As San Jose, California-area WestGate Church expanded beyond its original Saratoga campus to multiple satellite locations, live video became a vital enabler of its ongoing growth. Looking to improve picture quality and production flexibility for its multi-site broadcasts, the church purchased two Z-HD5500 HDTV studio and field production cameras from Hitachi Kokusai Electric America, Ltd. (Hitachi Kokusai) and has been delighted with the results.
“When I joined the church, we had maxed out our capacity in Saratoga, and had dreams of going multi-site,” said Kevan Long, production director at WestGate Church. “Adding satellite campuses was crucial in extending our reach into other pockets of the Silicon Valley region, and linking them with video is an essential part of our worship experience.”
Adding new locations over the past three years, WestGate Church now spans four campuses – Saratoga, South Hills, Sunnyvale, and the Spanish-language Casa de Fe – with more than 3000 total congregants attending services each week. Live broadcasts of services with lead pastor Steve Clifford originate from the Saratoga site’s 800-seat worship center and are streamed with a five-minute time delay to South Hills and Casa de Fe, while evening attendees at the Sunnyvale location watch a recording captured earlier the same day.
As their dependency on video increased, the church recognized the need to upgrade their cameras. “We needed better image capture quality as we expanded to multiple sites,” explained Long. “Our existing robotic PTZ cameras created a fairly decent 720p image, but we knew our video could be much better with true broadcast-grade cameras. Following our communicators across the stage with robotic cameras also didn’t look very good, so we had to ask them to limit their actions so they didn’t step out of the frame.”
Low-light handling was also among the key criteria as the church evaluated new cameras.
“We don’t like to flood our stage with lights, preferring to run it a bit on the darker side to give it a warmer feel,” said Long. “Our previous cameras weren’t great in low-light situations, so we needed ones with better sensors and sensitivity.”
Worship-oriented systems integrator E2i Design recommended the Z-HD5500 to the WestGate Church team. As the Z-HD5500 was brand new at the time, Long spoke to other churches that were using earlier Hitachi camera models, and was impressed by what he heard. These endorsements combined with the cameras’ technical benefits to make the Z-HD5500s ideal for WestGate’s needs.
“Hitachi Kokusai as a company has a great reputation, and the video from their cameras looks great,” said Long. “The Z-HD5500’s full frame rate 1080p capability was a factor in our decision, and its 62dB signal-to-noise ratio is pretty amazing. Its new sensor’s ability to handle the challenges of LED lighting at different refresh rates was also very appealing, as our stage and house lighting are almost entirely LED, and we plan to add LED video walls in the future.”
The Z-HD5500s have delivered all of the benefits the church was looking for, improving the visual quality of their productions while enabling their on-stage communicators to move about freely.
“The image quality of the Hitachi cameras is just stellar, and we could clearly see as soon as we put them in that their depth of field and low-light performance were so much better than what we had previously,” praised Long. “The ability to follow our communicators on stage has also enabled us to create a more dynamic video experience, making us much more engaging to watch than our oldlocked-down shots.”
While the church’s video crew was new to broadcast-class cameras, they found the Hitachi cameras easy to learn.
“We held a 30-minute group training session on the basic controls, then came early to practice during rehearsals for the first month,” recalled Long. “The transition was pretty seamless.”
Long is completely satisfied with the Z-HD5500s, and would love to add two more to WestGate Church’s productions if budget and space in the sanctuary permit.
“We couldn’t be happier with the decision we made to go with the Hitachi cameras,” he summarized. “They are vital in our inter-campus content delivery and have made us better as a production team, which in turn hasmade us better as a ministry in reaching our community.”