Media Servers - Pandoras box used for colour conference for projection mapping

Media Servers: Luke Irvine, TV Technical Specialist at Hillsong Church

Media servers have become a buzzword in churches over the past few years. They can be thrown around in conversation as an “easy fix” solution to creative problems.

In more technical circles it can become the never-ending search to find the best option, the all in one unit.

So, what are the options? What is the right one for you, and your church needs? First of all, not all servers are created equal; in fact almost all of them have completely different uses. Where one might be built for multichannel video and audio playback, another is built for live media and video manipulation.

When looking at media servers, we should to be aware that they are not an “easy fix”. Media Servers are a tool for you to achieve the look you have prepped and pre-planned for. If you have done the right creative pre-work then choosing a server is a much simpler problem, as all you need to do is look at what you are trying to achieve and find the server that best matches your needs. If you are looking for a server that “does it all” you are likely to be disappointed with whatever server you end up choosing.

Here is a basic rundown of how to select the correct server:

The creative brief for your Christmas production has a 5 screen feed, all with different media playing in-sync. At this stage of the meeting, I would instantly be thinking about PVP2 by Renewed Vision, as it can achieve that concept cleanly and easily.

As the meeting progresses, they ask for multichannel audio for band click and cue etc.

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At this point you can still stick with your choice of PVP 2 and embed multichannel audio into a QuickTime file. Or you can move to another piece of software. Qlab is a good choice, as it’s able to handle multiple outputs of video as well as multi tracks of audio routed to any output.

As you can see from this simple example, we didn’t instantly try to make a high-end catalyst server or Pandora’s box or any of the other multitudes of servers to do the job. We went for the tried and tested options that are built for the job specifically.

It’s not to say you couldn’t use another server for the job, but why add the complexity when you don’t need it? If the creative brief included manipulating the videos live via a lighting desk, then the choice would be different.

Media Servers - Qlab Christmas Line up Server

A common problem in live production work is syncing multiple devices together.

The classic problem is as follows:

The band has an audio tracks rig on stage that plays all their backing tracks. They trigger the tracks via midi or even a laptop keyboard. They want to have a video playback in sync with their audio but the laptop doesn’t have the capability of playing back video at the same time as audio (or it’s unreliable at doing so).

Media Servers - Midi Keyboard for United

How do we get another machine to follow along with the audio, and playback the videos in sync?

This is a great question and can be answered with a few different solutions.

Solution 1 – replace the tracks rig with something that can playback video at the same time as audio.

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Solution 2 – split the midi signal and send it to both the tracks rig and the video server. This is a pretty simple solution and midi-splitters are relatively cheap. If you are using a USB midi then you will need to use some software to split the signal, something like OSCulator can do the job.

Solution 3 – LTC timecode. This is an industry standard for locking devices together. It’s basically a clock that is sent in audio form, which can be used to lock devices together. All you need is to generate a time code track on your tracks rig and send it out a spare audio output. Feed the time code into your media server and tell it to “lock” to it.

 Media Servers - Qlab Christmas Rehersal server

There are a few servers that support time code input:

Catalyst, Qlab, Pandora’s Box, Resolume Arena, Watchout, Maxedia, Hippotizer, Arkaos. Note that some of these players require a specific codec of media, such as DXV needed for Resolume Footage.

Other media servers that dont:

VDMX, PVP, Modul8


A big thanks to Luke Irvine, TV Technical Specialist at Hillsong Church, writing up a discussion on Media Servers. Be sure to follow Luke on Twitter to learn more and connect with him on ideas.

It’s been a fun week of Transform Christmas! Plenty more to come, so follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page to stay up to date.

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Tim Southwick

Author Tim Southwick

Tim is the Brand Manager for TripleWide Media. He has 10 years experience in the event management world and has a strong desire to see visuals and media used to increase the user experience.

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