On the old The A-Team television series, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith’s catch phrase was, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
That could also be the motto at The Cove Church, in Mooresville, NC for the process of transitioning their video operation from SD to HD. (The church is a well-attended one. Attendance at the main campus in Mooresville, a suburb of Charlotte, averages 3,800 over its four weekend services, with another 900 attendees spread across its North Carolina campuses in Newton, Statesville, and Cornelius.)
For starters, the church comes with its own A-Team of sorts: the entire project, including the build-out and equipping of a roomy new 20 x 16-foot control room, the implementation of HD switchers and cameras, miles of cabling and the application of the HD video to the church’s existing streaming infrastructure was done almost completely using their own staff.
“You could say we are very, very fortunate in that regard,” chuckles Greg Antisdel, Cove’s director of production, who worked closely with the church’s technical director, Steve Smale, who in addition to collaborating on the control room design also wrote the software for the streaming system and built bespoke hardware that upgraded the streaming synchronization process.
Interestingly, of the church’s technical staff, only Smale has had any serious training — he studied A/V production and media technology in school and went straight from there into his first programming job. He had built a video switcher for a production and helped wire his high school church’s audio. None of the other staffers had any A/V experience before joining the church’s staff. Nonetheless, Antisdel cautions that not every church may have as much “natural” technical talent as Cove is blessed with, and should proceed accordingly.
The Cove’s staff was able to construct its own new control room, housed backstage in a room large enough to accommodate up to eight volunteer production team members seated at three desks arrayed in three rows, similar to the layout in a broadcast remote truck. In fact, anyone familiar with live broadcasting operations would feel instantly at home inside. This is all part of a larger upgrade plan whose design went through multiple iterations, something that Antisdel says was important for allowing the project to turn out correctly, on time and on budget.
“We went through at least three versions, with various changes along the way as we looked at the impact on work that each design idea would have,” he says. “That meant we were able to resolve any issues on paper, so that by the time we were ready to move forward, the plan had been reviewed numerous times.”
Part of that was improving the performance of the streaming systems. “What we had been trying to do in the past was to synchronize two streams together using [SMPTE] time code,” Smale explains, which he says was nearly impossible to get perfect synch every time. As part of the upgrade, Smale transitioned the streaming to a custom multiplexer he fabricated in a 2U rackspace unit. “The synch is perfectly locked now,” he says.
The implementation plan was as meticulous as the design. As construction of the new control room took place, cabling was run to various points in the sanctuary, such as the new HD cameras, so that when the time came to flip the switch from the old control space to the new one, each item in the workflow was in place, ready to be connected.
“The fact that with the exception of two or three pieces of equipment, such as the web panel and intercom boxes, everything else was new, [which] meant that we could leave all of the old equipment in place and working right up until the moment we turned on the new control room and cameras,” Antisdel says. The actual transition took three days and all of the new gear was ready to run for the next weekend’s services.