WorldStage Collaborates with ESPN Studios for LED Displays
CreativeCOW presents WorldStage Collaborates with ESPN Studios for LED Displays -- Broadcasting Editorial

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In meetings with ESPN engineers and staff, it was determined that a requirement for a unique method of displaying HD-SDI, server-streamed video content and broadcast graphics on 'trackable', moving LED tiled displays was desired for the new studio design. The system had a requirement for 'display reorientation' and display content input source reconfigurations 'on- the-fly'.

In partnership with ESPN's in-house engineering and creative staff, and third-party software and hardware engineers, ESPN's requirements were captured, so that a 'one-best-design' would be rendered.

The design process commenced with the principal stakeholders of ESPN and WorldStage outlining their vision for the functionality required of the moving and tracking LED displays. Preliminary plans were drawn up and reviewed with ESPN's engineering, and WorldStage's design team. Robust cabling and rigging were anticipated due to the size and weight of each individual display and to insure a safe installation.

As the project commenced, scenic designer Michael Hotopp selected a display system design that would be reconfigurable via 'motorized armatures'. For this design the system operator's 'controls' would provide complete flexibility for display panels to 'fly-through-space' and relocate themselves as single displays or with 'different-sized' combinations.

Photo (c) 2012 WorldStage at ESPN Studios
Photo © 2012 WorldStage at ESPN Studios

WorldStage's president Josh Weisberg collaborated with Hotopp to create a system incorporating a "tracking" feature which enables the content fed to the displays to synchronize with the movement of the displays. With this feature included, a virtual image space is created within the studio so the displays move through physical space as well as 'virtual-image-space'.

WorldStage initiated discussions with ESPN's Noubar Stone, whom the company had previously partnered with on ESPN Sports Center's HD set in Bristol, Connecticut. After discussions with Stone, LED 'video-tiles' were determined to be the most appropriate hardware technology for this integration. LED tiles exhibit an extremely bright and 'punchy' image and offer the ability to be housed in a "bezel-free" mount, if desired, making them ideal for this unique application.

The WorldStage team contacted Fred Gallo's team at PRG Scenic to initiate the tasks of designing and implementing an automated scenic mechanism capable of handling the weight of the display panels, with movement precise enough to create the multiple configurations required without damage to the fragile LED tiles.

Key to the design was a requirement that the displays exhibit a real-time, x-y-z axis, flexible positioning feature. Controlling each of four LED displays using proprietary motion control software commands, integrated with hardware rigging specifically designed for this installation.

LED Video Tiles

Additionally controlling the display(s) horizontal and vertical axis' while each display is simultaneously 'in-motion', as they re-align to the new targeted position. Each of the four Led displays can additionally be oriented in portrait or landscape positions appropriate to the content, be that streaming video or static graphics. Using the tools provided in the design, the system operator has the ability to pre-program 'moves' desired to specific spatial 'target-positions' for the display LED monitors to land upon.

The content appearing on the displays required multiple input sources including server-streamed or live HD video, high-resolution photographic images, and pre-built computer character-generated and 'keyed graphics'.

WorldStage created a custom configuration of Lighthouse Technologies' 4.44mm LED panel system to fit the desired dimensions of the LED display. WorldStage and ESPN have had previous experience with Lighthouse LEDs and felt that they provided the right combination of resolution, brightness and color depth for the requirements.

WorldStage included another familiar product, the 'Coolux Pandora' system, to achieve the displays tracking synchronization. Outfitted with HD-SDI input cards, Pandora could output content resident on the servers in concert with live content obtained from ESPN studios, broadcast switching system.

One more technical piece of the installation remained: a control system that could meet ESPN's requirement for minimal operator interaction during broadcast. Since the system consisted of multiple media servers, broadcast telecast equipment and the moving LED panel scenery controller, the control paradigm posed a major challenge. The solution was a custom-designed user interface created by WorldStage media server programmer Michael Kohler with the Coolux Widget Designer toolset.

Kohler's custom interface permits the system's operator to pre-load complex presets into single-button triggers in anticipation of display movement. As the 'scenery-controller' is triggered, the Pandora system senses the movement and runs the presets as loaded.

Los Angeles, Calif. - November 2, 2012 -  LAPC: (L to R) Michael Wilbon, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on the set of the Kia NBA Countdown show (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN). ©2012, ESPN Inc.
Los Angeles, Calif. - November 2, 2012 - LAPC: (L to R) Michael Wilbon, Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on the set of the Kia NBA Countdown show (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN). ©2012, ESPN Inc.

The automated LED panels mark the first application of this type in a live broadcast environment; while other studios using moving displays move them manually, during commercial breaks. All those involved in the ESPN project expect that the use of the system will grow in complexity as the studio explores the extensive capabilities of the entire hardware system and software solutions.

"We were gratified to be part of the team that brought this magical system to life," says Josh Weisberg. "It creates some of the most dynamic visuals ever seen on a sports studio broadcast and confirms ESPN's position as the most dominant and innovative sports broadcaster in the world."

For WorldStage, TJ Donohue was project manager, Barry Grossman was the video system designer, and Bryan Dominick was the display and video installation lead tech. For ESPN, John Gluszak was the engineer during integration and testing.


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WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.

Watch the new moving/tracking Lighthouse LED displays designed by WorldStage for ESPN's NBA Countdown here:

WorldStage has participated in many more integrations in both the Events industry and for the Broadcast Television industry.

Those projects can be viewed here:

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Nicholas Chase

Nicholas Chase

Nicholas Chase has performed chief engineer, engineer-in-charge, technical adviser, senior systems design engineer, senior technical project manager roles at various TV Broadcast, post-production and cable networks nationwide including, Sony SDC / SIC, Verizon's FIOS fttp, Google Studios infrastructure upgrades and currently produces and shoots live news segments for Mark Cuban's 'AXS-TV Live!' and 'Inside MMA'. When not engaged in authoring articles for Creative COW Community and others, he can be found on the floor, playing Barbie's with his four-year old granddaughter.

Nicholas curates his production career here on Facebook

Title graphic and ESPN photo: Kia NBA Countdown - December 20, 2012. ©Scott Clarke/ESPN Images