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May 2007

Worship SOFTWARE REVIEW 2007

By Jason Moore and Len Wilson

One of the most common questions we get at our seminars is, “I’m ready to move past PowerPoint. Which worship presentation software should I buy?”


This is a major purchase in the life of a media ministry, so we’ve compiled a worship presentation software buyer’s guide. We’ve got five of the latest makes and models listed here, with all of the technical info in one spot.
In addition to the usual stuff such as features, system requirements, tech support, pricing and demos, we asked users of our Midnight Oil Metaphorum to give us feedback for each program. Within each program’s description are real human beings talking about their experiences.


EasyWorship 2007
EasyWorship 2007 is the latest release from Softouch Development, Inc. of Tulsa OK. The company’s primary focus for the product as stated by lead developer Jeff Taylor is to “continue to make EasyWorship the best projection software product on the market. We want churches to have a viable, quick, stable, feature rich, easy-to-use solution for a reasonable price.” As the name suggests, EasyWorship’s creators value ease of use.


Softouch Development currently ships EasyWorship 2007 for Windows Vista, XP, 2000, ME and 98SE users. A Macintosh version is being considered.


FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Dual monitor system (which means you can display media to the projector while working behind the scenes on your computer’s monitor)
• Display and manage all of your media
• Manage your songs, scriptures, videos and backgrounds in an easy to use database
• Playback of PowerPoint (1997-2003), DVDs, and the usual video, still and audio formats, including smooth text over video
• Integrated interface with Song Select Lyric Service (download songs instantly into the EasyWorship song database)
• 100+ real time video transitions and cross fades
• Site license is standard (purchase one copy for multiple computers)


Softouch recommends a 1.7 GHz P4 processor, with at least 256 MB memory, 100 MB of free space on your hard drive, a DVD drive, and two graphics card with 128 MB of video RAM. Of course, a bigger hard drive and more memory will equate to a better experience.


Joe Carmichael, pastor of Community of Hope in Mansfield, TX, is a big fan of EasyWorship. He says, “Our media team is totally comprised of volunteers. Tools that are ‘easy’, user friendly and work with quick training is essential to bring volunteers on board as quickly as possible. We find Easy Worship to fit that need for those volunteers who manage our LCD presentations.”


The website at http://www.easyworship.com features a knowledge base, FAQ, a well-populated forum, a dusty blog, email, phone and live online support.
EasyWorship retails for $399, and is sometimes available for less, at a number of retailers.


Each of the programs in the survey has fully working, 30-day demo versions available via online download. EasyWorship’s may be found at http://easyworship.com/downloads.php.


LiveWorship 1.3
While the other four programs included in this survey have more history and are considered by some to be the industry’s top options, we’ve included LiveWorship because of its currently unique cross-platform capabilities. (That is techno-jargon for, “it works on Windows and Macintosh computers.”) If you’re working in a Macintosh-based or multi-platform environment, then this may be the option for you.


LiveWorship was introduced publicly in September 2005 at the National Youth Worker’s convention, and is produced by Horizon Technology of Chillicothe OH. The current cross-platform version is 1.3 and includes universal binary support for Intel Macs.


FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Dual-monitor system
• Simple, “drag and drop” interface
• Many versions of the Bible (e.g., NIV, MSG, NLT, RSV, NRSV, KJV, NKJV, ASV and others)
• Edit on-the-fly (in other words, change and update slides while presenting)
• Integration with CCLI’s SongSelect lyrics files
• Easy to use database format
• Plays text over video and one-click display of media
• Handles all of the usual images, audio, and video formats
• Plays concurrent with PowerPoint or Keynote, and converts PPT files to LiveWorship slides


LiveWorship requires Apple’s QuickTime 7 and at least 512 MB of memory, regardless of platform. Additionally, Macs need to be running at least OS X 10.3.9, with a 1.66 GHz G4 processor and Windows systems need Win2000 or XP with a 3.2 GHz P4 and dual monitor support. (Macs have automatically had dual monitor support for years, but that’s a different article.)


As of this writing LiveWorship is not Vista compatible and there is no news about a pending update.


Alan Miles is Media Director at Trietsch Memorial UMC in Flower Mound, TX where he and his team use LiveWorship weekly. He says, “I chose LiveWorship because of its simplicity and ease-of-use. From importing graphics and backgrounds, to playing videos, to organizing worship services and songs, you could not ask for better presentation software for the Mac. The layout is clean and simple and very intuitive. We also like being able to make changes to the presentation while we are live. If the pastor calls for something while he is talking, we can quickly add it in if it is something we aren’t expecting.


“We just switched systems and our old song database was not compatible with our new computers; so LiveWorship really helped us out by having a large song library already built into it. Plus, we could add songs and manage, organize and access them very effortlessly.


“LiveWorship is compatible with a wide variety of image files, including PhotoShop, which is what we use to create sermon graphics. No matter how much we prepare, it seems like there is always something last-minute that we need to add in and to be able to make those changes quickly and effortlessly in PhotoShop and then to access that file in LiveWorship is a huge plus.”
Online support at http://www.liveworship.com/support/ includes an extensive FAQ section, a small community forum board, the user manual, and a convenient pictorial “help center.”


LiveWorship 1.3 retails for $309 if you like owning a disc on your shelf, or $299 for the downloadable version, through the company website at http://www.liveworship.com/catalog/?src=midnightoiltfwm.
A demo version is available through their site at http://www.liveworship.com/demo.html.


MediaShout 3.2
MediaShout is the flagship product of MediaComplete Corporation, a company started by three partners in Nashville in 1999, and now consisting of more than 20 employees dedicated to assisting media ministers and volunteers in worship.


MediaShout currently ships 3.2 for Windows Vista and XP users.


FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Dual-monitor system
• A new user interface with full Unicode support
• Instantly access 52 versions of the Bible
• More flexibility in editing and formatting all types of text cues, even on the fly
• Playback of PowerPoint (through 2007), DVDs, web pages, live feeds and the usual video, still and audio formats
• A ‘Crew Box’ complete with all the tools to display live text or any type of media (if your pastor really doesn’t plan ahead)
• Direct integration with SongSelect, Shout Music Manager (formerly Integrity’s Worship Software), and other lyric databases
• A friendly helper named Kim for superimposing text such as nursery calls
• Control tools for starting presentations at specific times using your computer clock


As for technical mumbo-jumbo: MediaShout 3.2 is for PC-compatible systems only. It works best in a dual-display configuration with around 128 MB VRAM on the second display card. You’ll want to drive it on at least an Intel Pentium 2 GHz system, but preferably 3 GHz; with at least 512 MB RAM (although we’d recommend 1 GB); a DVD drive in your PC, and lots of space on your hard drive for your soon to be large library of media.


Metaphorum user and good friend Phil Graves, media coordinator for the Baptist Convention of MD/DE, states, “I have been using MediaShout for almost 5 years and have come to rely on it on a weekly basis. Not only do I use it for my church’s weekend service, but also anytime I do a presentation. It is flexible in that I can edit my presentation on the fly and there is hardly any media file type I cannot get it to play. Of all the worship software packages on the market, I find MediaShout to be the most robust.” In the interest of full disclosure, Phil also says he likes the program so much now that he sells it.


The MediaShout website www.mediashout.com has a user guide, screen demos, version updates, a knowledgebase and extensive user forums online to enhance your ability to use the program. Additionally, unlimited phone and email support is available.


MediaShout Version 3.2 retails for $429 but is readily available for $399 at a number of retailers. MediaComplete also continues to offer version 2.5 for non-XP users, but if you’re going to spend $400 on software shouldn’t you get a rockin’ system to go with it?


As with the others, take it for a 30-day spin at http://mediashout.com/try/30_ev.cfm/?src=midnightoiltfwm.


SongShow Plus 7
SongShow Plus is the brainchild of Doug Reece, a software developer in Boise ID. Doug is the founder of R-Technics, Inc. and the creator of SongShow Plus (SSP), a program he developed in a local congregation in the 1990s out of a desire to use a more sophisticated option than PowerPoint.


Ten years after the initial release, SongShow Plus is shipping version 7. This mature program touts seamless presentation of songs lyrics, scripture text, sermon notes, announcements, digital pictures, videos files, live video and more. SSP emphasizes the user’s experience this time with an improved user interface with customizable colors and multiple layouts; a new user guide and step-by-step, illustrated tutorials; and more included motion backgrounds.


FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Dual-monitor system
• Integration with SongSelect and other lyrics databases
• Integration with Online Bible and QuickVerse scripture databases for multiple versions of the Bible
• Playback of PowerPoint, DVDs and all the usual video formats
• Live camera / device input
• Nursery call system


Among other features, new to version 7, professional edition, is a feature called Video Chain that allows the user to play and even loop multiple video files, which can be handy with announcement loops.


Tech requirements: R-Technics recommends Windows XP operating system with a 3.0 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and a high-quality video card. Doug says, “If a user is buying new, we would recommend a BFG 7600 GT as the minimum card to buy. However, SSP will work with any DirectX 9 video cards such as the nVidia 5000 line and the ATI 9000 line.”


R-Technics doesn’t yet offer Windows Vista support, but their website states, “It is a high priority to implement Vista compatibility in the near future.”
Joel Osborn, lead media volunteer at the Milton Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Wisconsin and one of the moderators at SongShow Plus’ forum, “We’ve been using SSP at our church since our original projector was installed about 6 years ago. One of the things we like best about SSP is that it’s fairly easy to set up and run a basic program, but once you become more proficient, there is a wealth of features available to take your slide shows to the next level.”


“The feature I like best about the current release is layering. You can set the background of a song, or any program object, to a motion background and a still graphic background. Then go into the settings for the video and add some transparency to it and it will render the video over the graphic. This has allowed us to create slightly different background for a group of songs that are different, yet tied together. The motion background can be a loop or one of SSP’s built in motion visualizations. The visualizations can add motion and texture to a lot of still photos. The visualizations I use most are the color gradient motion, sparkle and clouds. Also, winter in Wisconsin has us using the snowfall visualization to create a homey mood.”


All current subscribers have access to technical support persons through SongShow Plus’ partner, GoFishMedia, LLC. Also available is the user forum at http://ssplash.com. This forum has a user guide, a knowledgebase and extensive user forums, as well as phone and email support. Joel also points out that the online community for SongShow Plus has a wish list where members can vote on additional enhancements they would like to see in future versions SSP.


SongShow Plus 7 comes in a basic edition for $349.95 or a professional edition for $499.95 through their website at http://www.songshowplus.com/?src=midnightoiltfwm.


A fully working, 60-day demo is available. Go to http://www.songshowplus.com/Download for more details.


SundayPlus 2.4
Grass Roots Software of Grass Valley, CA, creates SundayPlus. Originally called Prologue Worship Leader, then Prologue SundayPlus, SundayPlus started as a custom-built presentation program for the Promise Keepers events in 1998. Next to SongShow Plus, it is the longest-running application in this review. It has been unique in its creative, graphical interface, which we have liked as right-brain types. Unfortunately there have been no new updates to the program in 3 years while the company has focused on a newer presentation program called Freepath.


FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Dual-monitor system
• Graphical, “drag and drop” user interface for instant access
• Includes Biblesoft PC StudyBible Version 4
• Built-in text editor with character-unique formatting
• Playback of PowerPoint and the usual video, still and audio formats, including text over video
• Automated loops for announcements
• Professional-quality transitions
• “GoFile” function packs your presentation for use on another computer
• Preloaded hymns and songs, images, movies, and audio samples


One advantage of an older version of software is that the technical requirements are modest. SundayPlus works on any Windows OS from 98 to XP, using a 1 GHz P3 or newer processor, at least 512 MB of memory, dual monitor support, and a CD-ROM drive. No Vista support is available at this time.


Randy Anderson, a volunteer media director at Grace UMC in Jacksonville, IL, heard about SundayPlus from a pastor friend. He purchased it after trying out the demo. He says, “We really like the drag-n-drop functionality of Sunday Plus. Graphics and video files can be imported in to the graphics and video bins just by dropping the files into the Sunday Plus window (or you can select Load from each bin’s menu). From there, you can just drag the files from the bins and drop them into the cue list. The lyric files are added much the same way and they can be dropped right onto an existing graphic or video cue. This is how the backgrounds are accomplished. Any elements can be added to the cues on a moment’s notice, for when the Spirit moves!”


Randy looks forward to a future SundayPlus release with good quality DVD playback. He notes, “When looking at this feature on another package’s demo, my laptop locked up and I had to reboot. Also, having deaf parents, I’d like to see the packages that offer DVD playback, also be able to show the closed-captions. My parents’ church shows video clips occasionally, and I know it would be much better if they could see the captions, rather than looking back and forth between the screen and interpreter.”


Tech support for SundayPlus is extensive at http://sundayplus.com/support.html and includes updates and patches, a knowledge base, a quick reference guide in PDF format, a well-stocked forum of user discussions, and a number of tutorials. Email and phone tech support is also available.


SundayPlus 2.4 pricing starts for a newly reduced price of $349 with options up to $499 at various resellers. The requisite, fully working, 30-day demo is available at http://sundayplus.com/demo_req.html.


On Evaluating Which One to Buy
When we asked for feedback from our forum users, we got a thorough response from Bill Aumack of Downey-Florence Seventh-day Adventist Church in Downey, CA. Bill described their evaluation process and has some good pointers for congregations ready to make a similar move.


Bill states, “Like many churches we started our media experience with PowerPoint. When we needed more features, we started by listing the features that we thought were important that were missing from PowerPoint. We read every review and article we could find. One of the great features of worship presentation software is they all allow some type of trial. We installed them all and evaluated them as well. [note: Budget minded? There’s 5 months of free software!] This is an important step that everyone who is thinking about changing systems should do. Nothing says more about the software than actually trying it on your own system.


“One of the features that was important to us was to have one presentation system that could display announcements, songs and sermon points. We didn’t want to use PowerPoint for half of the service and switch to another system for the other part of the service. This one feature greatly reduced the number of entries in our decision process. Eventually SongShow Plus was selected as the system that best met our needs.


While Bill chose SongShow Plus, other congregations employing just as thorough of a process came to the conclusion to purchase EasyWorship, MediaShout, LiveWorship, and SundayPlus. As you can see, there’s no one-word answer.


If you are still using PowerPoint and are just now considering a move to something more sophisticated in worship, don’t worry. While the move could reap great rewards for you, you’re not too far behind the curve.


For an interesting perspective, check out a presentation software poll at churchmedia.net, here: http://www.churchmedia.net/CMN/cmn-polls/9488-new-software-do-you-use.html. You will notice that even in a highly technical forum, there are still quite a few PowerPoint users. We bet a lot of people continued to hand crank their Model A Fords after self-starting automobiles came out, too. So go get behind the wheel and start test-driving these powerful new machines for worship today.


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