Monday, June 23, 2008

Tiny Church Media Budget

If you're a small church looking to make an investment into technology to help with handling media, song presentation, and some form of PowerPoint, you may be wondering which way to go. After all, you have been through the using the old cantankerous PC that someone donated and you're tired of the clumsiness and technology hiccups that occurs, yet you feel that unless you have a big budget, you can't have something of high quality.

Not true!

There are some very cost effective solutions for your church to put some quality in what you do without requiring a technological genius running the equivalent of a Houston space operation center.

Your foundational media needs will typically comprise four areas:

Lyric presentation
Music/audio playback
DVD play
Speaker slides

For a church starting out, one of the best options to address these four foundational areas is a MacBook notebook computer with the iWork suite ($79). That's it. You can even get by with the basic MacBook for $1099 US and do all these things fairly well. 

Now, could you do this with a PC? Yes. But you would have to purchase additional software and perhaps go with additional options that in the end, may end up being a hodge-podge of software and hardware that can work, but probably won't work as smoothly as you would like it to in the end. And probably only save you a couple of dollars up front in trade for a lot of headaches in the end.

So let's talk about this solution. 

While many churches start out with PowerPoint for lyric presentation, you can use Keynote (Apple's equivalent to PowerPoint) that comes with the iWork suite. One advantage of Keynote is that the Hollywood quality transitions are very smooth so you can gently fade from one slide to the next. Keynote can also easily use nested slides so that when arranging a song list, you only have to move the first slide and all the other slides of the song come with it.

There is also an open source, free lyric presentation called OpenSong, which gives you not only lyric presentation, but also the ability to download lyrics from CCLI, and can print out guitar chords, etc. OpenSong runs on Macs as well as PC's. I don't know if OpenSong can handle video and I didn't find it intuitive but you might find it useful.

After either of these two solutions, I would jump to ProPresenter by Renewed Vision. One cool thing with ProPresenter is that you can take an audio track and match the words to the audio track so people can sing along. You can assign backgrounds as well so all the user has to do is press the play button and you get a full visual/audio presentation that can rival larger churches (if done right).

For audio and music playback, you have iTunes and QuickTime on a Mac which are amongst the easiest to use. I've used Windows Media Player on a PC and just found it to be messy and sometimes couldn't get it to do what I wanted it to do. With a $29 QuickTime Pro license, you can import and convert many types of media, both video and audio. I use Handbrake to rip a chapter from a DVD and then use QuickTime to crop the video to exactly what I want. Then I can drop the movie file on a Keynote or ProPresenter slide and you can smoothly launch it.

DVD playback is excellent on a Mac. It comes with high quality DVD player software that allows you to quickly sort through chapters. It handles playback gracefully, especially when connecting to an external projector. Most PC's come with a low-end, generic DVD player from a company that paid to have their software come pre-installed. Apple designed their DVD player to be an integrated component of the overall system and to provide a high quality user experience that has an intuitive controller, not some hokey looking interface that was designed by an offshore electronics company.

For speaker slides, I prefer Keynote. Again, smooth transitions for one. But even more importantly, Keynote discourages putting tons of text on a slide, which inexperienced presenters so love to do. Keynote is designed by people who understand visuals and presentations wasn't designed for engineering presentations as PowerPoint was originally. Keynote seems to want you to do things in a classy way whereas PowerPoint allows you to be as garish as you want.

Okay, so here is your tab:
MacBook - $1099
Video Adapter - $19 (for projector connectivity)
Apple remote - $19 (for Keynote and also Front Row media software_
iWork - $79

Total - $1,216 retail price.

Not bad for a media station that can run the top media software when you're ready as well as provide you with some additional tools that I'll cover in a another post that can really assist with your church's media needs.

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