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Projection and Worship Imagery: Guide to Projectors

Projection and Worship Imagery: Guide to Projectors

The gear that magically outputs light to form a beautiful images can be a complex piece of equipment to understand. Here are basics to help navigate the emerging types of projectors available on today's market.

From movie theaters to churches, and seemingly everywhere in between, is a projector.

For churches, projectors can be used to display readings, announcements or lyrics, among other ways to help their congregation follow along. The little contraption that magically outputs light to form a beautiful image on a myriad of surfaces can be a complex piece of technology to understand.

But don't let the mystery of their model numbers confuse you. In the end, projectors are beautiful instruments that have a very specific place in our technological world!

Projection Technology

First, let's examine the various projection technologies available that is, how a projector actually creates an image. There are pros and cons to each of the following three primary projection technologies for a house of worship, and I'll do my best to break down each technology that is the backbone to their operation.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display):

These are the most popular and often the most cost effective projectors. The church I attended for 10 years in the Nashville area more than a decade ago was looking to purchase a projector to create a large digital backdrop for their set design. Since budget was the single greatest concern, they opted then for a 10,000 lumen LCD projector, the Christie LX120. After 10 years of use, the church recently updated that projector to a three-chip DLP unit, purchasing the Christie Roadster S+16K. LCD technology uses three crystal panels, (known as "chips") which give this technology its name, creating an image out of these liquid display panels.

As the images are processed, the projector allows various amounts of light through these panels. One panel is specifically for green light, another for blue light, and finally the third for red light, combined to be described as producing "RGB" colors. By allowing light variations to pass through these different pieces of glass, the projector is able to create the image we want, to be seen by the congregation. The simplest way to explain a projector's LCD technology is this: Light passes through a chip in order to project an image.

DLP (Digital Light Projection):

This technology actually has a circus going on inside of it. Not really, but there is a light source (just like LCD has) aimed at a wall of a chip made up of up to 2 million micro mirrors that reflect light.  To create white, the mirrors move to allow light to pass through. To create black, they move to reflect light away from the lens. All this movement produces a black and white image. (It's like a disco ball).

To create color, a wheel of colored glass in front of the light source changes color as needed, before it passes into the mirrors. Put simply, DLP technology is light reflecting on a mirror, in order to project an image. At an event in Nashville, a three-chip DLP Barco 20k Flex projector was used in conjunction with a pair of Christie LHD700 LCD projectors. The Christie projectors were on smaller rear projected screens, approximately a third of the size of the larger screen being used by the Barco.

In theory, the images should have been roughly the same brightness, with a likely scenario where the 7k would appear brighter than the 20k, because of the rear projection, versus the front-projected Barco. The result was stunning, though, when comparing the contrast ratio, clarity of image and overall "pop" of the DLP projector, the Barco was the obvious winner in terms of performance.

Laser Projection:

This is the newest form of projection technology, and only a limited number of companies are manufacturing them. Due to their out-of-the-box expense, laser projectors are still fairly rare compared to the overall availability of all types of projectors on the market.

In essence this technology uses a laser instead of using a lamp to create the light, and allows the lasers to be focused into the lens, thus creating a stunningly bright and crisp image. My head of live events at Orange Thread Media has worked with a Christie Captiva D400S laser ultra-short throw projector, for example, and it proved to be a solid performer compared to an LCD projector, the Hitachi CP-A352WN but one must take into account that it runs about three times more expensive while being drastically brighter, offering an impressive contrast ratio and operating in a nearly silent state.


Second, we need to talk about brightness. Projector brightness is measured in lumens (technically "ANSI lumens"). However, not all projectors with 3,000 lumens are identical, but the number of lumens should give you a rough benchmark on brightness. Simply put, the more "lumens" a projector has, the brighter a projector is.

Therefore, a 5,000 lumen projector is going to be significantly brighter than a 3,000 lumen projector. Projectors on the market range from 1,000 lumens to 40,000 lumens. Most medium body (or medium sized) projectors run from 3,000 to 10,000 lumens, and will fit most worship environments. The brands for projectors in this range most often considered by churches include Hitachi, Panasonic or Sanyo.

Most recently, I helped a church in Indianapolis who was using four Panasonic PT-DX610 projectors to create an ultra-wide projected image. The projectors they were using in the space were only 6,500 lumens each, and they were plenty bright enough for the space they were installed in. As you process projection needs, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Ambient light.
Ambient light is the amount of unintentional light in the room. This would include a reflection of light from your stage (if you're unable to control it), natural light coming through the space's windows, or spillover light from an adjacent lobby or other room. In general, ambient light is noncontrolled light, and it can be expensive to overcome!

2. House lights.
Do you have lights over your congregation? If so, make sure you can dim them or turn them off. Furthermore, how controlled are the spread of those lights? If they're more like directional lights, then projection may not be affected, but if they're flood lights, it could cause more ambient light issues.

3. Size of image.
The bigger your projected image, the brighter projector you will need. You need to achieve a standard brightness per square inch. Therefore, there should be a direct correlation to square footage and ANSI lumens.

4. Front or rear projection.
We don't think about this, but rear projection is looking at light that's coming at you. Front projection is looking at light that's being reflected. Therefore, in a vacuum environment, rear projection will always appear brighter. But it always is affected by the other light contributors.

Lens Shift and Keystone

Lens shift is the ability to "shift" the image up, down, left or right. In 99.9 percent of projection, lens shifting does not affect the brightness or quality of an image coming out of a projector. However keystone is an entirely different issue. Have you ever had an image that looks like a trapezoid instead of a square?

That happens when the projector isn't perpendicular to the screen surface. When your projection is off angle, the shape is no longer a square. Keystone correction is the process that turns the trapezoid into the correct aspect ratio and shape of your image. Most projectors include keystone correction, but keep in mind that this will degrade your quality and ultimately lower brightness in some capacity.

In the best situations to maximize brightness, avoid keystone at all cost by aligning the projector perfectly perpendicular to the screen surface. In addition, by doing the keystone and shifting inside the projector, it will not affect latency, which could result in delays such as seeing the pastor gesturing on the stage, only to see it moments later on the projection screens.

The Lens

Finally, when looking at projection technology, consider the lens options, particularly these three types of lenses:

1. Ultra-short throw lenses.
These are almost like semispherical lenses that look like a bent sheet of glass or mirror to achieve ultra-wide angles from a projector.

2. Fixed Variable Lenses.
These are going to be your lower cost projectors, where the lens is part of the design of the unit, and cannot be removed.

3. Variable/Interchangeable Lenses.
These are most common in your professional grade projectors and provide complete control over how large of an image you can project. The projector lens allows you to get the desired projection image size you need. Every lens will have a ratio to the number one. This factors the ability for a single lens to zoom in or out. If the ratio is not a variable ratio, then it's a fixed lens (example 1.0-2.0:1 is a zoom lens and a 1.2:1 is a fixed lens).

For ultra-short throw lens, Hitachi is by many considered a leader in the area of small projectors, but Panasonic recently introduced the ET-DLE030, which is an interchangeable ultra-short throw lens designed for their large body projectors capable of projecting a 100-inch screen from 5.57 feet away. As a rule of thumb, the majority of smaller body projectors without interchangeable lenses include a 1.8-2.6:1 lens (but always investigate this before purchasing).

Keep this in mind when you are doing your calculations. Without the right lens, you may be shooting too big of an image (and losing brightness and pixel clarity), or you may not fill the desired screen size.

Here's the magic projector lens formula: LENS = THROW DISTANCE ÷ PROJECTION WIDTH

Let's break this down. In order to find the exact lens required, you need two measurements: throw distance (from the front of the lens to the projection surface) and width (the width of your projection surface). In some cases, this formula doesn't work exactly (i.e., unique size chips and nonnative resolutions). The most common situation, in which this formula isn't exact, is when a projection surface's height is greater than its width.

There are a number of great iOS and Android apps, such as Projector and Lens Calculator, by PROLUXON (available on iOS), that make this process simpler. One thing to keep in mind, whether you're doing the math old school or with a lens calculation app, is that the aspect ratio is native to your projector. If you do the lens calculation for a projector that is native to 16:9 aspect ratio and you want to show a 4:3 image, your math needs to be completed using the least common denominator of the 16:9 ratio.

For example, if you want a 4:3 image that is 16-feet wide by 12-feet tall on a projector with a native 16:9 aspect ratio, you will need to do your math based on a 21-foot wide by 12-foot wide image. This is because the projector's internal image-processing chip can't add pixels to the top and bottom of the projected image. In order to get a 4:3 image out of a chip working with a 16:9 aspect ratio, realize that some pixels on either side of the image will not be used.

Overlooking this detail has resulted in numerous miscalculated projection lenses over the years, and I'm hoping you can learn from those mistakes. In the end, there's never a one-size-fits-all approach to projection technology, but I hope that this guide has helped to simplify the mystery behind choosing the right projector for your application.

There may be times your church can save by getting an LCD projector, and other times you need laser. There may be times you can save by using a fixed variable lens and other times you may want to purchase that locked in interchangeable lens. Regardless, knowledge of the tool will always maximize your impact with the art.

Luke McElroy is the founder of Orange Thread Media, the parent company to TripleWide Media, SALT Conferences and Orange Thread LIVE. He is the author of The Wide Guide: Blueprint for the Multiscreen Movement. Through his leadership, Orange Thread's work has been seen around the world with well known brands including American Idol, Blake Shelton, Bill Engvall and hundreds of churches every week through the stock media their team has created. Luke was named one of the top innovators in the church by Worship Leader Magazine in 2013 and made the Impact 100 "List of Entrepreneurs to Watch Under 30." He currently lives in Nashville, Tenn.

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