An examination of new technologies and contexts that will impact church display specification in 2018.
On January 9, 2007, the late Steve Jobs, then CEO of Apple, stepped on stage at the Macworld convention. Dressed in his standard set of black turtleneck, light jeans, and white sneakers, Jobs introduced the iPhone, a landmark device that would forever change how consumers interacted with the world.
It wasn’t just the fact that people now had a telephone, Internet browser, and camera in their hands. The iPhone instantly put a high definition display in front of eyes across the globe. The standard had been changed and expectations throttled into another dimension.
Rather than being an afterthought, video displays constitute a full, homogeneous extension of the entire aesthetic and production environment.
What does the iPhone—and subsequently other smartphone and tablet devices that followed—have to do with the house of worship video world? They changed the expectations of video content and display technology. An area that, for churches especially, has become more of a priority over the past decade.
While audio and lighting often dominate both the discussion and exposure within tech circles, video display technology occupies a space equally if not more important to most houses of worship across America and abroad. The dependence churches place on transmitting content—from lyrics, to video, backgrounds, supporting slides, and much more—has grown exponentially over the years. Rather than being an afterthought, video displays constitute a full, homogeneous extension of the entire aesthetic and production environment.
Here, Church Designer takes a broad look at video display technology, diving into the challenges, solutions, and future technologies in this ever-changing landscape. For production directors, integrators, and designers, staying at the forefront of these changes is paramount to serving the needs of both content and audience.
Photos of Church of the Highlands - Grants Mill Campus, Birmingham, AL, provided by Clark.
For baby boomers and those who came before, the church going experience was often traditional. Singing from hymnals or praise books was the norm. Basic lyrics might have been projected on a wall or stage screen but that was pushing the limits.
As technology began to evolve in consumer electronics, media integration into church services began to follow suit. Millennials and Generation Z—often categorized as those born in the mid-1980s and onward—have grown up in a far more visual society. This was one cause for church services to push forward in creating environments that were visually engaging, far beyond what many ever expected.
An interesting facet of this resides in how even the most traditional of churches are seeing the need to incorporate visual elements into the services and environment as a whole. We often equate video display technology with the most progressive, contemporary churches, yet the crossover is continually shifting.
With church leaders, production designers, and integrators working with a highly charged video society, how are these challenges, from traditional worship spaces to the most modern venues, being handled?Environment and Projection
The time has come for a church to upgrade or install new video display equipment into its venue, yet the discussion can often catapult towards gear, fancy gadgets, and unfounded wish-lists of that “thing” we saw at a tradeshow or in an advertisement. While enthusiasm is important, understanding the environmental challenges is the first step.
“There are basic guidelines I use when choosing displays for an environment: Is the display bright enough, creating vivid colors and eye-catching contrast? Is it large enough that someone in the last row can read every word of content? And, will this investment last a long time?” says Paul Green, creative director at Clark, an audio visual integrator and design firm with offices in Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
Understanding the environment and problems to be solved always dictates the technology road one will travel. The solution for one situation might not be the right choice for another. But understanding the advantages of and limitations with display technology always remains crucial.
Green says that while projectors have been commonplace for years, some designers may not take into account the long-term cost of ownership, which can be pricey. “Large-format projectors can cost thousands of dollars every lamp change,” Green reports. Because of that, the newest technology with traditional projectors features laser engines. These provide an almost life-long source that does not add additional expense into a year-to-year budget, and the light source stays consistent with age.
The benefit of projectors is that they produce a high definition image regardless of screen size. The color and detail are extremely accurate and a screen can be installed to roll up and down if needed, improving the aesthetic of a church’s environment if a screen is being used selectively.
Downsides to projection include both the screen behavior and yearly cost. Being a white or grey projection surface, a large screen is highly reflective for other sources such as stage lighting. Traditional lamp projectors fade in image quality over time as the lamp deteriorates. While these traditional systems will always have a place, for large church auditorium environments, laser engine projectors appear to be trending track towards long-term quality and integration.The case for LED
Once a million-dollar investment, LED walls have become not only more affordable but more advanced in resolution and reliability. The modular nature of LED walls—being that they are made up of smaller panels pieced together for a given dimension—allows screens to be tailored to any environment and size, even non-rectangular shapes.
Since LED walls are natively black, the contrast of images stays consistent regardless of ambient light. “LED walls are amazing displays [that are] great for bright environments,” Green notes. “As the technology develops, we’re seeing higher resolution options at increasingly lower price points.” Another selling point is that the brightness and lifespan of LED images will cut through all other stage and ambient lighting, creating vibrant images in any space.
Recently, Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., had two LED screens installed in its sanctuary. After an audio system upgrade, the new speaker arrays caused sightline issues with the church’s existing screens. In addition, large amounts of ambient light fill the auditorium from windows along the sides of the venue. Rather than continue their fight with the existing architecture, the church turned to an LED-based screen solution flanking each side of the stage. With the church installing a 2.5mm pitch resolution, the screen image is crisp and clear across any sightline or angle.
The improvements in LED pixel pitch—the distance from the center of one LED cluster to its neighboring cluster—have in turn provided higher resolution and viewing capacity over the years. This, along with the considerable life span of LED light sources, can provide both financial and artistic improvements in the long run.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.
As technology within the video display world continues on an upward climb, so too are the potential ways it can be incorporated into house of worship designs. Green reports being especially excited about real-time motion tracking technology and blending LED displays into stage design. “Imagine a lobby wall that ‘notices’ a guest walk by and comes alive with beautiful artwork or engaging information about [a] church or the worship center stage that is completely interactive as a presenter moves through their message,” Green says.
While many of the cutting edge breakthroughs in video display technology might be years away from most house of worship applications, understanding the long-term benefits and design capabilities will help push your production and integration into new territory with pleasing results.