Display Technology Projection or LED


There are a number of variables to consider. Experts suggest doing your homework before you decide on which technology is best for your church—and reaching out to professional, reliable sources for guidance.

Rose Heights Church in Tyler, Texas, has been using two Sony VPL-FHZ-700L laser projectors for the displays flanking its platform. Media Director Ben Watson says that image quality was his highest priority, and the projectors are delivering.

Projection or LED? It’s one of the first questions many churches ask themselves when they’re gearing up for a display technology purchase. And while budgetary restrictions dictate what’s possible at present, there are other variables to take into consideration in order to make an informed and responsible acquisition. The Back-and-forth

Jason McKelvey, LEED AP and consultant at Idibri, a firm of technology designers, theatrical consultants, and acousticians headquartered in Addison, Texas, notes that when specifying display technology for a house of worship, two main factors come into play: the content that the church plans on displaying, and the environment in which the technology will be housed. For example, if the worship center has a lot of windows—and therefore a high level of ambient light—projection may not be bright enough. On the other hand, LED displays are heavy, “so structural considerations have to be [taken into account] if you’re entertaining LED vs. projection,” he explains. There’s also the question of real estate: rear projection takes up space, and if there isn’t enough available and the church has ruled out LED, front projection becomes the go-to solution—but by design, it means that the projector is in front of the screen, up over the audience or in the back of the worship center, which may or may not be a desirable compromise.

McKelvey also notes that projection isn’t necessarily cheaper than LED displays: “Some people say, ‘we can’t afford LED so we’re going to do projection, but we want to do projection well and we have a lot of [unshaded] windows.’ An extremely bright projector to fill a very large screen in a high ambient light environment can have a very high price tag as well,” he illustrates.The nice thing about LED walls is that they can be relatively unobtrusive when not in use. “LED is a black surface, so it disappears when not being used. As opposed to a projector screen, where there’s always the need to project content on it due to it being a large white or grey surface,” says Dustin Hamilton, church relationship manager at Summit Integrated Systems, an AV design and integration firm headquartered in Lafayette, Colo. This comes in handy when a church wishes to prioritize other scenic elements during a production. “They don’t need to constantly put content on the screen.”

Laser Sharp

Laser phosphor projector technology is still relatively new, and therefore many church users haven’t had the time to see if its life expectancy does, indeed, live up to what’s been promised—especially if they’re only using the projector for several hours on weekends. That said, they offer a number of advantages that are attractive to budget-conscious organizations, notes Jared Wells, project manager at Summit Integrated: “Not having to rent a lift to replace lamps, not having to have a lamp replacement budget––and being able to use that budget for other technology they need for their systems––we’re seeing that as the driving force [toward] the choice of laser projection.”Rose Heights Church in Tyler, Texas, has been using two Sony VPL-FHZ-700L laser projectors for the displays flanking its platform; when Church Production spoke with Media Director Ben Watson, he and his team were in the process of adding two more to their lineup. Watson says that image quality was his highest priority, and the projectors are delivering. He also notes that they’re easy to deal with. “I haven’t had to do anything to them—they’re pretty much maintenance-free,” he says.

LED: Content Conundrum

LED modules come in various shapes and sizes, which means that users aren’t necessarily confined to a 16:9 aspect ratio. That said, McKelvey usually recommends that churches adopt 16:9 modules, and therefore create content in 16:9. The reason? Even if the displays in the main worship center—such as IMAG screens flanking the platform—are configured in another aspect ratio, chances are that the displays in overflow rooms, or content that is being streamed to the Internet, are in 16:9. “We have seen some churches do parallel content creation, where they create the content twice,” McKelvey relays. “Producing content for two formats at the same time can be difficult.”

It also complicates things when churches start to grow. The setup at your main campus may work just fine, but what happens when you take over an old supermarket and transform it into a remote location? “A lot of churches want to have the same experience, or a similar experience, at the remote venue as they do at the main campus,” McKelvey says. “But a complex experience at the main campus might be impossible to recreate at the satellite campus because the format of the room doesn’t work, or they can’t put the same size screens in that are used at the main campus.” For this reason, McKelvey advises churches to produce content that is easy to diffuse in remote locations of all shapes and sizes.At the same time, Wells notes that software enhancements have facilitated content creation significantly, allowing users to work in less-common aspect ratios without too much hassle. “It’s easy with Premiere, and other software, for you to tell it: this is where my pixels are, this is the template, and you can drop your video in and play it back,” he explains. “So even though it’s an odd aspect ratio, or even though the pixels might be in different locations, it’s easy nowadays to tell [the software] where the video needs to go and how it needs to look.”

Don’t Forget the Cameras

Resolution is a crucial component of a purchasing decision involving LED displays, especially for churches with broadcast ministries. “A lot of churches will see something cool on television and want to recreate that, and by not understanding how resolutions affect the camera systems, they’ll often buy a lower resolution/higher millimeter pitch wall as a backdrop, and then once they get it installed and they get their camera shots up, moiré starts to affect what the camera shots look like,” McKelvey explains. Moiré is a distortion of the image that can produce a sort of screen door effect, or result in what should be static images starting to dance around. “Using a direct LED wall as a backdrop for your stage looks great for the human eye, but it’s extremely difficult to make that look good on camera. You can do it, but you’ve got to be careful with the resolution. Certain colors will give you more problems than other colors, and it can vary from camera to camera and LED manufacturer to LED manufacturer.”How does a church get around this?

Testing, testing, testing.

“You can get a demo, or rent the exact product that you’re going to use and test it with the cameras at the distance they will be at in your facility,” McKelvey says. “Have your subject stand the exact distance away from the camera and in front of the LED wall that you will use during broadcasts, and test it.” Testing, testing, testingTesting before purchasing is a must for all churches—not just those with broadcast ministries. Chris Kozen, live production director at Valley Creek Church in Flower Mound, Texas, has learned this first-hand: prior to acquiring three Vanguard Rhodium P4 LED walls, he and his team checked out several competing brands in action, and learned that they weren’t a good fit for Valley Creek’s worship center at its main campus. “Another manufacturer that we looked at, when they put a white image on the screen and when we got off horizontal axis, it turned red; when we got off vertical axis, it turned blue,” Kozen recounts. “For us, in a horseshoe seating environment, I can’t have color shift across the whole surface.” He urges churches to request product demonstrations, and assess how the displays work off-axis; whether or not the seams between the modules are too prominent; and, of course, how well the product performs in terms of color shift off-axis.

Be a Brand Snob

At some point, your LED wall will require servicing, and this is where buying for price becomes a real problem. While there are many companies overseas that offer LED modules at a fraction of what they cost in the U.S., they’re not necessarily providing churches with a great deal. “Companies can start up overnight, produce LED panels, and then they can disappear just as quickly and you’re left with nothing to replace your LED modules, or you can’t fix them if they need support,” McKelvey says. “Let’s say you saved $20,000 on your LED wall for your stage, but now you have to buy a whole new one four years later. Well, you really didn’t save that much.”

“The LED world is kind of the Wild, Wild West, [and] it seems like every week there’s somebody else promising to bring some incredible technology to the U.S., and it’s not vetted yet,” says Nick Kofahl, vice president of sales and marketing at Summit Integrated. He encourages churches to do their homework if they’re considering an LED wall purchase, and to reach out to reliable sources for guidance. “We always [recommend working with] an integration firm or a manufacturer that you can trust so that ultimately you’re getting a product that’s really going to serve the church well for years to come.”Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor and a regular contributor to Church Production Magazine.


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