When we make the investment into going IMAG we are essentially asking our attendees to watch our screens for an 1-1.5 hours every week. Once IMAG is offered about 80% of people are watching IMAG rather than the stage and is thus the main visual communication method from the platform. Because of this I believe that there are 3 things that should not be cheeped out on when investing in an IMAG system.
Projectors: We are a media driven society, HD TV’s are common appliances and people are used to quality when they are watching TV. IMAG is essentially TV at church and people expect the same quality at church as they do at home. Having quality projectors that are sized correctly, bright enough, and display quality images with little to no latency is what people are used to, and they notice if they don’t meet those standards. Ask yourself, have you ever turned the channel because a program didn’t look good on your TV? I know I have and so have your attendees, the difference is they can’t change the channel; they are stuck watching what is going across those projectors. We want people to tune in and lock on to what is being communicated, let’s minimize the distractions.
At one of our campuses at Eagle Brook our projectors went south. We started to get green spots and halos. The projectors stopped holding colors and had to be re-calibrated every time they were fired up. Bottom line, they look horrible. Now this campus was a video venue, half of the service was brought to the congregation on the projectors only. We tried to get them fixed but after cycling the projectors through 3 times in the shop we finally had no choice but to replace them. I am ashamed that we let them go that long and the amount of people that noticed was extremely high. Once we finally replaced them the amount of feedback was overwhelming. My point being we should have done it sooner, people notice and it ultimately makes for a better experience for those attending.
Cameras: Your cameras can be one of your biggest expenses when purchasing IMAG gear, especially if you get multiple camera chains. But it is important to get the right camera for the job, including proper tripod support. Your camera is transmitting all the visual information from stage to your projectors. Video can only look as good as the source it is coming from. Your starting point is so important in holding quality. As the old saying goes, “Crap goes in, crap goes out.” Now those of you that have been following me for a while know that I don’t believe that HD is always necessary. Quality means quality, not resolution. I would also push for studio cameras. More features and control for studio applications can in itself make a huge difference.
When we first opened our main facility we had some Panasonic brick cameras that were using a system that transmitted all the camera control and information down a single BNC cable (not triax). Sounds pretty cool right? Yeah, but… when one of the cameras went down we got a rental camera in. Now the specs on the cameras were pretty much the same only difference was brand and the fact that the rental used CCU cable rather than the multiplexing system. The quality difference that was noticed was almost night and day! So many people noticed that we ended up swapping out the cameras after the campus was open for just over a year.
Lighting: The human eye is very forgiving. I don’t know how many times something looks to be lit well and you point a camera at it and you see all the flaws. I have see great gear used end to end and still a poor looking product on the screens. Lighting is everything! Don’t forget to budget in lights and have a professional come out to make sure that everything is even. For churches that have windows, you may need to invest in blinds in order to control the sunlight coming it from time to time.
A friend of mine is the production manager of a church close by. Every once in a while when I have a weekend off I will stop by to check in. He spent a week giving his lighting system a complete overhaul! He re-positioned every light he had. Some new lights were put in and some of the older ones were retired. He couldn’t believe how much better the cameras and the end product looked after that long week. It was something they wish they had done a long time ago because of how much better it made their end product.
In my opinion those are the 3 things that no system should cheap out on. Spend the money up front. Now some people are thinking of other pieces of gear like production switchers, decks, Character generators and those are all very important pieces of gear. But the key with those pieces of gear is to buy smart. You can buy good products for cheap, or work around some of the flaws for a while. You can also get your self in trouble by going cheap with these pieces of gear, but if you buy smart you can get some great products at great prices. But in my experience there is no way of working around cheap projectors, cameras or lighting rigs. No matter how hard you try they tend to just look bad.