We just wrapped up the annual meeting of the Rio Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. We meet once a year for business, learning, and fellowship. Clergy and lay delegates come from all around Southwest Texas and meet at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.
Part of my job is to oversee the technology that allows everything to be seen and heard in the exhibit hall, where we hold our meetings, and in the auditorium, where we gather for worship. Given the number of delegates and the unique characteristics of the venue, there are some serious technical challenges.
Fortunately, I get to work with the pros at AV USA here in San Antonio for video, and Mellon Sound of Corpus Christi for the audio. They take care of hauling and setting up the trusses, projectors, screens, lights, amps, and running all the lines. However, that still gives my team quite a bit to do.
I thought I would share some of the gear that performed exceptionally well this year, especially anything that might translate well into a smaller church venue.
#5 Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Pro HD
I purchased this switcher for use in our in-house studio hoping that it would also perform well in the field. I was not disappointed. With four SDI and four HDMI inputs, it easily handled our three cameras and two Macs.
The unit also features an AUX SDI output which enabled us to be able to send separate video feeds to the different projectors. Usually, we had slide graphics on the outer screens and the camera shot on the center screen. At times we were able to show different camera angles on the different screens. The secondary AUX output would be an excellent feature for churches with multiple screens or the desire to send a different feed to the screens and the live stream.
The multi-view output is also a great feature in the studio and on the road. Instead of just seeing preview and program, I can see all my sources on one monitor via either SDI or HDMI.
The Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio Pro HD costs about $2300. However, if you don’t need the fancy control panel, you can get the same features in a rackmount unit for about $1000 with the ATEM Television Studio HD. You can access most of the same controls from the front panel and have access to all the features using the free software control panel.
Take a closer look:
#4 Mackie MDB-USB Stereo DAC Direct Box
More and more of the content at conferences is video. I have never been comfortable pumping sound through a massive PA connected to a 1/8″ mini stereo plug. Not only does it degrade the sound quality, but I have also witnessed loose plugs, bad cables, and other problems causing ear-splitting sounds to pump out of the speakers. Not a problem with a Digital Audio Converter (DAC). They come in all shapes and sizes, but this unit from Mackie performed like a champ. It connects via USB to my MAC and then sends the audio out via balanced XLR to the soundboard. This unit also has two features I love. It has a switch to convert the signal to mono for situations where all the audio is mono, and you want to send everything over one cable. It also has a headphone jack with independent gain control. That way I was able to monitor what I was sending to the soundboard. If you are amplifying sound from a computer on Sunday morning, you might want to consider one of these.
#3 Canon XA20
If anything made me nervous leading up to the annual meeting, it was these cameras. In previous years, we have rented professional studio cameras. However, they were standard definition and the cost to upgrade to HD was just too high. We have been using these Canon XA20s in our in-house studio for a couple of years, so this year I decided to try them on the road.
The first step was converting the signal from HDMI to SDI so they could handle the long cable run back to our switcher. A Blackmagic Design Mini Converter HDMI to SDI did the work nicely. Blackmagic has discontinued this particular device, but they have a vast assortment of other converters.
The cameras performed great! I think my camera operators were a little thrown by the small size. The only other thing I added was a VariZoom VZRL100 for each camera. The old rental cameras had zoom rockers, and they are essential for any zoom adjustments while the camera is live.
I am impressed with these Canon camcorders. They have been rock solid in the studio, out in the field, and now for a large conference. If your church needs a camera that can be used for multiple purposes, I recommend looking into these. Canon no longer sells the XA20, but there are a lot of great options in the XA and XF series.
#2 iPhone 7 Plus
It is easy to take for granted the powerful tool many of us carry around in our pockets. A central part of our yearly time together is the memorial celebration, where we remember all the pastors and pastor’s spouses that have died in the previous year. As we were setting up in the local church that hosts the service, we realized we didn’t have a presentation background we were thrilled with. I noticed that they were pre-lighting the candles that would be used later in the service, so I handed my iPhone to my friend Shelley who coordinates the worship services. She took some video of the candles. I AirDropped it to my Mac, slowed it down and looped it in Final Cut and made it our presentation background.
Churches often tell me that they don’t have the resources to do creative things. Even if a church isn’t wealthy, it is likely that someone has an iPhone.
#1 Gaff Tape
Seriously, the best plans and equipment will fail without the ability to tape stuff down, up, and together. And, as you can see, gaff tape can even save the day when you find yourself on an ugly bumpy table with no mouse pad.