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Technology Showcase:
Multiple-Image Display Controllers

Nov 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Jay Ankeney

Push multiple computer and video inputs out to a single large screen.


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In rapidly increasing numbers, multiple-image display controllers fill government, corporate, and retail environments with information, entertainment, and advertisements, illuminating the visual landscape of our lives. The major practical difference between multiple-image displays and conventional television screens is that multi-displays present information to the viewer constantly, while TV sets wait until their programming is called up. Whether they are football scoreboards or railroad traffic routing centers, multiple-image displays are always on, providing information that can be noted at any time but easily ignored, as in the case of a point-of-purchase video wall, or constantly scrutinized, as in the case of a homeland security defense grid.

Stewart Filmscreen HDC Graphics Cube

Multiple-image display controllers (MIDCs) take multiple inputs from various sources and process them, making them available for a variety of display types through a single output.

A BRIEF HISTORY

Although they have since developed to accommodate multiple formats and standards, MIDCs debuted during the late '60s and '70s as matrix switchers that fed stacks of CRT monitors to create imposingly large images. As processing technology improved in the '80s, MIDCs migrated into more sophisticated analog routing systems that presented their information to multiple digital projectors. The '90s saw the acceleration of affordable computer processing and increased projection resolutions, and MIDCs became multi-window processors able to present multiple computer-generated graphics combined with video — all output from a single source and displayed over a unified field of vision.

Back in the early 1980s, the highest resolution coming out of PCs was CGA (two colors at 320×200) or EGA (16 colors from a palette of 64, providing a resolution of 640×350), which put forth graphics barely discernable when projected by the technology of the time. Between 1981 and 1985, Barco and Electrohome Projection Systems (the latter acquired by Christie Digital in 1999) brought out some massive projectors such as the EDP series. They were based on single-CRT displays that could produce up to VGA resolution (640×480). Companies soon discovered that network operations supervisors needed to make the information from their PCs viewable to everyone else in their control rooms, so MIDC manufacturers began using the UNIX-based X-Window system in a network-based client/server architecture to project multiple screen outputs simultaneously. In 1989, Jupiter Systems became the first company to produce a multiple-window UNIX display in the X-terminal format.

It is interesting that since then the greatest interest in multiple-screen data display walls has developed in the Far East, with Singapore's Public Utilities Board leading the way by installing a six-screen control-room display in 1993. What was groundbreaking then is less than impressive now, however. In 1999 Barco installed a 188-screen room projected from several controllers for Telkom South Africa's network operations center (NOC), the largest MIDC system in the world.

Jupiter Systems multi-image display for Shanghai Traffic Police.

Today there is a boom in domestic interest in large-display room installations now that most manufacturers have adopted the cost-efficient Windows platform. Jupiter Systems alone reported a revenue increase of nearly 50 percent last year, and predicts 500 of its display wall controllers will be installed in the coming year.

DATA DISPLAYS AND VIDEO WALLS

Generally, multiple-image display controllers fall into two categories: data displays and video walls. Although many manufacturers provide crossover designs, the fundamental technology behind data displays divides the two types into separate application categories. Data displays are based on computer-generated graphics (often combined with video). The constant flow of data allows for continuous update of data displays, making them suited for mission-critical control room applications. Video walls, on the other hand, depend primarily on moving video images (often combined with graphics) and are usually intended for entertainment, sports, corporate, or sales installations.

In general, data displays multiplex discrete windows of information from multiple sources through a single processor and present them concurrently to the viewer either via individual projectors or seamless banks of projection systems. As a result, in data displays the resolution of each separate window can remain constant. Video walls, on the other hand, take multiple inputs and spread them out over the available display real estate that expands the size of the final image, but increasingly sacrifices resolution as the projection gets larger.

THE MARKET

As a means of describing the many shapes, sizes, and variations of MIDCs, here are the major providers of these multiple-image display controllers.

Extron MGP 462

Aurora Multimedia offers DIDO (Digital In/Digital Out), a video processor that can take as many as four high-resolution and two low-resolution inputs and output to one to four DVI/RGBHV images. The high-performance scaler with multi-image rotation features image-enhancing capabilities such as motion-adaptive de-interlacing, low-angle directional interpolation, 3:2 and 2:2 inverse pulldown, and Moiré cancellation color correction. Thanks to its AARE (Aurora Advanced Rotation Engine), DIDO's picture-and-picture (PAP) capability offers several modes of operation, including high-resolution quad image or side-by-side (split-screen) images, and also translucent overlays.

Barco, a world leader in visualization technologies, offers the Barco iCon H600 and the Barco iQ Pro Series of data display projectors, both of which are capable of displaying multiple images via their internal computer controllers. Barco's MIDC line begins with Argus, a scalable multi-screen control system that can operate display walls of virtually unlimited size. With its intelligent high-bandwidth backplane and its sophisticated OmniScaler technology, Argus can integrate up to 320 external sources into graphic data, combining 64 video and 32 RGB sources per dual display channel. Its smaller Hydra system can control up to 60 analog or digital inputs simultaneously on one display operated via a standard web browser. One PC can control numerous networked Hydra units that can jointly display hundreds of signals.

One of the pioneers of three-CRT projection displays, Christie Digital Systems offers the NetMaster FRC-5100 as its latest MIDC. The FRC-5100 can take virtually unlimited local or network-based software applications (from Windows or Unix sources), hundreds of realtime video inputs, and multiple RGB inputs and throw them onto one large wall display, such as Christie's own display cubes, with no mullions between the images. It can even push content to multiple display cubes to create a single super-high-resolution, seamless Windows desktop for specialized scenarios. The whole FRC series features extensive redundancy and hot-swappable power, storage, and cooling for 24/7 reliability. The latest feature in Christie's new version 4.0 software is Live View, which lets you monitor the display wall from remote stations or across an IT network from anywhere in the world.

Electrosonic's Vector is a large-screen display image processor that drives LED walls, soft-edged large projectors, and DLP and LCD rear-projection video walls. Vector accepts composite, component, and video sources, both analog and digital, as well as graphics sources up to UXGA. Each Vector cage can simultaneously display up to 16 sources freely positioned on a range of display device types that includes monitors, plasmas, LED walls, as well as LCD and DLP projectors. At the heart of Vector is Electrosonic's patented convolver scaling technology, a realtime scaler that allows the size and position of sources to be changed on every frame of video without interruption to the display. This makes Vector particularly suitable for presentation on simulation-oriented displays, which contain high levels of motion in the sources.

Stewart Filmscreen multi-image display.

The MGP 462 and MGP 462D multi-graphic processors from Extron combine picture-in-picture graphics processing and high-performance scaling, enabling the simultaneous display of two video or computer video sources. The processors offer compatibility with HDTV or high-resolution computer video displays. With the MGP series, bitmap (BMP) graphics can be uploaded from a PC via the IP Link port and recalled as a background. Then, with Background Capture, images stored on the MGP 462 can be downloaded to a PC through IP Link for archival use. The MGP 462 can be remotely controlled and monitored through RS-232 with Extron Simple Instruction Set (SIS) or IP Link via Ethernet.

Jupiter Systems' Fusion 980 display wall processor integrates all of the visual data sources found in a control room environment. Inputs are via 32 composite BNC and 16 S-Video mini-DIN connectors, and the Fusion 980 displays them in movable, scalable windows on a virtual display comprised of multiple output devices: monitors, LCD flat panels, plasma panels, projection cubes, or a rear-projection system. At the heart of the Fusion 980 is a state-of-the-art switched-fabric interconnect, previously found only in high-end internet backbone switching equipment. It's housed in its own 8RU Switch Fabric Chassis. The Fusion 980 features hot-swappable, redundant power supplies on both the CPU and Switch Fabric chassis; hot-swappable input, output, and switch-fabric cards; hot-swappable fans; and hot-swappable SCSI disk drives. Included with the Fusion 980 is ControlPoint software, which lets a client manage the display wall activities from a network-connected computer. For the budget-conscious, the Jupiter Fusion 940 display wall controller incorporates movable, scalable windows on a display wall in an array of up to eight analog or digital projectors at up to 1600×1200 resolution.

Leitch Technologies' multi-source display processor is SuiteView, a 1RU controller and processor that can input from four to 16 sources and render them into multiple video signals onto one or more video displays or across a network. SuiteView features auto-detecting inputs that are able to support NTSC, PAL, or SDI signals, so there is no need to decide on the format at the time of order. The modular version is NEO SuiteView, which can scale up to 44 inputs with output resolutions up to UXGA. With a 3RU chassis, NEO SuiteView can be integrated into Leitch's Command Control System (CCS) to let users create their own customized monitoring. The company's smaller NEO SuiteView Solo offers much of the same functionality, with up to 12 inputs in a compact 1RU frame.

Vista Systems Spyder

The new QuadView XL from RGB Spectrum accepts a wide range of input signals, including high-resolution RGB, HDTV, S-Video, component, and NTSC/PAL composite video, as well as optional DVI. Up to 16 switched sources can be connected, four of which can be displayed simultaneously on a single screen in any size and at any position, with true realtime performance and no latency during processing. The hardware-based, 1RU QuadView XL offers user-selectable output settings up to 1600×1200 resolution in both RGB and DVI, and in either 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios. RGB's larger SuperView 3000 is an advanced video-windowing display processor that combines up to 12 computer and/or video signals on a single monitor or projector. The SuperView 3000 is compatible with all PCs and workstations, and with any monitor or data display projector up to 1600×1200 resolution. RGB Spectrum's systems, which the company calls “multiple-window display processors,” are built on proprietary platforms. That means if the rest of a computer-based networked system goes down in a critical command center, RGB's systems can continue to operate uninterrupted.

Miranda Technologies started to develop its current line of MIDC technology when NASA asked the company for a more efficient method of monitoring the Canadian robotic arm on the Space Shuttle. Miranda created a system called Espace, which was shipped to Canada's Space Agency in October 1994. This evolved into Miranda's Screen-16 system that has since led to the current Kaleido series of multiple-image display controllers. The top-of-the-line Kaleido-K2 processor is a 4RU, 32-input modular multi-image display processor that feeds multiple views to one or two screens while mixing multiple formats, including HD SDI sources, Y/C component video, or RGB VGA. Miranda can integrate the Kaleido-K2 into a broadcast facility's modular elements to let the station, for example, use its video window to display buttons that change the crosspoint assignment on a routing switcher. When interfaced with a broadcast automation system such as those from Encoda or BBC Technologies, the Kaleido-K2 can indicate the next source needed to go on-air and the countdown timer displaying its time-to-air. The Kaleido output can be scaled up to 1920×1080 progressive output for highest display resolution for critical quality evaluation. Miranda's new, ultra-compact Kaleido-Alto uses the same high-quality image display technology as the Kaleido-K2 processor. It features auto-sensing SDI/analog inputs and displays clocks and timers, UMDs, tallies, and audio metering.

The multiple-image system from Stewart Filmscreen is the HDC Graphics Cube, which delivers a high-resolution picture-in-picture display through its internal OCTAL PiP processor. This processor enables users to mix, resize, and overlay any of eight connected signals (video, RGBHV, DVI, or SDI) and simultaneously display all eight signals live as PiP with the help of its RS-232 control software. You can even connect the cubes to transfer images seamlessly among them. The HDC Graphics Cube combines the latest developments in Texas Instruments' DLP technology, Lanetco's signal processing, and Stewart Filmscreen's BlackHawk Xtreme black screen to produce a nearly seamless image in any cube configuration.

Vista Systems has a unique approach to multiple-image processing, based on its Montage compositing-engine technology. Montage creates virtual internal displays by invoking a 6 million-pixel canvas, upon which any number of format-independent inputs can be composited in a full-motion bitmap — similar to what Adobe Photoshop uses. Each modular output can look at any portion of that 6 million-pixel display and scale it to fit on a standard projector. The second generation of this technology comes in the form of Vista Systems' 300 series Spyder cards, which array based on a sliding scale of inputs and outputs. Thus the Spyder 344 has four inputs and four outputs, while the Spyder 362 provides six inputs and two outputs. Each Spyder input can accept analog Betacam and computer sources up to 2048×1200, as well as UXGA, HD, DVI, SDI, and HD SDI input formats. Optionally, inputs can also accept composite and S-Video signals with the 300C upgrade. This realtime compositing process avoids the latency sometimes associated with conventional switching systems.

The FusionPro Series of high-resolution, multiple-window display processors from Zandar Technologies lets you choose among dual analog video, digital video, and computer input cards. FusionPro can provide up to eight sources in a 1RU rack, or 13 cards with two inputs apiece in a 3RU space for a maximum of 26 realtime sources. The processing system is programmable up to SXGA resolution and provides numerous input format options and a modular rack for easy maintenance of broadcast-monitoring requirements and mission-critical applications. Zandar's OmniVideo Series is a hardware/software system that lets you choose from two, six, or 16 video input options with picture resize and move capability, and also realtime display to video/VGA monitors. The OmniVideo Series also offers graphics overlay of labels and logos, a simple user interface, and remote control via Ethernet with the OmniManager software option.


Jay Ankeney is a freelance video editor and post-production consultant in the Los Angeles area.

For More Information

Aurora Multimedia
www.auroramultimedia.com

Barco
www.barco.com

Christie
www.christiedigital.com

Electrosonic
www.electrosonic.com

Extron
www.extron.com

Jupiter Systems
www.jupiter.com

Leitch Technologies
www.leitch.com

Miranda Technologies
www.miranda.com

RGB Spectrum
www.rgb.com

Stewart Filmscreen
www.stewartfilm.com

Vista Systems
www.vistasystems.net

Zandar Technologies
www.zandar.com



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