Sharing ProPresenter lyrics to multiple clients through the web browser in real time using Node.js, socket.io, and Amazon EC2

Every year, my church has a “night of worship”, a worship service in the heart of the city at an outdoor stage, where we sing songs for a couple of hours. Because it doesn’t get dark enough to use projectors for lyrics until the service is almost over, in the past we have relied on using small flat screen TVs to try to show some words for people to follow along. Big white letters on a black background, nothing fancy. Of course, it’d be great if we could just rent an LED video wall, but the cost to do that has been too expensive for us to do in the past.

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You can see the screens we rented here. Pretty small (60″) for such a large crowd.

So, I had an idea: What if we could somehow send the lyrics out of ProPresenter to everyone’s phones, in real time, and let them use their own screens to follow along?

I gave myself a couple of limitations:

  • It needed to work in the standard phone browser so there was no barrier of installing a particular app
  • It needed to be real time or as close to it as possible

Awhile back, I started tinkering around with the undocumented ProPresenter API. I say undocumented because it is not officially offered as a way to access ProPresenter data and control it. Some people have done a great job at figuring out how ProPresenter sends data over the network between their apps which allows us to extend the software to meet unique needs. Basically, by using websockets, we can interact with ProPresenter which will return JSON-formatted data reflecting information about songs in the library, playlist, the index of the current song, the current slide and next slide information, etc.

I created a local Node.js project and in just a few hours, I had something ready to alpha test! My approach was to have a web browser open on the local network that could poll and listen to changes from ProPresenter, and then relay that new data to a web server. That web server would then relay those changes to all of the connected clients, much like a chat server would send a message to everyone.

I showed it to my team, but the idea was tabled for awhile because we thought it through and didn’t want people buried in their phones while singing. However, as we got closer to the event, we realized that the two TV screens we rented might not be sufficient, and I was asked to work on this again.

As I was preparing this for production, I discussed briefly with our IT team about setting up an internal server running Node.js that could be accessed on port 80 (the default HTTP port) outside the firewall, but bandwidth, security and performance for hundreds of clients connecting through the Internet all at the same time was a concern. With that in mind, I turned to Amazon EC2.

If you haven’t heard of it, Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) is basically virtual servers “in the cloud” (i.e. remotely and accessible from the internet). It’s not too hard to set up, and they even have a free tier available for 12 months, so you can try it out for free! I had never used it before this project, so I actually followed a tutorial to help me get it going.

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This is my EC2 instance. It’s running Ubuntu linux.

Once I had my Linux server set up on Amazon EC2, I assigned an “Elastic IP” (Amazon’s term for a type of static IP), and then I bought a domain name, fglyrics.com, for $12 and tied it to that IP. It was up and online in minutes. I installed Node.js on my new server, copied over my code, and started it running.

About the software:

I call the software Presentation Bridge, because it acts as a “bridge” or connector between the presentation software and all of the clients.

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The initial Bridge page.

When you first load the Bridge page, you have two options: Configuring your ProPresenter connection, and Connecting to a Bridge. In order to connect to ProPresenter, you have to enable the network settings. It relies on both the “remote” and “stage display” controls to get all of the data needed.

ProPresenter 6 Network Settings
You need to enable the network, ProPresenter Remote, and Stage Display App. Be sure to assign a control password. The Network Port is the port we will use in Presentation Bridge. The Stage Display App port is not needed.

When connecting to ProPresenter in Presentation Bridge, you’ll need to supply the local ProPresenter IP address and port, as well as the control password and local library path. This is what allows the Bridge to pull all of the slide images and other information. This is standardized across all of our ProPresenter installs at our church, so it’s always the same path for us. It should be the full, absolute path from the root of your drive.

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When you’ve successfully connected, the gray dot at the top of the ProPresenter config box will turn green. If there’s an error, it will turn red. Status information is displayed in a log area further down the screen.

To connect to a bridge, choose one from the dropdown list. If it is configured to have a control password, you’ll have to enter that in order to connect. Adding bridges and making changes to existing bridges can be managed by clicking the settings wheel. It supports multiple bridges, which I added as a feature since we have multiple auditoriums and may want to use more than one simultaneously.

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This is what the page can look like when connected to both ProPresenter and to a Bridge room.

As the operator runs ProPresenter, the slides will be displayed on the Bridge screen with the currently selected slide showing a blinking red border, so it is clear which slide is currently being displayed. You can browse the playlists and items in the playlist. You have the option to send the current data from ProPresenter to the server (or turn it off), turn on a logo (configured in Bridge settings, useful if you’re currently not connected to ProPresenter, etc.). I also implemented the NoSleep.js library which will attempt to keep any connected mobile devices awake.

On the viewer/client side, I implemented three types of “listeners”:

  • Text Listener – just gets text data and displays it as big as possible on the screen
  • Image Listener – displays the actual slide image by using a base64 encoding of the slide
  • Stage Display – recreates the current slide/next slide layout
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This is the default “text listener” option, and what we used for our night of worship.
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This is the image listener. It uses a base64 encoded image pulled from ProPresenter at the time it connects. The quality is based on the slider value set in the config options for the ProPresenter connection. It does not include any background or other layers.
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This is the stage display, with the current slide and the next slide, and any notes attached.

All three listeners can be accessed through the browser. The data is relayed from the server using the socket.io library. I tested it on my iOS devices, Android devices, and even my Amazon Fire TV stick on multiple browsers and they all work really well. Across an internet connection, the moment a slide is clicked in ProPresenter, that slide is visible on the listener devices.

We used it during our Night of Worship this year and it worked great! I used a hotspot for the Bridge connection and then everyone connected to the Text Listener using the internet connection on their own phones. It uses very little data since it is just a text stream, which is really nice!

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Overall, I enjoyed creating this software for our unique need. I plan to extend the functionality down the road as I have time, including attaching “triggers” to specific slides as they are activated, to send RossTalk messages, fire HTTP cues, etc. on the local production network.

If you’d like to try Presentation Bridge out for yourself, the code is freely available on my Github repository. You can also request to demo it using my live site running on Amazon EC2. I wrote the software to support multiple bridges at a time, in case you have multiple meeting spaces or venues that need to run simultaneously. When more than one Bridge is enabled and running, any users that connect are presented with a drop-down list and can select the Bridge they want to join.

ProTally 1.2.0 with Blackmagic ATEM support available

I spent some time this past week writing and testing support for ProTally with Blackmagic ATEM switchers. I didn’t have one to develop with, and after posting on a discussion group about the software, a new friend sent me a unit to work on. Thanks again, Kyle!

Version 1.2.0 now supports:

  • Blackmagic ATEM switchers – it will auto discover any ATEM switchers on the network, or you can manually type in an IP Address as well
  • Ross Carbonite Black, Carbonite Black Solo, and Graphite switchers

And I now have a Windows release build in addition to a MacOS release build!

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It now supports more device types!

You can download the binaries for free here: https://github.com/josephdadams/ProTally/releases/tag/v1.2.0

If the software is beneficial to you, drop me a line and let me know!

Using Dropbox to keep ProPresenter Libraries in sync

Dropbox is an excellent tool for production use. We use it for everything, from weekly temporary files just for a particular weekend service, to long term resources that need to be available on a regular basis. It’s great because the files automatically sync to all the devices, and it allows us to collaborate with a lot of people/contributors. The files are stored locally on each device/computer, so they are quickly accessible.

We also like syncing our ProPresenter Libraries in Dropbox, and I thought I would share that method with you. If you haven’t heard of ProPresenter, it is an media presentation software package from a company called Renewed Vision that is designed specifically to make live production easier. In my opinion, it’s the best lyric presenting software out there.

ProPresenter maintains its own internal library/folder system of all of your presentations (songs), background videos, images, etc. This allows you to easily search and re-use songs week to week. The software auto-saves changes when you make them, which is great.

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But what do you do when you have multiple ProPresenter computers in multiple venues and rooms across the campus or ministry? This is where a syncing method comes in very handy.

ProPresenter has two built in options for sync, “local sync” and “cloud sync”. The local sync option is free and you can set it up yourself to sync to a local drive or network share. The cloud sync option uses Renewed Vision servers and costs a small monthly fee.

However, we don’t use either of these options. I tried the local sync option and never got it to reliably work like I expected, and the cloud sync was not something we were interested in paying for at the time.

We use Dropbox instead. We have a shared Dropbox account logged into all production devices. Each computer using ProPresenter is set up with its own library folder in the Dropbox account. This allows that computer to make all the changes it needs while those library files are in use.

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As changes are made, they are automatically synced to Dropbox and back down to the other devices, into that same folder name/structure. Essentially, every computer has a full backup of all the other computers’ ProPresenter libraries, accurate to within the last time it synced, typically within a couple of minutes at most.

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We have found this to be very helpful, because a volunteer running ProPresenter in one Auditorium can fix or redesign a slide, and the volunteer running ProPresenter in another Auditorium can simply pull up that file on their computer and copy it into their local library.

To sync over mass changes, we create a ProPresenter bundle file of presentations and save it to Dropbox. The other computers see the bundle file almost immediately and they can then be imported to get any new changes needed.

We have been using this workflow for over a year now and it has been great for us. Do you use ProPresenter and Dropbox together? If not, give this a try. Or, if you have a great syncing method that works well for your team, share it! I’d love to hear how you are using technology well to help the church be more efficient.

ProTally Release Build is here!

Awhile back, I wrote about the on-screen tally software I recently developed. We needed a way for our CG operators to know when their source was on-air or about to be on-air. I won’t rehash the definitions or inner-workings again, so if you didn’t read that first post, I recommend you read that before this.

I had hoped to give a release build much sooner but lost time waiting on some other people to test it in their environments. We’ve been running it in our environments for almost 2 months now with no issues, so I finally gave it some final polishing and bug squashing to get it ready for release. The interface has changed some, and for now, you can choose between a generic TSL 3.1 device or, specifically, a Ross Carbonite. (Not a Carbonite Black, Solo, or any of the other models.) Why specifically that model? Because I have two of them, and that’s what I know and use!

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Here is an example of it being used with ProPresenter as a border box.
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Here is an example of the filled-in box version, as some people may prefer that instead.
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Here is what it could look like in ProVideoServer.

I hope to add support for the Blackmagic ATEM protocol soon. I need to connect with someone who has one, so if that’s you and you’re interested in testing with me, drop me a line!

If you’d like to download either the source code or a release build for the Mac platform, I’ve made both available on my Github repository here:https://github.com/josephdadams/ProTally/

And this should go without saying, but even though I’ve made software to augment your use of software like Renewed Vision’s ProPresenter and other products, it is in no way associated with any company or product. This is distributed under the MIT license and is available for anyone to use without cost.

Tally ho!

Using software to prepare for the Global Leadership Summit

My church is hosting the Global Leadership Summit again in August. This will be our second year. If you’re unfamiliar with the GLS, it is a 2-day intensive leadership conference with world-class speakers that takes place globally. The live speakers are at Willow Creek church in Illinois, and they send the content live around the globe via satellite and web stream.

As a host site, we have a variety of tasks to accomplish throughout the year as we prepare to host. As the technical director, it’s my job to make sure the satellite feed is working properly, and we do tests months in advance to be ready. In fact, we just had our first full test last week.

Sometimes during the actual event, the satellite feed will go down or have a problem and we will need to switch to the web stream. I decided a quick Dashboard Panel would be an easy solution to enable this, so that in the heat of the moment, I’m not having to think through audio de-embedders, video routes, etc. I can just click a button, and have the computer do the work. It will also help in case I have to step out and there is an issue while I am gone, because anyone on my team can click a button!

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Are you hosting or attending the GLS this year? What are you doing to prepare?

Triggering Wirecast Remotely using Elgato Stream Deck

Wirecast is a great tool for live streaming. At Fellowship Greenville, we use it as our encoder to stream to YouTube Live, whether it be the regular Sunday morning sermon live stream, or for special events, conferences, funerals, etc.

Lately, I’ve been working specifically on some improvements to make it easier for me to operate a live stream from our second auditorium, where we typically host funeral services and special events. Our live stream server is located in our control rooms in the main building, so when I am working tech for an event in the second auditorium, I am completely separated from the control rooms.

For regular Sunday services, that’s not a problem to be separated because we have a great team of volunteers working in both areas who stay in communication with and support each other. But for smaller services like a funeral, where it is typically only me and one other staff member running everything, it can be challenging to run a full production while I am sitting in the tech booth, far away from the control room areas where the live stream server and video switcher are located.

This is where my Stream Deck Production Controller software is going to be a great help. I have created a button set that allows me to send RossTalk commands to the Ross Carbonite switcher, change the necessary routes on the BlackMagic VideoHub router, and start/stop the Wirecast live stream.

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So how does this work? The Stream Deck software is sending a GPI trigger request to Dashboard, where I have these buttons in my production control custom panel:

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Clicking the “Wirecast – Start Streaming” button runs a custom ogscript function that runs this AppleScript:

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And that’s it! By using the existing infrastructure I’ve designed for our production control, I’m now able to easily run the live stream but still maintain high value in what is streamed. By using the stream deck to operate not only Wirecast, but the video switcher remotely, I can change sources as needed, play videos, show cameras, etc. I even have a button that jumps to my PTZ camera control where I can recall presets that I’ve designed specifically for special events like this!

My Stream Deck software is available on Github if you would like to use it, and feel free to reach out if I can help!

Remote Control of Panasonic AW-HE40 PTZ Camera through Dashboard

We have a Panasonic AW-HE40 located in each auditorium at my church to allow the control room operators to see the space. We also occasionally use them as on-screen cameras since they have HD-SDI outputs. The quality is surprising for the size of the device.

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The cameras come with a fully functional webpage that allows you to control them.

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By peeking around at the code some, I was able to figure out how to send HTTP requests to change presets of the camera.

Here is my Ross Dashboard custom panel that allows our volunteers to quickly pull up presets:

 

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The panel allows the user to see the camera’s viewing angle and select a pre-defined preset. Presets can be modified within the existing web interface for the camera. A Setup tab is also available to configure the IP address of the camera you wish to control.

 

If you use my panel, you’ll still need to manage/modify the presets using the existing interface. We don’t change our presets often, so I didn’t feel the need to recreate any other functionality than recalling presets.

I’ve made this panel available on Github here if you can benefit from it: https://github.com/josephdadams/RossDashboardPanels