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May 2009

Video Switchers: The “Key” To Driving Your Media Ministry Transition

By Jay Delp



If the next step in your media ministry is buying (or upgrading) a seamless video switcher there are several important decisions to be made before pulling out the plastic or clicking “Proceed to Checkout”. In this article I would like to identify some of the primary considerations you will need to look at when purchasing a video switcher as well as link you to some current video switcher models and their reputable manufacturers.


YOU PROBABLY NEED A VIDEO SWITCHER IF....
Here are a few dead giveaways that it’s probably time to “make the switch” from whatever you are doing now to using a seamless video switcher.
1) You need to project from more than one video source during your service. And who doesn’t? Once you move beyond simply projecting a single source (usually a computer) to adding a second computer, a single camera or a DVD player you will need some type of seamless switcher.


2) You have two or more video cameras in your sanctuary. Even if you currently have a scaler for seamlessly switching to and from a computer (or two) you will want a video switcher to allow for smooth blending of multiple camera images (which most scalers cannot perform) and perhaps additional video sources such as DVD players, media servers, etc.


3) You are using a video router; switch box or some other type of non-seamless “video selector” which does not have the capabilities for 100% seamless switching and variable speed dissolves (either manual or automatic).


And this is the big one...


4) You are changing the input or “source” on your video projector(s) at any time during the service. Even though your video projector no doubt has three, four, five or even six different video inputs, switching between those inputs is definitely NOT the plan when it comes to incorporating multiple video sources in ministry. And if any A/V company suggests a projection solution that involves doing just that, then know one thing: you have the wrong A/V company! Video projectors are not seamless video switchers, although a few manufacturers are indeed incorporating some limited seamless switching capabilities in some recent models. You want to be switching all your video sources at “video control” and sending a single video source/signal/cable to your projection system.


PRIMARY SWITCHER CONSIDERATIONS
SD (Standard Definition) of HD (High Definition)


The vast majority of small to medium-sized churches will not be projecting/switching/recording/broadcasting high definition video any time soon but depending on your current vision and budget HD may be a real possibility now or in the very near future. If HD is not on your horizon for many years to come then go with an SD switcher or perhaps an SD/HD switcher if budget allows. As HD technology continues to become more affordable and as your media ministry expands you will definitely want to invest in a video switcher that offers HD either right out of the box or via expansion options.


Number of Inputs
Be sure whatever video switcher solution you choose it provides enough inputs to not only meet your immediate needs but also provide for some future growth. Depending on the current scope of your media ministry those 4, 6 or 8 inputs may seem like “plenty” now but prove very limiting 24 months from now. Those of us who bought computers back in the early 90’s remember how “gigantic” 4-gigabyte hardrives looked! Smaller ministries will probably be able to use a 4-input switcher but I strongly suggest you consider a 6 or 8-input video switcher right out of the gate.


Type of Inputs
“Type” refers to connector type and signal type. The same signal type can have different types of connectors. For instance, consumer video switchers tend to use RCA-type connectors for their composite signals/inputs while prosumer and professional switchers use BNC-type connectors for their composite (and component) signals/inputs. You definitely want to invest in a video switcher that provides the highest quality signal type (and corresponding high-quality connector types), which maximizes your video sources optimum output and your video projectors optimum video source input.


Most economic switchers ($900-$1,500) offer only composite and/or Y/C (S-video) inputs and outputs and do not include 15-pin VGA (computer) inputs or outputs. A scan converter is needed to incorporate 15-pin VGA signals/connectors when using these types of video switchers but know that there will be some loss of image quality when down converting a computers output from VGA to composite although that loss is minimized when using high quality ($500-$2,000) scan converters and Y/C (S-video) signals/connectors.


FEATURES: Fancy, Fundamental, & Frivolous
Are you unfamiliar with the vast array of features and functions of today’s video switchers?


Not surprisingly, the fastest way to a “crash course” on video switchers is Google. Search out manufacturers and switcher models (the “Hear Am I, Switch Me” sidebar in this article is a good place to start) and simply read their “Features” and “Specifications” pages/tabs and you will soon realize that switchers are definitely not created equal and those little black boxes with that 1974 Mustang gear shift (T-bar) are packed with potential. Once you understand such things as PIP, chrominance and luminance keying, etc., you can then decide which features are fundamental (for your purposes) and which are frivolous. Here’s a quick tip...lots and lots of those special effects (wipes, spins, slides, etc.) definitely belong in the frivolous category so simply ignore them.


By far the most important considerations of your video switcher decision are its signal quality, connectivity, reliability, and ease of use, service support and features. You’ll definitely want to take your time and do your homework comparing the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of units before narrowing down your choices to a single unit. Then, shop around for the best price, warranty training and service for the video switcher you finally decide to purchase. Speaking to other ministries, businesses and independent video producers about their experience with a particular video switcher is a great way to obtain unbiased real-world information about what they like, dislike and would do different if buying a video switcher today.


A video switcher can easily be compared to the engine room of an ocean liner, the heating system in a home or the cockpit of an airplane. It is the heart and brains of your “live” media ministry production and/or projection. Don’t skimp on this vital component and it will serve you seamlessly for years to come.


Now put down the remote and step away from your video projector’s “input” button.


It’s time to “switch”.

 

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