Feature: Green Acres broadcasting over horizons
Feature: Green Acres broadcasting over horizons
Green Acres Baptist Church’s director of video engineering, Casey Hawkins, discusses the church’s broadcast setup and recent upgrade to HD
Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas has over 16,000 members and has been a pioneer in church television production since the 1980s when church member and tech guru, the late Joe Smith, along with then Pastor Paul W Powell and other church leaders, recognised the power of technology when it came to broadcasting the gospel. We originally mastered on 1-inch videotape and tube cameras, ¼-inch reel-to-reel audio machines and VHS video and cassette audio tape were standard delivery methods for those who wanted to experience a service via media.
Today, that legacy is alive and well, since many staff members and volunteers in our Broadcast Ministry hail from that era. Several volunteers and ministry leaders have been serving the Broadcast Ministry for over 30 years. We have 11 full-time and two part-time staff who manage video, audio, lighting and the websites.
The facilities supported by the Broadcast Ministry include a 3,400-seat Worship Center, 2,000-seat CrossWalk conference centre, Lighthouse administration and classroom building, the One-Ten Student Center, Family Life Center, chapel (formerly the main sanctuary), Adult Education Building and our South Campus, most of which are connected via fibre. We also have a retreat centre located on Lake Tyler and an outdoor recreation centre called The ROC, but those two locations require only minimal technical support.
We live stream our Resonate services on Sundays, which is the band-driven worship that takes place at CrossWalk. For this live stream, we use Vimeo Livestream as the CDN and the Livestream Encoder, with a Blackmagic Atem 2 M/E switcher and a collection of eight cameras, including graphics and playback sources. With the Atem switcher, we are able to provide different switched outputs for the live stream and the IMAG products, using one M/E for each. The Resonate service is not televised.
In the broadcast suite of the Worship Center, where we operate our cable channel, we live stream the channel’s programme feed to our Roku channel 24/7 using an AJA Helo encoder and CDN services by MediaFusion. MediaFusion provides us with the HLS link that we need to add the stream to our Roku channel. We do not live stream our traditional Celebration service in the Worship Center at this time due to its regularly televised status. We’ve discussed options for adding live streaming to the Celebration service and also broadcasting the Resonate service and even Wednesday Evening Bible Study with the pastor, as well as student events, but, for now, our existing setup is meeting the needs of our audience and our workflow as we grow.
Our local OTA broadcast is on KLTV, our ABC affiliate in Tyler and Longview. We record our traditional Celebration service from the Worship Center and provide them with an MPEG2 file that they air on Sunday mornings at 10am and on Thursday mornings at midnight. We postproduce this from recordings we make using six AJA KiPro HD solid state recorders and two Ross Carbonite video switchers (one for IMAG and one for broadcast) along with eight Sony HD cameras we share, which include three robotic cameras using the Ross CamBot system for control. We have a volunteer camera engineer to shade the cameras and a team of volunteer camera operators for the five manned cameras. We also use three versions of ProPresenter in the broadcast suite for graphics and video playback purposes. We re-mix our audio in order to provide an ideal mix for our broadcast product and then edit that together using Adobe Premiere Pro.
Green Acres acquired the operations of what is now cable channel 17 in Tyler and Whitehouse, Texas in 2008. We don’t monetise the channel; all of the content we air is received free of charge to us and all of our original content is provided to our viewers as a ministry of the church.
We have used NVerzion’s NControl since we assumed management of this channel and it was time for an upgrade when we migrated to HD in 2019. Our previous server was SD and so was the SDI master control router. The old system had been in place close to 10 years and worked well, but the time to upgrade to HD had long come and gone and so had the need for the proper monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities that are necessary for live broadcasting.
NVerzion was recommended to us 10 years ago by a systems integrator we were working with and, as a result, we sought them out at NAB that year. Back then, NVerzion did not manufacture its own server so we bought a 360 Systems server, which was a Linux model. We bought the NControl automation system because it fit our needs well, so it was a no-brainer to stay with them for our upgrade, as system reliability and performance, along with their technical support, have proven to be terrific.
This year, we installed the new NControl system as a standalone upgrade several months prior to upgrading the rest of the channel to HD. We originally planned to replace our 360 server with another, but were unsure which master control switcher we wanted. We were pricing servers and MC switchers as part of a parallel upgrade we were making with our Worship Center cameras. We replaced 18-year-old Hitachi SD triax cameras with Sony HD cameras, with all new fibre cable runs. At that time, we reached out to NVerzion with technical questions about master control switchers, and what was recommended to work with NControl. It was at this stage we learned about the NFinity server and Utah Scientific router. Their quote was in line with what we were looking for and we decided that it was a good idea to go with a turnkey system versus mix and matching different systems and sources.
We are glad we chose the route we did because, if we have any issues, we can call NVerzion and they can access the system remotely and do what they need to do. This allows a single source to know everything about our setup so that they are more capable of resolving any problems. Plus, this reduces finger-pointing that tends to hamper troubleshooting efforts when multiple systems from different sources and manufacturers are integrated.
Our channel is pretty simple from an engineering and master control point of view. We have the NVerzion NControl automation system and a Utah Scientific Utah-100/UDS 10 10x10 HD-SDI router for all cable channel routing. We have the NVerzion NFinity server for playback of our local spot insertions and for our hour-long weekly broadcast programme, Discover Life. We use a 3m satellite dish and a WellAV UMH-160 C-band receiver to receive The Walk television network and two DataVideo NVD 25 IP video decoders to receive Spirit TV programming. We incorporate two IP decoders because they stream multiple bitrate services, so we use one for a high bitrate primary and a medium bitrate as a backup. We air these two remote programming sources most of the day and insert our Discover Life programme several times, usually with a break every half-hour to an hour.
For our forward distribution, we have an AJA FS-1 frame sync that feeds the Roku streaming encoder and the ASI encoder for the cable headend. We use the Radiant VL-4500 ASI encoder and the MaxCom MX/HD-SDI-3G-ASI transmitter and receiver for the fibre link to the cable headend. It was necessary to add an ASI encoder, since the cable headend requires that flavour. We decided to keep that encoder in our racks and send ASI through the MaxCom and over the fibre network to them instead of locating the ASI encoder at the headend and sending HD-SDI. We chose to manage that encoder so we wouldn’t have to call the cable headend engineer to resolve any potential issues.
All of our equipment was replaced during this upgrade process. We’ve experienced tremendous improvements on multiple levels. Our power consumption has been reduced, we freed up considerable rack space and the equipment is quieter in operation. The video quality is a drastic improvement, as is expected when upgrading from SD to HD.
We have also been able to do less transcoding in-house. KLTV and Vimeo take our MPEG2 encoded files but, before the upgrade, we had to export our cable channel broadcast content as an MXF file for the old 360 server, which no other distribution outlet needed. Now we just output the one MPEG2 file from Adobe Premiere Pro and Media Encoder and that goes to KLTV, Vimeo and our NFinity playback server for the cable channel.
When we upgraded the NVerzion systems, we added routing, troubleshooting, monitoring and quality control capabilities that we did not have before. We previously had no effective way to monitor audio levels or isolate a source to troubleshoot signal or quality issues without taking it to air. We didn’t have an off-air monitor to monitor the channel through the cable system within master control. All we were able to monitor was our programme output, which was on a 4:3 tube monitor in the racks (which we kept, just for fun). Because our old master control system and transmission were analogue and SD-SDI, and our actual facility is HD-SDI at 1080i, we had countless converters and scalers to make HD-SDI into SDI and SDI into analogue or component, and vice-versa. We’ve removed dozens of those elements in the air-chain during this upgrade.
We still perform some transcoding because Spirit TV is native 720p and The Walk is native SD 480i but, at the switching and forward distribution level, everything is now 1080i. We stream the cable channel at 720p to lessen the bandwidth payload. The AJA Helo encoder handles that transcode for now. But we can easily perform the 720p transcode at the AJA FS-1 and lessen the load on the AJA Helo encoder. With every update to Helo, options become more numerous and it becomes better.
We added a feed from our production router so we can take any of our backbone production sources that are managed by our Harris Platinum 64x64 HD-SDI routing system to air. With this interexchange, we can go live to air on Sunday mornings if required. We also have the capability to send sources back to the Harris router from our Utah master control router if we need to send it around campus, place it on a better monitor or scope, or include in a production as an element.
We added a QC station with video and audio monitoring capabilities, which is fed from the Utah master control router. This allows us to troubleshoot all sources from within the router, as a ‘last-mile’ monitoring point before it is taken to air. In addition, we added a Decimator DMON-6S multi-viewer so we can monitor all of our sources simultaneously, including our streaming confidence decoder, with audio meters at all times. Each input of the Decimator is fed from the Utah master control router using an output, so we’re monitoring each source from within the router. Plus, it allows us to change the inputs of the multi-viewer with a simple router switch instead of re-cabling or patching anything. The NControl has control of output one from the switcher, which is our on-air output. The other nine outputs assist our distribution, troubleshooting and monitoring efforts. We can easily upgrade to the Utah 20x20 model if needed.
We also included a larger monitor for confirming the cable off-air, so we know our signal is reaching the cable headend and that there are no problems downstream from our fibre transmitter.
In the end, it was worth it. While it was a long process and many hours of work and training from vendors, it was well worth the investment of time and money. It is so much simpler and efficient now and no doubt our viewers appreciate the improvements. We believe we are well equipped to deliver God’s message for many years to come.