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High tech communication new tool for churches

New technology makes it easier for churches to integrate high-tech audio and visual components into Sunday morning worship services.

Along with music, many churches now use PowerPoint slide presentations and video clips, to make their message in ways that are more dynamic and appealing to contemporary audiences. And, as the price of the equipment continues to drop, even small churches are ‘getting into the act’.

Key account manager with Boyd Audio Visuals Jolyon Russell worked for three years as a lay evangelist in Anglican churches. He says people up to the age of 30 are now very familiar with audio-visual technology and see it as a fundamental part of learning.

“If a church relies solely on hymn books younger people will see it as archaic and don’t want to be identified with it. Modern technology is now a minimum standard for services and anything less is perceived as quaint and out-dated which casts a shadow over the message.”

Jolyon says churches initially anticipate minimal usage of the technology, perhaps 20 minutes a week during the main service. However, they quickly find many more uses for them.

“Within the congregation the equipment can be used for youth work, in men’s and women’s groups, and home fellowships. And it can also be used in outreach such as Alpha groups. One church in Auckland uses its equipment to show a family movie one night a week. They have a barbeque and the church becomes part of the community.”

A data projector is the core of any system that displays images. More than 20 different brands of projectors and some 150 different models are available in New Zealand so churches can face a daunting task when deciding what to purchase. Along with the features of the projector itself it is important to choose a brand that is nationally supported with high quality service and support.

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which model data projector to purchase. These include what it will be used for, where it will be used, and the specifications of the projector.

Data projectors can feature in a range of presentations – from playing a video for a Sunday school class or running a small group training session to a multimedia extravaganza for a full congregation. You should also consider if you will use it primarily with a laptop computer or will you want to connect to other devices such as a DVD player.

After you have decided what you will use your data projector for consider the places in which it will be used. How big is the room, hall, or worship space? What size is your screen and what size image do you want to create? How much ambient light is present?

The answers to these questions (along with the ever important one: How much can you afford?) will determine the type of data projector you should buy. Two key features that determine the quality and cost of a projector are its brightness and resolution.

Brightness is measured in lumens and a good rule of thumb is to get the highest lumens you can afford. This is particularly important in locations exposed to high ambient light.

The resolution is how much detail the projector can transfer to the screen. If possible avoid purchasing projectors that run at a native resolution of 800x600. A projector that runs at a resolution of 1024x768 will provide nearly twice as much information (pixels) in each image, and therefore provides greater clarity.

Multi media accounts manager for Connect NZ Southern Adrianna Slykerman says you should always trial a data projector before you purchase it.

“It is important to test the projector to see how it performs where it will be used. Some churches have lots of ambient light because of windows or stained glass so they may need a more powerful projector. Lumens are not a precise measurement, and two different projectors with the same specified lumens can actually perform differently.”

“If possible use one of your own presentations when testing different brands and models of projectors. If company representatives present their own various media you may end up comparing apples and oranges”

Adrianna says another thing to consider is whether to choose a portable projector that can be used in a variety of settings or a more powerful ceiling mounted projector in a single location. Most projectors will invert the image so they can be mounted upside down on the ceiling but some models provide inverted images of lesser quality. Check whether this is the case.

Another piece of advice from Adrianna is to think about on-going running costs. How long projector bulbs last and how much it costs to replace them vary. The price of replacing a bulb normally ranges from $500 to $1000 so it is an important factor to consider.

Another element in your communication system is the computer that runs it Jolyon says it is not necessary to have a laptop computer to run PowerPoint with a data projector, any computer will suffice. He advises starting small.

“It is a huge misconception that you need a $4000 laptop when in reality a $500 second hand desk top computer will run all the software you are capable of using. A laptop computer is initially a huge unwarranted expense for a church because most people do not have the software skills to use it.”

And if you want powerful visual effects you may need to buy expensive software that otherwise comes free with a second hand desk top computer.