How We Outgrew Our CG Process

We recently gave our entire CG process—the system we use for live video graphics—a much needed facelift. Before the change, the gear was pieced together just enough to make our CG needs work for a new center video LED wall. The need for simultaneous video playback on multiple screens, the ability to generate timecode, and a master controller to run all the above led us to QLab by Figure 53.

QLab offered us a solution for all of our new needs. Not only were we able to execute our new demands, QLab offered expansion possibilities to do things we couldn’t do before. And based on my experience in the past, things yet to be dreamed up.

Why We Made a Change

The three LED screens we currently use in our main auditorium have two different aspect ratios. The outside video walls are the standard 16:9, but the center wall is 2.5:1, almost a cinematic configuration. Therefore they require two different videos to suit the different aspect ratios. We disliked sending a 16:9 video to the center wall with black pillars on either side of the image, so sending the same video to all LED walls would not work. We needed to play two different videos in sync. At that point we had outgrown ProPresenter for our CG process.

We had recently used QLab to send timecode to our lighting console to trigger a Catalyst media server for our Christmas services. We quickly implemented QLab due to its ability to play multiple videos in sync through discrete outputs. This solved our dilemma. During our recent CG facelift, we put two CG computers in place that have the capability of two outputs each, each with an alpha channel.

Let me talk some nerd talk real quick. We are using one Mac Pro tower with a Blackmagic Design DeckLink Quad 2 PCI card, giving a possibility of eight outputs. We are using only four—two video outputs and two alpha outputs. All videos play from of a solid state drive. This is important for reliable playback. The other computer is an iMac, also configured with a SSD. For SDI output we needed to go a different route since we had this iMac, not a tower we could just put a DeckLink card in. Instead, we are chaining together two Blackmagic Ultra Studio 4Ks over Thunderbolt. We aren’t sending 4K to anything (yet), but it has two outputs, and we configure one of the outputs as an alpha channel. Altogether this gives us two outputs from each of our two CG computers, for a total of four outputs, each with an accompanying alpha channel.

We had these computers doing other things before the facelift—we simply repurposed them for our needs with a minimum of ancillary purchases. They have been serving us well for nearly a year now.

Timecode

Sending timecode from QLab is a simple procedure. Utilizing Apple’s built in network MIDI support, we are able to send timecode from our “A” CG server computer to a laptop running Pro Tools on stage. Before timecode, we sent sent regular audio tracks with a click track from QLab to keep the band in sync with our video playback or just for timing purposes. The tracks were mixed down in a Pro Tools session and bounced out. If the band wanted to make a change, we had to start the whole process over. That’s no good during tight times before a service. Now the band can make changes directly in the Pro Tools session on stage and it takes no intervention from us. We love that idea. We have better things to do than to keep bouncing tracks and updating QLab, like making a good cup of coffee.

Master Control

A third computer is our Master Control computer. Running QLab itself, it controls the two CG servers among other things. QLab can and often does control the following, often at the same time:

  • CG servers
  • Lower fifth lyrics
  • Timecode
  • Downstream graphics switcher
  • Live video switcher
  • Various ATEM switchers
  • Our Wirecast streaming setup
  • Various Hyperdeck playback devices

This computer has become the master controller for all things video. A programmer can come in and make it quite simple to use for a seasoned volunteer. I use the term “programmer” on purpose. It is programmed much like a lighting console with a cue stack. It is just a list of programmed cues. If you can dream it up, QLab can do it. Although, I’m still dreaming of it making me a pour over cup of coffee.

What about ProPresenter?

We have not abandoned ProPresenter. For smaller events in our main auditorium it can still be more practical to use ProPresenter. Our lyrics prompter and on-stage presenter TV feeds still use ProPresenter because it is simple for anyone to run. Throughout our entire campus, ProPresenter is used in all of our classrooms. And at our satellite campuses, ProPresenter is still the media player in use for all of our services.

QLab allows us to enjoy the coffee we made with the time we saved to make it. It enables us to know that all of our cues are going to work, videos are going to play correctly, and the message will be sent out from the stage without distraction from the Production team. That is always the end goal.

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Andrew Swan
Global Video Engineer
Andrew Swan joined the COTM Production team in 2008. He puts his previous career in TV and film to the test weekly as he looks after our video systems ministry-wide as the Global Video Engineer. If you're looking for great advice on the latest great fiction novel, WWII history, or perhaps the elements that comprise a proper cup of coffee, Swany is your man.