Planning Center Online

Planning Center Online is a little gift from above for those of us who schedule church services. Now this post is in no way endorsed by them, I’m not receiving a kickback, the people at Planning Center Online do not even know I exist. This post comes out of years of experience, and a want to help churches get better. I remember back to when my tech team schedule was a Word document, or when I upgraded to Excel (those were the days.) Trying to keep my list straight and make sure that I really did have coverage. My reason for this post comes from many churches asking for advice out of frustration with their current way of organizing their teams. When I ask if they’re using Planning Center Online (PCO) I often hear  two things, the first being no and the second, is that they only use it for one thing. Maybe as a team database, or for simple scheduling. I can tell you from first hand experience, only half using this solution is a frustrating world for all parties involved.

Planning Center Online

So what does Planning Center Online offer?

  • Entire team database. All production, vocalist, choir, and band are quickly accessible in the search features.
  • Service flow. Build your service, add times and notes. Print off a run sheet for the entire team, and everyone stays connected.
  • Rehearsals. Upload mp3 files of the worship songs along with the chord charts/sheet music for the band to rehearse too. No more coming in mid-week to pick up their song book for the weekend.
  • Scheduling. Takes some of the hassle out of scheduling with multiple ways to get people plugged in.
    • Block Out Dates
    • Team Scheduling
    • Signup Sheets (allows team members to sign themselves up)
    • Auto Scheduling

Those are the four big features of PCO (in my opinion.) There are some other cool things like Music Stand, Projector, and Resource Calendar. I have not personally needed to use the other features but know that others really like the Music Stand feature for using their iPad on stage. For my team, I have people who want to serve the same time each month setup into “Teams” that I schedule as far out as we have services listed for. Then I use the Signup Sheets to allow those with more flexible schedules to fill in where they can. If someone declines, PCO will show you who else is available. The whole thing makes scheduling a lot easier (unless you start pushing buttons like I did that one time.)

In the service flow, place as much information as you can to help your team. I normally look to see who is leading each song, what key it is (setting audio plugins) and if there is a fill track. Other info I have seen people put here is dress code, call times, and a general checklist for the entire team. Use this sheet to keep everyone on the same page. The service flow is also where I have seen churches give up. They don’t feel the need, or maybe do not know where to start. I can tell you the need is there, keeping your entire team on the same page is crucial in today’s media driven services.

To help you get started here’s a sample service order from Northview: August 31 & September 1, 2013  I blacked out last names for privacy, as well as leaving the team list off, but that is normally printed at the bottom.  Hopefully this can give you can get an idea of what these look like (at least for us.) Often times my copy at the sound board is covered in handwritten notes by the end of the weekend.

I purposefully kept this post brief. Wanting to just give you some ideas, I would love to talk to you more about how to implement PCO into your service flow. Feel free to contact me here: CONTACT and let’s talk.

My Thoughts on “The Bible – Part 1”

Last night, the History Channel premiered Mark Burnett’s epic mini-series, “The Bible.” Leading up to the showing last night, there seemed to be quite a bit of hype – especially since it was showing on the History Channel. There were questions as to how accurate it would be and if it would be uplifting to christians or make a mockery of faith.

My initial impression of part one leaves me impressed for the most part. I had my Bible open on the computer and was able to follow along for the most part. I realize, like with most movies made from books, not everything makes the cut. There are things that have to be removed, as well as things that require some creative license. One aspect I really appreciated was the director’s viewpoint. I feel the producers did a great job with expressing the emotions of those surrounding the main characters that the bible doesn’t address directly.

My only real disappointment was the overall scale of the re-enactments. It became most noticeable during the scenes depicting the crossing of the Red Sea. Millions of Israelites left Egypt, yet “The Bible” only shows a few hundred of them. Maybe I have the old Ten Commandments movie stuck in my mind, or I’m thinking of an epic battle in Lord of The Rings. It doesn’t ruin the show for me by any means, it just stood out as a break in the realism.

The History Channel narrator caught me off guard at first. I quickly got over it, I think I was expecting more of a made-for-TV movie than a documentary, so I won’t hold my misconceptions against them.

The trailer starts off with what I assume is Noah’s Ark, however the series started last night showing Abram post-flood. I’ll be interested to see if there is a flashback, or if that scene was simply cut. I’m curious as to why they started where they did.

All-in-all I’ve really enjoyed it so far; “The Bible” has potential to be a great evangelistic tool, leaving those who are unfamiliar with scripture wanting more.

I am looking forward to part two next Sunday.


Review: Matrox MicroQuad

For the last several weeks we’ve had the privilege to be a test site for Matrox’s latest development. The MicroQuad is a compact quad SDI to HDMI  multiviewer. It can handle anything you want to throw at it offering suport for SD, HD, and 3G. The HDMI output allows the user to turn a consumer grade HDTV or HDMI compatible monitor into a multiviewer.  Weighing in at under a half of a pound the MicroQuad is an amazingly compact unit, which is helpful in already over crowed control rooms or in the field. User control features are accessible though push buttons on the side of the unit, allow the user to switch between a 4 up display or cycle full screen each input.

When we were approached if we’d be interested in trying this unit, I jumped at the chance. Our team had just been throwing around ideas as to how we could add an additional preview monitor to our video room to preview added cameras. We had already outgrown our existing multiviewer solution, and needed to expand. We quickly put the MicroQuad into action, attaching a 24″ LED Asus monitor to the HDMI output and  four of our cameras  (720p/59.9) to the input. We then in true Frankenstein fashion “threw the switch,” well, we just plugged it in. The multiviewer came to life in no time. What blew me away about this unit is that there is no software installation or configuration required to make it work. Just plug it in and go.

This then got me thinking, “where else could this be useful?” With that, I took it away from the video guys, and placed it up in my world for the audio guys. Our monitor console sits at a weird angle from stage left. This angle causes some line of sight issues for the engineer there so we mounted a TV there with a locked off camera feed for the them. By adding the MicroQuad to the mix opened up addition viewing options for the monitor engineer who can now scan several video feeds to see the entire stage.

I later found our video director using the MicroQuad during the week for video shoots. It was brilliant, he was already using a Matrox MC-100 to see the feed from his main camera on a 24″ LCD monitor. The MicroQuad allowed him to view 2 feeds side by side. This kind of flexibility is what I have come to love with Matrox’s products.

As part of our testing we would report back to the Matrox development team our thoughts and possible changes. One thing we did notice is that because the unit is small, it displaces the heat it generates through the casing.  Now it wouldn’t double as coffee warmer or hot plate, but I also wouldn’t bury it in a rack.

When the MicroQuad was released at the end of July several improvements had already been made that our test box didn’t have. They were all things we said would be cool if it could do and voila. I wish I could say it was cause of us, but it was already in the works. These enhancements make this device a compact power house. I am really excited that they added the ability to customize the input labels. It comes standard as CAM 1, CAM 2, and so on. Through the micro usb connector you can now change those. They also added VU meters, which would make anyone using this in the field super happy. The final big improvement is the ability to control it remotely from a PC.

In the short time we had this test unit, we found multiple great uses for it. I would recommend the MicroQuad to any church looking for a simple multiviewer solution or to augment their current setup.

* Disclaimer: This review was not sponsored by Matrox or any of their distributors. There was no exchange of money or equipment offered for this post. It consists of personal views and experiences with the actual product. The goal of this post is to help others churches in the technical endeavors.


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Review: Matrox Convert DVI Plus

It always seems to happen the same way. No matter how much prep work you do advancing an event. The guest speaker shows up with something other than what was specified. His laptop has a DVI out and the technology gremlins just ran off with the adaptor. Now the tech guys are scrambling like the engineers at NASA trying to get Apollo 13 home. By the event start time the video on the screen is dark, grainy, and has hum bars.

When Northview’s new auditorium was finished, it was a technology playground for the techie. However one thing was missing, the ability to get a DVI signal from a laptop into our system while maintaining the signal quality. Often times we would need to take that signal – convert it to VGA then into a scan converter. The scan converter would then turn the signal into a composite source. Then down in the control room the signal had to be upscaled to 720p and converted again to SDI. All these conversions eventually added latency, grain, and distortion. We needed something different.

The newest tool we have in our bag of tricks is the Matrox Convert DVI Plus. What I thought would be just another scan converter has become a swish army knife to our video needs. The ability to take a raw DVI source signal input and send it out – SDI, Component, and Composite is worth the money. No longer do we have to route the video through multiple pieces of equipment to get it our screens.

Pictured below was where the Convert DVI really helped us. We were able to use it’s DVI thru to get the signal to the on stage Plasma and its SDI out to get it on the large house screens.

The Matrox Convert DVI Plus is small, portable and rugged (I can neither confirm nor deny that it was dropped once.) It requires an initial configuration via a PC, which in a MAC world makes you get creative. However, after the configuration I have never had to plug it in again. I would hope Matrox could create a Mac version of the software. I would like to be able to use some of the devices more advanced features on the Mac.

Here, the Convert DVI helped us project on to the two sets cardboard box screens on the stage.

Bottom line: I use this converter weekly and it has saved me a lot of time “jury-rigging” something together.