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Seattle Mariners Moves 8 Million Pixels, Part 2

Jul 23, 2013 12:10 PM, With Bennett Liles

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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

It’s the biggest LED videoscreen in baseball and it made its opening appearance in April at Seattle’s Safeco Field, but the technology that drives the giant display to ultra high resolution is even more impressive. Mark Stross of ANC Sports is back with us to talk about how big screen high-res technology works and where it’s headed, next up on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Mark Stross from ANC Sports, it’s great to have you back for part two and talking about this huge new HD video display for the Mariners out there at Safeco Field and highest resolution on any screen anywhere that size. It’s bigger even, and I think wider, than the Cowboys’ screen in their stadium. And it’s like the next big thing, who’s going to have the biggest screen in the world? Right now I guess it’s the Mariners. So glad to have you here. This Safeco Field screen is unique. Did you have to make any sort of custom updates? We talked about those a little bit before in part one, but the VisionSOFT program has so much to do and so many big files to push here for the Mariners project. Did you have to make any serious changes to that?

Well, first of all it’s good to be back. Yes we did. We actually rewrote about 25 percent of the way our render engine handles codecs because when we got into this board size, which was twice the dimension of HD, and it was literally two HD boards combined width-wise, the codecs—the ability for the compression to work correctly, stopped working as well. The math wasn’t formatted correctly to handle this. So we literally went and re-optimized our math routines. We spent a lot of time, all the content providers—the software programs that are used to create content—in addition to that the sign companies, in creating tool sets that all worked up to HD because that was the Holy Grail. Then suddenly when you’ve gone beyond HD, you’re in a no-man’s land. And for us, that no-man’s land meant that we did a huge amount of codec comparisons, because obviously a codec is a tool you use to take a pure frame and package it so you can deliver it on the video board. And when we actually packaged the codec, we realized that there was all kinds of weird problems, like some codecs refused to actually save the file in 3,840 by 1080. It would go maybe 3,886. You could not get the dimensions correct. Others just wouldn’t go that large, and then finally the results that you would get varied. So we found a very generic codec that worked and we are now still working on some incredible enhancements and with one of our partners, we’re actually going to be going to ProRes using the Apple standard because it’s being adapted by the film studios and Red and other companies. As you know, Red did the Lord of the Rings series of films and they used those very flexible cameras. And we actually visited Red at NAB this year. We were talking to them about what we were doing at the Mariners. When we talked about the fact that we had to dissolve with our codec running, they looked at us and went, “Well, we don’t do that. We don’t have an in between codec yet, something that you can work with.” And so from our perspective, we’re realizing that the future of doing anything in 4K, 3K-plus—like the Mariners—is really going to be about how do you make the work flow all the way from the graphic artist all the way down work? What’s going to be the official standard so that people don’t get confused along the way, and how are we going to actually combine all that and get all the companies to agree to work in the same sandbox? It’s similar to creating the USB convention. At some point you’ve got to get all the players around a table and go, “For all of our sakes, we need a standard.” And I think the challenge of the Mariners is really the content. After getting VisionSoft reprogrammed and getting it to run, that’s great, but now you have to look at hard drive space and the concession to quality of image, and we have to decide where that’s going be. We can play uncompressed content perfectly, but that’s 20GB per minute, approximately, at that file size. That’s not efficient because the truth is, if there was a disaster and you had a 7TB or 8TB hard drive, to actually reprogram that hard drive, it would have to be rebuilt from square one. It would take a considerable amount of time, more time than any stadium and any control room’s ever really looked at. So from my perspective, the challenges here are truly about where do we settle? If we want to be the very best in image quality, what does that look like? From my perspective that looks like creating a standard that everyone agrees to use. Also I believe that will help the customer ultimately; the arena, the control room, the people wanting the very best because they would be comparing apples to apples, and I would love to see that happen. [Timestamp: 5:39]

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