The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: News Signage
Jun 9, 2009 12:00 PM, Staff Report
Newseum, Washington, D.C.
The digital signage explosion has reached a point where electronic displays have seemingly penetrated every public space, including entertainment, retail, public safety, and transportation. Digital signage has become a touchstone in virtually any environment where consumers crave information.
It’s no surprise then that digital signage is being used to improve the visitor experience in some of the nation’s most progressive museums and galleries. The Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot news museum with 15 theaters, 14 major galleries, and 130 interactive stations, is a good example of a museum using signage to deliver information to visitors as they study the exhibits. (More on the Newseum.)
The Newseum is a hotbed for modern AV technology with its seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail spaces, and visitor services. Audio and video surround visitors as they experience a museum that combines five centuries of news history with current technology and hands-on exhibits. The digital signage installation is an extension of a broadcast and AV operation built around two cutting-edge studios and a master control center, delivering a blend of informative text, video, and rich graphical content to eyeballs throughout the building.
“The digital signage operation is a very tight, co¬ordinated collaboration between our engineering, broadcasting, web, and marketing groups,” says Tom Turco, director of web services at the Newseum. “We have a consistent design team to create branded content that complements our galleries and exhibits. The signage network enables us to communicate a variety of information to our visitorswhether providing the time, place, and topic for different theater programs or promoting offers in the Newseum Store. It has proven to be very versatile.”
The Newseum opened its Pennsylvania Avenue location in Washington, D.C., in April 2008, and the timing of the construction allowed the various integration and engineering teams to implement an AV and signage backbone within the new architecture. The digital signage network was then delivered and installed by Noventri, a division of Specialized Communications. The Noventri SF-3000 digital signage solution selected for the facility is powered by Harris InfoCaster technology, distributing content to 37 flatpanel displays on six floors.
Noventri designed a custom package based on the Newseum’s digital signage requirements, determining what was needed on the infrastructure and distribution side, in addition to InfoCaster tools for content creation, management, and playout to multiple displays. The first step was wiring the building as the walls were being erected with 18,105ft., or 3.4 miles, of fiber-opticcabling serving as the backbone for video and a sizeable length of 9451P plenum wiring for audio.
“Fiber was an ideal choice due to the distance required for video distribution around the building, and it gives the customer an all-fiber video network,” says Tim Rollins, project manager for Noventri. “The design and deployment of this project has future expansion in mind, so all fiber is run through interducting of up to 3in. to accommodate the bigger paths. This not only provides room for growth, but protection from other electrical wires. Interducting isn’t very common in this industry, but the massive amount of technology in this building made protection a priority.”
The informational nature of the Newseum’s signage network is reliant on content, and the Harris InfoCaster solution as installed by Noventri is highly versatile as a creation platform. The Noventri SF-3000 provides content-creation capabilities, a central network manager, and multiple media players to handle the creation, management, and playout of content on all 37 displays. The entire solution is powered by Harris InfoCaster software.
Three creation stationsone of which serves as a backup systemoffer the same capabilities, but they are quite different in terms of responsibilities. The main content-creation seat is located in the graphic-design department, where operators create page layouts using text, graphics, and videomuch of which is produced inhouse.
The video is imported from five editing rooms featuring Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems, a standard component of its broadcast and AV operation. Digital video from the editing systems is moved around the facility via a Grass Valley K2 server and transferred to the InfoCaster-powered creation stations via the Windows Media format.
“The graphic designers typically lay out the page format with text and graphics and then drop a piece of video into a certain region of the display that usually comprises one-third of the screen,” says Bud O’Connor, director of engineering for the Newseum. “InfoCaster software recognizes that this piece of video relates to a specific part of the page, and that video loops for as long as that page is live on one or more of the displays.
“The creation station is ideal for what we do because the product has roots in the television broadcast industry. The internal graphics engine can handle the transparencies, key levels, moves, and manipulations like a broadcast character generator. There is a slight learning curve for our nonbroadcast operators, but we chose it because it is synonymous with our TV operations.”
A second creation station resides in master control on Level 3, the heart of the Newseum’s broadcast and AV operation. The glass-enclosed master control room is visible to the public, with two long, kidney-bean-shaped consoles facing a bank of monitors. The creation station is positioned just in front of the glass and essentially serves as an engineering station for schedule changes and general monitoring of the signage network.
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