Published April 2008

Widening Our View
By Anthony D. Coppedge

How 16:9 can enchance a church's experience.

Widescreen flat panels and projectors continue to make huge inroads as the technology becomes less expensive and more prevalent. But do you know why the majority of these units are in those wide formats?

Two reasons:

• Our eye has a very wide field of view, so widescreen is more “natural” and compelling to view.

• HDTV (high definition television) is here, and will be the standard soon, according to the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

That square-ish TV you have now will be a relic in the not-too-distant future.
But there’s another reason—a more important reason—that churches should use widescreen, which we’ll discuss in a few moments. However, it’s important to know where we’ve come from to see where we’re going.

The Past Paved The Way

Widescreen movies weren’t always widescreen. The aspect ratio, which is the relationship between the width of a film image and its height, used to look like old-fashioned TVs. From the early days of film (starting in the late 1890s) until the early 1950s, almost all films had a standard aspect ratio of 1.33:1, better known as 4:3. This eventually became known as Academy Standard when it was recognized formally by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the 1930s.

Once television began capturing the imagination of American consumers, the Hollywood film industry was faced with a problem: So many people were buying TVs and staying at home to watch them that theater attendance began to decline dramatically. The studios began making changes to the look of their movies so there would be a greater distinction between cinema and television.

Today, two “standardized” ratios that are by far the most common are Academy Flat (1.85:1) and Anamorphic Scope (2.35:1). You’ve no doubt seen these two formats in movie theaters where the curtains on the side move further to the side in the interim between the trailers and the actual movie.

Over time, the industry began to embrace widescreen formats as a preferred display, which has been evidenced in both commercial flat-panel plasma and LCD usage and in widescreen flat-panel computer monitors.

Yet, the most important change has been years in the making, with the FCC declaring in the mid 1990s the intention of mandating a change to digital video early within the new millennium.

What This Means

The big question is, “How will HDTV affect churches in the near future?”
The answer: It won’t, unless the church is considering an HD video-enabled video venue, which is simply another venue where (at least) the sermon is delivered via video or the church has both a broadcast television ministry and a broadcast market that supports HDTV of either 1080i or 720p via the broadcast station.

So, for now, church video equipment is safe before there is a “need” to go HD.
But even without HD as a consideration, this writer is a huge advocate of adding 16:9 projection systems into even the smallest of churches...NOW. Why? It has nothing to do with HDTV. Sure, it’s a bonus that, when HDTV does hit in a big way and the changeover is finally gaining momentum, the 16:9-enabled church is poised for an ultra-smooth transition. But the reason I say go to 16:9 NOW is simple: 16:9 is ideal for song lyrics and sermon support graphics!

Why Widescreen Now

Probably the most often-used function of a projector in church auditoriums today is for song lyrics. This writer has been to hundreds of churches and I have seen a common problem with the 4:3 aspect ratio for these song lyrics: It doesn’t read the way it sings.

Although the type of songs and the style of music may be widely different, the basic verse and chorus structure remains about the same, often resulting in line breaks that are inconsistent with the singing of the song. This can confuse both visitors and members alike, causing a distraction and discouraging people from singing, for fear of singing at the wrong time!

However, the same song in 16:9 not only fits on fewer slides (for presentation software or character generator) per screen, but the breaks at the end of the sentences are typed the same as they are sung.

With 16:9, songs “sing” the way they “read” on the screen, thereby allowing someone who doesn’t know a song to join right in with the long-time members in singing along.
Another easy upgrade is in the changeover and/or addition of digital signage for communicating targeted information to various portions of a church campus.

With the plethora of solutions for distributing content over Cat5 and creating “zones” via IP-addressable displays, it’s never been easier to extol the benefits of developing a distributed digital signage network on every church campus.

16:9 Costs More, But Not Much

The screens cost a few bucks more, and a higher resolution projector is ideal for the bigger picture area, but those are the “big” expenses. For perhaps 15% more, and that’s due mostly to the better projector, churches can use 16:9 quite effectively.

In fact, if a church uses PowerPoint or any of the many worship software packages on the market today, it’s probably a great candidate to upgrade to 16:9. Why? Because the main content is computer-based. This means it’s easy to set many of the newer video cards to a 16:9 resolution, matching the screen size and shape with the church’s software!

Although it is possible to use an existing projector and “fake” 16:9 by projecting “black” at the top and bottom of the screen, that’s really not the way to do it: That’s letterboxing.

What’s wrong with letterboxing song lyrics and other text? Simple: Up to 25% less viewable screen height means that those farther away from the screen will have a much harder time reading the text! It’s best to actually project the same height as is needed for a 4:3 screen. When you transition from 4:3 to 16:9, the only thing that changes is the width, not the height.

Help Churches Upgrade Now

Selling the concept to church leadership includes helping them define their needs and helping them decide if they’re going to retrofit technology into an existing space or plan for upgrades with a new facility. The simple truth is that it’s easier to design technology into a new facility than it is to make it work in an existing space, but it can (and should) be done, especially if a building program is not imminent.

If a church is not video-intensive in production, the decision is simple: Help its leaders plan for the 16:9 format ASAP. The advantages for song lyrics, sermon points and scripture are obvious because the format is easier to follow than the old 4:3 aspect ratio. Help the church put a plan in place to make these changes this year. Why put off something that’s so ready-made for churches? Easing the pain threshold of pastors and worship leaders is an easy and viable strategy for integrators to position to their church clients.

As a church develops and grows its technical arts, its leaders must make sure a clear upgrade path to 16:9 exists before investing in any new equipment. Assisting churches with a multi-phase approach that includes new equipment, additional training and a strong service plan helps both the church leadership and the systems integrator create a working partnership and repeat business.

Anthony D. Coppedge is the principal technology evangelist for Church Media Group, a full-service creative agency in Southlake TX. His frequent work with churches, helping them with holistic communications and technology strategies, provides him with a real-time pulse on the challenges of growing churches. Contact him at anthony@anthonycoppedge.com.

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