Which emerging technologies are best suited for church use, and why? A down-to-details look.
Over the past several decades most churches have relied on lamp-based projection technology in their sanctuaries. While these systems have allowed ministries to make significant steps forward in fulfilling their mission of connecting with people far from God, they’ve also created unique challenges, especially in the areas of worship space design and system maintenance.
One such challenge was the way auditoriums needed to be designed or retrofitted to accommodate projector and screen placement. These challenges were further exacerbated by the relatively short life of the lamps powering these projectors.
'Laser phosphor has a startup time of only 5-7 seconds. Compare that to a lamp-based projector, which has a typical 5-minute startup time before the projection image reaches full brightness."
—Nick Dressler Sales Manager, Clearwing Systems Integration, Milwaukee, WI.
“Typically, no one wants to see the projector; they just want to see the image, which has made for some very awkward installations,” says Chuck Collins, vice president of sales at Digital Projection Inc. in Kennesaw, Ga., a leading designer and manufacturer of DLP projectors. “This often required moving chairs to accommodate a lift in order to replace the lamp. It eventually became such a pain that people would just settle for sub-standard images rather than deal with the hassle of replacing lamps.”
Another issue presented by lamp-based projection systems has been the challenge of balancing the limited brightness of these projectors with ambient light from windows and stage lighting. While larger projectors could produce lumen levels adequate to compete with these ambient light sources, the quality improvements were offset by the project’s immense size and cost, as well as the noise produced by their cooling fans. Emerging Technologies
Fortunately, advances in projection technologies are alleviating many of these issues. One such emerging technology is laser phosphor projection, which offers a number of advantages over older lamp-based systems. In addition to its impressive brightness, one of the main advantages of laser projection is the extraordinary lamp life of these projectors, which can extend anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 hours of usage.
“We’re at the infancy of laser phosphor projection,” explains Nick Dressler, national sales manager for Clearwing Systems Integration, a Milwaukee-based company specializing in live production, systems integration, box sales and distribution. “For most churches 30,000-40,000 lamp hours translates into about 10-15 years of use.”
Another significant advantage of laser phosphor systems is the fact that the technology responds almost instantly. “Laser phosphor has a startup time of only 5-7 seconds,” continues Dressler. “Compare that to a lamp-based projector, which has a typical 5-minute startup time before the projection image reaches full brightness. With the laser projector you’re usually waiting on the computer inside more than the projector lamp itself.”
A third advantage of laser projection systems is the fact that they can be mounted in ways that are less obtrusive and more creative. “Laser projectors can be mounted in any orientation, rather than having to be level,” says Collins. “They also throw off less heat, which converts to less draw on AC units, ultimately translating to an overall energy savings.” LED Panel Arrays
One of the most impressive technologies in the field today is LED panel technology, which has been steadily dropping in price. These savings have reached the point where many churches are considering it for new installations and system upgrades. While the upfront costs still remain a bit higher than other projections systems, the advantages of LED include dramatically improved brightness and installation footprints.
For Elevation Church, based in Charlotte, NC, the decision to utilize LED for their new Ballantyne campus came as something of a surprise. “Our first considerations centered mostly around cost, which initially led us towards projection,” shares Brian Poole, director of live production technology at Elevation Church. “But looking at the long-term maintenance considerations, as well as overall impact, led us to select LED instead of regular projection systems.”
Another advantage of LED is the fact that cooling system noise from projectors in the seating area is completely eliminated. This is a significant issue for churches that are capturing video for other streaming or broadcast purposes. “To get a projector with the brightness we wanted we knew the noise from the projectors would be a factor,” says Poole. “The Ballantyne Campus is our broadcast campus, so audio was a huge consideration.”
“We were concerned that the screen size wouldn’t be big enough when we went with LED,” Poole adds. “We quickly found that the brightness and intensity made up for the difference in size.” Installation Considerations
While both Laser Phosphor and LED projection systems offer significant advantages over older technologies, each system has unique requirements that will need to be carefully considered in the design phases. “When it comes to nearly any environment, it is always best to place any type of projector in a rear screen installation, as you’re pushing light out into the room, rather than bouncing light back,” states Collins. “You’ll also want to plan for a specialized rear-projection screen, which costs a bit more, but is far less susceptible to ambient light bleed”
Another consideration with laser phosphor systems is the need to very occasionally access the projectors for maintenance. “While laser phosphor projectors definitely run cooler and quieter [than lamp-based projectors], it’s still important to clean the filters,” suggests Dressler. “And if you run haze in your auditorium you’ll also need to clean the projector’s optical path.”
On the LED side, panel arrays have unique infrastructure requirements that differ greatly from more traditional projector-and-screen systems. “Churches definitely need to consider the implications on their facility when it comes to power and weight requirements,” states Poole. “They also need to make sure they consider heat requirements. You have to have calculation for the heat from 100 panels or so, as well as considering how that will affect circuitry.”
Poole continues, “The maintenance has actually proved to be less when you think about cleaning lamps, cleaning filters, replacing lamps. We found most of the problems within the first couple of days, and it’s been pretty easy going ever since.”
Keeping those advantages in mind, most LED projection system experts recommend working closely with panel manufactures to ensure that your system will operate seamlessly over the course of its lifespan. One solution for future-proofing could include purchasing a few additional panels that can be utilized as replacements later on, ensuring easy color and luminance matching with existing panels. Next Steps
As system designers evaluate various projection technologies, perhaps the most important aspect to take into account will be the specific needs of the individual auditorium or sanctuary the system is being created for. For some rooms ambient light will be a major factor in the aesthetics of the environment. In these environments LED projection may prove to be the right choice. Laser phosphor could be the best option for churches seeking more flexibility and creativity in how projection is utilized.
No matter which system you ultimately choose to help your church client employ, with careful research and planning, churches today are more likely than ever to deliver high-quality, dynamic imagery for their worship environments for months and years to come.