top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatthew Losey

Five Questions to Ask Before Installing a New Projector and Screen | How-to #1

Updated: May 2, 2023



My first blog post is on projectors and projector screens. Projectors and screens are likely the largest topic of conversation I encounter. If you are a technology volunteer in a church like me, you probably have to deal with projectors a lot. For better or worse, we are the ones responsible for keeping them going.

It’s funny to see how the screens never seem to get updated but the projector keeps changing. I know at the church where I was on staff, we have several twenty-five-year-old screens that are still in use because they’re stationary and aren’t discolored yet. For one reason or another, you are looking into an upgrade or a change and now you’ve found this article.

When it comes to church AVL, money seems to be the single largest question. In reality, we should be considering more variables than just the bottom line. Budget is certainly part of it, but not the only part. Because of that and my experience having a hard time managing all of those facets, I have created this list of five things to consider when upgrading or installing a projector in a small to medium size space.

As a CYA (cover your butt), please install projectors and screens only in situations that you are qualified to work in. A professional rigger once told me, “If a line array falls, it can take out several generations of a family.” While only half-serious, his comment instilled a healthy concern and responsibility whenever you are hanging production equipment overhead.

Purpose

Defining purpose may feel like a menial task but it is important to understand the scope of the project. Before you even think about touching the budget you should ask why you are installing a projector. Let’s think through a few of these items because it will help you understand what future considerations you must take into account regarding projector suggestions.

Who is your audience? Is it primarily an older or younger generation? A mix of the two? Is it a children’s environment or is it a jail ministry? Screen size is the main purpose for asking this question. If you are reaching a primarily older audience, you might want to consider a larger screen size with greater lumens. If it’s a children's environment, screen size might not be that important and you can just use a large TV for a fraction of the price of a projector and screen.

What content is going to be displayed on your projector? Small to medium size churches may not have cameras inside an auditorium or sanctuary. If that’s the case, you can deprioritize the speed of the video processing because lag/delay is less of a consideration. If you do have cameras, then you will want to consider the lag time between the camera and getting to the projector. If you have an HDMI based system, there will be considerably more lag then if you utilized a more commercial system of SDI and fiber cabling to get to your video source to the projector. If you don’t have cameras, you won’t have to worry as much about the color accuracy of the projectors.

The last variable in purpose is the ease of use. How simple is it to operate, troubleshoot, and maintain? If the system is going to be run by entirely volunteers, you might consider getting a more expensive system that is more reliable if your budget allows for it. I highly suggest going for a laser projector whenever possible because there is almost no maintenance involved. No lamps that need to be replaced every 1000 hours and the projector operating temperatures are significantly lower. That means that you don’t have to take as many ladders or lift trips up to the ceiling and clean and replace filters!

Existing Infrastructure

What do you already have installed? Do you have a really old projector with a 100-foot-long VGA cable that keeps causing the image to turn strange colors? Do you have a very delayed HDMI cable? Do you have an existing SDI cable that can carry HD and 4K signals? All of these are important considerations because the cost of the projector is never the cost of the projector. You need to consider transmission, singal converters, rigging, and electrical costs for both the projector and the screen.

If you have an existing projector with a stable video transmission cable, it is most likely best to utilize that. If you don’t, I always encourage SDI/Fiber runs because they are the most reliable in my experience. Fewer connections equal fewer failures in my humble opinion. Though the second best option over long distances is ethernet. The cabling is dirt cheap and you can find reputable HDMI converters on Amazon for relatively cheap. While ethernet converter standards are the wild west, there is also the possibility that you can utilize an existing Ethernet run to make your life simpler. I should mention I’m not talking about running video over your network, just running video point-to-point over a single ethernet cable.

The point of this exercise is feasibility and realistic expectations. So far, no church I have been a part of has had infinite resources to make every solution ideal. With that being said, realistic expectations allow for a realistic budget.

If you have an older screen that is a 4:3 ratio and you are looking to get a projector that is a more modern 16:9 ratio, consider what it might take to replace the screen. If that is outright too expensive, you have a couple of options depending if your screen is motorized or not. If it is motorized, you can reset the stop point of the screen. It’s easy to do and it can save a decent chunk of change. Look up your motorized screen manual to see how you change the stop position. This will almost always void the warranty, but since it’s probably out of warranty anyways, it doesn’t matter. Screen manufacturers void the warranty because of claims that stopping the screen in any place other than the factory setting will cause ripples in the screen over extended periods of time. I have not found this to be the case when only changing the screen from 4:3 to 16:10 or 16:9. In the case of modifying stationary screens, you can put a mask of drapery over the topor bottom portions of the screen. This will change how much of the screen is visible. It’s obviously least noticeable if the stage walls are black and the drape is black too. If you think it will look bad, just go without the drapery mask and see if anyone complains.

Auditorium Size or Sanctuary Size

How do you know how big your screen needs to be? There are plenty of calculators on the internet but a quick way I estimate the size is by using the forefinger and thumb method. This literal rule of thumb is useful for trying to find the best location for a screen as well. Stand in the back of the room and make an “L” with your forefinger and thumb. Hold it out at arm's length and move it around in the room. If you find that you can fit the whole stage in this area, it’s a good indication that you may need more video monitors in the back of the room. If it’s an appropriate size, you can make a mental note of the height and width of the screen. Walk around the room and check that visibility is comfortable while sitting and standing. Anything greater than 30 or 40 degrees is not the best unless you have the ability to turn chairs and pews. If it is, you should consider having two screens on either side of the stage to adjust for the wide auditorium space. Of course, this will be twice as expensive, so managing the space appropriately would help keeps costs down.

Now that you have a screen height, width, and, ratio, you can work backward to see what projector would work best for your space. If you utilize the same screen, just start with those dimensions on this website:

This is handy tool and very easy to use. Here are few notes to keep in mind while using this. Typically, the projector is aligned with the top or bottom of the screen unless there are space restraints. A little in either direction is fine. Be careful not to have the projector too far in any horizontal or vertical direction because portions of the viewing image will be out-of-focus—it’s not how the lens was designed. You will want to choose the correct zoom lens and I always start with the standard lens because it’s usually a lot cheaper and if nothing has been rigged yet, it can save a lot of time and money. In addition, some projectors have a tendency to reset the zoom and focus on the lens after a power outage. It’s pretty irritating to have to readjust everything, so if it can placed in a factory reset location, do that.

The last quick thing that I thought you should be aware of is double stacking projectors. It’s not a super popular option but it is an option. Some projectors are designed to have an option of being mounted on top of each-other to double the effective lumens (brightness) of the image. The tinkerer in me wanted to try to make this work. On one hand, it has redundancy, so if one projector fails, the other will at least give you something. On the other hand, it is much cheaper and easier to buy a projector that is twice as bright or more. One projector means you don’t have to split a video signal and pull more power to the projector location.

The exception to this is if you already have a couple identical model projectors laying around. Once you get them set up and mounted right next to each-other, put an image that has sharp boxed lines. Usually there is a test image setting in the projector for this purpose. Set up the first projector and then turn on the second one with the exact same image. It has to be as perfect as possible so if your projector doesn't have cornerstone and warp functions don’t hold your breath. If it’s not perfect it will just look blurry.

Lumens (Brightness)

Resolution is usually the first thing people look for when buying TVs, projectors, or other video equipment. However, I don’t think resolution is all that important when it comes to live video. Especially because if you are already at 1080 (HD) resolution the jump between that and 4k images is nominal in terms of quality for most of the audience. If you are standing as close as possible to the screen, you can tell that 4k will give you better definition but that not the case as you travel around the room. You can tell the price difference though.

Projector prices can double, triple, and beyond for the same specs aside from resolution. 4k is also used as marketing gimick. If you found a decent projector that totes 4k images, be careful to look at what the actual output of the image is. Many times in the consumer and prosumer industry, projectors will accept 4k HDMI inputs but downscale them to 1080 to display. Not much use that ends up being. Cheaper projector companies get the price down by sacrificing other areas, like processing speed, color accuracy, and lumen output even though they still technically achieve 4k. Therefore, I focus on color accuracy, frame rate, input type and lumens when choosing a projector.

Here are some things to consider for overall lumen output.

  1. Windows

  2. Service time-of-day

  3. Sun position in relation to the windows and doors

  4. House and stage lighting

  5. Front or rear projection

Windows will obviously have a huge impact on the necessary brightness for a projector. In my experience, a 10-13 foot screen in a 300-400 person room with no windows will do well with a 6k - 8k lumen projector. If there are windows, you will really need to consider a 10k-14k lumen projector. If there are huge glass walls, you might just need to switch gears to consider an LED wall. The price for a projector to handle an outdoor location or a full daylight space gets exponentially more expensive with the projector option. Along with the presence of windows, sun position and time of day will also affect the perceived brightness of the screen.

The next consideration in projector brightness is the house and stage lighting. Do you have the capability to turn them down or off near the screen or is it going to have to stay on all the time? Obviously, if lights are directing at the screen, they will wash out the image and you will have to compensate for this with by increasing lumens. The most practical and cost-effective option is to turn off or redirect the lights facing the screen.

Lastly, if you are already using an existing rear projection screen, it may be cheapest to keep utilizing it. If you are looking into it because you are having obstruction issues with front-mounting the projector in a place that casts shadows, rear projection would be a good option as well. But it is not a simple option. Generally speaking, you need a whole empty room behind the screen that cannot be used for storage or anything. In addition to actually having the screen installed correctly, you also need to account for the brightness lost from the projector attempting to shine light through a screen surface. If I were to throw a number at it, I would say it is 40% less bright than doing regular old front projection. Withe front projection, the image looks clearer, sharper, takes up less space, and consequently is a lot cheaper and easier to install. For those reasons, I try to steer clear of rear projection options.

Projector Control

There are more or less three popular options for presentation software that churches choose to use—Easy Worship, ProPresenter, and PowerPoint. For small churches, the easiest way to get the video feed from these computer programs is by having multiple outputs from the computer’s graphics card and sending those via HDMI to different monitors and projectors. Once you hit more than two outputs though, it actually gets pretty expensive and equally unreliable to send video in that way to multiple locations. Graphics cards are not cheap and that’s assuming the software you are using has the capability for multiple outputs.

I am not a fan of HDMI splitters because they have a reputation for failing but I understand the necessity for them in smaller environments. One option that you might consider if you only have a couple of video feeds, and they are all identical, is an HDMI to SDI converter. My personal favorite is the Decimator MD-HX.


It can take one HDMI input, pass it through to another HDMI and simultaneously send out to four identical SDI signals. They can go to multiple projectors, TVs or whatever. Then at the other ends of the SDI runs you can use the Decimator MD-LX to convert the signal back to HDMI and get it into the TVs or projector. Black magic makes similar options but I have only had one decimator fail and about a dozen Blackmagic converters fail during my time on church staff.

It feels like a lot of money to have an SDI infrastructure but if you consider the costs of graphics cards, power supplies, long-run HDMI cables, it ends up about the same. Not to mention, there is significantly less lag in SDI runs as there is in a long HDMI cable and it is a lot more reliable.

If you have multiple different outputs from your computer like a primary display, stage display, or even a triple-wide screen solution, getting those converted to SDI and put in an SDI router is going to save you a lot of headaches. I know it seems like I don’t like Blackmagic but I actually do. I just like their more reliable gear, like their SDI routers. https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/smartvideohub

The smallest one they have is a 12x12 which means twelve inputs and twelve outputs. You can route any input to as many outputs as you like. If you have a large lobby with many TVs, mother's room, general viewing, nursery, children's wing etc, you can label them in the router.

If this all sounds completely unnecessary, it might, depending on your situation. If you are a mobile church meeting in a small room with one projector and no extra tvs, an SDI router solution is overkill. Just plug your computer into the projector and call it a day. But if you have multiple inputs, outputs, and need to change video feeds from cameras, to multiple graphics computers, you want to consider a video switcher to integrate with your SDI router. Speaking of Blackmagic, they make several good and easy-to-use HDMI and SDI and SDI/HDMI combo video switchers. Remember, video switcher and video routers are different.

Conclusion

I vomited a lot of information on you here. It’s all from my experience using each of the tools I shared. I am not compensated in any way from sharing these products and while not always what an integrator or installer might do, I have a feeling, if you’re reading this blog post, you can’t afford to use one. You might be like me. You are tech-savvy, like doing things yourself, and hate to spend the little money your church has on unnecessary things.

I’ll say it again, be safe and responsible, using only trained rigging and electrical professionals while updating your projector and screen. If you have any questions or would like to contact me, feel free to use the contact section or reach out using one of my social media pages.


Comments


bottom of page