Updated: Nov 30, 2021
MFi Pro recently completed a custom AV installation at St. Thomas Episcopal Church located on the campus of historic Dartmouth College in Hanover NH. While we have completed work on several of these types of spaces, this article looks at both the rewards and challenges of installing audio and visual equipment in houses of worship.
St. Thomas... and Dartmouth College
St. Thomas was consecrated September 19th, 1876, and its relationship with Dartmouth College is longstanding. While Dartmouth was established 107 years earlier in 1769, St. Thomas church has remained a constant fixture on this Ivy league campus.
Steeped in rich history, the university is renowned for academic programs in Medicine, Engineering, and Business. It is equally known for traditions such as Presidential Debates, Homecoming’s, Winter Carnival’s, and the Dartmouth Powwow – honoring their early-established mission of educating Native students.
This mission is at the very foundation of Dartmouth’s beginnings. Eleazer Wheelock founded the college “for the education and instruction of youth of the Indians tribes in this land, English Youth, and any others.” During a visit to the campus in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower remarked “This is what a college should look like”. Quintessential New England.
Significant renovations, inside and out
St. Thomas underwent both exterior and interior renovation projects beginning in 2019. This included underground drainage work to address runoff issues and re-pointing of the stone masonry work. Interior work included caulking, plastering, and painting of the entire sanctuary (with the organ pipes having been carefully removed and temporarily stored off site) and a sump pump installation to address additional interior water issues. Pews were removed and a beautiful oak floor was added as a final addition.
AV Upgrades, the "tech" stuff
As the interior work was being completed, they realized that this was an opportunity to upgrade their Audio-Visual systems. St. Thomas had already been taking advantage of technology to deliver their message to the masses. During the pandemic, this had not only become the standard in terms of remote communications with their parishioners, it was also a method for the parish choristers to continue their important work.
Unfortunately, older technology took up important space and in and around the altar area. Three large display monitors, a fold-up table that housed much of the streaming equipment, and studio lighting (to manipulate lighting conditions) had occupied this focal point.
MFi Pro understood the balance of honoring the historical sanctity of this key area of the church, creating an audio and visual experience that would build upon their established capabilities and online presence, and install upgraded equipment that would perform well yet be discreet in its application and installation. Let us take an in-depth look into the video, networking, streaming, and microphone components that comprised this upgrade project.
Video Components & Networking
It is designed to allow distribution of live professional video over existing IP infrastructure, freeing users from hardware constraints and the benefit of reduced cost and deployment time. NDI® is a variable bit rate, I-Frame codec that reaches around 140Mbits at 1080p60 and is visually lossless.
The specifications of this camera are impressive. As companions to their NDI silicon chip, they teamed with Sony using their CMOS Backlit sensor and True Image Module. The result is auto focus that will adjust to room lighting which eliminated the need for the studio lighting that had previously occupied part of the pulpit area. The images are sharp, and the zoom capabilities are extremely fast.
Using SDI Output? No problem here. The P200 features NDI, SDI, and HDMI simultaneous outputs making it ready to go live with your existing workflow. Existing SDI can be controlled via RS232, RS422, and RS485 protocols. This camera can be Powered Over Ethernet (POE) or with the included power adapter.
St. Thomas added BirdDog’s 4K NDI Decoder (a one-cable solution) Keyboard Controller, and the BDFLEXENC HDMI to NDI Encoder to round out this video system.
Not far in tandem are components from Blackmagic Design.
The ATEM Television Studio HD is just that, a compact powerful television studio in a box. It features 4 HDMI and 4 SDI inputs capable of supporting standard or high-definition signals. An integrated 10- Channel Digital Audio mixer offers ample ability to handle multiple sources.
A mix minus feature is convenient when conferencing with remote interviewees. This allows the guest to hear everything going on in the program - but removes their speech from the mix eliminating audio delay, echo, or latency issues. Its compact size allows it to be brought into any location as a mobile broadcast solution, or permanently installed for studio use.
MFi recommends that where there is potential for multiple users, simplicity is key. The ATEM is simple to operate but there is much more to this unit than audio mixing and a multitude of inputs. It features several Transitions (cut, mix, dip, and wipe).
There are both Upstream and Downstream Keyers. These provide the ability to layer other live video or video sources/graphics. You can use Luma, Linear, Chroma, Patterns and even Green Screen options. On the Downstream side, graphics, logos, and titles are easily added just before the stream reaches the main program output.
Power macros give you the ability to automate complex sequences including video and audio adjustments. Multi-view allows you to view all your video sources (graphics, previews, programming, and output) on one screen, avoiding multiple monitors.
Lastly, there is a Photoshop Plugin available which allows the ability to create still broadcast graphics and add them to the hard drive’s Media Pool. Quickly create custom logos, messages, psalms, lower thirds, and real-time graphics.
Streaming & Web
For streaming their religious services online, St. Thomas utilizes the Blackmagic Design Web Presenter HD. While the ATEM Television Studio HD handles all video production tasks, the Web Presenter HD adds the ability to stream this content over the internet.
There are two options for connectivity. You can connect any SDI video input and stream your content over standard Ethernet, or you can tether your smartphone via USB using a 4G or 5G connection as your internet source. This second option makes the Web Presenter HD the ultimate portable streaming solution which can be used for outdoor services or in a retreat type environment. A 12 Volt DC connector is provided for alternative power in these situations.
A USB-C to USB cable allows connectivity directly to a webcam or computer. This allows the broadcast of video and audio signals on any webcam compatible software such as Skype, YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Microsoft Teams, Twitch, Livestream, etc. It supports the H.264 Codec and can stream up to resolutions of 1080p60. Monitor outputs include SDI and HDMI. The unit is feature-packed at a very reasonable price point.
For Network and web traffic, we installed the Netgear GSM 4212P-100 NAS Managed Switch (aka M4250). This switch is specifically engineered for Audio and Video over IP, a common requirement in many (if not all) of the custom AV installations that we presently do. The M4250 comes preconfigured to handle standard audio and video signals.
What sets this switch apart is the widespread use of the 1 Gbps codec; required to push massive audio and video signals over the network. For more advanced or specific requirements, an AV user interface provides custom port-based profiles for software such as Dante and AVB (AVB licensing is sold separately). For video, the M4250 offers profiles for NVX, SVSI, Q-SYS, NDI, etc.
To meet St. Thomas’ need to web conference, MFi Pro installed the Logitech Meetup All-in-one 4K Conference Camera. Designed toward small conference rooms, it includes an integrated speaker phone and 120-degree field of view. A Sharp 4K UHD Image Sensor provides clear imagery and a 5X Zoom lens.
There are 3 built in microphones with a range of 8 feet. If you require additional range, an extension microphone can be added for increased range to 14 feet. Microphone features include a low-distortion algorithm, background noise reduction, and echo cancellation. The built-in speaker provides clear audio and peak-limiting to prevent clipping.
The Meetup connects to both Windows and iOS computers and supports many popular conferencing programs.
Particularly in religious environments, the ability for clergy to be clearly heard and understood is of utmost importance. In the many types of worship installations that we have completed, it is always a challenge working in spaces that inherently create "booms" or are prone to echoes. This is the case in most church settings. This works well for church organ segments during mass, but not so much for sermons or passage readings. There is a solution for that. Let us start with DSP: Digital Signal Processing.
MFi Pro felt that the Symetrix Jupiter 8 Digital Signal Processor would serve St. Thomas. Remember our recommendation about simplicity? It also holds true when it comes to signal processing. Most of the trepidation on the user end is with having to spend an immense amount of time programming or the learning curve associated with a signal processor. Not so with Jupiter 8. It is meant to be functional right out of the box and that saves money on overall installation costs.
85 separate Apps are preloaded. These range from mixing and routing, public address/distribution, sound reinforcement, and special purpose DSP. Most churches benefit from EQ, Filters, the ability to control feedback, and auto-mixing. The Symetrix can easily be controlled through low-cost wall panels or a Windows-based GUI (Graphical User Interface).
For even more control, the device has an embedded Web Server allowing control via a smartphone, tablet, or desktop. Control signal processing from virtually anywhere within the worship environment, in real time. This is particularly helpful in congregations where there are a limited number of volunteers to assist with such tasks.
Speech & Music
Shure Wireless microphone systems are extremely versatile because they accommodate not only microphones, but also discreet lavalier microphones and wireless guitar systems. St. Thomas had the need for all three of these applications.
The WL93 Micro Condenser Lavalier Microphone is well-suited for speech and sermon. Omnidirectional Condenser microphones pick up sounds and speech equally from all directions making it an ideal choice for this purpose. Its sub-miniature design makes it easy to conceal without compromising sound quality.
For music vocals or presentation, the SLXD24D SM58 H55 system was installed. This included two SM-58 handheld microphones that offer pristine 24-bit digital audio. Two software features: Wireless Workbench allows you control over the spectrum of frequencies as your system grows, and ShurePlus Channels provides the ability to control your wireless system via an iOS or Android App.
For additional support of their active Music program, St. Thomas added the Shure SLX14D Dual Wireless guitar system.
Program & Content Viewing
MFi Pro installed two large screen monitors, the Samsung AU8000 50” 4K Smart TV. One was installed in the lower Crypt Chapel where smaller services and presentations take place. The other was installed in an upstairs conference room as a companion to the Logitech Meetup 4K Conference Camera.
We also installed an ASUS VP228HE 21.5” monitor for purposes of viewing the worship programming and streaming content. This is more for the benefit and perspective of the video equipment operator and provides ample screen space for multi-viewing.
Other Worship Design and Installation Considerations
If a lot of these equipment features and specifications appear daunting to the average worship user, don't be dissuaded. One of our consultancy roles is to determine which capabilities you require. We then examine what audio, video, or streaming equipment is best suited for your purpose, to include a variety of feature levels and price points.
You can rely on MFi Pro’s years of AV installation experience and extensive knowledge of the product lines that we routinely use and install. Just as you would hire any professional for a variety of services, it is our job to make sense of the technology as AV professionals.
In this situation, we did not install any loudspeaker systems. We have, however, installed speaker systems in other houses of worship. In these instances, choosing low profile systems that can produce clear robust sound is extremely important. Further, the overall look and design of such speaker systems must complement the intricate and ornate interior and be somewhat discreet in its appearance.
Yamaha VXC , VXL Series , and Meyer Sound CAL Loudspeakers have been installed in multiple applications due to their low profile and reliable sound quality. Each of these speaker products blend well with a variety of interiors and they can be painted or color matched to any background.
Here are some of the finished products that MFi Pro installed at St. Thomas:
The St. Thomas Episcopal Church renovation project was immense in scale and transformed this wonderful and historic church for many future generations to come. MFi Pro is very thankful to have been a part of it. It is a unique privilege to work in these revered spaces.
It is also a responsibility that we do not take lightly. We perform clean, respectful work. The church has long been the centerpiece, focal point, and gathering place of each community, the importance of which can never be overlooked or understated.
It's not the mere installation of the components. MFi Pro offers long-term support that extends well beyond the completion of your project. We're available to answer any questions or address any issues you may have once your system is in full use.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
St. Thomas Episcopal Church - Facebook Page
BirdDog - World's Best NDI Tools
Shure Digital Wireless Systems
Samsung Smart TV Displays
MFi Pro - AV Installation & System Integration