LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

Bright Lights, Big Signage

CreativeCOW presents Bright Lights, Big Signage -- Blackmagic Design Feature

A Times Square board of any significance starts at a million dollars plus, so the stakes are very high, but the LED business until now has been very much a voodoo kind of business. "Add a little of this, and a little extra of that, and all of the sudden we'll come up with something really creative for you."

The back end systems they've used have been heavily based upon each individual manufacturer's black box technology. At the time that it's released, the box could be cutting edge, or even bleeding edge, but these things fade over time. Black box technologies haven't been able to keep up with the type of content that can be played on these new LED boards.

Here at Activate the Space, the more we looked at the landscape, the more we saw that this is similar to what we had been doing in post-production. We had different kinds of media, different kinds of connections, and we had to figure out how to make it work. We understood this kind of workflow, and had been dealing with it for decades.

So we started thinking about how to use some of the tools we'd already been using to solve post problems, and take advantage of the best of what's new, in order to help our clients overcome what they thought was too costly a barrier to entry.

We focused on workflow. We didn't see it as being too different than most post or broadcast facilities, but we saw that the world of digital signage had a long way to go to catch up. One of the biggest gaps we saw is that there was no SDI. There's still a ton of VGA over CAT5 systems out there, then DVI over CAT5, all the way up to HD over CAT5.

There's a limitation with DVI and HDMI over CAT5 though, of about 100 feet or so. SDI allows us to run upwards of 300 feet on one cable, which from a holistic standpoint, a workflow standpoint, an infrastructure standpoint, gave us a tremendous amount of flexibility in how we could create new installations for these boards, and move into different verticals from there.

First and foremost, we are agnostic toward equipment. We focus on workflow, then find equipment that we're really pleased with. We have come up with systems that are working flawlessly, 24/7, and have been able to add new, advanced features for service and support.


The Clear Channel Outdoor Spectacolor LED board is in the lower right, showing the CNN logo with the Corona can, bottle and limes. Down the street just left of center is a section of the American Eagle Outfitters LED board, the world's largest, also programmed by Activate the Space.
The Clear Channel Outdoor Spectacolor LED board is in the lower right, showing the CNN logo with the Corona can, bottle and limes. Down the street just left of center is a section of the American Eagle Outfitters LED board, the world's largest, also programmed by Activate the Space.


CLEAR CHANNEL OUTDOOR

Clear Channel Outdoor is part of one of the world's largest media companies. They have hundreds of LED boards all over the world, so they want to make sure that their boards can play every media file that's given to them. Their Spectacolor LED board in Times Square can include things like advertising spots or a CNN feed. We've programmed scheduling software that automatically switches exactly at the right moment to, say, take the live feed from the New York Stock Exchange and put it up on the board. This has to happen every day, without fail, or Clear Channel doesn't get paid.


Clear Channel Outdoor Spectacolor LED Board.
Clear Channel Outdoor Spectacolor LED Board.


Our presentation and scheduling software runs on two Mac Pros in a rack that we've set up behind the board. There's not a lot of room back there, so we've added a 16x16 BlackMagic Smart Videohub with Smart Control hardware control panel, which fits into a single rack space.


Installing the system driving that board's display.
Installing the system driving that board's display.


On the converter side, we have a little of everything hanging off the router: we've got HDMI, some analog, audio, all kinds of things. We're also using the Blackmagic UpDownCross converters.

LED screens are natively progressive, but the television feeds we get are natively interlaced. When we convert 1080i to progressive, it has to look good on a screen that's 100 feet by 100 feet big, and we're very pleased with the performance we're getting.

We can also control the router remotely. If at any point the day there's a live breaking news event that they want to put up on that board, anyone from Clear Channel with an iPhone or an iPad or a computer can log in and switch the input. For every part of this, we have replaced systems that cost a lot more money, and were a lot less capable.


One of Modell's in Times Square 16-screen video walls.
One of Modell's in Times Square 16-screen video walls.


MODELL'S

The system we designed for Modell's sporting goods store, also in Times Square, uses the same infrastructure — but the LED board runs 24/7 and earns millions of dollars in revenue every year, and the other is in a retail store.

Unlike the Clear Channel board -- or the Times Square displays that we created for Billabong and American Eagle, the world's largest LED display -- the work that we have done for Modell's is a secondary market for them. Nobody decides not to buy a sweatshirt because the video display is down, but it's a very high-profile location, and as far as we're concerned, the use and application for Modell's is really the same as the one for Clear Channel Outdoor. It's also in some ways more complex. (I should note that there are two Modell's Manhattan locations we've worked on. The other is at Columbus Circle.)

Modell's 20,000 square foot Times Square location has approximately 34 screens, in all different types of formats and configurations. They range from a 16-screen video wall, all the way down to single screens downstairs, as well as an outdoor LED board on the outside of the building.



Modell's Times Square


There is prepared content with scheduled playback from 12 Mac Minis, primarily promotional spots for the products they sell, which includes every brand of sports apparel you can imagine. There are four individual live television sources from DirecTV, as well as a high-definition pan-and-tilt camera inside Nike's "store within a store." They often feature special events, such as basketball players making appearances, and can broadcast these throughout Modell's entire location.

We needed to be able to send every output to every possible screen. It could include promotional video in a dozen different screens upstairs. It could include another video playing on the video wall, and then something completely different playing on the LED board outside in Times Square. The concept was always to have 17 to 18 feeds to choose from, to go to any combination of displays.

The idea was also to allow the people who work in the store to control a lot of this themselves, which presented some obvious issues. Retail stores are not typically stocked with a lot of technical people, and even moreso, not stocked with a staff that understands this kind of video infrastructure. And even for a technical person, understanding how to connect an input to an output can be a little challenging, much less one input to multiple outputs. Our ability to support them remotely was one of the keys to the whole thing.

We began by building middleware with presets. For instance, we understand that they want to play a Yankees game on Saturday afternoon, and show it on every screen. We basically have a pull-down menu -- go to Live TV, choose the channel, and it automatically sends that to every screen. After that, they return to Standard mode, with a combination of prepared and live programming, plus the indoor camera, and the ability to route it to any and all screens.

The Macs also run digital signage software, Sedna Presentation, to integrate things like multiple RSS feed tickers, animations and multiple graphics layers with video feeds. We can then set a schedule for any one of those 12 Mac Mini computers via Sedna to play back specific content at specific times, on specific screens, any day of the week, any year of the decade.


Modell's Times Square AV Rack
Modell's Times Square AV Rack


We've set up the system to be as easy as possible to use, but what happens if somebody gets lost, and can't remember where one of the menus is, or how to route an input? They call us, we log in to the Blackmagic Videohub or Sedna Presenter remotely, and walk them through it, or simply make the changes ourselves. We can do everything remotely that could be done locally. We could literally take Input One, which is a Mac Mini, and put it out to 12 screens from my iPad. Wherever we are, it happens in seconds.

We've built similar systems for flagship Columbia Sportwear stores in Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland and Seattle, and 40 locations for Billabong around the world, including Times Square, using systems like the ones we designed for Clear Channel Outdoor and Modell's. It's really a great workflow. We provide back end technical service to the customer at a price and with features that would never have been possible before.



New York City Times Square
New York City Times Square


THE FUTURE OF THE BUSINESS

We are now based in a brand new 15,000 sq. ft. production and office space on three acres -- and we started off just four years ago in a 1000 sq. ft. office.

Our goal has been to make very complex systems easy for non-technical customers to use. We also believe that not all video technology should necessarily look like Times Square. It should be a part of a specific environment, down to its ability to fit into the architect's original vision for the space we're working in.

A big part of our growth has come from our ability to adapt to changes we see, not just in the market, but changes in what's possible. We're a highly defocused company, meaning that we do design and integration, we do product sales, we do consulting, we do content. For example, we still do a lot of work with After Effects, because you have the ability to customize your project size to match, say, multiple 1080 displays side to side. It's not a "normal" video aspect ratio, but new displays and LED boards often need these unique shapes. We also provide HD shooting and post, photography, storyboarding, design and production of music and sound effects, formats conversion, and DVD and Blu-ray duplication, among other services. And we design and manufacture racks designed specifically for Mac computers. We sell monitor stacks, software, Mac Pros and Mac Minis, and Blackmagic routers and converters.

As a result, we see this as not just digital signage. We see it as an entirely new media opportunity. Some of it has been focused on advertising of course, but we are focusing more on overall branding applications. We're looking at every platform from podcasts to hotel lobbies, LED boards and public spaces.

The fact is that we're just scratching the surface of what these systems are able to do. The presentations that you can build in real time in any location is equal to, if not better than, most broadcast television capabilities. And I mean that seriously. We can schedule down to the minute of the day. We can play back any format of video. We can put content not just on a screen. We can put it across 12 screens or 20 screens or 100 screens if we need to.


Designed with reliable components including Mac computers and Blackmagic hardware.
Designed with reliable components including Mac computers and Blackmagic hardware.


What we need above all is for these systems not to fail. Ever. Which is why we've designed them with components including Mac computers and Blackmagic hardware. Failures mean that your clients don't get paid by their clients. Failures mean that you and your staff have to work lots of long hours on weekends. We're getting a little older now; we don't like to work that hard! In the period that we've grown up, we think there's still opportunity for a lot more growth.


 


 

Chris Pelzar

Chris Pelzar
Canton, Connecticut USA


In nearly 30 years in the industry, Chris has served as the CEO of Fairlight, the President of Euphonix, and Director of Panasonic's Systems Solutions Division, where he wrote the business plan and formed the group that led to Panasonic's digital signage enterprise, retailTV. His projects and clients have been as diverse as the San Francisco Giants, the Metropolitan Opera, James Taylor, Puff Daddy, the United States Navy and Princess Cruises.









Related Articles / Tutorials:
Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Design Teranex Mini: 4K Monitoring & So Much More

Blackmagic Design Teranex Mini: 4K Monitoring & So Much More

When Blackmagic asked broadcast engineer, systems designer, and all-around straight shooter Bob Zelin to take a look at the new Teranex Mini line, he told them no. Converter stories are too boring. Just one problem, though: his clients couldn't see pictures out of their SDI gear going into HDMI inputs of consumer 4K TVs. BMD promised that one of the Minis would do the trick, and it did -- but Bob was pleasantly surprised to find even more than he was looking for! Find out why he calls the Teranex Mini lineup a no-brainer, and what it might be able to do for you. Read more...

Editorial, Feature
Bob Zelin
Blackmagic Design
Building a Broadcast Studio with Blackmagic Design

Building a Broadcast Studio with Blackmagic Design

Master facility designer Bob Zelin has been building studios for his clients based around the offerings from Blackmagic Design, and he's here to tell you: this is for real. The pieces are here now, and they fit together beautifully -- and he's got even more clients lined up for Blackmagic-centered studios. Read on as Bob helps you put together a plan to build your own.

Feature
Bob Zelin
Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Design's Film Scanner and the 4K Future

Blackmagic Design's Film Scanner and the 4K Future

A film scanner being released in 2014 is kind of a strange thing, but not when you get the full Ultra HD story. Blackmagic Design's new Cintel Film Scanner can create Ultra HD content in real time for a fraction of the price of older scanners, and many movies and television shows over the last thirty years were shot on 35mm or 16mm film - natively Ultra HD content, just waiting to be scanned and re-released into the world.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Introduces New Ultra HD Film and Studio Cameras

Blackmagic Introduces New Ultra HD Film and Studio Cameras

Continuing what has become true Blackmagic Style, the company introduced a variety of products to cover the full range of content creation -- including film and studio cameras and a film scanner.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Kylee Peña
Blackmagic Design
Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor

Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design Audio Monitor

The Blackmagic Audio Monitor offers rack mount audio monitoring from an advanced 6G-SDI input, AES/EBU and analog audio sources in a compact and elegant package. Bob Zelin gives the 'eagle eye' look as he zooms in on its real-world application in XOS Digital's extensive broadcast media asset management system.

Review, Editorial, Feature
Bob Zelin
Blackmagic Design
Using a Little Blackmagic to Revisit a Documentary

Using a Little Blackmagic to Revisit a Documentary

Pixie Dust flows from Blackmagic Design's Teranex 2D Processor to integrate and upconvert newly discovered vintage SD footage, photographic stills and new interviews into a re-edited and remastered 2001 documentary memorializing the 1963 NCAA "Game of Change" between Mississippi State University and Loyola. Over 60% of the new DVD/Blu-ray includes new footage or pictures, and the challenge was to make the old SD footage look as good as possible in an HD project.

Review, Editorial, Feature
Robbie Coblentz
Blackmagic Design
Arrested Development at Shapeshifter

Arrested Development at Shapeshifter

Shapeshifter in Los Angeles most recently color-corrected and added VFX to ten of the new 15 episodes of the cult TV show Arrested Development. The job came to the full-service post facility almost accidentally, when colorist Randy Coonfield advised the production on how to best round-trip between the company's Avids and its DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic Design. Since all 15 episodes were released at once, Randy had his hands full, often color-correcting two episodes at a time to make the final push, turning out an entire season in a matter of days. Here, Randy Coonfield talks to Creative COW about what it took to get this new on-demand season out and streaming.

Editorial, Feature, People / Interview
Randy Coonfield
Blackmagic Design
Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design SmartScope Duo

Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design SmartScope Duo

Stop using the high price of HD waveform/vectorscopes as an excuse for not checking your video. Join Bob Zelin for a closer look at a real-world installation of Blackmagic's new SmartScope Duo, a practical, flexible, and yes, affordable approach to broadcast-quality monitoring.

Review, Feature
Bob Zelin
Blackmagic Design
MTV Trials 3D for Video Music Awards

MTV Trials 3D for Video Music Awards

MTV took a step towards 3D broadcasts at its annual Video Music Awards, feeding a 3D signal into the Regal Theatre adjacent to the event's downtown Los Angeles venue. That 3D signal was a real-time 2D-to-3D conversion thanks to Blackmagic Design's new Teranex 3D processor, which was shown at NAB 2012. Priced at $3,995, the Teranex 3D processor provides a 3D exemplified by depth of field and no artifacts. For MTV, the 3D broadcast is yet another step in experimenting with the right technology for the right event.

Feature
Debra Kaufman
Blackmagic Design
IBC 2012: Blackmagic Design Releases

IBC 2012: Blackmagic Design Releases

Blackmagic Design used IBC to debut seven products, including a second version of its camera, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera MFT. The UltraStudio 4K, UltraStudio Mini Monitor and Mini Recorder, and DeckLink 4K Extreme, as well as Mini Converter 4K and Videohub Master Control emphasized the company's focus on 4K and Thunderbolt-enabled products. The company also added support for the ExFAT file system, for Windows users.

Editorial, Feature
Debra Kaufman
MORE
© 2019 CreativeCOW.net All Rights Reserved
[TOP]