The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 1

The Tennessee Titans have just tricked out LP Field in Nashville with two huge end-zone displays connected by massive ribbon screens. 11/13/2012 7:04 AM Eastern

The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 1

Nov 13, 2012 12:04 PM, WIth Bennett Liles

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Since the Dallas Cowboys got their huge video displays, bigger LED screens are showing up in sports venues everywhere. The Tennessee Titans have just tricked out LP Field in Nashville with two huge end-zone displays connected by massive ribbon screens. Chris Mascatello of ANC Sports is going to fill us in on the installation of those, coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Chris, I’ve been looking forward to having you on the SVC Podcast. We’ve had ANC Sports on the podcast a while back talking about the huge LED displays in the Dallas Cowboy stadium. They’re the biggest ones around. Now ANC Sports has a new job here with LP Field in Nashville, the Tennessee Titans home stadium. Before we kind of kick-off the discussion on that one though, tell me something about ANC Sports.

Chris Mascatello: Absolutely, thanks for having me. Well, ANC Sports, we’re now going into our 16th year founded in ’97 and probably the best way to describe the company is a turnkey multimedia solution, integrator, and provider for sports and entertainment venues. In general we install, operate different digital signage systems, rotational signage systems like you would see behind home plate in baseball. And although it’s going away, there are still a few on the court in the NBA. And we have an advertising division, marketing sales, LED animations, so we really touch nearly every portion of a stadium, venue, practice facility, those types of things. [Timestamp: 1:56]

And when it comes to big displays in sports venues, ANC Sports has to be among the first guys to call and the Tennessee Titans’ management had some very big plans for this stadium. So they called you in and what did they tell you they wanted to set up there. What did they have in mind for the place?

The stadium down there is 12-13 years old, basically from when the team made their move from Houston. They were needing a lot of improvements across the board to LP Field. So they created a scope of work with consultants, architectural folks, broadcast side, and they actually put it out to an open RFP, and ANC was one of two or three companies that responded to the RFP and were invited to take part in the formal bid process. It was really a good experience. Obviously what we had done down at Cowboys was certainly important and the pitch to the Titans was really one about a partnership between ANC and the Titans. We’re not so much about coming in, selling a display, selling the hardware, getting it installed, and moving on to the next job, which some of the companies that we go up against in these bid processes might be. We’re really about the turnkey solution and in the case of the Titans that was something that really struck a chord with them. As it turned out we have a, as part of this equipment sale, we also have a 10-year service and maintenance graphics and operations contract with the team as well, so we really are there hand in hand with the Titans everyday helping them develop their show and helping them operate it on Sunday. So it really is a great project for us and we couldn’t be happier with how everything turned out. [Timestamp: 3:48]

OK and they have end-zone displays and they have ribbon displays running the whole length of the stadium. Now how big are the new end-zone displays? I don’t think anybody is going to have any problem seeing these.

No, they are pretty big. These are about 55ft. tall and just over 156ft. wide, so they are bigger than HD resolution. The actual LEDs themselves are on a 16mm spacing center to center, so it is really an astonishing display to see in person. We had the benefit of the stadium already having a large set of structures in the end zones for us to work with, so there wasn’t a lot of structural work or major general construction needed to go from their smallish video displays now to what we have with these edge to edge, top to bottom, approaching 10,000-square-foot displays. So really it’s been an exciting process for us. [Timestamp: 4:52]

A lot of light and a lot of advertising, a lot to get people’s attention. I don’t know. It looks like it could even set up a little competition for the fans’ attention between the displays and the team on the field. In my reading about this I noticed there are surface-mount LED displays. Exactly what is the big advantage in surface-mount displays over the older type?

Traditionally in the outdoor market place, LED displays were built or have been built using what are, at the most technical level, known as through-hole LEDs. What you see above the circuit board looks very much like a Christmas tree light or the LED that you’ve seen on a clock or any type of electronic device. Those actually have two legs that extend down through the circuit board and then in the manufacturing process those legs are bent and then soldered to the other side of the circuit board. Now surface-mount LED are very much different, both in the composition of the actual LED packaging and also in how they are manufactured and attached to the circuit boards themselves. With a through-hole LED, a standard lamp as it’s more commonly known, you have one red, one green, and one blue LED that are all separate items to make up a pixel at a minimum. Sometimes you’ll see two reds or two greens making up a pixel, but you will always have at least one red, one blue, and one green discrete lamp. With a surface-mount LED, what’s really important to the image quality is the actual filaments, the slivers of LED material, are all put together basically one right next to the other within a single package that is just a few millimeters square. So you’ve gotten really to the point of moving away from the light bright type of effect that you may have seen in an LED board up until this point to now. Unless you’re within a few inches of the display you’re not able to pick out the individual red, green, and blue that make up the given pixel, so that is very important in terms of the packaging and then as you look at it as it mounts to the display—it’s called a surface-mount LED because it’s attached right on the surface and soldered on the top of the board the same as all the other components, EPROM chips, etc. So it’s a different manufacturing process, but it’s really the packaging of the LED that allows the switch to the surface-mount process. And then the benefits of surface-mount LEDs obviously, I touched on the fact that the colors really hit the eye all at once and you don’t have the light bright effect or the ability to pick out the red, green, and blue, but also now these displays are bright enough to be used outdoors and they have viewing angles that are unequalled in the outdoor marketplace. So it’s really pushing the envelope on the technology and we couldn’t be more pleased that the Titans really decided to embrace this next generation technology with us. [Timestamp: 7:56]

The Mechanics behind the Surface-mount LEDs at Tennessee Titans Stadium, Part 1

Nov 13, 2012 12:04 PM, WIth Bennett Liles

Right and in that stadium, the way that it’s oriented, in the afternoon you’ve got sunlight shining directly on the big end-zone display at the east end of the field. You’ve got a lot of light competition going on there.

Yeah, there’s a lot of sun effect, especially on baseball. It’s not as much of a factor. You play a lot of night games and you can certainly manipulate stadium lighting to avoid shining on the main screen or even the ribbon boards. Footbal—mostly 1 o’clock and in the case of Nashville being the Central time zone 12 o’clock—kick-offs, you’re dealing with absolutely the worst lighting conditions possible from the sun, so you really need to have a bright display with the ability to have really strong contrast levels to give them, the really clean video appearance. We feel like we’ve really gotten the product to the point where there are no downsides to moving to this next generation technology. [Timestamp: 8:57]

So to produce all that high powered video, what kind of power usage do you have on there? Do run any special power to it or was it already there? How did that work?

Most of the power that was needed was in the scoreboard structure already or at the base. What’s really nice about LED, even with the surface-mount technology, is it’s very energy efficient when compared to the technologies that would be in play 10-12 years ago. So while the screen is massively larger than what was there we were replacing some fixed signage [with], we were replacing some matrix boards that used incandescent light bulbs, which those end up being very, very power hungry. To put it into perspective, the videoscreens each draw at 100 percent brightness at full light, which is the highest power draw we can have—just a little bit over 140,000W. So obviously [it’s] a big power draw, but comparatively, I think it worked out to be pretty much a wash versus what the power draw was from what was in the existing scoreboards. So there’s really no down side to going to these large LED displays now that they’ve gotten to be so energy efficient, and it’s important these are big high cost and high power drawing items, and more and more of the stadiums that are being built from scratch, are looking for LEED certification—bronze, silver, gold and beyond—and so we’ve really had to work very hard to get our technology to be as green as possible. [Timestamp: 10:40]

OK and now I know you’ve got a high-def display on those, so what kind of video signal format is being fed from the control point to the big end-zone displays?

Yeah, the displays are much wider than HD, so it posed a little bit of an issue or a problem to solve and what’s the best way to feed a display that is wider than HD and from the ANC side we have a custom built software platform called VisionSoft that we use to drive all of the LED displays in the building. So the ribbon board there’s approaching 1,400 linear feet of ribbon advertising board that’s 5ft. tall that’s being driven by VisionSoft and we also are feeding the two videoscreens separately—discrete images at a one to one resolution uncompressed. So anything that’s canned or an animation—the team’s open are those types of pieces—are being fed through VisionSoft and what we are doing there is the ability to feed one to one at any resolution because much like your drawing at a computer screen our software is drawing to any size display. The trick is integrating a 1080i broadcast signal coming from the control room that’s doing the switching of the cameras, the character generation, instant replay, etc. That is a realm that’s being produced at a 1920x1080 interlaced, so what’s the best way to get that signal out to a better than HD progressive display in the cleanest format possible and what we eventually ended up doing was using high-end multi-display image processor from Christie Vista. We’re feeding the signals through there, so it lets us go one to one with all of our digital feeds from the VisionSoft platform while also being able to mix and blend the 1080i image from the broadcast suite and do transitions and also do some scaling so that if they want to take a 1080i image, stretch it to fit a display horizontally, they can do that and then just obviously lose some of the image in a top and bottom vertical crop. So it’s really a strong system that gives the end-user a whole lot of flexibility and that’s the trick now in this industry. We’ve gotten to the bigger-than-HD-size screens, [so] how do you manipulate those pixels and do it in the cleanest way possible, and it’s probably going to be something that inhouse broadcast folks are going to have to deal with at least until we make the shift to 4K broadcasting standards and you know that’s still a ways off. [Timestamp: 13:32]

Well, it’s probably a good thing that it is with some of the analog stuff still around and high-def extension technologies still coming online right now. I was curious about their ribbon displays though. How were those mounted up there? Have you got frames that go in first and then they slide in there?

The ribbon board goes in pretty easily. This particular installation has about just over 5ft., I think it was 5’3” of concrete separating the upper and lower suite levels on the sidelines and they had existing backlit, florescent backlit, signage, and a few incandescent matrix scoreboards in that area. What we did is removed all of the old displays obviously and then we use a, basically, a track bracketing system and attached these Z-clips, for lack of a better term, to the concrete and then hang the cabinets for the LED display along those clips and that’s about it. They’re pretty easy to install from a manpower standpoint and it takes time, but it’s very little heavy equipment. We actually did most of the work utilizing just scaffolding and a very small motor lift that was used to lower the displays into place. But the cabinets are small enough and light enough that once you get them up to the scaffolding, two or three people can actually lift them up onto the clips and it helps get the alignment right and it’s really a pretty neat system and mounting totally flush to the concrete so that was a rather easy package that we’ve been doing now for going on a dozen years. So doing ribbon board in most stadiums is old hat to us. [Timestamp:15:15]

So we’re full stride into pro football season now and the displays have been tested with real games going on, but especially during football season you’re going to have some inclement weather. So what are the temperature specs on those displays? Is there a low temperature limit to that gear?

You never really have to worry about cold with an LED display or actually really with any electronics so long as you’re protected from the actual elements getting in. The power supplies, when they’re running, even if they’re just on and energized, tend to generate enough ambient heat to keep things like condensation from happening and also you know you’re not going to have a freezing issue. The biggest struggle on LED, no matter what technology outdoors, is going to be heat and we had a very hot summer and the drought that hit everything east of the Mississippi was certainly in effect in Nashville. I think some days on the install was approaching 105 degrees actual temperature, so we had to plan for a proper ventilation and air movement system behind the screens in each scoreboard structure. So I believe there were three or four large air movement fans that were already there and we supplemented those with two additional new fans. Just to make sure that there’s proper air flow so you don’t get a buildup of hot air behind the display and knock on wood, today we’ve had no temperature or thermal issues. [Timestamp: 16:47]

OK, well, the new LED displays at LP Field have had a chance to show what they can do and everything seems to be working fine. Thanks for telling us about it and in part two we’ll go into the testing and operator training and see what actually happens during a game. It’s Chris Mascatello from ANC Sports and the new super LED displays at the Tennessee Titans’ LP Field. Thanks for being here.

Thank you.

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