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Curve Appeal at the Navy Memorial

When officials at the Navy Memorial put out a request for proposals to bring into the 21st century its Arleigh & Roberta Burke Theater, it hoped the results could more than offset the expense.

CHALLENGE: Take an existing IMAX curved screen and set it up to show everything from high-definition, 2.35:1 video to 16:9 presentations.

SOLUTION: Bite off only what current technology can chew with a high-brightness projector and anamorphic lens.

The U.S. Navy Memorial was open to replacing its curved IMAX screen with a flat screen, but Hoppmann Audio Visual convinced the nonprofit that the existing screen could handle all the video options it wanted while saving money.

Despite its mission of honoring U.S. military service members, the United States Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., does not enjoy the same federal funding as the Department of Defense, or even the National Weather Service. The Navy Memorial is a nonprofit organization, and as such, it must be cautious with its limited budget, especially when eyeing a major overhaul of its AV systems. Still, when officials at the Navy Memorial decided to put out a request for proposals to bring into the 21st century its 242-person Arleigh & Roberta Burke Theater and President's Room boardroom, it hoped the results could more than offset the expense.

"We needed a facility that gave us more flexibility," says Dan Flynn, the Navy Memorial's project manager. "We wanted to host our own events and lure some private business–receptions, symposiums."

The U.S. Navy Memorial was open to replacing its curved IMAX screen with a flat screen, but Hoppman Audio Visual convinced the nonprofit that the existing screen could handle all the video options it wanted while saving money.

The U.S. Navy Memorial was open to replacing its curved IMAX screen with a flat screen, but Hoppman Audio Visual convinced the nonprofit that the existing screen could handle all the video options it wanted while saving money.

The Burke Theater was already something of an attraction to tourists and Navy personnel who held their retirement and other ceremonies there. Its giant, curved IMAX screen rendered the Memorial's own featured films in large-screen splendor, but the facility couldn't support high-definition or multimedia content from other sources that are necessary in a commercial venue today. " We wanted to target event planners," says Flynn, "We needed to upgrade everything to do it."

When the two-page RFP hit the streets, it was long on ambition but short on details. "We wanted to put it out there and see what people came up with," says David Wallis, who was the AV consultant on the project.

Among the AV components the RFP was ambivalent about was the theater's screen. While not explicitly demanding a new screen, the RFP acknowledged the Navy Memorial was open to the possibility.

Two bidders presented plans for taking out the curved screen and replacing it with a huge flat screen. But when Hoppmann Audio Visual of Chantilly, Va., visited the Memorial, it had other ideas. "When I went out for the site visit, I saw how big the curve was but I said to myself, 'There's no way I'm going to move this screen out of here,'" says Jared Leib, Hoppmann's design engineer.

The Navy Memorial staff was torn. On the one hand it would have preferred to keep the curved screen to avoid the cost of replacing it. Plus, a flat screen might cut into the area on-stage where the Navy holds ceremonies and presentations. On the other hand, it needed to be convinced that existing technology could give the Memorial all the video options it wanted on a curved screen. Leib persuaded the Navy Memorial it could be done, and Hoppmann won the contract. But then the work of delivering on its promise began.

Curved Screen, One Projector

When Leib took the curved screen idea to Hoppmann technical engineer Vadim Finkov, the latter, who'd had experience with IMAX screens, was unsure the team could pull it off, particularly with a single projector, which was the Navy Memorial's preference. "Others show HD on curved screens with three projectors," says Flynn. "But it's been my experience that no two projectors degrade at the same rate."

With a curved screen and a single projector, the challenge is keeping the images bright and focused at the corners. Leib and Finkov were worried about the curvature of the 54-foot-long screen. "The concept was to get a bright projector capable of doing cinema-quality footage at 17 by 43 feet," says Leib, "We didn't know the radius of the curve, but we knew we needed to project from about 55 feet back and at 2.35:1."

There were times Leib and Finkov weren't sure they'd be able to deliver. They examined various solutions, including warping technologies, but they didn't address focus issues. They visited a company that was working on software to compensate for curvature. "It worked," Leib says, "but not at 1920x1080."

In the end, engineers at Digital Projection proposed a system that included its 10,000-lumen, dual-lamp Titan 1080p-600, VIP 2000 scaling engine, and an ISCO 1.33 anamorphic lens. "They eventually came out to Washington with a 6,000-lumen model and set it up," says Leib. "It was pretty much in focus; maybe slight percentages off corner to corner. But it made everyone feel comfortable with the technology, without any warping or any computer-based DSP calculations."

The team took delivery of the brighter Titan and got to work. During installation, Hoppmann switched to a longer throw primary lens to hit the anamorphic lens more directly (the original was overshooting the anamorphic lens and causing cropping issues). But once the projection system was installed and integrated with the new AMX controls to move the anamorphic lens in and out of position, the client was impressed.

"Granted, they couldn't cover the full 54 feet [of screen]," explains Flynn. "But we could get 43 to 46 feet." And when the AV staff punches up widescreen HD on one of the theater's AMX touch panels, the drapes surrounding the screen automatically adjust to reveal only the surface area required for viewing.

"To our knowledge, this is one of the only large, curved screens that shows full HD–in focus–with one projector," says Flynn. "Seaworld does it with three."

Maximizing Control

Having a central point of control was important to the Navy Memorial and was one of the more clearly detailed requirements of the RFP. The organization wanted to be able to manage all the facility's AV, including its President's Room, from the theater's main control room or from a wireless touch panel.

The President's Room functions as a stand-alone room for meetings and events as well as an overflow room for programs taking place in the Burke Theater, with audio and video streamed in. Hoppmann took everything, from AV to lights to contact closures on the theater's doors, and integrated them into an AMX NetLinx system.

According to Flynn, the control programming needed a little tweaking. "Commands were overriding other commands and the system would lock up," he explains. To solve the problem, Hoppmann established a queue in the system, Flynn says, that would prioritize and execute commands. It also programmed a four-second delay so commands wouldn't collide.

As the Hoppmann team evaluated other parts of the existing infrastructure, it targeted a pair of Biamp Nexia processors for an upgrade. "They had two Nexia chassis connected together, and they were running daVinci on an old computer," says Leib. "They were happy with it and it was working, but with 15 different source devices and three different racks, the technician was running around without a single point of control."

Hoppmann started by swapping in a Biamp Audia-Flex CM system. "They can expand the AudiaFlex with CobraNet," says Leib. "The daVinci was replaced with full microphone control on the master touch panel in the control booth. The three racks were condensed into a single rack and an operator's console." The AMX system offers the single point of control.

Powerful Amplification

Now Hoppmann just had to put in a sound system to complement the other precision-controlled gear. The existing JBL Synthesis system in the Burke Theater was at least 10 years old and was replaced with a 10,000-watt 7.1 surround sound system with JBL ScreenArray and Cinema loudspeakers. Lab.gruppen amplifiers and a Lexicon THX processor feed the system. "We went for super powerful amplification," says Finkov. "We can do 133 to 135 db right now, but we're limiting it to 104 db."

Today the Navy Memorial is touting its state-of-the-art AV capabilities and already reacting to requests. "We had a guy show up with a Mac and the system was set up for Windows, so we're working on that," Flynn says. But the design includes the flexibility to adjust to different technology.

"This was one of those projects that was backwards," says Leib. "They put an RFP on the street and said 'Do what you've got to do.' I enjoy those types of projects because you get to be creative, but it's hard because there's no apples-to-apples comparison. We were so far from what the other people were specing."

Including that majestic curved screen and high-definition video.


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