks on 1&2, FX on 3 and Click on 4. Even though my tracks were stereo, I told FCP to make it dual mono. It may actually work in stereo mode, but I was having trouble with QuickTime downmixing so I changed it. Your mileage may vary.
I’d prefer Compressor, but this works.Now that you have your sequence set up, you need to export. If I had my druthers, I would export using Compressor. However, we have an old version of FCP that is not 100% compatible with our updated OS, so Compressor doesn’t work. So the only way I was able to export properly was to Export as QuickTime Movie. I left all the settings just as they were and clicked OK. It’s important to leave “Make Movie Self-Contained” checked. I wouldn’t recompress all frames. Save your file and you’re all set.

At this point, you should have a QuickTime movie with 4 tracks. However, if you try to play it, it will downmix the tracks to stereo. This is what took me all day to figure out. The trick is to adjust the audio tracks in QuickTime 7 Pro. I believe Apple removed these features from QuickTime X, so you’ll still need to keep 7 Pro around. Here’s the scoop.

From the Windows menu…Open the movie in QT 7 Pro. Open the Movie Inspector. You should see 4 tracks of audio listed. Now, open the Movie Properties box. Select the Audio Settings tab.

Make sure you start at 0, not 1.
Click on Sound Track 1 and from the Channel | Assignment menu, select Discrete-0 (make sure you start at 0, not 1). Set Track 2 to Discrete-1 and so on. That will tell QuickTime to send each track out to a multi-track output device as a separate, discrete track. Save the movie (it will take but a second, as you are just modifying a parameter).

Notice each track says, “Discreet-X”Now look at your Inspector again; it should show each track as a Discrete output. When you get to your playback computer, you need to make sure your USB or FireWire audio interface is selected for output. You can do that from the Sound System Preferences, or from Audio MIDI Setup.

Note that Audio Output is my M-Audio device; System Sounds are still on Built-In.In Audio MIDI Setup, control-click on your output device and select “Use this device for sound output.” I highly recommend you use the Built-in Output for system sounds–that way you won’t get any beeps or other system sound effects through the house PA.

That’s it. I tested my newly multi-tracked movie in Keynote, ProPresenter and QuickTime player. Every one played all four tracks perfectly through my brand-spaking new M-Audio Fast Track Ultra. Happy multi-tracking!

Producing The Webinars

I had a lot of questions about how we produced last week’s webinar on IEMs. It took a bit of testing and several different bits and pieces of software. The tricky part was getting both audio and video routed to LiveStream in a way that didn’t cause weird internal processing delay echoes. I was able to do the entire project inside my MacBook Pro, with the simple addition of an external screen to make it easier to see what was going on, and make it easier to route the video. Speaking of video, we’ll tackle the video first, since that’s easier.

Dave, Jason and I were on a TokBox chat in one browser (Firefox). To get the video from there into LiveStream, I used a free software package called CamTwist. I learned about CamTwist from Nick Rivero and Camron Ware last fall at WFX. Basically, it allows you to take your screen (or a portion thereof—which is what I did) and turn it into a video input that any other software package can see and use. I drew a bounding box around the three of us and and routed that to LiveStream. To make it easier to see, I put Firefox up on the top monitor and Safari ran the LiveStream Studio on the internal display. Video: check.

Audio was a little trickier. At first, I tried to mix the audio inside the box, with sketchy results. I used LineIn to route the incoming mic audio into another package called SoundFlower. That enabled us to internally mix all the audio from my mic and the TokBox for Dave & Jason and send it to LiveStream. The problem was, it created a short delay that we heard in our headphones. It was really distracting (especially for 3 audio guys), so we had to mix outside the box. Perhaps a diagram will help.

I took the Aux out of the 1202 into the line in jack of my MBP. That was routed to TokBox so Dave & Jason could hear me. I pulled their audio out of the headphone jack into a line in on the 1202. My mic and their audio was mixed together and sent to the M-Audio Mobile Pre USB interface. LiveStream picked that mix up and sent it to the world. I monitored the three of us from the 1202’s headphone jack.

Using the volume controls in TokBox and the mixer controls, I was able to get all our voices set at pretty much the same level. I also used Audacity to grab the USB interface input and record the entire session, which should be up on iTunes by the time you read this (or shortly thereafter).

So there you go. I know we had some issues with the audio lagging behind the video in LiveStream; I’m not yet sure how we’ll fix that. But at least the audio quality was significantly better this time around, and we’ll keep working on improving the process. Thanks for tuning in!

Automating Sermon Recording

It’s happened to me far too many times. The band finishes up, the pastor gets up to preach, and in the middle of the transition, I forget to hit “Play” on the CD recorder to actually start recording. Or I’ll hit “Play & Record” thinking it’s going start recording, forgetting that you have to hit “Play” again. Or I’ll just plain forget. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I blame it on having to do a bunch of things at once. At any rate, I’ve been searching for a way to automate the recording process so I don’t have to remember to do it. That’s one thing computers are great at doing; repetitive stuff on a schedule.

I recalled a blog post Daniel Murphy wrote over at www.worshiptechie.com a few months back. He was looking to do the same thing with video recording of the services. He hit on something that I had previously not known; that is, you can set up an event in iCal and set an alarm. Well that I knew, it was the fact that the alarm can be an AppleScript. And when the alarm is an AppleScript, you can make the computer do just about anything. He wanted it to create a new QuickTime capture. I wanted it to launch and start a recording in Audacity. Here’s how I/we did it.

Step One: Script

AppleScript is a pretty rich coding language. You can get your Mac to do all kinds of tricks if you can figure out the right commands. The script for this one is pretty simple:

tell application “Audacity”

activate

tell application “System Events” to keystroke “R”

end tell

There is one “gotcha” in this script. In order for the keystroke to work, you must have “Enable access for assistive devices” turned on in the Universal Access pane of the System Preferences. The script is really simple. The first line identifies the application you want to use, in this case Audacity. Activate launches it or brings it forward. Sending a Keystroke “R” starts recording. The last line tells AppleScript it’s done. That’s it. Easy. Save the script in a easy to remember place and you’re on your way. I also created a stop script. It’s the same as start only the keystroke is “space.”

If you want to use another application, just look for the keyboard shortcuts for starting and stopping a recording and make the appropriate substitutions. If there are none, you can probably create them in the Keyboard Shortcuts pane of the Keyboard preferences in System Preferences.

Step Two: Schedule

The next step is to set up an event in iCal to start the recording. Here is an example:

I gave it some generous time on the front and back end of the message time slotNormally, our pastor starts teaching around 9:30-9:35. Sometimes it’s earlier. So I fire the recording off at 9:19. It’s easy to trim the recording in post. Same for the end. Normally, he’s done around 10, but I don’t stop it until 10:20, just in case. It doesn’t cost anything to run it longer, we just trim it up when we’re done. We can also stop it manually if we notice that he’s finished. The script won’t hurt anything if it goes off after we’ve stopped it.

Since we also have an 11:00 service on Sunday and a 5:00 on Saturday, I can set up iCal events the same way. And, by checking repeat weekly, I’m done for a long time.

And that’s it! A few quick steps and we make sure the sermon is recorded each week. Thanks to Daniel for the original idea.

Flying Without A Net: Running ProPresenter 4 Live

This year, in the midst of putting together the most ambitious theatrical production we’ve ever undertaken, I decided we needed one more challenge. We have been running Keynote as our primary presentation platform for some time now (since long before I arrived) and I love Keynote–but not for this application. I have been planning a switch to ProPresenter, especially since v. 4 was announced. The Christmas Production seemed like a good time to try something new–so we ran the whole thing from ProPresenter 4 Beta. That’s right, we ran it live, in beta form, with no backup. Crazy? Not really–it was a calculated risk.

I’ve been working with the beta version for several months, and honestly had no real concerns about stability. Every version for the last month has been quite stable and crash-free, especially in simple playback mode. There was the occasional glitch when editing, but not in playback. So I felt good there.

There was a concern about our presentation operator picking it up quickly, but again, Pro is o easy to learn and use I wasn’t too worried about that, either. Plus she’s pretty smart and enjoys learning new things, so I knew she’d be up to the task. She did wonderfully, even figuring out some things that I didn’t know; so that was a win.

We also had a fair amount of time to test it (and I could have bailed to Pro 3 during rehearsal week if I felt we needed to). However, from the first rehearsal on, it ran like clockwork. We played around with different ways to cue things and settled on the ones we liked the best. The shows were flawless from a video perspective. Keynote probably could have done it; but I think going with ProPresenter was the right call. Here are a few things that I really like about the new version.

The Audio Bin

The audio bin is new to Pro4. You can load up the library with sound effects, songs, tracks, whatever; organize them into playlists and trigger them at will with a full playback bar. This was a huge help during rehearsal when we didn’t have the band. I simply loaded the tracks for the songs into the library, and cued them at will. We could have added them to slides, but then we’d have had to keep changing the actual show presentation. This way, we could build the presentation for the show and still roll tracks.

The Audio Bin The Audio BinOne nice feature is the ability to set sounds as a track or sound effect. When it’s a track, you can start, stop, pause and rewind to beginning, just like a regular playback device. In sound effect mode, the sound plays. That’s it. You can clear it with F5, but once you trigger it, it goes. This is great if you need to layer up multiple sound effects at once. We considered playing our sound effects this way, but ended up tying them to slides for simplicity sake. Still, it’s nice to have it there.

Multiple, Rotatable Text Boxes

This one we actually learned about too late. We needed to put some text on a background at an angle. Since I didn’t know you could rotate text boxes in Pro, we set it up in Keynote and exported as JPGs. That worked, except, in the version we had last weekend, there was an issue with dissolving between files with the same background–there was a significant dip in brightness. So that option was out. (That has since been fixed, and very well I might ad, in the latest build) So I discovered that we could take the text into Photoshop, export it as text on a clear background and bring it right into Pro with full alpha support. It was a bit tedious, but worked wonderfully.

I would never do text this way again (since we now know how to rotate it…), but if we ever need to do a graphic overlay, bug or other effect, it’s great to have full Photoshop layer support. And, in case you were wondering, rotating text is simple. Create your text box, then click on the Object Controls tab. Spin the knob and you’re good to go.

Rotating text. If you think it should be easy...it probably is. Rotating text. If you think it should be easy…it probably is.Web Page Display

Here’s one we didn’t use for the show, but I learned about it during rehearsal. How many times have you needed to display a web page during a service or special event? It’s always a hassle, and usually involves closing or minimizing your presentation app, dragging a browser over to the playback window (which never goes smoothly) or something like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to load a page in your presentation software and click “Show”? Well now you can. Using the built-in web viewer, you can now route any web page straight to the projector. With full interactivity. Genius.

There's your "easy" button... There’s your “easy” button…There is a lot more to love here. Templates, the new file-based architecture, the presenter display, timers, props, messages, the ability to add layers and objects to slides easily, sync-able libraries, the list goes on. On top of that, one of the things that I’ve always respected about the team at Renewed Vision is that they listen and respond to customer requests.

If you haven’t tried the beta yet, it’s time to do so. I know I sound like a bit of a ProPresenter fanboy, but I’m really impressed with this product. Once we make the complete switch, it will vastly simplify our workflow. Check it out at Renewed Vision.

Google Wave

The other day I was completely sucked into a preview of  Google Wave. I heard about it on Twitter, went to the site with the full intention of watching the first 20 minutes or so then going on with my day. An hour and 20 minutes later, I was staring at my screen, shaking my head saying, “Wow!”

If you haven’t heard of Google Wave yet, don’t fret–it’s not officially out. It’s still in development, but I think it holds tremendous potential as a communication platform for the Church. What is Wave? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s kind of like e-mail, instant messaging, collaboration, white boarding, media/content publishing all rolled into one. The concept revolves around a Wave, or threaded conversation. The Wave can be an e-mail-like conversation, or an IM, or document. The demo showed off some really cool features for collaboration and publishing.

What a basic, e-mail-like Wave might look like. click to enlarge What a basic, e-mail-like Wave might look like.click to enlargeI was really excited about the ability to create a Wave, use an API to publish it in a blog, then update the blog from the Wave, and the Wave from the blog. It’s a real “write once, publish multiple times” platform. It’s also open-source, and they’re inviting people to develop gadgets for it.

It's easy to integrate a Wave into a blog, then push changes right up to the blog in real-time. click to enlarge It’s easy to integrate a Wave into a blog, then push changes right up to the blog in real-time. click to enlargeAs I was watching the demo, I immediately thought of how cool it would be to use this for collaboration on creative ideas for a church with satellite campuses. Rather than “replying all” on a big e-mail, a Wave could be used to track and develop a service plan. One cool feature was the ability to add people to a Wave already in progress. When the new person comes in, they see the current state of the Wave. However, if they want to see how it got there, they can use the playback function to see the original, and all subsequent additions.

Like in Google Docs, when multiple people are editing a Wave, the changes are reflected in real time. They actually have it working so fast it was updating pretty much at character speed; type a character and it appears on another users screen. Pretty sweet.

And, they have it running on mobile devices such as Android and the iPhone. This means you don’t need to have your laptop with you to stay up on the ongoing conversation.

Waves running on Android and iPhone. click to enlarge Waves running on Android and iPhone. click to enlargeThe demo was not only interesting, but entertaining (which explains why I was sucked in). There was a lot of humor, and the presenters, Lars Rasmussen (co-inventor of Google Maps) and Stephanie Hannon (Product Manager), made plenty of jokes when things didn’t go as planned–“OK so let’s take a look at this…fail spectacularly.”

Just watching it made me think of all kinds of cool uses for it. But you really need to see it in action to understand the power of it. Be warned however, the demo is addictive. You’ll spend 80 minutes watching, because you won’t be able to pull yourself away!

Keynote Master Slides

One of my favorite things about Keynote it that Master Slides actually work. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in PowerPoint only to be forever frustrated with their master slides. Sometimes they worked like I expected, sometimes they didn’t work at all. When I got my first copy of Keynote a few years ago, it was life-changing. It occurred to me that some people might be out there duplicating slides and changing text instead of simply using masters so I thought I’d run through a quick example or two on how we use them.

You probably know that we use ProPresenter for all our presentation to screen. However, we use Keynote extensively to create many of the slides that end up there. The most obvious use is for sermon notes. We have a wonderfully talented designer that produces all of our themed graphics, and part of that package is a notes background. I take that background, drop it into my Keynote masters (most of which simply have to be tweaked from series to series) and the presentation operators make the graphics. Here’s how it works.

The first step is to create a presentation that matches your screen resolution. We present at 800×600 (because it doesn’t require SD video to be scaled much). You can start with any of the Apple-supplied templates, but I recommend the basic white or black background. That will give you what you need without a lot of extras you don’t. Next you’ll need to view the Master Slides.

From the "View" icon, chose Show Master Slides. From the “View” icon, chose Show Master Slides.Once you have them in the sidebar, you can select them and start editing. Nearly every master slide will include a Title Text and a Body Text box. Those become the basis for my masters. You can change the fonts, shadow, color, position, size of the bounding box and a host of other options. New in iWork 09 is a checkbox that will auto-shrink text in a text box to fit the confines of the box. This can be a great help for scripture slides.

I have created a whole series of masters that accommodate almost any likely sermon note slide request. And when a new one does come up, I’ll make a new master for it. Last week’s Keynote file becomes this week’s with a simple name change. The masters stay the same.

Every time we change series, I drop the new background it the masters slides. I first delete the old one (no sense having it in there slowing things down), paste the new one in, then send it to back. I’ll make any text position, format and color changes to match the design and we’re done. I recommend hiding the Master slides once you’re done editing. It’s way too easy to select one when you’re building a show and think you’re creating a slide when you’re actually editing a master. Don’t ask me how I know this.

In use, masters couldn’t be easier. When you click on the + button, a new slide is created. From the Masters menu, choose your template.

We'll select a template, in this case Scripture. We’ll select a template, in this case Scripture.Once the slide is created, you simply double click each text box to edit. You can type whatever you need to in each box, though I find that time-consuming and error-prone. Since our pastor normally sends us a Word or Pages document with his slides, we simply copy and paste–with a twist. If you copy text from a Word.doc, for example, it’s likely to be 12 pt. Times. When you paste that into your master text block it will appear as…12 pt. Times. What gives? I thought masters worked in Keynote? They do, but you need to paste correctly.

Once you double-click on the text box, Right-click and select “Paste and Match Style” from the dialog box. That will format your pasted text exactly the way the master text box is formatted. Perfect!

The key to cutting and pasting. The key to cutting and pasting.Once you get a good library of Master Slides, it takes but minutes to get the sermon notes formatted and ready for the screen. Once we’re done creating the slides in Keynote, we export them as JPG files, import them into ProPresenter and display them from there. We could also play out from Keynote, but I like the easy, random access ProPresenter affords in case the sermon changes.

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