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The NHL Shoots, Scores with New AV

With congratulations to the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, the National Hockey League has skated boldly into the 21st century. Among other investments in cutting-edge electronic media, the league has installed high-definition video equipment in every arena to help video goal judges make better calls. And last spring, it installed the latest AV technology in its new headquarters in midtown Manhattan with help from AV integrator and consultant, McCann Systems.

A hockey stick sculpture, made from more than 400 sticks, floating above the cash registers is intertwined with eight NEC 50-inch high-definition flat-panel monitors.

A hockey stick sculpture, made from more than 400 sticks, floating above the cash registers is intertwined with eight NEC 50-inch high-definition flat-panel monitors.

CHALLENGE: Coordinate separate but related AV installations in the midst of busy midtown Manhattan while giving hockey fans something to cheer about.

SOLUTION: Connect corporate and retail spaces in a self-contained broadcast and digital signage network and give the client software tools to manage the entire experience.

WHILE ICE HOCKEY'S ROOTS GO back to the ball-and-stick games of ancient civilizations, the National Hockey League has skated boldly into the 21st century.

Among other investments in cutting-edge electronic media, the league has installed high-definition video equipment in every arena to help video goal judges make better calls. And last spring, it installed the latest AV technology in its new headquarters in midtown Manhattan with help from Edison, N.J.–based AV integrator and consultant, McCann Systems.

Today, with the Stanley Cup playoffs in high gear, fans can experience the NHL at its new ground-level retail store, co-branded with Reebok. A multimedia showcase similarly brought to life by McCann Systems, the NHL store was designed to promote the league's new image to passersby at the busy crossroads of 6th Avenue and 47th Street.

“It allows us to showcase our game, not just sell merchandise,” says Peter DelGiacco, the NHL's executive vice president and chief technology officer. “We wanted to really give the fans an experience.”

The league says both the headquarters and store designs were carried out with the idea of respecting the past while representing the future. Headquarters construction started mid-spring, just as the store's design was underway. The goal was to have both, and especially the store, open for an October 2007 unveiling.

“We had approximately 60 or so days to complete [the store],” says Joe Fusaro, McCann's project manager for both installations. “To outfit a retail space was quite a challenge. They wanted it to coincide with the opening of the NHL season, which we did just in the nick of time.”

Fusaro says integrators had only a couple of days to do their rough wiring work, and the solution had to be creative. “There is essentially no decorative ceiling in the space, so everything had to go inside a conduit,” he says. “It had to be done in a way that when you look up at the ceiling, it doesn't look like a hodgepodge.”

Due to the short turnaround time, one of the biggest challenges was keeping the project on schedule. “Everything had to mesh just right,” says Fusaro. “You couldn't miss your windows.” And there were many windows. Because storage was basically limited to the 6,700-square-foot store (only 3,750 square feet of which is actual retail space), the team had to take equipment deliveries almost daily.

General contractor Shawmut Design and Construction used Microsoft Project software to prepare and distribute schedules that Fusaro could update. “We were held to our schedules,” he says.

At least one significant integration hurdle stretched those schedules to the limit: getting displays for a light-emitting diode (LED) videowall shipped from China and properly installed. Fusaro and team were on the phone almost daily for updates from the vendor, Mark IV, and its overseas manufacturer. Fusaro briefly considered a contingency plan for opening the store without the wall. But when the panels finally arrived, Mark IV sent out a technician, and the team worked throughout the night to set up the wall and ensure it was operational prior to an Oct. 8 press event.

SPACES WITHIN A SPACE

The completed store, officially called NHL Powered by Reebok, comprises two dedicated spaces and significant AV features. An XM Satellite Radio booth lets the satellite network broadcast a two-hour, five-day-a-week live show from the store, including a weekly show hosted by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. In addition to audio broadcasts, the XM booth can also host video broadcasts piped to the NHL's 12th-floor production center.

A 1080p Christie HD8K DLP projector displays videos from an LG BH100 Bluray DVD player and NHL-provided satellite receiver on a 220-inch motorized projection screen that descends from the ceiling next to the XM studio. A Gefen EXT-HDMI-1000HD HDMI extender box links the projector with the player and receiver, which sit on racks in a control room. “This allows us to put the DVD player and satellite receiver in a usable place,” Fusaro says.

A smaller conference room in the headquarters for the National Hockey League offers state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities, including a projection system and surround sound.

A smaller conference room in the headquarters for the National Hockey League offers state-of-the-art audiovisual capabilities, including a projection system and surround sound.

The store also includes an NHL-themed Starbucks that serves Coffees of the Day named after visiting teams. Its 50-inch NEC PX-50XR6A plasma screen with Marantz DN-V300 DVD player can display stored content or the same live feeds as the store.

Two kiosks, each equipped with a pair of LCDs, run Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PS3 versions of NHL video games. A third kiosk is devoted to online sales of NHL and Reebok products. Customers can use it to design their own footwear and arrange to have it shipped home.

Above the checkout desk is a chandelier-like floating sculpture suspended from the ceiling that consists of more than 400 hockey sticks and eight 50-inch NEC PX-50XR6A plasma displays. Fusaro says the cabling is hidden in the center of the hockey-stick configuration in a 6-inch hollow tube painted black.

Six Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) GoBo projectors, two for each of three store walls, shine alternating images of NHL logos. The high-powered, full-range audio system consists of a variety of Tannoy speakers, ClearOne PSR1212 digital audio matrix, and Extron and Crown switchers and amplifiers.

But the store's signature AV feature is the 15-foot high, 6.5-foot wide LED videowall, designed to be visible from the street. To maximize its visual impact, Mc-Cann recommended feeding only the middle-third of the video image to the LED wall, which creates a striking effect, Fusaro says. “We just threw away what was on the left and right side of the video display. It's kind of like looking through a window,” he says. “It just pops.”

The NHL had originally thought it might like a more custom “mini-blind” configuration, in which 5-foot long LED rows were hung with increasingly larger spaces between them, says Jonathan Shor, McCann's director of technology. “We showed it to them, and they liked the parts where they were more closely spaced together,” Shor says.

VIDEO WHEREVER YOU LOOK

The store is now a broadcast studio of sorts. Digital signal processing (DSP) connection plates scattered throughout allow local stations and other content providers to do live, two-camera feeds. Standard Serial Digital Interface (SDI) broadcast signals are piped upstairs to the production room. Each video display can also show content piped downstairs from the 12th floor, including live hockey games. McCann strung fiber-optic cable that first heads downstairs, then snakes it way up to the 12th. “We weren't so concerned about the path it had to take,” Fusaro recalls. “We could have gone a few miles.”

Working within the NHL's size preference and budget constraints, the company passed over big-name display vendors in favor or Mark IV and its less-expensive, non-unified LED technology. The tradeoff, according to Shor, was that the LED display wasn't designed to be viewed up close. But seeing as the wall would be appreciated primarily from the street, it was a worthwhile sacrifice. McCann then specified the pixel pitch that would ensure the best viewing angle for people outside the store, though Shor says it also allows some views from inside. A shroud was then created to hide the electronics. Two Cat-5 cables supply data, and each quadrant has its own processor. Conventional RGB and control cabling also extend to the wall.

It's also an example of digital signage to the Nth degree, a complex network of live and recorded content that needs to be managed precisely.

Two pieces of software are critical to the constant play of video images that underpins the store's bleeding-edge feel: Medialon's Manager 4 Pro show-control software and Dataton's Watchout.

To Shor, they are the two most impressive AV features because they drive the interaction of the displays in different areas of the store. McCann set up and programmed both for NHL personnel. Del-Giacco says he was happy to have the help, considering the other work his IT department had on its plate to set up the new corporate headquarters. “We wanted them to hand it to us working,” he says. “With all we had going on, we didn't have the experience and the expertise to do that.”

Watchout segments and coordinates video among the store's various displays, sometimes so larger images can be spread across screens. “It allows you to create content and move it along multiple displays in time and in sync,” Fusaro says. Eight PCs drive each display device, while a ninth serves as the control PC, all linked over Internet Protocol. The videowall in the corporate offices is also controlled by Watchout, Shor says.

The Medialon software, in contrast, lets store personnel use a Web-based graphical user interface to quickly program timelines for cycling video content automatically among the video screens, or interrupt it. Fusaro says McCann programmed in a selection of pre-set timelines.

HQ: AV MELDS PAST AND FUTURE

Upstairs, the headquarters office space more explicitly conveys the league's theme of history and modernity while giving corporate employees and visitors the latest digital connectivity, sound, and images.

A 15-foot high by 6-foot wide LED videowall at the store's main entrance highlights images of NHL

A 15-foot high by 6-foot wide LED videowall at the store's main entrance highlights images of NHL

As visitors step off the elevators and make their way down the hall, six JBL Control26CT ceiling speakers provide game audio that gets increasingly louder to further you walk. A floor-mounted sculpture of the recently redesigned NHL shield is outfitted with a 1080p NEC NP1000OR LCD projector and Denon DN-V310 DVD player that throw old-time hockey footage onto a nearby wall. “It's like you're walking into a live hockey game—like you're taking your seat in an arena,” Fusaro says.

A wall of six, 46-inch Samsung 460Dx plasma screens show Getty still images or videos. Fusaro says he combed through products to find the thinnest bezel for the displays, ultimately settling on the Samsungs' 20-millimeter bezels. “We waited till the last second because we wanted to buy the very smallest bezel possible,” he said. That width allowed Fusaro to reduce to 1.75 inches the gap between screen images.

Several 50-inch, 1080p Panasonic TH-50PF9UK plasma displays anchor the conference rooms. The one small and one large conference rooms each also have a 1080p Barco IDH500 R9010520 projector with 106-inch Da-Lite 88287L motorized screen. For the boardroom, McCann chose a 5000-lumen Christie HD5KC projector and Stewart 4105 screen.

Analog Way Octoplus 2 scaling switchers enable displays to switch easily between PC and video content, and a single video cable handles multiple formats. “You can always go with the best video type,” Shor says. In his opinion, the highlight of the headquarters design is the use of true 1080p HD projectors and screens in every conference room, which ties in well with the league's broader commitment to HD technology.

Shor says the headquarters project was considerably less challenging than the store. “We were able to design it and move right into it,” he says. “It was relatively painless. The corporate floors really are standard systems, they're just high-end systems.”

At street level, DelGiacco recognizes success in the faces of fans who stream into the store. “There's nothing greater than having a father and son come in and seeing some of the players,” he says. “You can tell they're really excited.”

David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.

 



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