Church Projection System Design: Common Issues

Common Issues


Notebook Problems

Probably one of the most common problems I get asked about for small and large systems alike is problems with getting notebook computers to display an image on a projector. Most notebook computers have external VGA video ports to which you can connect an external monitor or a video projector. The problem generally results from the fact that most notebooks automatically turn off their external video ports in order to save battery power. Often they do this even if the notebook is plugged into an outlet. The result is that if when you connect your projector to a notebook computer then you might not get an image. Here is what to do. First, try connecting your video projector to a desktop to make sure that your video projector works (most desktops leave the video out port "on").

Make sure that your video projector is set to receive VGA computer video input. If someone has been using your projector they may have changed the projector to receive regular video rather than computer video. If you have problems changing your projector settings then unplug all connections except computer video input and reboot your projector. Most projectors will search for what input is active. If computer video is all that is connected then that is what they will accept. Next, check your notebook computer manual on how to turn on the external video port. Likely, it is just as simple as holding down the function key on your notebook keyboard and pressing the video out key. One some computers this is the function key plus the "F5" key. Look for a key that has a little monitor symbol on it. You may have to press this key combination two or three times. Typically, keys combinations will switch into three modes: LCD active only, external monitor only and finally, both external monitor and LCD active at the same time.

You may also have to right click on the desktop and select properties to change Windows display settings properties. After doing this then select "SETTINGS", then "ADVANCED SETTINGS" then "DISPLAYS". There you will see an option to turn on external monitors. Some versions of Windows may not respond to changing this setting if you are using a video amplifier or switch. Some notebooks try to "sense" the external monitor. If the notebook can't "see" the projector because it is confused by the amplifier it may refuse to turn on the external monitor port. If you can, bypass the video amplifier and connect the notebook directly to the projector with a single cable and see if you can get it to work.

One last thing to try, which may even be the easiest, is simply to turn the notebook computer off and then reboot it with the projector attached and turned on. At bootup, a lot of notebook computers will first check the external computer video port to see if anything is attached. If the computer and Windows are working right, the notebook computer will automatically sense the projector and be ready to run. Some notebooks will turn off their LCD screens in this set up but at least your projector will be working.

This can be a lot more complicated than it should be. No wonder I get this question so often!

DVD Copy Protection

There are several advantages to using the DVD player in your computer to play DVDs. You don't have to switch inputs and your video image may actually be better due to the way that the projector handles the input. WARNING: Please note, however, that many computer DVD software products and computer players, especially on notebook computers, will not allow you to play the DVD video on the external monitor port. This is a feature of copy protection. If this happens to you then you can see the movie fine on your LCD monitor and although you can see your desktop on the video projector you get a black picture where your movie should be playing. The key is that the DVD movie will only play on the PRIMARY video output and the system sees the external VGA output port as the SECONDARY monitor. The way to fix this is to RIGHT click on the computer screen desktop and then select "PROPERTIES". Next select "SETTINGS" then "ADVANCED" then "DISPLAYS" You should have both your LCD panel and your external monitor powered up. Click on the little blue bullseye button on the external monitor to make it the primary display and apply your settings to see if that works. If all else fails call tech support of your computer manufacturer.

Native Resolution

A common problem I see that many people don't even know they have is the slightly blurry image they give by sending a computer video image to their projector that is not in the "Native" resolution of the projector. A properly focused projector should allow you to see the individual pixels on the screen if you are close enough. The bottom line is that you should check your projector manual to find out what the native resolution of your projector is. Likely it will be 800 by 600 for lower priced projectors and 1024 by 768 for mid priced projectors, higher for more expensive projectors. If you have a higher resolution projector then you probably bought a high dollar projector not related to this simple church design guide. Once you find out the native resolution then RIGHT click on your computer screen desktop and then click on "PROPERTIES", then "SETTINGS". On this screen you should find a control that allows you to change the resolution settings. You will want to set your resolution settings on your computer to be the exact same as the resolution settins on your projector. Your projector may have the ability to accept a variety of resolution inputs but selecting a higher resolution on your projector or computer than the native resolution of your projector will actually degrade your image rather than improve it. The reason for this is because unlike CRT monitors the projector has a set number of physical pixels. Select any other resolution than the actual native number of physical pixels and the projector will start "guessing" and interpreting different signals. It is kind of hard to explain in a short guide like this one but if you try projecting text on the screen and then try different resolutions on your computer you should see the blurring problem that I am describing. The bottom line is that the best thing to do is to select the same resolution on computer that you use on your projector. Just try different resolutions and see what works best for you

Improving Your Design

I know I have said repeatedly that this is a simple design guide but there are a couple of nice improvements that you might make once you get your system working well. I DON'T recommend that you put these in your original installation. Get your basic system working well first. You might go ahead and run the cables early but I recommend that you get your simple system up and running well before you complicate it. Start up problems can be hard enough for an inexperienced installer without adding confusion. I go ahead and mention these here because if you think you want to do these things it may be a llot easier to go ahead and run the cable for these additions up front than it is at the end of the project. I just suggest that you don't actually hook these cables up until you get your base system running well.

Adding a Second Monitor

I highly recommend that you do something for the speaker to make it so that he can see what is on the screen without turning around. You might be able do this simply by putting a mirror in the front pew. This may not help much because the image in the mirror will be reversed but at least the presenter will know the projector is working. Once you get your system working ok however you can run the signal to near the pulpit to set up a simple monitor for the speaker. This is called a "confidence monitor" - it lets the speaker or presenter know what is going on behind them on the screen. There are several ways to do this. You will probably need to buy a video splitter/amplifier. You can add the amplifier/splitter into the output of your projection computer. Simply run one of your low loss computer video cables to your projector and the other low loss computer video cable to the monitor at the pulpit. I have an example of a modified common wooden pulpit where the monitor is set into the podium on the "do it yourself" page. This isn't the only option. I have even seen churches place the monitor on the front pew facing the speaker. Whatever you do, make sure that your monitor is protected and not set such that it could overheat. Having a monitor for the speaker isn't worth burning down the church building!

As stated elsewhere, introducing a splitter/amplifier may introduce several problems into your design if you don't get the right equipment or install it correctly. A video amplifier can introduce new problems including even over-amplifying your signal. I have also had cases in which a notebook computer can't "see" the projector through a splitter/amplifier and the notebook shuts down its external video port. For these and other reasons I recommend that you try to get by without a video amplifier/splitter until you get your simple system working well. Since this design is for a small church, you shouldn't be running your cables over 100 feet and most likely won't need a video amplifier for your system if you are using good quality cables with a typical computer.

WARNING: Adding a second monitor or projector and splitting your signal into two signals may GREATLY decrease the brightness of your projector output. The same may occur if you run your signal too far or use inferior cable. The reason being that the projector will sense a lower signal and misinterpret it as a dimmer image. You should test the image and may need to buy a VGA splitter/booster.

Adding a Second Input

You might want to add a second VGA input source to your installation. This often consists of the ability to allow someone to bring in a notebook computer to the church, set it on the podium and input to the video projector. To do this, add yet one more low loss computer video cable from the pulpit back to the main computer used for projection. Make sure you label these cables when you put them in so that you will know which cable is which. You will need to purchase a computer video A/B switch. Be aware that when you turn this switch back and forth from your main computer to your notebook computer that you projector will have to search for and set it self up for the new signal. This may give you some annoying error messages from the projector up on the screen. This is NOT a smooth transition. This is NOT something you want to do in the middle of your service. If you want to do smooth video transitions between computer inputs then you may need to spend a lot more money. This simple design guide does not cover those kinds of design issues. I mention it simply because it can be handy. A lot of churches may use a simple manual VGA switch to change between Sunday School and worship or simply to set up for special speakers. Plug your notebook computer into the cable that is run into the video switcher you bought. the video switcher should have inputs from both your main computer and your notebook. Run the output of this switcher to your projector. If the distance isn't too great then you might get by without an amplifier splitter. If it doesn't then take the output from your splitter and run it into the input of your computer video splitter amplifier and send the output to your projector and your monitor if you have one. Go back and read in the "Adding A Second Monitor" section about all the problems this can create and also go back and read the section above about "NOTEBOOK PROBLEMS" also. Anyway, if you can get it to work then it makes a nice addition. This new feature, though small, can add a lot of confusion to operators. It not only may add confustion when solving problems but also to anyone who trys to run the system when the installer is not around may be confused so make sure all your operators know how to do it. I suggest you print out a copy of the NOTEBOOK PROBLEMS above and keep it handy for the days that a second notebook is brought in. Invariably, someone will get confused about how to get a notebook to run with a video projector.

Wireless Remote Control

There are a lot of reasons why you might want a long distance wireless mouse and wireless keyboard. Although many preachers may not want to control their presentation, some will. In addition, even though your regular pulpit minister may not want to control their presentation you may sometimes get special speakers, missionaries, etc that do like to control their presentation. If you use your auditorium for Sunday School, the ability to use a long distance wireless mouse and wireless keyboard might be used by the Sunday School teacher to not only control a PowerPoint presentation but also to run Bible Software for the whole class to see. They may want to use the projector like a large colorful electronic blackboard. They can simply fire up their word processor in class, set their font to some large type (say 36 point) and type in a list of class answers to questions for all to see or type in the prayer requests as they come in from the audience. Users can even use a drawing program to draw on their electronic backboard. Whatever their reason, it is not uncommon to run into situations in which people like to run the projection computer from a distance. There are a variety of wireless mice and keyboards to choose from. The least expensive only have a range of about 3 - 6 feet. Some other mice have a range of 25 to 30 feet. My favorite is the Gyration professional mouse and keyboard. The regular Gyration mouse and keyboard combination runs about $100 and gives you a 25 to 30 foot range. The professional version has a range of 100 feet and also allows you to run the mouse as an "air mouse" run by simple hand motions in addition to being used as a regular table top mouse. The professional combination also may come with some handy software that gives you all kinds of special effects and capabilities specifically designed for presenters. Anyway, I suggest you do a search for the mouse and keyboard or simply contact a company such as At my last check, the price ran about $275 for the combination or you can just buy the mouse. You can also get used ones on Ebay, just make sure you are getting the professional version rather than the regular version. To keep your installation simple, you may want to do this rather than set up for a second computer input as described above. With this long range mouse and keyboard, users can completely control the remote computer. Check my hardware review page at: Hardware Reviews. for more information about wireless remote controls.

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