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Should my church audio visual system be wired or wireless?

There is an increasing move towards going wireless in church audio visual systems - but is that the best or most stable solution?

Wireless systems seem to have invaded church audio visual systems over recent years. You may already have gone down the wireless route and encountered the challenges that come with it. OR you might be looking at upgrading your current church audio visual system and considering how or if to integrate wireless components into it. Either way, I regularly see on Facebook Tech Forums people discussing the challenges they encounter with wireless, so in this article, I wanted to set out the pros and cons of wireless setups to equip you with good, reliable information to make an informed decision on what is right for your church audio visual set up.

I will look at the question of what is best for a church audio visual system, whether on the video or audio side, a wired or wireless solution. There isn’t a definitive answer that will fit every situation and circumstance. But let me state up front: 

“Unless you have a compelling reason to go wireless, always go for a wired solution when it comes to your church audio visual solution”. 

One way to think about it would be that when streaming, would it be better to have your computer hard wired to the internet or use Wi-Fi? The answer is, of course, to have it hard-wired. If that’s the case there, I suggest it’s probably the same answer across all your production.

My Mantra: “If you can, put a wire on it!”

What do professional broadcast engineers prefer?

The new shiny toy

Over the last 25 years working with professional broadcast engineers, I can’t recall a single situation where they ever suggested a wireless solution if a wired solution was possible. Yet, I am surprised how many churches seem to have favoured a wireless solution over a wired one for their church audio visual needs. Is this down to the “shiny toy” syndrome, I wonder? This is a syndrome that those with considerable experience don’t care about. We only want the best, most straightforward, cheapest and critically most reliable system. Wireless seems “sexier” and even looks more future-proof – and yet, the challenges created by going wireless in your church audio visual system add unnecessary headaches that can be avoided.

Before I look at the challenges that going wireless introduces into any church audio visual system or production setup, I want to be clear that two valid reasons would dictate a wireless solution.

When is wireless the correct solution?

Reason 1 – When you cannot get the signal from your device to where it needs to go by using a cable. For instance, I have deployed RF cameras in stadiums and open spaces where we wanted the camera to roam the crowd and had no way of doing that via a cable connection. For instance, I was producing an event called “The Call” on the Mall in Washington DC, and I wanted a camera to go anywhere on the Mall and capture people praying and worshipping, etc. A wired solution was impossible, so we used a wireless, high-powered RF system instead. Another time, I was producing an event in the heart of Jerusalem. I needed a camera on the roof of a building across a public right of way to get me a big wide shot as we had fireworks launching from the Mount of Olives, which overlooked the primary location. There was no way I could run a cable to it, so this time, I went for a camera with a microwave transmitter to get the signal back to our production truck. There ARE valid reasons to go wireless – but I’m guessing these scenarios don’t apply to your church audio visual setup?

Reason 2 – The movement needed FROM the device means that a cable is not viable or safe. This would, for instance, be where a preacher is roaming around a stage and due to them being focused on what they are teaching, there is a chance they might trip over on a cable, so you give them a handheld wireless or headset microphone. Or perhaps you have a vocalist who sings and dances simultaneously, so you can’t give them a wired microphone as it simply would be too limiting. Or where a camera needs to be in multiple locations during production, so a cable solution isn’t feasible for your church audio visual system.

There are valid reasons to go wireless.

Yet, my first choice is always to use a cabled solution if possible. Why?

What are the five primary reasons to go wired over wireless in a church audio visual system?

Interference – adding any wireless solution to your church audio visual system will increase the chance of signal drops and interference, which can be seen on your programme output. If you have ever watched Formula 1 (or any racing-type content) on television, you will have seen signal drops from the wireless “Cockpit” cameras. The systems they use are at the VERY top end of the technology and still have issues. If that is the case, for them, your (likely) cheaper solution deployed in your church audio visual system will fall over from time to time, disrupting your output – why take that risk? I have seen a few people talk about discovering that the wireless system they introduced during COVID-19 doesn’t work as reliably now they have people back in their church building. Interference is the number one reason to go wired for your church audio visual system. Running a cable completely eliminates this problem.

Radio Mics and Wireless Comms

Power – remembering to ensure every device has fresh batteries can be a challenge (it should be part of your pre-production routine). If you don’t have a pre-production routine, we have you covered; grab our checklist here. However, if you go the cable route with most of the church audio visual equipment in your church audio visual system, this will reduce your reliance on batteries. With cameras, for instance, the higher-end broadcast cameras get power through their Triax or Fibre cable, making life much more straightforward; you don’t need to rely on batteries or local power for those at all. If you go wireless on your church audio visual system, not only do you have to make sure you have fresh batteries at the start of your production, BUT you also have the possibility of batteries dying on you at inopportune moments. How often have you seen someone swap out a radio mic mid preach due to a dead battery? Also, when it comes to cameras, if you go wireless, you may need batteries for your camera AND batteries for your transmitter and even batteries for your talk-back system – that’s a lot of batteries to remember to check and have ready to replace. That’s a lot of potential failure points in that one area of your church audio visual system alone.

Batteries and power issues

Ease of use – particularly when it comes to cameras, many “rigs” are getting unwieldy and way too complex to set up – getting rid of wireless transmitters will help simplify the setup and make the whole camera rig lighter and easier to operate. This will help your camera person get the most from their camera. Simplifying what a camera person must contend with will help them focus on their creativity – which is what you want.

Wireless video camera

Human Error – this would include poor mic techniques, a singer holding a radio mic in the wrong place, for instance, can cause signal dropouts that you never get with a wired solution. Or the cameraman knocks the power button on the transmitter off as he walks around looking for his next shot. All these things can add to your headaches and are not worth the hassle. You want a bulletproof church audio visual system of reliable church audio visual equipment.

Cost illustration

Cost – you will always pay more for a wireless solution than a hard-wired solution. You will have to buy transmitters, receivers, antennas, and other components, as well as the camera or microphone, etc., so you will be increasing your costs by going the wireless route. You also have more things that can go wrong, plus the added costs of the batteries, etc. Overall, your production costs will be higher.

What other factors should you consider in your church audio visual system?

One hidden cost many churches may not be aware of when considering a wireless option for their church audio visual system is the cost of licensing frequencies. I realise different territories have different rules, but this has become more important and will continue to do so. One benefit here, though, is it can help to get around interference issues as you buy/license a specific frequency for your location, which (in theory) means no one else can use it. These costs can add up if you use lots of frequencies, and it is also a big admin headache for a church audio visual team.

For many churches, the cost alone should be enough to rethink your technology. If you can save money using a wired solution, what else can you use that money for? How can you spend your budget on things that matter and will raise your production standards?

Wireless (particularly the cheaper end of the market) will not add value to your production. Instead, you will spend more money and risk a lower standard of output due to the issues outlined above.

Go wired wherever you can and ONLY use wireless if no wired solution is possible.

Talking of church audio visual equipment, there is one final thing when it comes to cameras. If you have roaming cameras in the congregation, wireless is a good (and safe) option for your church audio visual system. For hand-held cameras on stage, though, while you can argue to go wireless, I recommend wired work better for all the reasons above. But also, by going wired, you create an entry-level opportunity for volunteers as cable minders. These people are responsible for ensuring that cables don’t get in the way and freeing the cameraman up to get the shots he wants. This position can be a brilliant pathway to get fresh team members involved in filming and production who don’t have any skills but are keen to learn. And, let’s face it, all church audio visual teams need fresh volunteers getting involved. By providing this opportunity to get them to “mind cables”, you start integrating them into your church audio visual team, and they gain understanding and experience that can be valuable. This is where most church audio visual training happens. So, by going wireless, you are depriving people of a way into your tech teams and giving yourself more headaches.

Do you need church audio visual training? Then sign up for the Church Production Academy and receive great church audio visual training from experts in every discipline.

Do you use IMAG in your venue? Then, this is important to know.

Using IMAG and the problem with Latency

Latency can be a killer. In a wireless camera system, you will get latency in your video chain unless you pay top dollar. That will mean that anyone in the venue listening to the “live” audio will be seeing the image on the IMAG screen out of synch – they will, for instance, hear the drums being hit but won’t match what they see. This isn't very pleasant and will be distracting for them. That is the opposite of what we are trying to do, which is enhancing what is happening in the venue through what we do with our church audio visual equipment.

To conclude, you can go wireless in your church audio visual system if you want to:

  • Spend more.
  • Introduce greater chances for technical problems.
  • Have a less stable/reliable production.
  • Eliminate entry-level opportunities for volunteers.
  • Make life harder for your church audio visual technicians.
  • Create potential distractions for your congregation.

Is that worth it so you can have the “shiny toy”?

Use a cable wherever you can; it’s that simple.

I realise you may think differently, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, so let me know them in the comments.

If you want more details on if your church audio visual system should be an all-in-one or a component-based system, then this blog addresses that: What's best for your live streaming? all in one or component systems.

Or, for a very detailed look at everything needed for a church audio visual system then you will find that here: Church AV: A definitive guide to using Audio-Visual effectively.

Categories: audio, Broadcasting, Cameras, filming, Foundation, production, quality, set up, Technology

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