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Sign Language

Jul 26, 2013 1:11 PM, By Tim Kridel

Interactivity options for digital signage.


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Walk into any bar, and it’s a safe bet you’ll find at least two things: digital signage and a mirrored wall of booze. The bar at Wolfgang Puck’s Trattoria del Lupo restaurant in Las Vegas is no exception, but it also bucks the stereotypes about what that signage can add to the experience.

Tucked inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Trattoria del Lupo opened in 1999 and recently completed a major remodel that included adding interactive digital art to the bar in the middle of the restaurant. Four 42in. displays now adorn the top of the bar, but they’re not there to show ballgames or talking heads. Instead, they show streams and balls of light that, thanks to infrared cameras, ebb and flow based on bar patrons’ movements. For example, reaching for a drink can be enough to make the streams move in a way that mimics the breeze of an arm.

Interactive art is a rarity in bars and restaurants. So the artwork—titled “TRAILERS_LUPO”—was a test case not only for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, which owns 14 other restaurants in cities such as Beverly Hills, Dallas, and London, but for the rest of the industry, too.

“It’s something they’re doing to change the way people look at digital signage and digital art,” says Curtis Kelly, who leads the systems design group at SenovvA, the Los Angeles-based integrator on the project. “I really applaud them for it. That’s been so successful that they’re now planning to do more restaurants. We’re getting ready to do another commission.”

BEHIND THE SCENES

In a way, the Trattoria del Lupo project got its start backstage at the Academy Awards, where SenovvA did the LED wall behind the stage. Digital artist John B. Carpenter was there, as well.

“The thing that really impressed me about their work at the awards was the seamless integration of the technology into the stage design and the way they were able to get a non-pixelated image for the audience by using a slight diffuser in front of the wall,” Carpenter says.

When Carpenter received the Trattoria del Lupo commission, he asked SenovvA to help execute his vision. One challenge was selecting the right hardware. Although many commercial AV installations now use consumer-grade monitors because they’re inexpensive, SenovvA and Carpenter agreed that approach would be shortsighted.

“It would be cheaper to do it that way, but you’re going to replace them four times [as often],” Carpenter says.

One reason is because “TRAILERS_LUPO” requires displays that are in portrait mode.

“You have to have a commercial display if you’re going to run it in portrait orientation because consumer displays don’t run properly in portrait,” Kelly says. “They’re designed to run and cool in landscape mode.”

SenovvA chose LG 42VS20-BAA LCDs. Kelly had used LG displays on other projects, but not this particular model. After comparing specs and talking with LG reps, this model stood out for several reasons:

  • Its cooling adapts based on orientation, helping maximize its lifespan and avoiding downtime. A high-quality video card and power supply also help ensure reliability.
  • It provides the high contrast ratio necessary to avoid washouts and blooming, as well as ample control of contrast and brightness. “With plasma, we probably could have got better black levels, but we wanted something that was going to be more robust on a commercial level running 24/7,” Kelly says. “Most digital signage displays are all about the nits. For us, it was more about contrast ratio and the black levels for a really natural look.”
  • It includes a broad, deep menu, including options for scheduling and auto reboot, all accessible remotely from a Web browser.
  • It offers an Ethernet port for remote access and monitoring, a feature that Kelly liked from other LG models. “I love them because they have a very good control protocol over IP or RS-232. Very robust. A very easy language to work with,” he says.

Networkability also was key for connecting each display to an Apple Mac Mini over HDMI. The infrared cameras—mounted underneath each display—connect to their respective Mini via USB.

Although they’re designed for the consumer market, Minis are increasingly common in pro AV. They were an ideal fit for Trattoria del Lupo partly because they have a solid-state drive (SSD), providing more reliability than a hard disk. SSDs also enable faster boot ups, which was a factor because the system is cycled off once a day. This clears the memory to ensure everything stays performing smoothly. After all, artwork that’s meant to mimic human movement and the wind can’t exist in fits and starts.

“It’s a very natural, smooth flow,” Kelly says. “So there had to be some specific things that had to be in the design development to make sure that the displays had a fast refresh rate so there wouldn’t be any jogginess. The computers had to have SSDs instead of [hard drives] because it’s running 24/7. They had to have fast refresh rates on the video cards.”

The infrared cameras also had to be flexible.

“The Kinetic cameras aren’t just standard ones you buy off the shelf,” Kelly says. “They’re professional models that can handle custom drivers.”



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