Shop carefully, not only for resolution, remote controls and fluidity of motion, but also for the right control protocol. The choice of control protocol may make the difference between a system that’s a delight to use and one that no one wants to....
Adding A/V equipment to an existing building can be a challenge. Will the screens cover up stained glass or a cross that “my granddaddy donated”? Where do you put the tech booth and how do you get cabling from that location to speakers and projectors?
When you add live streaming in to the technical mix, things can get even more complicated. Where do you put the cameras? How many do you need? Do you have room for a platform with an operator behind a tripod? Naturally, a lot of congregations will be drawn to the idea of using small robotic or PTZs (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras.
On the surface, PTZs may seem like a great alternative. You put a fairly small device on the wall, column or small tripod where no one will notice them, and where they don't take up seats. In the end, you get cameras and fewer objections.
They're a win/win, right?
In certain circumstances, PTZs are exactly what you need. In others, they're not. Before you make the decision, consider the following information to see if they're right for you.
PTZs tend to be more expensive than similar quality studio cameras. While a camera operator needs a tripod and an intercom (comm) system to get the right shot, a single PTZ is a combination of a camera, a control system, with motors and electronics. However, adding a high quality control interface for the cameras can get pricey fast.
If your congregation is thinking that a camera should cost $1,000 or less, you're going to be surprised when you try and find PTZs for that price. Sure, there are entry-level cameras to be had for that price, but for a camera that produces smooth movement, that's designed for a live video production, you're going to need to spend more -- potentially a lot more.
From an artistic perspective, movements from entry-level PTZs can seem robotic and jerky, not subtle and organic. Jerky camera movements are distracting. More expensive systems are better. Even so, it takes practice to use them well. Imagine the kind of movements you see in video games; when you first start playing a new one your movements are inconsistent and exaggerated.
Remember to shop carefully, not only for resolution, remote controls, fluidity of motion, but also for the right control protocol. Not all methods of control are equal. Serial control may be very reliable, but has distance limitations. IP control may seem like a good solution, but pay attention to how much latency will be introduced in your system, in particular. While many people are comfortable with IR or RF control, they can both be susceptible to interference. The choice of control protocol may make the difference between a system that's a delight to use and one that no one wants to touch. Do your homework and choose carefully.
Getting the best results.
The professional remote cameras you see during sporting events work better because they're both more expensive and staffed by professionals with years of experience.
If artistic shots aren’t just added flavor, but a requirement of your technical ministry, PTZs might make them harder to do.
The easiest way to overcome these problems is to start with a mixed environment. If your church can't have two or three camera platforms, perhaps you can put one in the back and supplement it with PTZs. That way, for subtle movements or when something happens outside of the view of the camera lens, a person can take up the slack.
Also, make sure that you have multiple operators who practice using your PTZs a lot. What might seem robotic and jerky at first, could become smoother and more subtle with practice.
Finally, start off your live streaming efforts with static shots that your operator acquires before the shot is taken on the switcher. Only add in camera movement as operators gain proficiency.
Avoid the temptation to shop on price alone.
Include potential operators in buying decisions, especially for the controller, and see if you can test one out in a real-world application before you buy it. If you save 10% on the price of one system over another, but the less expensive one is difficult to control, you haven't been a good steward; you've just replaced a monetary cost with a cost in frustration.
Along these same lines, shop for value, not cost, in every area. Think forward 5 or 10 years and consider if the system you're proposing today will be antiquated tomorrow, and how long before you can replace it. It's easy to upgrade to faster internet, but getting the budget committee to drop more money on new equipment too quickly again may be impossible.
Now for the good news.
PTZs aren't without their advantages, though. One person can run multiple PTZs. Having a single camera operator run two or more tripod-mounted cameras is difficult, if not impossible (I speak from experience). Switching between control of multiple PTZs, though is often a flick of a switch or a press of a button.