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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.

SITE SEEING

Fusaro emphasizes that with any videowall installation, you need to pay particular attention to the site itself. Clients who say they want video in a certain location may not understand whether the location is ideally constructed to handle the videowall they envision. At Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, where installers are erecting an enormous 33-by-19-foot videowall of Samsung LCDs in its new D concourse, it was discovered early on that the concourse's architects hadn't planned enough support for such a massive display. Premier Mount has been working on the project to supply custom mounts that will support the wall, enable adequate airflow, and ensure the displays are serviceable. Vision Sign, which specializes in such installations, designed the structural framework for the walls and fabricated the necessary components.

"The more up-front information we can learn about the installation environment, the more our custom design and manufacturing teams can adapt the design to accommodate it," said Rich Pierro, director of manufacturing at Premier Mounts, when the project launched.

"Sites are all different," Fusaro says. "You have to make sure you pay attention to what they're made of, the challenges they present, and how you're going to overcome them. You don't want to be surprised. The last thing you want to do at implementation is try to rework your design to make it fit the site."

For VideoSonic's Glenn Polly, the site of his company's latest videowall was a landmark building—one that presented an inflexible limitation. Tavern on the Green in New York's Central Park no longer serves as a restaurant, but the city recently cut the ribbon on a new visitor's center there and wanted a way to display its own video content in a compelling way. Inside the center's gift shop, NYC & Company, the city's marketing and tourism group, wanted a curved videowall built of LCD panels that had been donated by Sony. The limitation? The section of curved wall the client was eyeing was itself structurally bound by physical walls. The display had curve and fit in a fixed space.

"We got a good lesson in installing screens in a curved radius and within boundaries," says Polly. "As you increase the radius, the circumference grows. So there was a lot of trial and error getting the screens to line up perfectly while still fitting inside the envelope."

VideoSonic installed a 1x15 videowall of 47-inch Sony LCD displays. Though not perfectly curved (Polly calls it "a curve with flat facets") it achieves the look the city wanted. "Writing content for a 1x15 videowall, you have to be very creative. A lot of stadiums have that look." Polly says. NYC & Company is just starting to create the content for the new wall.

Tavern on the Green's wall is among the first to use Sony Ziris Canvas software, which Sony developed to help designers and integrators build non-traditional displays. The company has demonstrated the system's capabilities on videowalls comprising panels of different sizes and orientations, and hung at different angles, but with video and graphics shown seamlessly across the layout. VideoSonic's wall wasn't as radical as some, but it still needed Ziris to compensate for gaps caused by the diplays' bezels and to synchronize video on 15 screens.

Ziris runs on a server in the equipment room and stitches together video loops from the content NYC & Company provides. The end user can simulate what the video will look like on a computer screen before scheduling it to play. Ziris then pushes content, playlists, and synchronization information over Ethernet to 15 Sony PlayStations, one behind each display.

"PlayStation number eight is the one in the center. The audio track plays there and then goes out to the speakers," Polly explains. "Now, we could add another track to create surround-sound or immersive sound, but you wouldn't want audio from all the machines playing at once. It's easier to time video than video with audio. The audio could get delayed and introduce latency. That's why we used one source for the audio."

Using a relatively low-cost playback device at each screen gave VideoSonic the performance it needed. "What goes in goes out and you're not asking the central processor or the monitor to do anything that they don't do very well," Polly says.

And the client gets just the look they want. Because at the end of the day, after factoring in the software required to achieve a look, the optimal content, and the physical location a videowall must fit in, it's the client's vision you're making a reality. AV integrators who specialize in videowalls say demand is only increasing and, more often than not, the designs they're asked to execute are pieces of art or commercial architecture.

"Expectations have grown," says Three Byte's Keitel. "But we're fortunate that the creative people we work with have the time and energy. And as long as they have the resources, we can make almost anything happen."



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