St. Thomas Church embraces Panasonic livestreaming technology to bring community and worship together

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Working to expand its online offerings beyond audio webcast, Saint Thomas Church in New York, NY began filming video recordings of its services with a one-man video team for its extensive religious community.

The original webcast production process ended up being a laborious and time-intensive endeavor, taking up to 15 hours to produce the broadcast of each service. It included setting up cinema cameras, shooting the services, adding b-roll, editing footage and sound, and then uploading for online viewing. As such, the Church wanted to find a more efficient remote production solution. Additionally, the pandemic further underscored the opportunity to deliver online content to its congregants when the Church was required to limit in-person visits in accordance to social distancing measures.

Seeking to enable the community to worship from home while fully feeling the sanctity and the immersive music experience of the Church, Saint Thomas Church explored video solutions that would capture the beauty of its ornate Gothic architecture and the moving spirituality of its services through high-quality livestreaming.

The AW-UE150 captures both expansive and close-up shots, allowing a wide grand view to intimate worship moments. (All photos courtesy of St. Thomas Church)

To create a camera system that delivers exceptional image quality and color accuracy, Saint Thomas Church purchased 11 Panasonic 4K cameras (nine AW-UE150 4K/UHD 60p pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cameras and two AW-UE4 wide angle 4K PTZ cameras) that are mounted throughout the Church to unobtrusively capture its services and showcase the decorated Gothic architecture. To remotely operate the PTZ cameras and to switch between them for the webcast, the Church deployed one Panasonic AW-RP150 touchscreen remote camera controller and one AV-UHS500 4K 12G-SDI/HDMI live video production switcher which enable more dynamic and creative image acquisition.

“Saint Thomas Church is a really special place to livestream from – it’s like being in a medieval castle with state-of-the-art technology. In fact, it’s one of the preeminent examples of gothic architecture in the Northern Hemisphere. You can feel the energy of the building while you’re sitting there and that influences the service that we’re filming,” said Blake Martin, director of communications and the primary video operator at Saint Thomas Church. “It’s really wonderful to be able to film and cut the show live and have all these different angles and imagery to work with in service of the at-home viewer’s worship experience.”

Leveraging Panasonic’s 4K PTZ camera systems, Saint Thomas Church is able to efficiently livestream its services, capturing the Church’s unique aspects including its renowned 7,069-pipe organ, the music of its world-famous choir of men and boys (the boys train nearby at a unique choir school, one of three of its kind in the world), and stained-glass windows, allowing viewers new experiences from whatever device they choose. The new Panasonic camera system enables the Church to reduce production time from 15 hours to two hours, which includes the 90 minutes the service takes.

Perched on the organ console, the 4K wide-angle AW-UE4 is able to capture maximum coverage.

Livestreaming up to five times a week, the digital services have significantly extended the Church’s reach, as online viewership increased by 900% and is attracting regular viewers beyond North America, including Europe and Asia. Ultimately, the Church is able to carry out its mission more widely, offering global audiences a sense of community and comfort through immersive worship experiences.

“We now have an opportunity to give quality access to our Church, our mission, our fellowship, our music and education programs in a way that we would never have dreamt of a number of years ago,” said Reverend Canon Carl F. Turner, Rector of Saint Thomas Church.

Delivering the Saint Thomas Church Experience into Homes

To support the Church’s livestreaming objectives, Saint Thomas Church worked with James Sapione, owner of Iconoscope Productions, an AV consultant and experienced live video director who is known for his work in utilizing PTZ cameras for high-profile installations like Jazz at Lincoln Center, to identify a camera system to meet their needs. Moving forward with its plan to go virtual, Saint Thomas Church installed 11 Panasonic cameras (nine UE150 4K PTZ cameras and two UE4 wide angle 4K PTZs) throughout the church to allow for maximum coverage. With five cameras in the front of the sanctuary, three in the back of the sanctuary, two by the organ and one in the vestibule, the Church is able to broadcast its services and events while providing viewers unique angles of the beauty of the sanctuary.

The UE150’s 75.1-degree wide viewing angle and 20X optical zoom allows the Church to unobtrusively capture the Church’s intricate details from varying viewpoints. “The visual quality and length of the telescopic lens is just phenomenal. With one camera, we can capture both expansive and intimate shots, allowing us to go from a wide grand cathedral view to an intimate worship moment in a matter of a few seconds. They’re absolutely remarkable,” said Martin.

The UE150’s 75.1-degree wide viewing angle and 20X optical zoom allows the Church to unobtrusively capture the Church’s intricate details from varying viewpoints.

Perfect for the Church’s one-person video team, the easy-to-operate RP150 controller enables preset names to easily identify which camera is in operation, and the UHS500 switcher provides 4K format support and different frame rate capabilities to ensure flexibility and smooth transitions to different cameras. “The ability to have one hand on the controller’s joystick to control the camera and the other hand on the switcher to hit the different cameras – that’s what it’s [live production] all about right now,” said Sapione.

As a result, the Church is able to operate more efficiently and increase productivity while keeping the video team to one primary operator. Prior to the new camera system, the Church’s production team would spend an average of 15 hours to film, edit and release one service. Today, the team has streamlined their workflow, cutting down production time to two hours, with 90 minutes of that being the service itself.

“People absolutely love the visuals we’re able to deliver. Being able to showcase the intricate details and rich colors of the stained glass windows throughout the church to our viewers is an experience made possible by Panasonic’s cameras,” said Martin.

Sapione said, “You simply could not get these angles without Panasonic’s robotic cameras. When you combine the camera angles, the zoom capabilities and 4K resolution, its beauty is hard to describe. The beautiful images make you really appreciate the grandness of the space, the power of the gospel and surreal feeling of the worship service.”

St. Thomas deploys the AV-UHS500 4K production switcher and AW-RP150 touchscreen controller to remotely operate the PTZ cameras and switch between them.

As Saint Thomas Church has seen tremendous value in delivering livestreamed services through Panasonic’s camera system, it plans to expand its usage to broadcast future concert series and educational programs to global audiences. While the Church currently livestreams up to five times a week, it aims to increase its broadcasts to 10 times a week. By summer 2021, Saint Thomas Church plans to go live at noon from Monday through Saturday in addition to its Sunday services. In the future, the Church also plans to leverage the camera’s IP addressing capabilities so that a video operator can remotely control the cameras from their home for smaller events.

“The pandemic has compelled us to find new ways to bring community, worship and comfort to people. We’ve been lucky enough to invest in livestreaming to show up in people’s phones, on their tablets and in their homes at a time when they’re seeking comfort. They’re writing to us letting us know how much they appreciate it, especially during a time when physical space is closed to so many,” concluded Martin.

To learn more about Saint Thomas Church, visit saintthomaschurch.org.

For more information about Panasonic professional video products, visit http://business.panasonic.com/products-professionalvideo.

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