Amen Corner: Rich Media Recording
Posted Nov 29, 2007

While amost every house of worship has audio recording capabilities and many have added video recording equipment, a growing number of churches are looking for ways to capture audio and video, and then project that content onto large screens. For those seeking to combine all those elements into a recording for archiving or streaming, this column will describe rich media recording (which may also include text and graphics) and how to integrate it into your worship program.

Rich media recording devices typically come in three flavors: a breakout box that connects to a laptop; a self-contained device that includes a CPU, card slots, and flat-panel display; or a server configuration that is rackmountable. The type of form factor used determines placement of the device. In the laptop breakout box version, the device typically sits close to the minister or presenter, with audio and video cabling running from the control area back to the rich media recording device to capture mixed-down audio and switched (or single-camera raw) video. In the self-contained flat-panel display version, the device is bulky enough that it typically sits in the control room, which is best suited for connecting audio and video signals. For this configuration, you may also need to run VGA cable from the laptop the presenter uses back to the control room. The server version has the same issue and will typically end up in the control room.

On most of the major devices, you can set up a rich media recording to automatically begin and end a recording session at pre-set times. This feature is helpful for consistent recordings, but many of these systems also have a web or remote control that allows you to access the recording settings remotely from any web browser so that the device can begin recording immediately. With the server-based version, you can use a KVM switch or rackmounted keyboard, monitor, and mouse, but this setup often requires that someone in the control room turn away from the worship service to start up a recording. If another computer is handy, use the web-based remote access to start and stop recordings and to upload content to a web server for streaming at a later date.

Most rich media recording devices have a standard set of video and audio inputs. Devices based on a standard-definition capture card like the Osprey 210 have a dongle with composite, S-video, and balanced and unbalanced audio inputs. You can perform simple audio mixing with this card, record the resulting mixed audio within the device, and output it to an external audio recording or amplification device.

Recording the computer's text or graphic output via the VGA connection (or DVI on some newer devices) requires a bit more planning because the rich media recording device typically has only one VGA or DVI input. If you want to record the signal and send it to large projection screens, you’ll need to split either the output signal of the laptop or the desktop that is being captured prior to sending it to the recording device. If a laptop is generating text and graphics from the pulpit but the service is being recorded in the control room, split the signal at the source and then connect each output to a product such as Extron’s UTP, which converts the VGA signal from a DB-15 connector to four unshielded twisted pairs that also include audio from the laptop. Though these devices can run a VGA signal over Cat5e cabling about 300 feet, keep the distance below that level to avoid signal degradation.

For those who are using a laptop or desktop in the control room to send the graphics to large projection displays and also have the rich media recording device in the control room, the easiest way to add a second display output is through a VGA or DVI splitter from Extron or Gefen. A recently announced Gefen USB-to-DVI Graphics Adapter product allows any USB 2.0 port to simultaneously output a second DVI or VGA signal across a DVI-I connector, which outputs both analog VGA and digital DVI signals at screen resolutions of up to 1600x1200 (the product, however, currently only supports 32-bit versions of Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 2000). The company also claims it can use up to six of these USB 2.0 devices on any one machine, just in case you absolutely have to have that many recordings or displays running simultaneously. The final output of a rich media recording device can be done in both an archival and a streaming format. Some devices also allow for real-time streaming, with the video and audio inputs recorded at acceptable quality, while the VGA or DVI signal is captured one to five times per second in the form of a screen grab (snapshot of the laptop or desktop screen that you are recording). Archival formats can be done in high-quality WindowsMedia, QuickTime, and Real—depending on the device—and streaming formats are typically WindowsMedia, although a few devices with H.264 streaming are beginning to appear.

Finally, when planning rich media recording for your house of worship, consider that the person viewing the content sees a 3-pane display: video in a small window; the VGA screen capture in a larger window; and text (announcements, polling, chat, etc.) in a small window. The viewer watches via a web browser and typically can manipulate the size of the various windows, within reason. Think about ways your house of worship could use the text window to request feedback on effectiveness of presentations, ideas for worship, and even promote interest in your house of worship’s other activities.

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, Tenn.