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Trends in Immersive AV

Imagine it's time to renew a company's luxury box seats for the local sports franchise, but the arena is getting a face-lift. What if the view changes? Madison Square Garden is going through just such a renovation and it wants current and prospective customers to experience what the new luxury suites will deliver, even if they aren't done yet.

Imagine, it's time to renew a company's luxury box seats for the local sports franchise, but the arena is getting a face-lift. What if the view changes? Madison Square Garden (MSG) is going through such a renovation and it wants current and prospective customers to experience what the luxury suites will deliver, even if they aren't done yet.

Enter McCann Systems and its expertise in immersive AV solutions. Today, just outside the Garden, is a sales office with models of renovated suites featuring plasma TVs and other luxury amenities. Step into the tiered seating area and clients come face-to-face with large, curved projection screens designed to make them feel as if they were seeing the arena from the suite's actual seats.

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Credit: Mccann Systems

"The company that made the views of the arena for the curved screen used a Wii remote that you can use to spin yourself around the arena and look in every direction," says Joe Fusaro, McCann's project manager for the MSG install.

Such immersive AV experiences are transitioning from visualization labs, R&D facilities, and other niche applications, and showing up in mainstream solutions for sales centers, museums, hospitals, and more.

"As more of these things get built, the more product there will be for them and the more cookie-cutter they'll become," says Fusaro. "For now, they're custom-built solutions. Over time manufacturers see what we need and build them into their next-generation products and when that happens, it all becomes cheaper."

For Madison Square Garden, McCann installed two virtual seating environments, both with curved screens but one served by a single Christie DS+10K-M projector, and the other by a blended pair of Christie HD 10K-M models. "Because it's a curved wall we had our center line and our pixel map set up. We knew what our throw distance would be, and we relayed our pixel map back to the content producers [Hornall Anderson of Seattle]," Fusaro says.

"When you're working on these environments, the content and the hardware have to mesh," he adds. "So as you're designing your hardware, you have to stay in touch with the content producers."

But perhaps more importantly, if such immersive solutions are to be enjoyed by the public at large, they have to be reliable. For example, McCann chose the Christie projectors because they have built-in geometry correction. "We didn't want to do that outside the projector because that adds a possible point of failure," Fusaro explains.

In Three Dimensions

Mechdyne Corp. has a long history of building visualization systems. It was the first company to build a CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) using standard PCs . Jeff Brum, the company's vice president of marketing, says new consumer 3D is feeding more widespread adoption. "Interest in the home drives interest on the professional side," he says. "People think, 'If I can see 3D in the theater or play 3D games at home, I wonder how that can help my business.'"

But as 3D virtual reality steps out of the CAVE and equipment becomes easier to set up, there's a danger that projects will be undertaken by pros who aren't familiar with all the required skills and systems. "When you get into things like surround-screen 3D, it's a unique skill set," says Brum. Not only do you have to deal with computer clusters and other special-purpose hardware, 3D immersion is as much about software as it is about AV systems. "That's the biggest factor right there. Not all software is stereo-capable or capable of working in an immersive environment."

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Credit: Mccann Systems

Moreover, because a museum, for example, might not want to employ technical support staff to run and maintain an immersive application, AV integrators have to make them "one-button, start-show" easy, says Brum.

Mechdyne recently installed an immersive, 3D stereoscopic system at Texas Methodist Hospital for looking at patient data, such as 3D MRIs and CT scans, using—of all things—an Xbox controller.

"This is a growing market," says Brum, "but there are a lot of clients who are just being presented with these technologies for the first time. ... The next frontier is making these immersive systems interactive."



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