If your church heads down the path of becoming more advanced with the use of media, and especially video, you may start hitting the limits of what your presentation software is capable of.
You may want your lighting to be more tightly coupled with video playback; you may want to have layered visual elements without having to actually edit them together into one video file; or if your doing dramatic productions, having very tight control over the synchronization of lighting, sound effects and video playback with what's happening live on stage may be desirable.
Trying to coordinate the fingers of three different techs to start elements simultaneously can be problematic for complex productions.
Enter the Media Server.
They enable the layering of video, much like in a video editing application, all in real-time.
Media Servers can be purchased as a software-only system that you run on your own hardware, or as a complete hardware & software solution so that you aren't having to figure out how to set up your video cards with the software, or how to get a real DMX signal into your computer.
A media server typical has several layers of video available. Each layer can typically be assigned to one or more video output displays.
You can run a background motion graphics clip on the lowest layer, for example, and then use additional layers to add in components on top of this, building up a complex image. Likewise, you can also load audio clips into multiple channels and play those back, mixing the levels on the fly.
Media Servers are typically controlled remotely from another piece of equipmentoften a lighting console. The media server is set up on the lighting console as if it were a group of lighting fixtures. There's a "Master" fixture that controls the overall output and function of the server, and then there are "Layer" fixtures that control what media is loaded into each layer, it's opacity, volume level, color correction, rotation, scaling, etc And as these all show up as if they are lighting fixtures, they can be programmed into your lighting cues.
This enables audio and video playback to be tightly coordinated with your lighting changes, and in the case of plays and other dramatic productions, enables complex, coordinated transitions.
So now that you know what a media server is, next time we'll discuss in more detail how and why you would use one.