It’s Time to Upgrade Church Video Systems

featured-future-howLike the sound systems of old, large screen displays have undergone a major change that would benefit churches with lower cost of ownership and far greater visual support. And, also like old sound systems, it’s time for an upgrade. Especially when it will be less expensive and more effective within even the next five years.

It wasn’t too long ago that 2,000- to 3,000-lumen projectors were the most brightness-per-dollar for the majority of churches. Spreading those lumens across hundreds of square feet of screen required black-box rooms and limited to no ambient light for even high contrast text for song lyrics and sermon notes to be viewable around a church auditorium. During the 1990s and early 2000s, projector technology’s steady increase in brightness allowed for more flexibility in content and opened the door to new ways of using projection. We started to see 10,000+ lumens in medium sized churches with the addition of campus venues. For example, the entire church satellite campus movement was made possible because of larger, brighter projection devices and significant improvements in screen technology. Today, the variety of display technologies is at an all-time high, affording churches the ability to fit the right technology into specific applications and venues.

Projection Still Rules

Easily the most ubiquitous display technology in church auditorium is the video projector. Dollar per square foot, this technology has steadily increased in usage and in function for churches of all sizes and denominations. Less than 50 years ago, the adoption of projection was still underway in local churches, often slowed by a reticence to adopt coupled with the expense. But technology marched on at a blistering pace and adoption by churches increased. Fast forward to today, and many of the technological changes have ushered in more manufacturers and, as a result of supply and demand, lower prices. A scant few years ago, it was common to easily spend $2 to $5 per lumen on a projector. Today, depending on the projector, it’s not uncommon to find a projector for as little as $.25 per lumen for smaller devices. Not to be left out, the high-end, 3-chip DLP projectors rated at over 10,000 lumens have dropped considerably in price from $10-$15 per lumen to less than $5 per lumen. Even the screens used for projection have changed dramatically, as evidenced by the popularity of higher-contrast “grey screen” technology.

Though projection may still be the cost-conscious leader, new LED and micro-tile based displays allow for modular screen sizes (and even screen shapes) and boast incredible contrast ratios to overcome ambient light in many situations. And for smaller venues, the opportunity to use newer 100” diagonal (or larger) LED flat-panels provide stunning picture quality with extremely low power consumption and long life spans with no consumable parts (like lamps on projectors). Even the projector game has changed with the advent of LED and Laser light sources.

Right-fitting Displays into Churches

In spite of these developments, placing screens has seemingly been an afterthought in many church projection designs with screens relegated at odd angles and in off-axis positions. Sometimes, these strange screen placements are due to architectural limitations, but often they’re placed far to the sides of the stage as a means of avoiding the bright stage lighting (saving money on the brightness required of the projectors).

Though screen materials have dramatically improved viewing angles over the years, good design rule-of-thumb is to make sure line of sight to the front-center of the platform is considered. For single/center-mounted screens, the vertical placement should be high enough to see the bottom of the screen just above the head of the pastor or worship leader, but not so high as to make the viewer in the audience choose either to look at the screen or the leader on the platform. With dual side screens, bringing the screens in close enough for those to the side to see over the head of the leader without being too far to the side to also keep the viewer from being forced to choose either the screen or the leader. This design consideration often requires mounting side screens at an angle to face those on the opposite side of the room rather than those closest to the screen. Pastors have been known to require their tech arts teams to turn off projection during the sermon so that as the leader looks out to the audience, the attendees are looking at (or at least in his direction) the pastor for full visual engagement.

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Another limitation in projection is the size of the screen. Generally, the height of the screen is determined by measuring the distance from the proposed screen location to the viewer furthest away and dividing by 6. This simple math equation will give the height of the screen. Armed with this data, the width of the screen is automatically determined by the aspect ratio (16:9 is typical). However, even Infocomm has realized that this general rule of thumb needed to be addressed with the advent of higher pixel counts.

Environmental Projection

The concept of projecting onto the ceiling and walls has had a home in a growing number of churches for years. Perhaps the leading expert in the field of environmental projection is Camron Ware of Visual Worshiper. Ware has been finding creative ways to apply environmental projection with fairly inexpensive equipment and using software from Pro Presenter and Pro Video Player. “When [pastors] see imagery that sets the tone for worship, brings scripture verses to life, and visually supports the message, they love it,” declares Ware. “The entire room changes when you can bring visual meaning to the sacred.”


One of the benefits of environmental projection is that almost every surface can be used, making ‘screen position’ for this kind of projection irrelevant. Wrapping the room in imagery and color opens the door to limitless creative possibilities. However, there are trade-offs with environmental projection, namely brightness. For every doubling of the image size, a quadrupling of the brightness is required to maintain the same intensity. In the past, Ware’s solution was (and often still is) to simply reduce the room lighting to accommodate projection without breaking the bank on super-bright projectors. But that, too, is changing, with the increase in both lumen output and exponentially increased contrast ratios.

Re-Engage Churches to Re-Imagine Video

The opportunity to fire up your sales databases and re-engage both old prospects and existing clients is significant. There is no question that display technologies will continue to find new, cost-effective ways into churches; only when and where it will be leveraged by these houses of worship. The calculations of savings per year, reducing the total cost of ownership (power consumption, lamp replacement, etc.), and exponentially increasing the picture quality and perceived brightness will not only appeal to tech leaders, but to pastors who now know what a high quality HD (or better) image looks like in their own living rooms.

While it’s an easy sell, it’s an important part of the overall discussion about upgrading the video system’s ease of use, volunteer training, and signal processing for maximizing their content and output. It’s always a good time to help churches make the most of technology, and this is yet another example of how this vertical market continues to expand their use of A/V/L technology.

From new projection to micro tiles to environmental projection, the opportunities for church video upgrades are impressive. How are you re-engaging your church prospects and clients with upgrade options?