Feature: Looking to the future
Feature: Looking to the future
All Saints in Crowborough has once again turned to local integrator Ashdown AV to supply a new video system for its livestreaming needs, reports Karen Wallace
As the UK neared the end of its first lockdown in May last year, it became apparent that not everyone would want to return to the sanctuary and attend services in-person. In addition, strict limits on capacity meant that HOWs were restricted to the numbers allowed through their doors. Keeping in touch with congregants wishing to worship at home would have to remain an essential element of weekly services.
All Saints is an evangelical church in Crowborough, around 50 miles southeast of London, and was blessed with a large extension in 2000 to make room for its growing congregation. The ageing video system that had been installed as part of the extension couldn’t keep up with the quality that people expect today and it had become too complicated for operators to use. The projector was also situated in front of a window and constantly fighting the sunlight. “Previously, the system was just being used in-house, particularly for our large services such as Christingle when we’ve managed to fit in over 500 people,” explained Catherine Allen, director of music. With the pandemic forcing livestreaming higher up the agenda, the church contacted local systems integrator Ashdown AV to discuss what options were available.
“We’d already developed a relationship with Ashdown AV when they upgraded our audio system in late 2019,” added Allen. “Towards the end of the first lockdown, vicar Steve Rees said to me that we need to start making plans for the reopening of the church. We contacted Ashdown while we were still in lockdown as we needed someone who was familiar with the building and how we work as a church. We wanted to start livestreaming our sermons – we have lots of visual speakers who use props such as fishing rods so if you’re just listening to the audio at home it loses some of the impact.
“As lockdown eased, we returned to church using somewhat clunky and difficult-to-operate equipment and realised that updating our cameras and streaming equipment to improve the quality would be worth the investment,” continued Allen. “We decided not to opt for the most expensive, broadcast-quality solution as it would be out of budget and require camera operators in the building, causing social distancing issues.”
Ashdown has installed a Lumens VC-A51SB PTZ Full HD 1080p camera with 20x optical zoom and a Datavideo BC50 Full HD 1080p camera, fixed one on top of the other on the balcony front. The PTZ is used to provide a series of different views through presets on the Lumens VK-20 PTZ controller. The fixed camera has a wide view of the whole front of the church. The fixed camera (“Hold Image”) is selected on the video mixer and the PTZ is then moved to its new position. Once the PTZ is lined up, the technician can switch over, creating a very smooth transition shot. The church’s two LG 84WS70 black UltraHD Edge Lit LED displays, installed in 2015, have also been upgraded to HD.
Pete Shaddick is a regular parishioner at All Saints and also a trainee AV technician at Ashdown AV. He explains: “along with the two cameras, we also have a Blackmagic Atem Mini Pro 4 HDMI input switcher with four inputs, two Blackmagic SDI to HDMI converters and an SY HS12-a8G HDMI one-to-two splitter. All the music’s prerecorded and played onto the main screen. It then comes through to the live feed as well. It’s a 16:9 ratio camera system with 200 presets. It’s very intuitive to YouTube as well – all you have to do is press go live and, once it’s set up, it will stream straight away.”
“Before and during the second lockdown, we have been streaming three services on a Sunday,” said Allen. “We had been trying to encourage people to come back into church because there’s something very biblical about gathering and you don’t get the same feeling in your home. However, not everyone wants to return and we’ve seen the number of people watching the services steadily increase.”
One of the challenges All Saints needed to overcome was how to train volunteers on the new system during a pandemic. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost some of our volunteers following lockdown but we’ve also gained a few new people and we’ve been encouraging families to serve together where possible, such as fathers and sons. But training has been our biggest hurdle during the pandemic. We’ve made some training videos so people can watch at home and learn how to use the equipment. Before the second lockdown, we were able to do one-to-one training but previously we were able to have a big group of people in for training together.”
A new video system isn’t the only recent upgrade at All Saints. “Shortly after I arrived in 2015, we started thinking about updating the audio system but it’s a slow process and it’s not something you want to rush,” explained Allen. “The problem with the previous system is that you could walk from one side of the church to the other and the sound would totally change – and also from the back to the front – so the coverage was really patchy.”
As with the first video system, the speakers that were installed as part of the new extension in 2000 had begun to deteriorate. In late 2019, Ashdown AV installed two Electro-Voice EVA 2082S-906 line array modules for even coverage across the length of the room, EVA 2151D subwoofers and ZX1i loudspeakers as infill and as a monitor system for the choir. The amplifiers driving the system are the Dynacord IPX series, with an IPX10:4 powering the tops and subs and an IPX5:4 looking after the fills and monitors. Dynacord’s Sonicue sound system software was used to tune the solution.
“The way we use the speaker system now is very different to back in 2000,” added Allen. “Our music ministry has developed and grown – previously it was mostly for the spoken word and a bit of music but now it’s needed equally for both.”
Looking to the future, Allen quietly hopes that All Saints will be able to find the money to upgrade the lighting system. “We moved some spots around last year and added some new colours but we haven’t acquired any new equipment. We’re a creative church with lots of concerts and productions so updating our lighting fixtures is the logical next step.”
Although the pandemic might have changed the focus of the weekly services, All Saints’ plans for further expansion are quietly sitting and waiting in the background. “When things return to normal, we might need to look at adding another service on a Sunday but I think we’re reluctant to do that because it’s tiring for everybody,” explains Allen. “But we can also expand into the space at the back of the church – in effect the old part of the building before the extension was built – and we can add more for families with younger children. We also have space downstairs but currently we’re only able to feed the livestream onto screens in this area, so this is something that we could also develop.”
Even if it’s many more months before full-capacity services can resume and livestreaming is here to stay, it’s clear that All Saints has all bases covered.