AV Links Art And Architecture In Dallas

More than 17 Million visitors are expected annually at the new Victory Park in Dallas, a multifaceted entertainment, retail, dining and performance venue adjoining the American Airlines Center. 10/18/2007 9:01 PM Eastern

AV Links Art And Architecture In Dallas

More than 17 Million visitors are expected annually at the new Victory Park in Dallas, a multifaceted entertainment, retail, dining and performance venue adjoining the American Airlines Center.

Victory Park in the art district of Dallas is a multifaceted AV mecca, featuring entertainment, retail, dining and performance venues

Challenge: Create a media-intensive urban environment that combines maximum “wow” value with maximum ease of operation.

Solution: A database-driven, multidisplay outdoor digital arts gallery that can be managed by non-techies through a simple Web interface.

More than 17 Million visitors are expected annually at the new Victory Park in Dallas, a multifaceted entertainment, retail, dining and performance venue adjoining the American Airlines Center.

While at Victory Park, visitors will be the audience for show elements ranging from building illumination to water effects to video on extremely large and mobile screens. Phil Lenger, president of Show & Tell Productions, a broadcast, theatrical and multimedia production company in New York, which designed the show and its content management system, calls it “a dynamic, never-before-seen environment, unique not only to Dallas but to the rest of the country.”

Alex Carru, CEO of French equipment and software supplier Medialon, explains that his company's servers and “Manager” show control software were central to the Victory Park install, which he says represents a significant innovation.

“It's a new type of show, an architectural show,” says Carru. “We're seeing more and more architectural applications used with show-control software to create special effects, not just playback.”

Medialon was an especially appropriate choice for this project, he adds, because “it is a control system that can read information into the media assets database to create shows, and the programming time for such a big and complex system was very short indeed, compared to the normal few weeks for a conventional control system.”

Carru notes that at Victory Park, “shows are not preprogrammed on the timeline, they are dynamically controlled.” By this he means that the control software gets key information from a database and uses it to create the show on the fly.

“The challenge was to create a system that could run automatically on its own for 18 hours a day or more,” says Medialon Project Manager Alan Anderson. “Challenge No. 1 was controlling all the equipment, and challenge two was having a scheduling system that could be updated through a Web interface by a nontechnical user.”

The centerpiece of Victory Park is a 60-foot-wide plaza leading to the American Airlines arena and flanked by buildings that house restaurants, shops, hotels and other facilities. Mounted on the façades of the buildings are two groups of four massive LED panels, composed of Barco OLite 510 LED tiles, each 15 feet by 26 feet. They're the most visible part of a media system that carried a price tag of about $25 million, says Anderson.

Steve Whittle of the Dallas office of The Whitlock Group, the project's AV integrator, says the Barco LEDs deliver true high definition. Each group of four panels are stacked two on two, and mounted on tracks so that they can move independently or combine, displaying either different content or a single 30-foot by 52-foot image on each side of the plaza.

In addition to the LEDs, the park features a wide variety of other video displays, including LCD panels mounted in kiosks and a number of other large video screens in both permanently mounted and portable configurations. There were about 130 different media assets in the system when the park opened, and plans to add more as the park evolves, according to Josh Silverman, who programmed the system for Show & Tell.

Content routed to all these assets can be anything from corporate branding messages and commercials to building illumination and motion cues. Much of the content consists of short programs created by local video artists. Victory Park is located in a part of Dallas known as an arts district, and one of its goals was to reflect that orientation.

The content is organized into 15-minute segments, which are then subdivided into blocks as small as 15 seconds. The Medialon software keeps track of the state of all media assets, gets information from the main database and uses it to determine what content needs to go to which asset. It then calculates transitions, retrieves content from the Grass Valley Turbos and other sources, and sends commands to the matrix switchers and other gear.

Audio reaches Victory Park visitors through two JBL Control 30 loudspeakers, which serve the “portal zone” and the plaza, along with another 20 JBL AM6212 loudspeakers spread around the facility. All amplifiers are from the Crown CTx series, says Olaff Rossi, project manager for Show & Tell Productions.

A Peavey Media Matrix system controls the audio signal distribution, along with two Nion systems and a variety of CobraNet input/output boxes. A Medialon 24-channel audio server acts as source device for audio tracks to the video zones.

Data travels around the park over a fiber-optic infrastructure, controlled by what Whittle calls a “pretty straightforward” array of routers, switchers, scalers and other familiar devices. Video content for the screens generally resides on six Grass Valley Turbo servers, although special-purpose content can also be accessed from DVDs and other sources.

For maximum flexibility, Whittle says there are “media hydrants” throughout the area. Each hydrant is a plug-in point for the media control system, so that live events can originate almost anywhere and be routed to any display in the park.

This capability is important, says Lenger, because “we wanted the ability to do live events on both a grand and a small scale. It's harder to do it on a small scale, where you don't have the budget for a big production truck. But we wanted the ability to technically impress, even if it's a small presentation.”

Looking ahead, says Lenger, the infrastructure is in place to support substantial expansion, and the simplicity of the interface and management system should make it easy for the owners to keep content fresh. “It's one thing to have a great event on opening day, but to really sustain that level of excitement over time is very difficult,” he says.

Technicians operate behind the scenes at Victory Park in Dallas

Technicians operate behind the scenes at Victory Park in Dallas

Being ready for opening day was itself a challenge. “There was a significant amount of testing that had to be accomplished in the commissioning process for the LED displays,” says Whittle. “We had to have our head-end system up and running far enough into the project so that we could send them a signal, and everybody could accept it.

“We were literally pulling cable and fiber optics in the buildings before they even had the shell complete,” he says. “When we started moving equipment into our control room, they still not have the entire building skinned. Our corner was weathered in, but not the other parts. If the wind blew hard, it would rain inside the building. That's not an environment in which we are used to moving a half-million dollars worth of equipment into a room.”

The complexities of such an early occupancy persisted for a while, says Whittle. “We had a lot of dust and dirt, and had to do constant maintenance of our HVAC system. Just trying to keep the dust of the equipment was a challenge.”

Lenger says preparing the show control system was a very compressed process that involved extensive interaction with the park's architects and construction team. “It's an architecture job as much as an AV job,” he says, noting that the Show & Tell team was brought in on the job very early as a consultant, helping to shape the most fundamental decisions on “what this thing wanted to be.” Being involved so early represents “a real opportunity to do something the way you think it ought to be done,” says Lenger.

John McKeon is an independent consultant and writer in the Washington, D.C., area. He can be reached

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