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Not Just a Videowall

These days it's amazing what creative AV designers and integrators can make out of display technology. With the right software, content, and planning, videowalls become works of art.


The New York City Visitors Center at Tavern on the Green boasts one of the first videowalls to incorporate Sony Ziris Canvas software for mapping and scheduling video content. The curved wall has 15 displays, each served by its own Sony PlayStation.

The New York City Visitors Center at Tavern on the Green boasts one of the first videowalls to incorporate Sony Ziris Canvas software for mapping and scheduling video content. The curved wall has 15 displays, each served by its own Sony PlayStation.

When it comes to the content playing on a video-wall, "custom" should always be the word of the day, designers and integrators explain. Because today's videowalls come in all shapes and sizes, making them look good often requires content written for its aspect ratio and resolution. Traditional HD video won't always yield the best results.

"[Full HD is] only 1080p and the resolution of these video-walls is often much higher," says McCann's Fusaro. "So you have to make sure you get the content and graphics people involved as well. We show them demos of what happens when you feed in just an HD signal and they say, 'Wow, that doesn't look good.' When you show them custom content designed for the native resolution of a videowall, they think it looks great."

When McCann Systems provided in-store video-walls to fashion designer Versace during New York City's Fashion Week in September, the company invited the client into its facility to see a full mock-up, running Versace's video content, so the client knew what to expect from the finished product. "It made the installation easier on-site because we did the demo here," Fusaro says.

Glenn Polly, owner of New Yorkbased Video-Sonic Systems, says his company has seen a lot of interest in videowalls from clients, but they aren't always well versed in content requirements either.

One upscale, Paris-based retail client has a harder time matching content to videowall than others. "It takes them about three or four tries on each new installation to get the right video in the store," he says. "They'll send us content for a 2x2 wall but it will be landscape instead of portrait, or they'll send us content for a 2x2 that they produce for a 3x3 and that images will fit the height but won't make the width. There a lot of adjustments you can make to re-shape an imageadd height and width, stretch it. But you don't want to do any of that. You want the picture to be produced pixel-for-pixel."

For McCann's Versace videowalls, running pixel-for-pixel wasn't necessarily the best option. The client only intended to rent the videowalls for a week. Still, Versace had developed vertically aligned content that would work for the walls McCann designed. And the technology that the integrator chose had built-in intelligence to maximize the visual impact.

"We went with Christie MicroTiles," Fusaro says. "They're versatile because they're smaller cubes and you can arrange them in different geometric patterns. Every client is going to want a different pattern and this makes it easier to do. They also have a very tight resolution (720x540 per tile and a 0.6-millimeter pixel pitch) plus the system has the ability to scale the image well. With some flat-panels, the resolution runs away on you. Some can scale but they're not very good at it, then you have to put a scaler behind the wall and you're adding more product, more complexity, more points of failure, and more expense."

McCann built a pair of 3x10 HD videowalls, for Versace's storefront windows on Fifth Avenue. "[The tiles] stack on top of each other, then you build some apparatus behind it to keep the wall from tipping," Fusaro explains. "In this installation we braced it to the ground and all the way up to the ceiling, then out to the side with wings, which were disguised by a fa├žade that was designed around the tiles. So it was easy and relatively inexpensive to build the rigging mechanism."

There's a high-resolution PC behind each wall, feeding the content into a Christie external control unit. The controller maps out all the tiles and deter-mines the best resolution to run them. Then it makes brightness, contrast, and color adjustments. The tiles themselves can communicate with each other in order to autocalibrate the entire wall.

Fortunately, McCann has found MicroTiles easy to service. "Right after we were done with the installMurphy's Lawwe had one tile go bad and it was at the bottom of the stack," Fusaro says. "But because of the way the MicroTiles are put together, we just popped off the front cover, pulled the engine out of it, put in a new engine, and within 15 minutes that part of it was done. In five more minutes, the system calibrated itself and we had a nice even palette again. It was interesting to watch happen. You saw the wall changing before your eyes."

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