A technical update after 50 ESC live-streams – and looking further.
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NEWS and PLANS:
Fifty, that’s right – Sunday 31st January 2021 is ESC’s 50th live-stream. We began in March 2020 and have streamed every worship service since then. Our GSC colleagues have been right beside us, so that probably brings the total elcg close to one hundred. Our initial experiences were documented in an article and accompanying PDF document last May. This current article is an update of our experiences since then, and our going-forward plans.
During the pandemic restrictions ESC and GSC have joined forces; sharing equipment and gradually merging our methods and processes. Marc Blessing has introduced us to Lars Fattinger, from Austria, studying at the German school, is into media editing, and has developed expertise with OBS, the same streaming software we have selected. He frequently operates the GSC streams now, and has also done so for us, allowing yours truly to take off for New Year! Simon Petitjean assisted with editing and preparing member videos as well as stream operation during 2020.
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On line is not only streaming:
During the same time, other participatory activities have moved on-line as well, using Zoom. Notably we have Sunday school, Confirmation classes, coffee hour, and Centering Prayer, but also the church and congregation councils, worship committee meetings and neighborhood ‘gatherings’, plus the congregation assemblies. Also to be mentioned is the preparation of devotions and contributions from member homes which are posted as video on our website, or as audio on our Pod Cast. And although this article focuses on the technical aspects of streaming, it above all recognizes what the technology supports — the sustained investment of all who pray, preach, read, present, sing, play, and perform in front of the cameras – those who write, teach, construct, organize and follow-up – and those who prerecord segments to become an integral part of making our on-line worship come to life, to be as complete as it can be in these times. We thank all who participate live or later, all who provide encouragement and council, all who offer prayer, sing, comment, chat – in other words all who share ourselves as part of this amazing community.
Towards the end of summer 2020 there was excitement around inviting members back into the sanctuary – starting with 20 or so. We needed to be masked, socially distanced by clear floor markings and seating arrangement, and provide adequate sanitizing stations. There would be no congregational singing and no communion. Belief was that the virus infection rate would soon come down and allow an increase in physical participation. Yet it was clear that the shift would be cautiously progressive, not a magic switch to everything being as before. So the concept of “hybrid” services was developed – an increasing size of physical congregation while retaining a simultaneous live-stream. Unfortunately the virus situation did not allow that plan to go ahead for more than a few Sundays, but we did make progress on changing the technical infrastructure, which will serve us when the time is right. We envisage a set-up which allows live-streamed worship to be continued even after many congregants are physically back in church.
“Hybrid” requires quite a few changes:
Re-organizing the sanctuary space of cables, cameras and streaming equipment which currently takes up much of the central seating area. We considered a move to one side of the sanctuary, or to the organ gallery – either option causes compromise for microphone cabling and for camera positions (cameras must be cabled as well).
We favour the organ gallery option and have thus installed new microphone cables from the musician area, along the side balcony, to the organ gallery. These cables pass behind the pillar and over the balcony as seen in the photos, should they become more permanent we can take them through the wooden floor of the balcony instead.
Connection to the internet is directly to the modem — for maximum connection security. Streaming does work via WiFi, but it is much preferred to have the stability and priority of a hard connection. Dave Lyon and Jonathan Frerichs have installed a new internet connection from the modem in the church office to to the organ gallery, ready for the move.
Future camera positions: There is also a new HDMI camera cable connecting the gallery with the rear of the sanctuary to eventually maintain one camera downstairs to provide a good quality image of the altar and lectern. If the installation were to become permanent, then we could envisage 3 or 4 fixed cameras angled toward altar, lectern, choir, and musicians. Our switcher can handle 4 cameras. They would be positioned to avoid capturing congregation members
Turning on the sound system to use again sanctuary loudspeakers which have been silent since the beginning of streaming. One could imagine this to be quite simple, but in fact requires a re-think of how to cable the altar and lectern microphones to feed both stream and sound system (our four “music” microphones are required only for the stream).
Either (1) we connect the altar and lectern mics to the sound system, as in the past, and then feed the sound system output back up to the organ gallery for streaming. (this option requires less cabling and also means that the sound system can be used independently from streaming). Or (2) we connect those microphones to the organ gallery and send the selected signal to the sound system.
Technically the latter (2) is the better solution as we then have individual microphone level control at the streaming desk (as we do now) and the advantage that the sound system does not have to be working for streaming to take place. However, the first option is more friendly when, for example, other parishes use our sanctuary and our sound system, or when a service takes place with no streaming and with no technical support present. So option one will no doubt win.
Our existing sanctuary lighting has been historically inadequate for video work so Marc Blessing and a member of the GSC, Pierre Duchoud, procured four very bright LED projectors now temporarily installed in the two side balconies. These angle up to the ceiling and reflect a good diffused light down to the altar and choir space. Each of these LED lamps consumes only 50 watts, hardly gets warm, yet provides 5250 lumen (so a total of 21,000 lumen for only 200 watts of power with all four lamps).
As we begin to populate the balconies again, then these lights need to be more formally wired and secured.
Equipment is basically unchanged since our last article. A small loudspeaker has been added so that the audio of any video being streamed can be heard by those in the sanctuary. Prior to that, only the operator could listen in the headphones. The TV screen on the front of the installation shows the operator’s screen so that presenters can see when they are on live camera or that a video is being streamed.
There were some services during Advent where close-ups or different angles were more appropriate than a straight shot from the tripod-mounted cameras. For this we placed one of the cameras on a 10 meter HDMI cable and walked with it — it became our “roving” camera. We used it as well for Terry’s retirement and most likely will use it again during Lent.
One Saturday in September 2020 on my way to make the ‘hybrid’ installation in the church, my rucksack was taken while I dozed in the train. The bag contained my phone, both streaming video cameras, one audio recorder, many SD cards, cables, connectors . . . and my lunch. So the ‘hybrid’ installation was delayed with a good dose of sadness and frustration, but now how to get replacement cameras for the next day Sunday streaming? — On an empty stomach and with no telephone! Well it turns out that Tom Taylor and I had each recently acquired the tiny RXOII Sony camera, so with Koko’s help, we pooled resources to set up an emergency installation.
The bag was never recovered which is the sad part of course, but there is a positive side (in retrospect) that, as the little Sony does not have a zoom lens, we needed to set one of them up on the altar so it would be close to the pastor. For this, we used a long HDMI cable as can be seen in the photo above, and which gave us the first idea of a “roving” camera! Anyway, we could not place any camera on the large tripod because its fixing plate had been connected to one of the “lost” cameras, so also in the rucksack!
Photographs by: Sivin Kit, André du Plessis, Ray Woodcock, Lars Fattinger, Donna Phillips.
Abbreviations: — ESC/GSC = English-Speaking & German-Speaking Congregations. — ELCG = Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, comprising both the ESC and GSC. — OBS = Open Broadcast Software (free, open-source). — HDMI = High Definition Multimedia Interface. — PDF = Portable Document Format. — LED = Light-Emitting Diode. — WiFi = Wireless Fidelity = the wireless protocol standards emulating (and ensuring interoperability with) the hard-wired ‘ethernet’. — SD = Secure Data memory card (SD: Up to 2 GB; SDHC: over 2 GB to 32 GB; SDXC: over 32 GB to 2 TB; SDUC: over 2 TB to 128 TB). — GB = Great Britain or Gigabytes = thousands of millions (10 power 9) of bytes. (I won’t use the term ‘billion’ because originally a billion in Britain was 10 power 12, whereas in the USA it has always been 10 power 9, so better to avoid the terminology!) — TB = Terabytes = thousands of Gigabytes, so 10 power 12 bytes. — byte = 8 bits of information. — bit = binary digit (ok, where do we stop?!)