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Significant Video Upgrades Achieved at Oklahoma Church

Expansive upgrades allowed Tulsa church to transition from standard definition, along with adding standalone video room.

TULSA, Okla. – About 17 years ago, Asbury United Methodist Church, had video technology in what was then a new worship space, that more than met their needs.

"The viewing experience online, and in the (worship space), is a night and day difference." - George Schulze

Over time, though, as the church progressively completed upgrades in other areas, much of the video gear originally installed in the space remained largely unchanged.

As described by Asbury’s video director, George Schulze, “We were so far behind in our media, with a (camera) system being fairly old, which was originally in this facility when it first opened in January 2002.” The church’s video switcher had also been aging, he added, with it having only been installed a year or two after the building opened.

With the help of Ford AV senior vice president Bryan Burdick, a longtime member of the church, as well as an AV volunteer, the firm has worked with the church on various audio, video and lighting installation projects over the last two-plus decades. The most recent project, which included Ford AV replacing the dated video switcher and video cameras, resulted in the new system first going live during the week of an open house at the church, on Sept. 29.

Among the various items featured in the install included an expansive selection of Blackmagic Design products, such as three URSA 4k Broadcast Cameras, an ATEM 4 M/E Broadcast Studio 4K production switcher (SWATEMRRW4), along with four Sony PTZ cameras (two SRG-300HPC5 and two SRG-300SE units), three fixed position Marshall CV345 cameras, to go with a series of AJA Video Systems converters.

Schulze noted that originally the video install project was to be completed sometime in August. Despite issues with scheduling conflicts and paperwork before work began, Preston Pinkepank, the church’s audio director noted, “(Ford AV) graciously fit us in for the hardest part, and it only took about four weeks for the technical people on-site.” Burdick explained that the project’s timeline was impacted in part by having “to work around the church’s existing services.” Despite those challenges, no delays or cancellations of services occurred during the project.

As part of the most recent improvements at Asbury - a church which typically runs close to 2,500 attendees across three Sunday morning services - the camera upgrades allowed the church to move away from standard definition, and to create a standalone video room.

Among the items added to the new room are two 65-inch Samsung television screens, each working multiviewer feeds, while two of four 42-inch Samsung screens handle graphics, while the other two are set up for pan/tilt control and a shading station. The station was created featuring a Blackmagic Design ATEM Camera Control Panel (SWPANLCCU4), which handles iris, black level and color control for the three URSA cameras.

With the Blackmagic switcher set up in the room, as described by Pinkepank, one of the benefits is that it can run up to four simultaneous outs. With that capability, the church now has “two simultaneous outs, one for the video room that goes to our projectors, and the second to the livestream, to the web.” In addition, the switcher’s abilities will allow the church to work around, he added, “those times when we can’t get all eight of our volunteers for an event,” allowing one to run PTZs, livestream and graphics from a remote location, if necessary.

In the worship space, the biggest change came courtesy of the Blackmagic Design cameras, paired with Fujifilm MS-01 lenses, providing a much longer zoom reach. As a result, it allowed the main camera positions to be moved from the middle of the room, to the back wall.

Beyond just a stronger zoom, the church now has at its fingertips an array of new angles courtesy of the third URSA camera set up to move around easily, along with the angles captured by the Sony and Marshall cameras, offering action and crowd shots previously not possible before. “With the new lenses, we can technically get closer than we were able to ever before,” added Pinkepank.

As explained by Burdick, with the previous setup camera setup, “if (a congregant was) behind a camera operator, their view would be partially blocked. Now, it is very clean, from what it was,” with the number of cameras for the new system increasing from three, to 10 now in the space with the new configuration.

Despite the new main cameras being significantly further back in the space, for those viewing services online, Pinkepank added that the new zoom capabilities were so improved, that “No one noticed, when we had cameras moved to the back wall, versus being in the middle of the auditorium, having moved them back 60 feet.”

The wiring for the cameras in the space was also upgraded with a great degree of flexibility in mind, as Burdick added, “All the camera runs are fiber, and the pan-tilt devices have HD-SDI connections, where it can be upgraded to 4K in the future.”

In terms of what part of the project was the most challenging, both Pinkepank and Burdick each referenced one particular PTZ camera position, with Burdick stating, “The eye in the sky was a bit of a challenge as there was no conduit (for the wiring), while Pinkepank added, “The most difficult part was with the PTZ camera stationed on our balcony ceiling, a 35-foot ceiling.”

As noted by Schulze, over the month-plus since the upgrades were finished, “It’s been going very well. While there have been some quirks, but overall, the volunteers have really picked up (working with the new gear).”

By Asbury opting to go with Blackmagic Design for a large portion of the gear chosen for this project, Burdick explained that the church was able to go further in meeting their needs, purchasing “products that are cost effective and of excellent quality,” while keeping the overall price down on the project, which amounted to around $200,000.

In describing some of the goals of the completed project, Burdick added, “They wanted the ability to have it in-house to run a switcher, to show the screens in the sanctuary, and another switcher that would show what is being displayed on the internet.”

Prior to the recent upgrades, the video system was run through a single switcher, tasked with displaying the same content, whether one was in the worship space or watching a service online. With the install of ATEM 4 M/E Broadcast Studio 4K in the video room, “The viewing experience online, and in the (worship space), is a night and day difference,” Schulze said. With what the new system is able to achieve, Schulze added, “It’s a cool sight to see if the room is packed, especially during Christmas when we have five services, just getting the angles that we couldn’t get before, as the PTZ cameras can catch all that, including the facial expressions when a parent is lighting a child’s candle.”

For Pinkepank, one of the biggest benefits derived from this latest project, was in Asbury no longer being saddled with an aging, unreliable system that often left one to “reboot after getting the blue screen of death.” Since the new system was first used, he added, “We have not turned it off since it went online, and everything just works. It comes down to that we are no longer worried in the middle of the service (about something suddenly breaking).

Talking further about how things have changed since the upgrade, Pinkepank elaborated, “We wanted you to feel engaged with what is happening on a Sunday (with the updated system). If you go and watch (an archived worship service), before the install, it feels like you could be recording it in a live studio.” The upgrades have resulted in an improved experience, as he added, “Now you can get shots of our audience, where they can now feel like they are part of the community. All while still providing the closeness and the nearness for those who are there.”

While there had been some consideration early in the decision-making process to opt for a less-extensive project, this level of an upgrade was agreed upon, upon accounting for the proper solution to update the pastor’s flipchart software he had been using for years during sermons. “The design of the flipcharts would no longer work with the standard definition system that they previously had. Instead of trying to adapt (the new software, with the old system), it made sense to upgrade,” Burdick added.

In the weeks since the project was completed, those watching online have come away impressed with the noticeable changes. As Schulze explained, “Our online viewing people, which is about 200 - about as much as a small church - they have emailed us to tell us that they enjoy the new angles, the new camera shots … they feel like they are a part of the church more.”

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