Presentation Trifecta; Part 1
This last week, I participated in a podcast with FaithTools.net. The topic was worship presentation software. Brad Weston and Greg Dolezal of Renewed Vision (ProPresenter), Paul Jackson of MediaComplete (MediaShout) also participated along with FaithTools regulars Rick Pepper, Van Metschke, Josh Gaughen. The event was hosted by Colin Burch of FaithTools.
The recording session lasted over two hours and apparently will be edited down to three separate podcasts. I enjoyed the experience and the discussions remained congenial. Each of us was able to talk about issues regarding presentation software as well as talk up our products to an extent without getting into a "shoot-out" type discussion. (No software wars at this event.)
Unfortunately, my audio feed was horrible. I apparently had a bandwidth problem and perhaps a hyperactive microphone which made me sound very bad. It's almost painful to listen to. If you want to listen the the podcast (part 1), you can do so at the FaithTools.net podcast site. Because it's often difficult to understand what I'm saying, I've transcribed my comments and also included follow up comments. The transcribed comments have been edited for readability.
We were asked to give a history of how our products were conceived:
Yeah, very similar situation again. The church I was attending at the time, which was Capital Christian Center in Meridian, Idaho, had just built the new facility. We were still using transparencies at the time. Finally the funds came in to put in the projection system. This was actually in ’95 when we were discussing this. And of course, all of us tech-geek types started talking about how we could do [lyrics projection], and naturally people were saying “well we’ll just use PowerPoint to accomplish this.” Well, I was a professional programmer at the time and I’m ... thinking, “I don’t know if this is really going to work because...”, also I was part of the worship team – Capital Christian at that time particularly had a very spontaneous worship setting – and I thought, “I just don’t see how PowerPoint is going to be able to do what we need it to do. We need the flexibility; we need a little more ease-of-use than what you can do with statically built slides.” So I kind of gave it some thought and started putting together a little prototype. We set a target to have the whole video system in place, well, by Easter in ’96. Some people were a little skeptical. Its like, “Well Doug, how can you compete with the legions of programmers at Microsoft.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to give it a shot anyway.” So I was a little bit white-knuckled on that first Sunday, which was also Easter Sunday -- which I would not recommend to anybody. [Colin laughs] We unveiled [not] just the software, it was also the whole video system. That’s where it got started, and the people who were pro-PowerPoint were converted. And, just like the [others] mentioned here, [I] saw commercial potential for this [product], [and] that other churches would definitely benefit [from it]. Through a little more work and hooking up with a company to market, we got the product out in ’97, so we’re kind of celebrating a 10-year anniversary here.
I have previously blogged about the beginnings of SSP as well: In the beginning..., An early skeptic turned early advocate!, and The debut of SSP.
We were then asked what role products like PowerPoint and KeyNote have in presentations for churches:
One of the advantages that PowerPoint really has is its ubiquity. So to build a slide show in PowerPoint [you probably have a] good chance you’re going to be able to take it to a church or give it to somebody and they will be able to play it. But for the churches that are using – I’ll just speak on SongShow’s behalf at this point – is that there are advantages to using the slide show capabilities that we built into the software, because then its integrated – you’re not switching between players. Some of the really cooler high-end features such as motion backgrounds, 3D transitions, and things like this that, PowerPoint doesn’t even provide. [With these] you can spice up like your announcements slide shows. You can do [this] by getting beyond what PowerPoint can provide and use some of the more advanced features that SongShow can provide. But the reality is that PowerPoint is a good general purpose tool, and there are a number of features in PowerPoint that we don’t have in SongShow. But I think that we cover 80% of what a church would need.
My 80% statement was not precisely what I meant to say. I actually believe that the slide show capabilities of SSP provide 100% of what 80% of all churches need. When you consider that typically, sermons simply needs visual illustrations and bullet points -- SSP provides that. And for announcements, while PowerPoint provides some cheesy 2D animations and things like that, this is mitigated by the fact the SSP provides non-cheesy, professional quality effects, transitions, and animations. So perhaps even the 80% estimate should be higher!
Next question was about hardware and more specifically about video cards:
I have a general answer and a specific answer. I agree with Paul that we, right now, favor the nVidia line. [It] actually goes back and forth – there are times that ATI does better than nVidia, and there are times when nVidia does [better]. One of the problems we have in answering that question, is [that] its really more about. “well what do you intend to do?” In SongShow, we have such a list of [features] – we have real-time effects we call RipFx, we have CinFX which is high-end professional-level transitions and things. You can layer these, [but] what you want to do is [run at] 60-frames a second. The reality is that there are so many things you can do in SongShow that you can bring even the highest-end nVidia card to its knees. But if all you are going to do is just put words up with like a soft shadow and a motion background, probably...the older generation cards, like the 6000 line in nVidia, for instance, will be adequate. But if you want to really push things to the limit, get some really professional looking presentations – all real-time – then definitely the 8800 GTX. It’s the top-line for nVidia right now.
We’ve taken the approach – Paul was talking about there are so many options [out there] that it’s problematic. People think that they can go to Dell, or they can go to BestBuy, pick something up and expect it to work. [Colin interjects]. One of the things we didn’t mention earlier – I’m a co-founder of [the company GoFishMedia.net] ... We are selling a line of computers that we’ve taken, and we’ve run these computers through a lot of test to really stress test them, performance [test] them with SongShow and other graphics software. What we’d like to do is provide, rather than all the different options out there, here are the things that – if you buy [our computer], you can be sure its going to work, its going to work well, its going to perform well, its going to be stable. We think that is really important because that’s what people want to deal with. They don’t want to have to deal with [things like] [incompatible drivers], or this latest update [breaking the system] – its amazing that even an Internet Explorer update can actually break a worship presentation software [installation]. You wouldn’t think that’s the case, but it can happen. [Colin interjects]. Anyway, it’s a constant battle for us trying to keep up with all of this, and we think we [need] to narrow the field a little bit here and say that not any video card out there is what you should use. Yeah, it might be the latest generation, but if its like a 7200 or an 8200, those are really the defects that didn’t qualify as the  or the  so they stick them out there as an 8200 – do you really want to use defective hardware. So, that’s how we kind of approach that.
After the session, I wondered to myself, "Is there actually an nVidia 8200 video card model." After some quick research, I see that there is not. What I should have said was 7200 or the 8400.
The hardware testing process is described at songshowplus.com.
Finally (for this part) we were asked about the trends we saw in the types of video formats being used along with other issues regarding video formats:
Definitely, the trend will eventually be for streaming hi-def, but I think that for most churches, that’s a ways off. I’d agree with Paul that we’ve found that the Windows Media 9 format really works the best on the Windows systems. MPEG-1 has been around for awhile but doesn’t really do well when blown-up to the size of a projection screen. MPEG-2 is always a hit-and-miss whether you actually have a system with an MPEG-2 codec on it, and even if there is one, if it is actually going to work. So we’ve found that Windows Media format works [well]. AVIs are always a mystery too because you don’t know what [codec was used] the AVI [file]. To go along with what Brad was saying, to get into the HD, and those kinds of videos – the video card almost becomes not as big of an issue because what you really need is good fast hard drive, bus speed – especially if its being decoded on the CPU, you definitely need a good CPU, which that could really be promising with the new 2 and 4 core CPUs available here shortly.
Clarifications: SSP will work with the newer Windows Media formats, not just 9, but Windows Media 9 is what came to mind as one of the first we really supported beyond AVI and MPG formats. Also, obviously 2 core systems have been around for a few years and 4 core are just emerging but are also available now.
Parts 2 and 3 will be posted within the next couple of weeks.