It's no surprise that today's houses of worship are leading the way in multimedia communications. Modern congregations serve an array of people and groups involved in a variety of activities, and static presentations limit their ability to communicate their message effectively. Many forward-looking facilities have turned to digital signage to help them reach out to their congregation and their community.
Whether your venue seats hundreds or thousands, you've probably considered display technology at some point. Digital signage, in particular, holds appeal for worship facilities for various reasons: message delivery is dynamic, modern and can be updated quickly; information can be delivered both inside the venue and to remote locations and homes; and, the technology investment can:
- reduce printing costs and environmental impact.
- Promote volunteer opportunities
- Personalize messages for visitors
- Promote upcoming events with detailed schedules
- Share sermon highlights and hymn lyrics to extend Sunday's theme throughout the week
- Broadcast video clips
- Advertise video, audio and bookstore offerings
- Promote community outreach and partner programs
- Share emergency alerts
- Display weather and traffic information
- Supplement training and education efforts
Why Digital Signage is Effective
Traditional media has limits. No matter how well placed your communications are, some people simply don't receive them or aren't paying attention when they do. Because different people are reached in different ways, digital signage is proving itself to be extremely versatile.
Take, for example, people's learning behaviors. Some people are more inclined to learn from texts, others prefer auditory or visual cues, and experiential learners prefer to interact with the subject matter. Because digital signage can present such a variety of mediatext, graphics, animation, video, event schedules, audio, RSS feeds, news, weather, cable and streaming feedsit helps get information across to all learning types and complements the other communications you might be doing.
Digital signage is also timelier. Not everything can be printed in time, and when up-to-the-minute communications are needed, people look to dynamic sources for instructions. For fast sharing of important announcements, event information, outreach and ministry updates, classes, and community news, digital signage systems have no rivals.
The Technology Behind the Medium
Digital signage is made up of three main components. The first thing people think of is the signs themselves, which can include scrolling message boards, LCD or plasma displays, electronic billboards, projection screens, and even desktop PC monitors. It's also important to understand that digital signage technology has expanded beyond fixed displays to include mobile devices like PDAs, mp3 players and cell phones. When it comes to the displays and devices that deliver messages, new technologies are always emerging.
The second component is the software that allows people, working individually or in groups, to create, revise and control the content shown on those displays. Content management software also generally incorporates routing and scheduling tools. Content creation can involve sophisticated applications such as video editing software or tools as commonplace as PowerPoint. If the device being used has an Internet connection, content can even be created and changed remotely.
The third component is the hardware used to distribute and playback content. This can range from media players distributed throughout a network to stand-alone media appliances or scan converter that allow signals to be distributed over cable television stations. With networked versions, a digital signage network operator pushes content to multiple players at once, or allows players to pull content from a server as needed.
When researching digital signage solutions, you'll find that the bulk of the financial investment is the displays themselves. Choosing from plasma monitors, LCD monitors, televisions, projectors, or video wall displays, will determine the majority of your cost at the initial purchase and over time. As such, you will want to purchase displays that are going to provide you with the most return on your investment.
Your choice of displays will greatly depend on your budget and what type of content you want to broadcast. The displays you choose must support the signal options required to display the different types of media you want to show. Obviously, the size and number of displays will also affect your investment. One option to save money on hardware is to investigate what displays, or "endpoints", that you may already have in your facility. Depending on which content management software you choose, you might deliver to desktop PC monitors or personal devices like phones and PDAs. If you already have televisions, flat-panel plasmas, or LCD displays installed, you should verify the inputs and outputs that they support. In some instances, you may need to purchase additional cables and hardware to support certain types of content, especially in older models.
When considering content management software, the most important things to consider in respect to cost are usability, feature set, and expansion capabilities. It's important that you choose software that is easy to use. Regardless of the technical proficiency of your staff, you want a product that you can begin using right away. The user interface should be intuitive and the product should include some stock graphics, such a backgrounds or templates, to help you create attractive content.
Many content management applications are web-based, so your users can access it from any web browser. This allows multiple groups or ministries to submit their own messages, and provides more freedom for volunteers to work from home. Regardless of whether the software is web-based or native, ensure that the feature-set matches your needs. Verify the type of media files that you can input, how it interacts with third-party software, how flexible the file management and scheduling tools are, and what type of configuration is required to get up and running. Be sure to think about future expansion and make sure the system can be extended or upgraded to meet needs as your congregation grows.
Digital signage hardware and software can be implemented by your own experienced IT staff, or you can rely on a systems integrator to provide end-to-end solutions including equipment purchase, installation, configuration, and maintenance. If you already have the displays, software companies can often provide the rest of the package.
Take advantage of the creation tools included in your content management software. Usually, applications will provide a quick, easy way to choose a background and add text; this is the fastest way to create content. Tools for importing files are critical because they allow you to pull content from event schedule management applications, video and web sources, cable and streaming feeds, and files created in external programs like Flash, PhotoShop, and PowerPoint.
Content management software often allows you to break up the viewing area of the display in different sections or "blocks". This allows you to show multiple content pieces at one time and gives you more options for creativity and impact. You can take advantage of this feature to show still messages such as announcements of the weeks upcoming events in one block, more dynamic content such as multimedia promotions of upcoming special events, and video such as video of the current worship service in progress in another. Most software also includes a ticker option. Vary your content block layouts to keep your audience interested.
For best results, match the resolution of your messages to that of its display area or content block. For example, if you have one content block that is 803 pixels wide by 658 pixels high, then any content created to be displayed in that block should be created using the same pixel dimensions. It is especially important to build content to display or content-block resolutions if you plan to show graphics in 16:9 (widescreen), or 9:16 (portrait) aspect ratios. Delivering standard 4:3 messages in these aspects can result in stretching, bunching or distortion. Saving your design with a minimum resolution of 72 dpi is usually adequate for crisp visibility.
Image retention is a common concern and should be investigated prior to making a display purchase. Video displays, particularly plasma displays, are subject to image retention, also known as burn-in. This occurs when the image on all or a part of the display stays constant for an extended period of time. Displays are affected differently and technology is improving, so there are no absolute conditions that prevent burn-in; however, you can take precautions to minimize the possibility of image retention when displaying digital content.
Never position the same content in the same location on the display for extended periods. (A good example of this would be placing your church logo in the corner of the screen for all messages.) If you are using your display to show multiple content blocks, you should always have an array of messages rotating in each block, and should alter the block layout on a regular basis.
Use a variety of background images and text colors. This is an effective burn-in prevention method and it keeps your audience from getting bored with the same images and colors.
Schedule the shortest amount of time needed to effectively deliver your content pieces. A good rule of thumb for displaying a still image that contains text and graphics is to limit it to 7-15 seconds. If you have a lot of text to display, break it up into several separate pieces so it's easier for your members to read and follow along.
Some displays have tools built in to them to help avoid burn-insee what your displays have available and make sure you're taking advantage of them,
Lastly, get some basic design tips. You don't have to be a trained graphic designer to use these tools, but the better your content looks, the more people will pay attention.