A trend emerged a few years ago, with the advent of the MiniDV format, where lower-cost consumer video tools began to exhibit qualities more in line with their professional siblings. One of the companies I'd founded began exploring the use of consumer equipment at about the same time, for inclusion in AV installation projects. We were pleasantly surprised at what we dubbed the 90/50 rule—getting 90% of the features for 50% of the cost. As a result, I've continued to watch this trend, attending shows January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2007) in Las Vegas and San Francisco's MacWorld 2007.
I'm happy to report that the trend continued to evolve with significant benefits to the houses of worship video market. And while none of the consumer products I saw has all the features of its professional siblings, let's take a few minutes to explore four areas of consumer equipment that might be of interest to your house of worship: cameras, displays, digital signage, and streaming media.
Cameras. Late 2006 saw the advent of the AVCHD format, a new 1080i video format jointly created by Panasonic and Sony that is approximately 25% better than 1080i HDV in terms of recording bit rate (18Mbps vs 1080i HDV's 25Mbps). Sony has been especially aggressive with the AVCHD format, rolling out both 30GB hard-drive and mini-DVD models. At CES2007, Sony upped the ante and put out four additional AVCHD cameras, some with 60GB hard drives. The cameras are the typical HandyCam size, and word on the street is that AVCHD will be supported in upcoming versions of Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro (at this writing, no NLEs will work with the format). Since AVCHD uses H.264 as its primary video compression, this also appears to mean the format can be transferred (like HDV's MPEG-2), without format conversion, to HD DVD or Blu-ray disc. That doesn't mean you can create a playable disc without authoring, although it will when set-top HD DVD/BD recorders come out. Right now, your only practical options for HD DVD and BD authoring/recording are Pinnacle Studio 10.6 and Sonic DVDit Pro HD, which use MPEG-2 only. But AVCHD is just as future-proof for HD DVD/BD authoring as HDV.
Displays. Consumer flat-panel displays continue to trend in two divergent directions: size and pixel rates are rapidly moving up while prices are rapidly moving down. While the 2006 holiday season saw a significant rise in flat-panel sales, the trend in 2007 is to talk consumers (or anyone who wants to have a higher-quality/larger display) into 1080p, what the consumer electronics industry has now dubbed "TrueHD." CES 2007 showed this trend continuing, with the average size of a display creeping up to 46" and some companies showing displays that were well over 100". The trend toward 1080p spilled over into projectors as well, as CES 2007 coincided with numerous press releases regarding home theater projectors that have lumen output capacity equaling that of their corporate AV projector siblings.
Digital Signage. While Macworld 2007's buzz came from the advent of the Apple iPhone, the other product that Steve Jobs showed during his keynote, Apple TV, looks like a potential benefit for the houses of worship market. The device, which will ship after this column goes to print, has a robust version of Apple's Front Row user interface and can be set to sync with iTunes for music, photos, and movies. Like the iPod and iTunes, the Apple TV has digital rights management rules that allow a user to fully synchronize MPEG-4/H.264 movies, photos, and music from one computer to the Apple TV's internal 40GB hard drive, while also streaming content from up to five other PC or Macintosh computers. Given the potential for this product to be purchased by consumers in quantities greater than one—for access to content from multiple displays in the house—it is also likely that the product can be used as a poor man's version of a digital signage system. In other words, it appears—based on preliminary specifications—that a $299 Apple TV device could be attached to each display in a the hallways or meeting rooms in a house of worship's informational system and then synchronized back to a master computer, yielding auto-play slide shows of images, graphics and video clips.
Streaming media. The sleeper consumer product of 2006 had to be the SlingBox, a product created by Bhupen Shah, CTO of Sling Media, that allows users to watch their home TV content anywhere in the world on a laptop or cell phone. The product has been for sale in stores everywhere, and has sold quite well to road warriors or even those who wanted to monitor their home security system when away from home. At CES 2007, though, Sling Media announced a new product that could potentially disrupt the model of traditional CATV distribution networks used in many large houses of worship. Dubbed the SlingCatcher, and set to be released in June, the product is a hardware decoder that connects to a television or flat panel display to view content streaming live from a SlingBox or the internet or stored on a personal computer. SlingCatcher opens up several easy-to-use possibilities: on-demand training programs, internet-based viewing for those who can't attend a weekly worship service, and use of the internet to allow remote presentations by missionaries or others who cannot present in person.
In conclusion, the trend toward a merging of professional and consumer video tools, categorized years ago as prosumer equipment, appears to be accelerating to the point where the consumer side is rapidly catching up with the professional side. Perhaps we're just in a lull of new high-definition formats, prior to the professional move to 2k or 4k equipment. Yet, as the consumer PC industry reversed its role and became the driver for corporate computing power, let's see if 2007 is the year that consumer video tools reach a tipping point that will significantly benefit houses of worship—and the entire event videography market. Tim Siglin, co-founder of Transitions, Inc., is a contributing editor to Streaming Media. He has 18 years of film and video experience and heads a digital media business consultancy in Kingsport, Tennessee.