Archive for the ‘ChurchTech’ Category

TapMedia Players (2) Installing

16 Jul 2007 12:50 by Rick

As we saw in the first article in this series, in order to play all formats of auto and video files we may come across we need to have three separate Media Players installed. It used to be the case that the bickering was intense and the players would steal control from competitors without consulting the owner of the PC. I am glad to say that this has largely died out but you still need to install the programs with care so that you retain control (and your sanity). Note that these pieces of software are not those that you can accept all the defaults and let them rip, you do need to read all the information presented to you and make some decisions.

Unfortunately one of the features of these programs is that they have many configurable options and no good information about what they mean. Each of the applications does a lot more than just play music or video. They come with library organisers, instant messages about new (media) releases, online information about performers, graphical visualises for music, online radio stations and shops where you can buy stuff. Although you may want some of this, you are unlikely to want three different versions so these guides explain how to minimise them. You can always change you mind later.

Windows Media Player

You will find that you have this installed already but it is worth getting a recent version (I would suggest version 10 at present even though 11 is available) partly for security reasons and partly to benefit from its less aggressive attitude.

During the install (or afterwards by going to the Tools—>Options menu) you get some choices to make. I would suggest looking carefully at the privacy options and also the file types that it handles. On this last point, this is the list of types that it will set itself up as the default player overriding other competitors. I would suggest allowing it to handle it’s own proprietary types (asf, wma and wmv) but it is your choice what other more generic types you would want it to play, particularly mp3, mpeg and CD & DVD disks.


The Apple Quicktime format is very popular for internet video files, partly because of the popularity of the Mac with production houses. There is a very good independent install guide for it at Codec Guide but it still needs some modification for general use as that was written for a particular purpose. The software can be downloaded from the Apple web site. At the time of writing, this is version 7.2 Be sure to get the version without iTunes unless you particularly want that software.

My suggestions for the various prompt windows you get are
Destination Folder—un-tick the box for “Apple Software Update”;
Configure Files and Mime Types—in much the same way as for WMP, only allow it to handle it’s own proprietary types (in fact it won’t allow you to remove one of them). Also un-tick the “notify me” box at the bottom.

Once it is installed I think you need to do some further configuration. In the system tray you will find the blue Q icon. Right click on this and select QuickTime preferences. On the Update tab, check that “Check for Updates” is not selected. On the Streaming tab set your internet speed and un-tick the “Enable Instant On” box. Finally, on the Advanced tab, un-tick the “Install QT in system tray” box and click OK. Now start QuickTime, eg. from the Start menu or the desktop icon. Go to Edit—>Preferences—>Player Preferences (note that Quicktime Preferences is also available here if you need another look). Tick the “Use high quality” box and un-tick the “Show Content Guide”. Now, next time you start it you will have a clean, unobtrusive and really quite good media player.

Real Player

Now that any serious allegations of spy-ware are past them, this is a player like any other and one that you may like; it plays more formats than the others. You won’t, however, come across much video material on the internet in proprietary Real Video format but quite a lot of audio streaming sites, such as the BBC, use the Real Audio formats. There are some candid recommendations on how to install it from one of the company’s engineers on a forum. The software can be downloaded from the Real web site and be sure to go for the free version.

When I installed it I un-ticked all the boxes on the Desktop Settings prompt and on the Universal Media Player click “Select media Types”. This is a similar process to the other two and, again, I would suggest only selecting the native proprietary formats to start with.

Once it is installed, start it up and go to the Tools—>Preferences menu item. On the General tab set it to display the player only on start-up, Set your internet speed on the Connection tab and take a look at the Privacy options. I have lost my notes now but I think there is also a Configure Message Centre tab, and I would suggest un-ticking all the boxes, the same on the Auto Update tab.

The third in this series will cover using the players in practice.

TapMedia Players (1) The Problem

14 Jul 2007 08:05 by Rick

One of the trickiest problems to solve with computer software is interactions between different products and nowhere is this more difficult than with “media” software. By media software I mean the programs that play video & audio files, CDs & DVDs. For the moment I am ignoring the creation of these files and disks which includes recording sound and video, writing disks, ripping files and conversion. What I am looking at is playing what you have got or can download. Later I will be looking in more detail at the playback for presentations such as we use in Church.

What makes this so complex is that there are at least three competing systems, each with their own proprietary formats and which largely refuse to talk to each other. These are Microsoft Windows Media Player, Apple Quicktime and Real Player. What is worse is that these programs have a reputation of bickering and fighting over who has control of the PC that should be yours. You don’t have a lot of choice about the file formats because others are creating them, so what I have been looking at is how to achieve the maximum capability with the minimum of annoyance.

I will state at the start that I am not an expert in this field, I am trying to make sense of it so if you have any useful insight I would welcome hearing from you. It is possible to get into quite a mess with this and on more than one occasions I have had to un-install everything and start again.

The reason that the problem exists at all is that, if nothing was done to media files, they would be absolutely huge. I am sure you can do the maths but even a small 320 x 240 video at 25 frames per second and 24 bit colour depth generates a huge file in no time (44Mbps). This is what analogue VHS recorders did and why the media was relatively bulky (and poor quality). The situation for audio is similar; though the data rate should be lower, we are less tolerant of errors so the files can still be large. For example a CD samples at 44.1 thousand times a second at 16 bit resolution on each of two channels (1.3Mbps). Analogue audio recording could be good, arguably better than digital. What was done to reduce the quantity of data in both cases was to compress the files eliminating bits that were thought to be unnecessary. A certain amount of lossless compression can be done but most of the methods involve some compromises of quality over space. It is these algorithms which compete and some of them are proprietary.

The software that handles this compression/de-compression is abbreviated to “Codec” and there are hundreds of them. The way that they are supposed to work is that they are first registered with Windows and then any media player that needs to use one sends the raw data to it and it comes back processed. The media player decides which codec it needs by looking at the identifiers on the file. This is where the system breaks down. Some of the media players refuse to even look at competitor’s files, so Windows Media Player will not play Quicktime .mov files however hard you try and only Real Player will look at .ram files. In fact Real Player is one of the better ones and will play most things sent to it if the codecs are available. This is the second problem—the proprietary codecs are only generally available with the corresponding company’s player. If they were charging for this software then there would be a good case for challenging them on competition grounds but they are, at least in basic form, given away free. So, for Real Player to process a Quicktime file, Quicktime itself has to be installed, even if you don’t use it. Finally WIndows Media Player is one of those programs that comes pre-installed with Windows and is difficult, if not impossible to remove.

So, how should this be resolved. Well, ideally, the manufactures ought to be a bit more sensible about this. In the codec, only the “co” part is really proprietary. The “dec” parts have published standard algorithms and should be freely available; after all they want us to view the films coded with their software. The coding part, the creation of files, is a business matter and if they want to hold onto and/or charge for this, it is up to them, but in that case the creators have a choice of which format they want to use. Secondly they should get off their high horses and make the players acknowledge that there are other good things out there and start recognising each other’s files.

In the short term we need to make the best of what we have got and that is what I will look at in the second article in this series.

TapCat5 (and Cat6) connectors

21 Jun 2007 18:01 by Rick

Cat5, Cat5e and Cat6 standards of network cabling are commonly used for computer networks but can also be used for other purposes such as telephone, and video. They were originally rated at 10Mb, 100Mb and 1Gb respectively but the limits have all been pushed.

The cable

The cable itself consists of four twisted pairs of wires. By convention these are numbered 1 = Blue (Bl), 2 = Orange (Or), 3 = Green (Gr) and 4 = Brown (Br). Each pair has one wire in a solid colour and one striped with white and the important feature is the twisting which gives it the high bandwidth and low cross talk characteristics. Normally this will be unshielded though shielded and individually screened are sometimes seen in hostile conditions. The difference for Cat6 is that the pairs are separated in the cable by a plastic cross partition, the wiring is the same. No connection should be more than 100m long with (ideally) no more than 10m of that being patch cables. There should be no kinks with bends with a radius of no less than 25mm. Use Velcro cable ties if possible as the normal ratchet ones squeeze the cables too tightly.

The connectors

RJ45 plugThe connectors are flat and latched on the wide face, called RJ45 (unlike UK telephone plugs which are latched on the short edge). There are variations for each Cat level so be sure to get the right type. Looking at the top (flat) face with the cable towards you, the pins are numbered 1 to 8 from the left. It is important that the twists in the pairs are maintained as close as possible to the connectors.

The T568B standard is the most common wiring pattern, and that is what I will assume for this article.The A version of the standard interchanges pairs 2 and 3 (orange and green). T568A can be used so long as you are consistent within any one installation and the standards people say that the A scheme should be used for all new installations but everyone seems to ignore them. Pre-made patch cables are invariably to the B scheme but, as I said before, it still doesn’t matter which you use so long as each run is the same both ends. See how your patch panels are wired before deciding.

The T568B pattern

RJ45 plug wiring

pair 2    pair 3    pair 1    pair 4
W/Or Or   W/Gr Gr   W/Bl Bl   W/Br Br
1    2    3    6    5    4    7    8

Looking at the top of the plug, this comes out as

W/Or Or   W/Gr Bl   W/Bl Gr   W/Br Br
1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

RJ45 socketSockets vary in how they are set up. many should be connected

Or   W/Or W/Gr W/Bl Bl   Gr   Br   W/Br
2    1    3    5    4    6    8    7

punch-downThe reason for the difference is that there are internal twists inside to maintain the performance. Others use punch-down blocks like the patch panels below. For T568A conventions, interchange the orange and green pairs in all of the above.

Cat5 Patch PanelPatch-panels often use a punch-down block with coloured markers. The striped wire goes first (on the left) when in the normal BLOG order (BLue, Orange, Green, brown). Again, the internal wiring sorts out the order on the pins.

pair 1    pair 2    pair 3    pair 4
W/Bl Bl   W/Or Or   W/Gr Gr   W/Br Br
5    4    1    2    3    6    7    8


Normal patch cables are wired straight through, pin 1 to pin1, pin 2 to pin 2 etc. For Ethernet, pair 2 is send and pair 3 receive and this allows computer to be connected to a hub or switch. A cross-over cable reverses the send and receive pairs so that connections computer to computer or switch to switch can be made directly. The plug on one end is wired as follows (coincidentally this is also the T568A pattern)

W/Gr Gr   W/Or Bl   W/Bl Or   W/Br Br
1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

If you are using (or planning) Gb Ethernet then your cross-over cables will also need to reverse pairs 1 and 4. Cross-over cables are often not needed as much equipment has a cross-over button or a special uplink socket or, now auto-senses and changes over automatically.

W/Gr Gr   W/Or Br   W/Br Or   W/Bl Bl
1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

Fixed wiring, sockets and patch-panels should never be wired cross-over fashion, it will only confuse people.

Some special use connection patterns

10Mb and 100Mb (fast) Ethernet only uses pairs 2 and 3 (orange and green). Power-over-Ethernet uses pair 1 (blue) as the +ve and pair 4 (brown) as the -ve up to about 13W in the standard wiring configuration. Gb Ethernet uses all four pairs so power-over-Ethernet is not possible with this. No special connections are required.

Analogue telephone over Cat5 uses pairs 1 and 2. I have seen it suggested that a single cable can be split to use two pairs for Ethernet and the other two (pairs 1 and 4) for telephone but I wouldn’t recommend it. Use RJ45 throughout with standard connections and adapters for phone use if required. Pins 2 and 5 (on the telephone plug) are the signal, pin 3 is the bell and pin 4 ground. Pins 1 and 6 exist but are only used for PBX digital lines.

1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8 RJ45
|    |    |    |    |    |    x    x
4    3    6    2    5    1           BT type socket

If you are short of cable outlets then you can get special adaptors to run Ethernet and telephone over the same wire – but they are expensive! Note that, for some unaccountable reason, BT plugs number in reverse order to the sockets.

ISDN connections are the same as for Ethernet but I don’t know what pairs they use.

VGA and Video over Cat5 is now cost effective for those longer runs and requires a matched pair of adapters, often powered at at least one end. Standard wiring connections are used.

Finally one that you won’t come across, but I happen to need—Sun Netra and Cisco Serial console connection (plug), the other end of the patch lead being standard order.

Br   W/Gr Gr   Bl   W/Or W/Bl Or   W/Br
1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8

TapVideo Night

14 Jun 2007 09:24 by Rick

When we reviewed the copyright licences for the church to cover the reproduction and projection or songs and music, we also obtained a Video Licence, because we thought it might be useful. And so it has turned out, with clips and short features being used, not regularly, but fairly often during services. Many, like charity promotions, would be royalty free, but others most certainly would not. Similar material has also been used for the Sunday school and youth meetings.

So, I have been asked, “why not have a Video Night?” An occasion, perhaps when some worthy but secular film could be shown as an opportunity for people to meet together and enjoy themselves. This got me looking at what the terms of the licence actually were.

It should be well known that video films purchased or rented are generally for personal home use only. You are not supposed to invite in all the neighbours to see the latest blockbuster, though if you had a party and it happened to be playing in the background there is not a lot anyone could do about it. What the Church Video Licence seems to do is to allow and formalise this situation with the payment of an inclusive royalty. You can show what you like*, when you like, so long as you: use original legal recordings (no copies of copies and no material recorded from TV)**; don’t charge for entrance; and don’t pre-announce what will be shown.

It is this last point that will tax the imagination of the organisers. To play fair with the privilege granted by the licence we should adhere to the spirit as well as the letter and, as such, it is more likely to work with the youth club or elderly people’s social (as it should) where they would be coming anyway, rather than an occasional general parish gathering. Although the possibility of a Film Club is mentioned in the information, I can’t see it working well in practice. The titles shown should be chosen by the organiser and not pre-announced, though suggestions could be invited from the members so, I suppose if you were following a themed program then it may be possible. Anyway, those are the rules and if you can work with them then go for it.

* There are actually a limited number of producers participating but it seems to cover most of them.

** This also means that you can’t edit them, so no censorship, though you can show an extract as a clip.

*** Note that you may also need a PRS licence to cover the music content of the films though the information is ambiguous. I think what it means is that you need the licence if the film is shown outside of a worship service.

TapGive me the power

29 May 2007 15:04 by Rick

Figure of EightWhen you buy equipment these days you can never be sure what power connectors you will need. Disregarding the wall outlet types, which vary in different countries and also bypassing the seemingly hundreds of low voltage connectors designed so that the wart from one supplier won’t fit equipment from another, we still have a problem with AC mains connectors.

Ace of ClubsStarting at the domestic end of the market, power inlets can be flat two pin with a notch on each side (Figure-of-Eight) rated at 2.5A. These are IEC-60320 type C7/C8. If the equipment is earthed then it will be an Ace-of-Clubs type plug called type C5/C6.

By far the majority of pro-audio and computer equipment has a three pin type commonly called a Europlug Euro plug rated at 10A, properly known as type C13/C14. They are common, probably because they are cheap, but do have a habit of falling out if knocked. This is sometimes incorrectly called a Kettle plug kettle plug but that one should have a side notch making it type C15/C16 for high temperature use. They are interchangeable one way round and I have also seen them used in 13A applications (like kettles!).

C19/C20When you get to the big stuff then there is the similar Euro style plug but with horizontal pins rated at 16A called type C19/C20 (or C21/C22 C21/C22 if bevelled). A more recent addition to the choice is the Neutrik Powercon Neutrik NAC3 Powercon for up to 20A. This is a lovely compact design based on their earlier loudspeaker plugs (which we called hose connectors) with a bayonet fit and latch. Grey ones are outlets, blue ones are inlets and they are not interchangeable.

At the top end, often seen on lighting gear and main power feeds, are what are known as Commando plug Commando, Caravan or BS4343 plugs, huge blue things with caps on the sockets. The correct name is IEC-60309 and if they are 43mm diameter then they are 16A, if bigger still then they are 32A. These are industrial specification, water resistant and virtually indestructible. They come in other colours and pin numbers for different voltage, frequency and phases but there is no risk of connecting them up wrongly as they don’t mate.

Round pin Individual lighting units normally come with the old UK 15A BS 546 round pin plug (you may find some low power ones that have the smaller 5A plug) and it is best to stick with them rather than change them all to the newer 13A square pin because you will find it easier to hire lamps.

Another variety, for which I can’t find a picture, is the Wago plug, used on some UPS and power distribution systems. They have three pins in a line and a latch.

There are a lot of others, for example US two blade plugs and the old Bulgin plugs which, fortunately, are not used on new equipment but you may find them on antique devices.

When you include the panel and inline, male and female, angled and straight and whatever, this is far too many different types. I just wish they could standardise.

TapHearing aid induction loops

29 Jan 2007 16:02 by Rick

Loop logoAn induction loop is a system that allows hearing aid users to receive a signal directly from microphones placed close to the users rather than rely on transmitted sound. It is of considerable benefit to them because it separates out just the sound required and removes other distracting noises and reverberation.

The building regulations (1992) require that new buildings open to the public and ones that are substantially reconstructed are fitted with systems for ticket booths and auditoriums over 100 sq m. Systems must meet BS8300:2002, BS7594:1993 and EN60118-4.

The Disability Discrimination Acts (1995 & 1999) may extend this to existing premises if it is otherwise unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the facilities. An installed loop must be properly maintained and staff must know how to use it. I have been told that some of these regulations are retrospective and older systems may no longer conform but, apart from this maintenance requirement, I can’t find any evidence for this.

The specification for an induction loop system requires a current drive amplifier (a normal PA amplifier is voltage driven) with a single turn loop and account should be taken of losses caused by building metalwork such as girders and reinforced concrete. The input to the system can be dedicated microphones or from an existing sound system.

Ampetronic, a leading manufacturer in the field, say that the type of wire is not too important so long as it appropriately sized to give a total resistance in the range required by the amplifier. The normal arrangement is for it to run around the listening area. They also say that it should not be at head height, though I haven’t discovered why, but floor level (or ceiling if it is not too high) is more normal.

The recommended field strength is 0.1 A/m for an average level speech signal with peaks at four times that value which allow for some dynamics. Larger variations are flattened out using a compressor built into the amplifier. For a single turn loop, and bypassing all the complex equations and caveats, the peak current can be simplified to approximately 4a/9 where “a” is the length of the shortest side in metres. From this you can calculate the wire gauge and the amplifier power required.

Once installed, the easiest way to measure the field is with a pink noise generator amplified to normal listening levels (though you may want to turn off the loudspeaker amplifier) and measure the field strength with a meter in different places. With a listening device you can also test the tone over the coverage area. The frequency response is required to be flat (+/- 3dB) between 100Hz and 5kHz with an upper response limited to 16kHz. High frequency losses are caused by building metalwork and compensatory EQ (and additional current) will be needed to correct for this. You may need professional advice for particularly large, oddly shaped or difficult buildings.

TapDigital Dividend

22 Jan 2007 11:51 by Rick

A hot topic at the moment is Ofcom’s proposal to sell off the Analogue TV frequency bands, called the Digital Dividend. This is controversial, not only for those people who want to retain their old tellies bus also for the live entertainment industry. The reason for this is that digital TV requires less spectrum than analogue so they can free up some bands as the analogue is turned off. However, they currently share these bands with low bandwidth, low power uses such as radio microphones who slip into the gaps between TV transmissions.

How does this affect church systems?

The VHF Band III license exempt range 173.8 to 175.0 MHz is not affected at all. Although the band is coming into use for DAB radio, it misses our channels.

The UHF licence exempt Channel 70 (863.1 to 864.9 MHz) is also to remain unchanged under the proposals.

So no change then! But one other proposal will have an effect. It is proposed to change the currently licensed Channel 69 (854.1 to 861.9 MHz) to become license exempt. This could be good news for churches and other amateur use because those frequencies, which come on many systems but you are not supposed to use, suddenly become available.

As you might expect, professional users who have a considerable investment in licensed equipment are up in arms about this and other changes so I don’t expect the proposal to get through unaltered. Ofcom wants them to go digital at the same time but the technology is not up to it yet.

TapVideo switcher

1 Jan 2007 15:21 by Rick

During the install of our projector system I have been very impressed with the Kramer products. The main component is the Switcher/Scaler which is the heart of the system and the general impression is that they do what they are supposed to do with no fuss and in exactly the way that you would expect. The VP719 is a 7 input, single VGA output device (inputs are VGA, DVI, 2 x composite, 2 x S-Video and component) and it seems to be able to cope with whatever you throw at it without a glitch.

Kramer VP-719xl

There are inevitably small faults where details off the main function could be thought out a bit better. This is clearly an installation device rather than portable/mobile and as such, some things should be hidden from the end user. In particular, the remote control is much too complex exposing controls that would be rarely required—a very prominent button changes the output resolution—something that is not required after install. If things like this are required on the remote then there should be an “advanced” panel with a cover. On the other hand, there is no “blank” button on the remote at all but there may be a programmable feature to enable this some other way.

In an installation like ours the actual device is hidden away in a rack so we use the computer serial connection with the GUI application to actually control it. This just duplicates the function and appearance of the remote but with the same problems; actually worse because it is a multi-device application for all models so there are lots of redundant controls. It needs to be customisable so that unwanted functions can be removed and, in particular, more meaningful labels put on the input selectors so that you don’t have to remember which device is plugged into which socket.

Another improvement would be a second VGA input. We have worked around the lack of this by using the DVI input for the main control computer but that was not ideal for other reasons and would not always be possible—for instance with two laptops. Perhaps we needed the 724 model but this is somewhat more expensive with a lot of unneeded features.

Now that it is installed the silly audio connections are not a problem but I don’t see why standard RCA (for the video channels) and mini jack (for the computer channels) were not used. XLR for the PA output would have been nice but I can see that there is a space limitation on a 1u box. Does anyone seriously use the 5 Watt audio amplifier built in?

Anyway, notwithstanding these little gripes, I thoroughly recommend this device for any simple church or conference room setup.

TapSong (Un)Select (UK)

23 Dec 2006 19:57 by Rick

If I can find a way to send SongSelect back and claim a refund, I will. It is RUBBISH. I don’t know if the USA online version is any better but this offline one that we have to use is very poor. It is not so much the clumsy interface and it’s pretending that you can use it to project directly but the transcription of the songs built in is very poor and that is the purpose for which we bought it. I quote a (public domain) example:

God holds the key of all unknown
And I am glad
If other hands should hold the key
Or if He trusted it to me
I might be sad I might be sad

What if tomorrows cares were here
Without its rest
I’d rather He unlocked the day
And as the hours swing open say
My will is best My will is best

Joseph Parker (1830-1902)

I would say that this is un-singable. Not only is there no punctuation on the ends of the lines, which I understand is trendy these days, but leaving the question mark off the first line of the second verse makes no sense. And where is the apostrophe in “tomorrow’s”? and the comma in the middle of the last lines? This is not an isolated example, many are like this and they are inconsistent. It is quicker to type them in from scratch.

And while you are at it, where is the support—I have had a query on the online forum for weeks now with no reply.

TapEasyWorship Schedule Printer

11 Dec 2006 10:25 by Rick

One of the few flaws in the EasyWorship church projection software relates not to its primary function but the printing facilities. It was perhaps thought that these were entirely secondary but we are aware that some people can’t (or won’t) get on with the projected image and need a paper copy. When the church is geared to a bookless service, perhaps by necessity because the songs now in use are not in the books, there needs to be a way of providing a few paper copies. It is not worth expending large amounts of administrator time in producing these as used to be done when printed orders of service were provided to everyone, so a means to reproduce what otherwise appears on the screen is needed.

The EasyWorship software provides a “Print Schedule (Details)” facility but this is of fixed format and one song (or whatever) to a page. Variations to this may well be needed. In our church we project liturgy, sometimes only two lines per item. This would be very wasteful of paper and a thick pile for someone to handle. The only alternative has been to cut and paste the song details to a word processor document but this was exceedingly tedious and took too much time. The best time to produce this leaflet is just before the service.

To get around this problem I have written a post processor to format the output in a more useful (and customisable) form … [more]

^ Top