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Lucas Oil Stadium: A Well-Oiled AV Machine

Though well-known in racing circles because of its omnipresent logo, Lucas Oil Products was hardly a household name in Indianapolis two years ago. So it began to formulate a marketing plan that would take full advantage of audiovisual technology while meeting expectations for a state-of-the-art facility. Digital signage would be a big part of building brand awareness.

CHALLENGE: Get a client's message out in a loud, crowded football stadium.

SOLUTION: Broadcast-quality digital signage streams content from a remote location to a local server. From there it rides Cat-5 to an HD video wall and kiosks in a sound-reinforced pavilion.

The videowall was one thing. Sensory Technologies also had to integrate a robust sound reinforcement system into the cavernous stadium plaza.

The videowall was one thing. Sensory Technologies also had to integrate a robust sound reinforcement system into the cavernous stadium plaza.

Credit: Sensory Technologies

Though well-known in racing circles because of its omnipresent logo, Lucas Oil Products was hardly a household name in Indianapolis two years ago, despite securing naming rights to the new pro football stadium being built for the city's beloved Colts. So it began to formulate a marketing plan that would take full advantage of audiovisual technology while meeting expectations for a state-of-the-art facility.

Digital signage would be a big part of building brand awareness. "They were looking for the ability to display and market their racing division," says Andrea Nicholson, business development manager at Indianapolis-based designer and integrator Sensory Technologies.

The stadium's owners, the City of Indianapolis, had the unusual strategy of giving the top eight corporate sponsors their own marketing niches on the main concession level. The Charlotte, N.C.-based architectural firm Wagner Murray Architects worked with each sponsor to design workable, code-compliant spaces. The result–the 30,000-square-foot Lucas Oil Plaza–is a sight to behold.

Racing is the main motif in the Plaza and includes two dragsters that frame a giant 4x4 videowall. In addition, two oil-bottle-shaped, 10-foot kiosks include 52-inch touch-screen monitors with interactive content about racing and the oil industry; another monitor is devoted solely to digital signage.

While all this is set up in a stadium in the Midwest, Lucas Oil producers at company headquarters in Corona, Calif., manage and control all content for the videowall and kiosks using a digital signage platform from X2O Media (see sidebar). But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Slippery Slopes

A Crestron TPMX-8X wireless touch panel is used to control the AV in Lucas Oil Plaza. The control system itself is in a rack in a nearby closet that's secured with a fingerprint scanner.

A Crestron TPMX-8X wireless touch panel is used to control the AV in Lucas Oil Plaza. The control system itself is in a rack in a nearby closet that's secured with a fingerprint scanner.

Credit: Sensory Technologies

Lucas called in Sensory Technologies in fall 2007 when it ran into problems integrating AV in the kiosks. Though it had a clear goal of building brand awareness, Lucas wasn't sure how to translate it into an AV experience aside from requiring high-definition displays. "We probably did six months of consulting work with them before we even specified our first design," Nicholson recalls.

By early spring 2008, the bottles were built, and Sensory concluded it needed a videowall, after ruling out a projection system because of too much ambient light. It looked at 6mm LED displays but decided they were too expensive, opting instead for 16 52-inch NEC LCD5220-AV monitors in the 4x4 configuration–at a quarter the cost. Nicholson says Sensory chose that model of NEC display for its thin, 19mm bezel, which avoids the patchwork effect that wider-bezeled monitors can produce.

According to Nick Iorfida, district sales manager for NEC Display's Midwest region, the specification originally called for 57-inch models with significantly wider bezels–around 2 inches. But then NEC introduced the thin-bezel model for half the cost, albeit on a slightly smaller monitor. "The gap between the monitors is minimal, and the video image is impactful and seamless," Iorfida says.

Each monitor has a videowall processor that lets installers program the screen's position within the array from a standard, handheld remote. The wall typically shows videos in full, 1080p HD, and there is a 192-inch-wide by 9-inch-high LED ticker along the bottom.

Sensory worked on the installation at the same time it was involved with other projects at the stadium. Working around construction was a challenge, and the incomplete status of the stadium's retractable roof and now-iconic giant window presented weather problems. Monitors usually had to be installed in a single day because leaving them on the floor made them susceptible to water damage. "We couldn't go in there," says Sensory project manager Ben Foulke. "We're talking about floors being cured."

AV elements were sometimes installed out of optimal sequence. "We had the wall up before we could get power to it," Foulke says. Adds Nicholson: "We had situations where they were pulling power and we were in the lift pulling data through. We were right on their heels with our project. We put in 20-hour days sometimes putting monitors up and getting things done to work with other trades."

Elevating the videowall was a major challenge. The monitors rest securely in a custom frame from Peerless Industries. Because the plaza is partly outdoors, the frame and videowall had to be able to sustain high winds and a wide temperature range, Nicholson says. Although the wall appears to rest on beams, it is suspended from the ceiling with aircraft cable carefully specified by a structural engineer. The beams themselves just prevent swaying, Foulke says.

Custom-designed covering keeps the electronics out of sight, while rear flaps allow servicing. "It all fully encompasses the back of the monitor to create a black box," Nicholson says.

Similar black boxes surround 52-inch NEC LCDs that hide air-conditioning units halfway up stadium escalators, their screens showing an exploded view of a Hemi engine.

The Peerless frame holds power supplies for the monitors, each of which has a MultiView AK600DP dual-port receiver from Magenta Research. The Magenta MultiView UTx Universal Transmitter sits in the equipment rack, which is located in the nearby corporate space of another Sensory client (a necessary compromise because there wasn't a wall between Lucas Plaza and the stadium seats).

"We ended up using Cat-5 for everything because you could used Cat-5 to the server and you do VGA from there," Foulke says. "We couldn't go that distance with VGA."

The rack also holds a Crestron CP2E Ethernet control system that talks to the Crestron TPMC-8X wireless touch panel used inside the pavilion. Nicholson says that given the high traffic of the stadium, it was imperative to secure the closet, so a fingerprint scanner authenticates each system operator. After pressing the all-on button, the operator checks to ensure all monitors are working. "We have second and third backup plans, should they need to be put in place," Nicholson says. For example, backup DVD players in each kiosk could deliver content if the digital signage server and video-distribution system fails, she says. A DVD player in the rack provides similar backup for the videowall.

The kiosks are portable, thanks to lockable casters and floor plates for power and data connections. Foulke says the kiosks must be moved for events like the Super Bowl that bring their own set of corporate sponsors.



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