Front projection? Rear projection? How many lumens? High definition (HD) or standard definition screen resolutions? If you're going with flat panels, should you choose plasma or Liquid Crystal Display (LCD)? And how much do you really need to spend?
Purchasing projection and display equipment for your sanctuary can be complicated. You don't want to pay too much and get more than your church needs, wasting money and allowing the technology to overshadow the message, nor do you want to skimp, resulting in dim, washed-out images or line-of-sight issues.
A Contractor's View on Projectors
"A lot of churches buy a projector and it's not bright enough because it doesn't provide enough lumens for the room," says Tim Hill, president of Holden, Louisiana-based Sound Hill Technologies, an audio, video, lighting, and multimedia company. Lumens are simply a measure of total light output, or the amount of light falling on a surface measuring one square foot.
Hill advises hiring a professional to help you select and design your display systems or, if your staff is completing the installation, using a light meter to make sure you get the projector you need. A 2,000-lumen projector is only a bargain if it provides the brightness you need for the space. If budget forces you to purchase a projector with less lumens, you may be able to decrease the ambient light in the room with curtains, blinds, or other shading, but that solution can only go so far before it's hard for congregation members to see, which detracts from the worship experience.
Churches may also save money by relying on a professional to design and spec the system, but completing the installation in-house.
As a general rule, rear projection systems are more forgiving in high-ambient light situations, but they can cost more. Unless your facility is undergoing complete renovation or new construction, it may be challenging to find space for rear projection systems, which need to be mounted behind the screens, possibly requiring the removal of sheetrock, insulation, and even beams before installation.
More Factors to Consider
Whatever style projector you select, your ultimate decision comes down to several factors: quality, service and support, upfront costs, and total cost of operation. The green factor, which goes hand-in-hand with a lower cost of operation, is also a growing concern in today's churches.
Gary Fuller, vice president of projector manufacturer Christie Digital Systems USA in Cypress, California, puts a spiritual slant on the topic. "The devil is in the details," he says. "He's going to try to prevent God's work from being done, and one of the best ways he can do this is through technical difficulties with the audiovisual (A/V) system."
That's why Fuller points to service after the sale, a cornerstone of Christie's company philosophy, as one of the primary factors to consider before making a purchase. Whether you receive that service from an A/V installer you trust or from the manufacturer, make sure someone can help you on Saturday night if your equipment breaks or if you need a replacement part for Sunday morning services. Is phone support available within two hours? Can loaner equipment be delivered quickly in a pinch?
When considering costs, manufacturers and A/V professionals alike advise decision-makers to consider not just the upfront price, but the long-term cost of operation. Dan Meehan, systems integration sales manager for Panasonic Projector Solutions, Secaucus, New Jersey, lists some of the costs involved: "Electricity, replacement bulbs, air filters, maintenance requirements relative to air filter maintenance, hired labor. All of these associated expenses factor into the total cost of ownership."
Check prices and availability of bulbs and air filters, as well as the life of the bulbs, before making a decision. Meehan points out that projectors in Panasonic's new D Series line come equipped with the Auto Cleaning Robot, an automatic filter cleaning system that permits 2,000 hours of use with no filter maintenance.
A Brighter Shade of Green
Eco-friendly projection solutions also help defray the total costs of operation; what's good for the environment is usually good for your wallet. Fuller mentions that Christie models feature timers that automatically power down the projector if it does not detect a source signal after a pre-set amount of time. The new M Series line of projectors, which boasts a number of green features, has an eco-mode that allows users to run only one of the dual lamps. The filter-free, dust-sealed engine design means one less part to replace, which reduces operating costs and landfill waste. The 9,500 ANSI lumens model operates on 120 volts, drawing a maximum of 1,320 watts of power.
Fuller says the M Series comes packaged in 100% recyclable materials. The projectors are designed to be easy to disassemble, and each part contains recycling markings to ensure that they're easy to recycle.
Panasonic's newest D Series models, too, cut operating costs with energy-efficient enhancements. The company's UHM lamps, proprietary technology, have an average life ranging from 2,000-5,000 hours and operate at a low 300 watts. The PT-D10000U, along with the new PT-DZ120000U, both operate at 120 volts, increasing energy efficiency and reducing electricity usage. Consider the lumens per watt output of the projector in order to conserve natural resources and lower your operating costs.
HD or Not?
Energy efficiency is just one trend in today's projector market. Another question on many people's minds is the jump to high-definition, wide-screen format vs. standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio). Fuller says the market as a whole is still struggling with the decision.
"Computer display resolutions have historically driven the rest of projection resolutions. But now kids see widescreen at home and expect to see widescreen wherever they go," he says.
At the high end, Fuller says his company sells nearly twice as many widescreen projectors vs. 4:3 aspect ratio, but mid-sized churches are blending 4:3 projectors by means of a window image compositing system such as the Vista Spyder offered by Christie, to create a larger image, offering the widescreen image without making the full switch to HD.
Meehan observes, "There's a tremendous push to move to full HD or 1080p wide format." He urges even smaller churches to consider a projector that is at least 720p high definition as the best long-term investment. "The projector industry is going to push wide format to a 16x10 aspect ratio," he says, "following the suit of laptops and desktop LCD monitors. It improves the compatibility of the projector to the input source, so you can display in either 16x10 or 16x9 in native mode. The projector is a provide-all solution."
Keep in mind the need for peripherals, too, such as scalers and cabling. HD/SDI (Serial Digital Interface) cabling permits the transmission of HD signals across campus without added amplifiers.
If you're receiving images from several sources of different native resolutions, you may need a scaler. Larry Martin, systems design engineer for Sound Hill Technologies, says, "We get a lot of service calls where the client is sending two signals, such as from a PC and DVD, and the picture is full-screen from the laptop but too large from the DVD. If the projector or monitor is not scalable, you need an external scaler."
In the case of many professional LCDs and plasmas, you can specify a Digital Visual Interface (DVI), composite, or red-green-blue (RGB) board from a manufacturer such as Extron, for full compatibility with your switchers and scalers.
LCDs and Plasmas
Many considerations, from the cost of replacement parts to service after the sale, are the same for flat-screen monitors, and, in fact, across the board for most audiovisual equipment.
Martin shares some of the differences between LCDs and plasma screens. "If you're using a monitor for fine print, such as song lyrics or digital signage announcements, the plasma will provide a better picture quality," he says.
Additionally, plasmas may be better for meeting line-of-sight challenges in an installation. "If you're sitting off to the side of some LCDs, the picture may be too dark. You'll lose clarity," Martin says. "Because of the plasma display's thick concave glass, you get a clear picture wherever you're sitting."
This drives home another important point about relying on a professional to place your display systems in the right spots. "Video systems should enhance the worship, not pull the focus away from the pulpit," Hill says. "Wherever the congregation members sit, if their eyes are on the screen, they should have the pulpit in their peripheral vision."
Larger churches may consider what Hill calls "delay screens:" hanging plasmas or LCDs that help those in the back seats see the images.
"It's easy to buy display equipment," Hill says. "The trick is using it to create a good worship environment for everybody. My favorite saying is, no cheap seats.' Everybody in the building should have the same worship experience."