NASDAQ Videowall: Open for Business
The iconic NASDAQ videowall gets a massive overhaul without disrupting daily operations.
The updated NASDAQ videowall is made up of 72 40-inch and 24 50-inch projection cubes by Christie Digital. Graphic processing is handled by Vista Spyders.
Credit: Photo: Rob Tannenbaum
CHALLENGE: Upgrade a 96-screen videowall without making any obvious structural changes or shutting down the existing wall for any length of time.
SOLUTION: Design a retrofit kit that enables current projection technology to fit into existing cubes, adding easy-to-use graphics processing for better functionality.
NASDAQ'S MARKETSITE VIDEOWALL has become an icon of the American financial system since its debut in 1999. From its high-profile home in New York's Times Square, the curved MarketSite videowall serves as a backdrop for NASDAQ's Market Open ceremony every morning, Monday through Friday, and as an impressive setting for live network broadcasts throughout the day. Recently, the videowall received a major video technology upgrade that included new projection engines from Christie Digital and increased graphics processing capabilities from Vista Systems, a Christie company.
The MarketSite videowall includes a lower mezzanine level and an upper level totaling 47 feet long and 16 feet high. The lower level comprises 72 40-inch projection cubes while the upper level includes 24 50-inch cubes. The two levels accommodate simultaneous broadcasts using the wall as a background.
Not being allowed to shut down the existing videowall, integrators from McCann Systems segmented the install into three weekends, including the Memorial Day and 4th of July holiday weekends. The MarketSite videowall made its debut on July 21.
Credit: Photo: Rob Tannenbaum
The new wall needed better resolution and updated image processing features without changing the wall's structure or increasing its footprint in the studio. It would also be the last piece of an ongoing transition from analog to DVI video signaling.
The catch? The MarketSite videowall is illuminated 24/7 and the installation absolutely could not disrupt normal daily operations. That task fell to McCann Systems, an integration firm based in Edison, N.J.PLANNING IS THE KEY
“The technical staff spent months preparing for the installation, ever since we decided to use DVI end-to-end from source content devices to display projection,” says Phil Marie, senior vice president of infrastructure services for NASDAQ OMX Group. “And since we needed to maintain our market and broadcast events on a daily basis, we could not move any equipment until the weekend of implementation.”
Prior to the on-site install, McCann project manager Ken Newbury and his team began the planning process, including pre-measuring for cables and a series of after-hour test fits at MarketSite. Over 450 pre-made DVI cables were ordered from connectivity supplier DVIGear in Marietta, Ga., with cable lengths and quantities based on a constantly updated chart.
Zoran Veselic, Christie Digital's vice president of visual environments, explains, “This project needed a certain level of customization. The technology driving the wall was a competitive product from 1999; since then, display performance has greatly improved.”
In order to create the custom product needed for the new wall, Christie Digital engineers measured the existing cubes, the placements of previous engines inside the cube, and the gaps between the screens. The result was a retrofit kit designed to accommodate the new technology inside the old videowall's sheet metal structure (see “How Do You Retrofit a Videowall?”).
Ninety-six Christie RPMX-D120U single-chip DLP rear-projection engines, outfitted with the retro-fit kit's custom brackets, were produced for easy installation into the upper and lower portions of the wall. Christie engineers also measured the time needed to install each engine into the cube to help McCann with its install planning.
Meanwhile, NASDAQ worked closely with PC maker Dell and graphics processor manufacturer Nvidia to improve rack space requirements for source content drivers. “Both companies worked together to provide 1U rack server and ½U external quadroplex cards to significantly decrease our normal requirements for rack space and for our graphics applications,” says Marie. “Converting our wall from analog to DVI also allowed us to reduce rack space requirements. With the ability to implement an Autopatch DVI router, we were able to decommission many analog components that supported the previous wall technology.”
The team turned up additional rack space by replacing the old image processors with 13 Vista Systems Spyder Model 365 processors, making the NASDAQ wall the largest Spyder installation to date, according to the company. “Instead of handling independent portions of the screen, the Spyders turn the combined 74 million pixels into a single canvas,” says Victor Vetorello, director of application engineering for Vista Systems. “The wall is no longer limited to one image per cube. Now there is one point of control for both the upper and lower screens, and users can overlap sources and layers.”
The Spyders also allow for window drop shadows and keying in a blue or green screen by cutting an image from one video source into a background image from another video source. It also controls windowing movement of a source for panning and zooming within that source. The easy to use software also means that a broadcast producer can program offline while another user is online.
“The legacy of the Vista Spyder's software is the staging industry where the products need to be portable and quick,” says Vetorello. “You must engineer software that multiple people can use at the same time. This translates well in the broadcast market, where people can run multiple programs on the same videowall.”
The Spyders include presets as well as the ability to program on the fly. There is no limit to the number of presets, so various broadcast producers can store their most commonly used effects indefinitely.
“The processing for the previous wall was the best processing available at the time of implementation in 1999. But the implementation of the old wall limited the use of available features,” explains Marie. “Nine years later, many advances in processing are now available. Now that we have new processors installed, we have the ability to maneuver source content across the entire wall without decreasing pixel resolution and without the need for complex programming. The new processing has many layered features that we have operationally implemented. It will only be a matter of time before additional features are enabled.”SEGMENTED INSTALLS
Balancing the install against the need for zero down-time meant meticulous planning. “In order to complete the upgrade with minimal disruption, we segmented the installation into three weekends,” says Newbury. “With 96 total screens, it would not have been possible to upgrade the entire wall at once without closing down MarketSite for an extended period of time.”
The first installation occurred over the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. The job included full removal of the components in the upper wall and replacing the 24 50-inch cubes with new Christie engines and screens. “There was some back-end work as well,” says Newbury. “Due to the extra weight, we brought in a structural engineer for extra bracing on the pedestals.”
Because the upper level cubes were a standard 50-inch size, the first portion of the install meant swapping out the old engines for the new ones. Analog and digital cabling was provided to the new Christie projectors so that the upper wall would still operate using the existing analog system on Monday morning. “Since both walls are controlled from different boards, there was no impact,” says Marie.
In the meantime, McCann sent the Autopatch router to Vista Systems for pre-installation testing. When testing was complete, equipment was returned to McCann. On June 24, Newbury staged a mini-videowall in McCann's warehouse and, with representatives from NASDAQ, Vista, and Christie Digital in attendance, the group worked out any final issues.
On June 27, the McCann team returned to NAS-DAQ to install a new head end with seven content servers, one Autopatch 8x32 SDI router, one Autopatch 64x64 DVI-D matrix, and the 13 Vista Spyder systems. “The Autopatch router is a large-scale digital router that is quickly becoming the standard,” says Newbury. “We were able to find extra space in the server room to run both the digital and analog systems. The true challenge was zero downtime and never affecting the analog system.”
The final “miracle weekend,” as Newbury calls it, was over the July 4th holiday weekend. “The install team had three-and-a-half days to remove 72 old engines and screens from the lower wall, modify new custom holes, reinstall with the new Christie engines and screens, and align and color balance the system,” recalls Newbury.
The first delivery arrived on the afternoon of July 3. Newbury and several of his tech staff secured street parking in front of NASDAQ to make room for the 24-foot truck. Several round trips later, the equipment was staged and ready for market close. At that time, 20 people descended onto the broadcast studio to begin the last stage of the install.
“Behind the videowall, there is less than 3 feet from the back of the videowall to the actual wall. The lower level is stacked four cubes high (about 8 feet), so we needed a ladder back there, too,” says Newbury, who credits constant communication as the reason it went smoothly. “Project management was time-consuming because of the zero downtime. We held structured conference calls every week to discuss any issues or problems.”
Once the lower level was complete, so was MarketSite's transition to 100 percent DVI-D signal from source to displays. “The week after July 4th, we focused on the holistic integration of Spyder into the NASDAQ workflow,” says Veselic. “And though it is a fully digital system, they can still use analog as a backup because the cables are still in place.”
The MarketSite videowall made its official debut on July 21, with executives from Christie Digital and Vista Systems at the Market Open ceremony. “The products and technology bundles make up a powerful package,” says Veselic. “And that was a key element from a systems integration point of view.”
Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance AV journalist and frequent contributor to PRO AV.