Digital world is here to stay!

Digital world is here to stay!

Over the past ten years or more, Eric Thorn has endeavoured to enlighten us on various projection topics which amazingly (it seems now!) go right back to overhead installations, and before. In recent months, he has been advising on the latest digital systems that fall within most budgets. Here he shares an outline of his thinking, but please bear in mind that the information imparted here is a generalisation reflecting Eric’s personal views, so you should consult your usual audio visual supplier for a specification to suit your particular venue.

So, it has come to pass! The intellectual technology and video conferencing generations have come of age!

This is predominantly noticeable in the education sector, now that scholars of all ages are increasingly computer literate. And with subjects such as computer programming now considered essential learning, evolving into the digital world which nobody can deny is here to stay has somehow become indispensable for contemporary education.

For many, a once dreamed-of virtual reality existence has somehow transformed itself into genuine reality. If dreams are the spirits of the future they have materialised into a cyber phenomenon in our lifetime; turning today’s dreams into a giant question mark as to what lies beyond the vast digital horizon for future generations to discover.

My generation used to wonder how our forebears managed without wireless sets and television receivers that were large items of furniture. We also speculated how they communicated with each other without the convenience of a landline telephone.

The younger generations now seem to experience great difficulty in comprehending that my contemporaries grew up in ignorance of digital technology and flat screen televisions with countless available channels. This point was driven home to me recently when I was visiting a school to discuss the latest inter-active touch screen devices: A year six class member asked me how we managed to do our everyday shopping with no PLU (price look up) computers and POS (point of sale) bar code scanning devices. Yes, we have travelled a long technical road since shop keepers wrote down their prices on a scrap of sugar paper and totted them up manually with no machine to assist.

Current and future generations are growing up in an atmosphere that knows nothing outside of interactive technology. From the moment of birth, the majority are reportedly growing up surrounded by hand held computers masquerading as cell phones, electronic games, box sets of music videos and the like.

As if that was not enough, most of the people known to me who are under the age of around twenty-five to thirty years old seem (to me) to spend an inordinate amount of time tuned in to video productions, courtesy of web sites such as YouTube®.

So, the brave new world of today is one where digital communication is the order of the day, with a high proportion comprised of high definition images, both in still and video graphic formats. That being the case, it is no surprise to know that all seats of learning are increasingly using the method of communication that their students know well. This even extends to homework, which can now be set on line and even marked on line in some cases.

Effective education today is centred on the cyber world in which current generations reside. Pupils and teachers alike are comfortable with this arrangement which makes for excellent learning. It is only right that churches should adopt a similar environment for their role in Christian education.

Digital church

Our friends within the general church community are catching up at a great pace. Today a wave of realisation has taken hold: that churches, chapels and other places of worship of all faiths should move with the times and utilise high definition digital technology supported with flat screen hardware.

After all, the church community is actually in the business of communication. They proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It makes absolute sense for them to use the best tools of communication available that they can afford. The so-called digital churches are not only installing superb digital screens and discarding redundant analogue or digital projectors and allied equipment, they are installing good quality wi-fi (wireless fidelity for accessing the Internet) so that they can stream live Internet content. Increasingly, churches with wi-fi are announcing “free wi-fi available here” for use by their visitors.

Digital churches are taking the bull by the horns. The reticence to embrace new technology in the past is giving way to going the whole hog. Thus the digital embracing church is increasingly installing digital notice boards and sign boards. Printed posters outside places of worship announcing forthcoming events are giving way to high definition screens and/or LED (light emitting diode) digital sign boards which can be updated almost instantly via the church computer.

A few days ago, I took this photo to illustrate the difference between traditional projection and digital screen. Although the picture is far from perfect, it is easy to see that the small screen on the left is much clearer than the traditional projected screen on the right. Even though this is a fair-sized church, members of the congregation reported how much clearer the flat screen was.

Whilst giving consideration to upgrading their display hardware to digital screens, a handful of our readers contacted me for my thoughts.

Digital world is here to stay!

In discussing display screens, I generally argue that digital flat panel screens are the ones to opt for on condition that these are suitable for both your site and budget. Quite intentionally, I do not make any suggestions pertinent to screen sizes, because the dimension of these items is generally dictated by the venue where they are planned to be installed.

However, no less than three readers contacted me on this very subject. Two of these had apparently received the impression that they would require digital screens of a size in the region of 100” (254 cm). No doubt expensive screens of this size would cost far in excess of any church or school budget!

It crossed my mind that maybe our correspondents were inadvertently comparing the image size of a flat screen display with that of a typical projector screen. That would be rather like trying to compare avocados with tangerines.

Due to the excellent contrast ratio of digital flat screen display, the text facet, which is generally considered the most important, can be read from much further away in an auditorium than traditional projection. Sunlight also has less of an effect. The contrast ratio of a long-established projection system is typically 3,000:1, whereas for a digital flat screen it will be 30,000:1.

It is also important to note that a colour from a conventional projector can only be as colourful as the white screen it is displayed on! On an electronic screen all colours are rather more realistic.

Another important consideration is that, historically, the majority of churches and schools have been restricted to just one white screen in any room used for projection purposes. The cost of dual projection and dual screens has often proved prohibitive. With digital systems there is often no projector required; the exception being those venues that, for whatever reason, require traditional projection running in tandem with a contemporary flat screen arrangement. In which case, it is essential to specify that a high definition projector is required.

Most of the churches that I am familiar with who have installed fashionable flat screens, have screens located on either side at the front.

At my church, the screens at the front are 42” (106 cm), which is more than adequate for the size of our particular worship area. We also boast a single screen located on the front of the gallery, facing the pulpit, thus enabling everybody involved in leading worship (musicians, worship leader, preacher and so on) to read from the screen which is 60” (152 cm) and they all comment on how remarkably clear it is.

Some churches and schools I have visited have flat screens installed at various points on either side of their auditoriums. Thus, nobody misses out if they have a full house.

A bonus for those with two or more screens is that in the event of one failing for any reason, the other continues until the fault is sorted.

A small church in my locality recently installed a flat screen on the front of their (rear) gallery. Proving that it is not necessary to spend a fortune on such luxuries, this is a 47” (119 cm) own brand television from Tesco! And it is remarkably good! Of course, the majority of televisions manufactured in recent times are multi-purpose units. In addition to being television broadcast receivers, they have extra facilities built in, enabling their use as personal computer and digital projection monitors.

The question I have been asked more than any other on this topic is related to what size digital screens to invest in. But as all buildings are different there is no instant answer! Best to invite professional audio visual hardware installers to visit your premises to discuss requirements and provide a quotation.

Schools and educational authorities usually have their own appointed commercial companies to deal with such matters. Churches and other places of worship are catered for by a number of companies, many of which specialise in church related installations. Some of these advertise in MEN. For what it is worth, companies serving the church community that I am personally aware of, but neither MEN nor myself can give any endorsement to, are DM Installations, and Hilltop Audio Visual Ltd. As an introduction, do please mention MEN and this article if you should contact either or both of these concerns.

High Definition flat screen technology

Those who decide to take the plunge and embark on a voyage of electronic flat screen installation are often faced with more questions than answers.

But there is no reason for this to be a nerve-racking concern. As with traditional hardware, audio visual businesses should be able to give their particular recommendations and quote accordingly.

Due to recent advances in technology, my current personal leanings are towards that school of thought which advocates ignoring specialist monitors. Instead, plump for current production innovative multipurpose television receivers. These all boast high definition video and audio capability.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) screens are appearing to grow thinner with each new generation and the retail price seems to be coming down as their popularity increases.

Light Emitting Diode electronic screens are notably economical to run. As with all LED technologies, they use significantly little power to operate. Their crowning glory has to be the superior image created on screen, making LED screens the preferred choice for many purposes. Hearsay has it, although I have no evidence to support it, that Light Emitting Diode screens are now the most popular choice for most applications.

Looking ahead

Not a few people have asked me about whether or not I would consider a digital flat screen installation future proof.

That is the sort of query that brings to mind an ancient question: How long is a piece of string? In today’s climate of continuous advances in technology, and especially digital technology, it would not be sensible to claim anything is future proof. Looking ahead, however, I do believe that digital screens will be around for a good while.

So, whilst nobody could claim any system to be future proof, a high definition installation should generally cater for all current technologies that most churches and schools wish to embrace.

And, whatever, your envisaged requirement may be, do please seek advice and quotations from at least three reputable audio visual installation companies, for serious consideration, prior to going ahead.

Eric A. Thorn