A/V in the Modern Church

For most given the responsibility of running a service each Sunday, there exists little to no formal training in the way of operating the A/V table. For most in fact, it remains a mystery of technological black magic that running properly can make the difference between running a moving emotional service and running a circus. Buckle in this post is gonna be a long one.The problem is that there isn’t any one place to find everything you need to setup a good looking A/V table(at least none that I’ve found yet). So I’d like to break that trend and do it here. This article will be quite a bit longer than usual, however I plan to cover all of the facets of running a Sunday service. This includes everything from music and speaker setup all the way to making cool effects on a presentation.

Audio

I could write about this topic for hours, but I’ll keep the information here condensed and link to more detailed articles for the interested. Audio(as well as Visuals) for a service can be broken up into two categories. Input & Output: what you take in or record and what you playback for the audience to listen. Examples of Input include instruments from a worship team and microphones whether it be a singer or a preacher. Examples of Output include speakers which can play music that the worship team is producing whether it be live or recorded and in most cases the preachers microphone. So lets dive into how you take inputs and play them back.

Output

It’s actually easier to start with output and work our way backwards. The most important part of output is well, the speakers. You can have all the effects and mixers in the world, but the speakers are the last link in the chain of audio that the user will hear. If your speakers are bad, your sound is bad, end of story. So lets start with speakers.

Active VS Passive:

Speakers can be broken into two main categories, powered and passive or active and passive. Powered speakers have their own built in amplifiers while passive speakers require a separate external amplifier. In most cases(with the exception of certain static setups such as a studio) active speakers are preferable.  They don’t require any working knowledge of wattage or electricity to operate safely, simply pass an audio line and out comes your music. However active speakers also tend to be more expensive because of the included amp.

So with that explantation out of the way, that begs the question: what do I buy? The answer is.. it depends. If you are doing music and worship for a house, you’ll be hard pressed to need anything more than 200 Watts. For a large indor venue maybe go up to 750W, and for anything outdoor I wouldn’t use anything less than 1000W.

Pro-Tip: Though this can be applied for most purchases, don’t skimp out on the speakers. You get what you pay for and while things like cables can be skimped out on without a second thought, you should never skimp out on your electronics. Buy from reliable well known brands and be happy when your speakers are still working ten years down the road.

Input

Now that we’ve got speakers out of the way, let’s dig into input. Input is another important component of running a service and includes everything that could come out of a speaker like vocals, instruments, music from an MP3 player, etc…

Mics

Let’s start with mics. The type of mic you will need will also vary depending on application. Running a podcast is different from recording a moving preacher or a live singer. Each benefits from a different type of mic. There are two types of microphone, condensed and dynamic. Most starting out will use dynamic mics as they are inexpensive and versatile. As the needs for better audio and sound grow condenser mics may become appropriate. More importantly for beginners is the direction type. For most beginners a cardioid mic is appropriate this mic pics up sound from the speaking end of the mic. Setups with stage speakers or monitors should use this and avoid bidirectional mics as this kind of setup can lead to a feedback loop which is the cause of the loud high pitch sqeaul that is distinctive of an amateur audio setup. With that in mind, lets move on to the other big part of A/V Inputs.

Instruments

Now usually you don’t get to pick the instruments, your musicians do so you should be prepared to take any kind of input, as many instruments bring in many inputs. The most important thing to know is whether or not they are active or passive. Active instruments typically have batteries in them and they generate their own current, whereas passive instruments and microphones will need some voltage run to them. Most mixers include phantom power to power passive devices so you typically don’t have to worry about providing power.

Which is a great segue into the next section: Mixing.

Mixing & Connections

Most AV setups have a mixer, a device that takes all of the inputs, “mixes” them into a single track and outputs them to a single mono or stereo channel. This is a very important device and is not something to skimp on, name brands only. Let’s take a look at a typical mixer.

This is a common small mixer. There might seem like a lot going on here but it’s not as intimidating as it might seem at first. Note there are two basic features, inputs and outputs. This mixer takes four inputs/lines/channels and mixes them into a single stereo output channel. This mixer has some additional features like the inclusion of a USB port to use with a computer which is handy for digital recording. It also includes a switch for phantom power to power mics and other passive devices. Note the sliders which allow for volume adjustment, the input ‘faders’ as these sliders are known allow you to individually control the volume of each track letting you choose which inputs have more volume or presence than others. The two sliders on the far right are the Master Faders which control the overall volume that is outputted to the output track.

Connections

On the mixer we just looked at there were a plethora of connections but two were more prominent than the others. XLR and Quarter Inch or 1/4″. XLR is commonly used with mics and speakers mainly because of the use of a third physical line to ground the connection, reducing interference. The 1/4″ is an older connector, one that dates back to the invention of the telephone and is the most common port for instruments and monitors like headphones. History aside you won’t be able to avoid using it. For reference the cables look like this.

 

Video

So this is a pretty complex topic, whenever people ask me about what kind of equipment they need to buy their video setup. For a house service, hooking up a laptop to a TV is probably ideal and all you’ll need. But three thousand people in an auditorium? A little more complicated. So lets cover the basics and you’ll get an idea of what you need.

Hardware

For any video setup you’ll need a computer with enough graphics capability to run the setup. By that I mean the computer has to be powerful enough to drive all of the pixels from the presentation software you pick to the monitor/TV/Projector. You’ll also need to pick the output, for most situations a large format TV is better in every way to a projector. There are reasons to use a projector and I’ll get to those but since that is a side issue since the computer doesn’t care what it outputs to but rather the resolution of the image it’s outputting let’s talk about that.

Specs by resolution and workload:

  • Graphics – For 1080p and 1440p resolutions, intel embedded graphics are adequate. If someone tells you something different they are selling something. For 4K and up, you might get by with embedded graphics, but you’ll notice stuttering on animations and transitions. But don’t spend a lot on a dedicated card, get and entry or mid level card. Simply taking the load of the graphics off the CPU does wonders for the system speed.
  • CPU – For 1080p the Intel Core i5 series should serve you well, just make sure you have a recent generation. For anything above that, go ahead and get a core i7. As of the time of this writing intel now sells a core i9, I’ve been asked if this is worth upgrading to. If you have an i7 and see your cpu usage go above 50% during service because of either your workload ie the amount of software going, you will probably benefit from the extra cores, that being said I can’t imagine what you’d be doing to cause that as church service is typically a light workload. Don’t worry AMD fans,  because all AMD chips are now quad core or more, they are great for multitasking so pick based on what you think you’d need.
  • RAM – 8GB minimum, 16GB if you can afford it but no more. It has been systematically proven at the time of this writing that you’d need to be doing something incredibly intensive to use more than 16GB of RAM.
  • Storage – Use and SSD for boot drive, and a hard drive as a large format storage device. If you are picking a laptop, get an SSD model if you can then use an external hard drive for space. Get an SSD if you can, it makes the world of difference in system performance.

Software

There are a multitude of presentation softwares. The most popular in no particular order are OpenLP, ProPresenter, Proclaim, MediaShout, EasyWorship, Praisenter. I’ve used all of them, and my personal favorite is proclaim, but even it has little problems so I recommend you try them all before making any purchase decisions with the exception of OpenLP which is free.

Output Device

TVs are better for small venues because they are cheaper and are often brighter than Projectors. You can get two 50 Full HD inch TVs for the same price as a large format projector at the time of this writing. You can find cheap projectors, however they usually have low brightness and resolution. Unless you have an extremely large venue, it is hilariously cheaper to buy additional televisions than to buy an equivalent projector. If you buy a TV, get a name brand like Sony, LG, Samsung.

If you need a projector because of the venue, then do NOT buy off brands, you WILL regret it.

Connections

Video connections usually go over one of three popular ports. HDMI, DVI, and VGA. TVs often have HDMI, PC monitors use a mix of the three and newer models may use Display Port or USB C/Thunderbolt. Projectors have a mix usualy with a fallback being VGA. Below are what these cables look like.

Most if not all of these cables can be ordered off amazon in various lengths. For most 50-100ft should be enough, however in longer distances, you may need to use a different setup. For long distance video I prefer to use ethernet adapters with HDMI being a popular interface for those kind of adapters.

Conclusions

I hope this document serves as a base from which to do further research into A/V. For most, setting up an A/V will be nothing more than a PA system. But for others hopefully, this will help you make something truly special. Feel free to leave a question or comment below to help improve this article for others!

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