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A Spherical Videowall

When defense contractor Lockheed Martin wanted to wow visitors to a new facility, it turned flat-screen TVs into virtual continents. 6/02/2011 12:52 AM Eastern

A Spherical Videowall

When defense contractor Lockheed Martin wanted to wow visitors to a new facility, it turned flat-screen TVs into virtual continents.

Lockheed Martin has made some iconic military platforms over the decades. As individual companies, both Lockheed and Martin trace their origins to before World War II. As a merged entity, the company has produced fighters, patrol aircraft, guided missile cruisers, satellites, and spacecraft. So when Lockheed Martin decided to consolidate its Washington, D.C.–area operations into a new Global Vision Center, it wanted to communicate its rich history and worldwide reach in an equally iconic manner.

The result was a unique AV sculpture that takes the basic concepts of a flat-panel videowall and wraps them around a globe. Conceived by Cincinnati-based creative shop the Brand Experience and executed by technical producer the Todd W. Hall Co. and AV systems integrator Inter-tain Productions, the globe now sits in the lobby of the Lockheed Martin Global Vision Center in Arlington, Va. "It was the result of a brainstorm," recalls Geoff Thatcher, executive creative director at the Brand Experience. "The idea of the globe came from translating the concept of Lockheed Martin as a global security company. But projecting video onto a fabric-covered globe had this 'been-done-before' feeling to it."

The creative team wanted to achieve the same effect but in an innovative way. It decided to use flat-screen video displays on a globe, with the monitors arranged to approximate the shape and location of the Earth's seven continents. When the team pitched the unique idea to Lockheed Martin, Thatcher says, "The client said, 'Do it.' "

This was easier said than done, of course. After being roughed out in Adobe Photoshop and then scale modeled, the globe's sizable frame—9 feet in diameter—was eventually fashioned out of steel bands curved around a hollow core. Then 51 Boland Communications monitors of varying aspect ratios and sizes—ranging from 7 inches to 26 inches diagonal—were attached to the spherical frame. The displays' back panels were attached to perforated metal and then riveted to the globe's framework. Their bezels were covered with black automotive paint so that they would blend together.

All the displays were configured on an IP network, allowing the team to use a unique address for each one and to wirelessly tweak parameters such as color control and contrast. "Also, all the monitors, regardless of their size, were manufactured from the same run of TFT, which gives us greater consistency in the performance of the overall display," says technical producer Todd Hall.

Each display was connected to one of four 16-channel Alcorn McBride SD Video Binloop media servers housed in a Middle Atlantic equipment rack. The Video Binloops are compact, economical, and reliable players with no moving parts. Each Binloop cage accommodates 16 player cards. In the case of the Lockheed Martin globe, the overall system generates and sends 51 streams of video to the globe and three more streams to several wall-mounted video displays in the lobby. An AMX NI-7100 controller and a Modero 7-inch tabletop touch panel trigger an Alcorn McBride V16 Pro show controller, which in turn cues the Binloops to play their stored content



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A Spherical Videowall

When defense contractor Lockheed Martin wanted to wow visitors to a new facility, it turned flat-screen TVs into virtual continents.

"The video had to be chopped up and sync rolled," Hall says. "Shows can play on one or 10 monitors—or on all of them. Many images were designed to run from one monitor to another."

The content, which includes everything from high-resolution images to videos from Lockheed Martin's archives, was custom developed for the globe, in part because of the unique configuration of the monitors. "South America gets pretty skinny at the bottom," Thatcher says. "We had to produce content that would look fantastic on the videowalls that formed each continent."

Wiring the Globe

But the biggest challenge may have been wiring the globe, says Emile Wolsky, executive producer at Inter-tain Productions. The video globe would certainly lose its impact if there were visible cables. A 54-channel snake had to be custom fabricated (51 channels for the globe, three for the wall-mounted displays), then run 70 feet inside half-inch conduit from the head-end closet to the globe itself. To fit all the strands into the conduit, integrators used ultrathin Belden DT 179 fiber cable, which also required using special crimping tools for the BNC terminations. The cable enters the globe from below and then the strands for each quadrant of the globe's interior are routed to each video continent through the hollowed vertical spars that make up the globe's exoskeleton. Power for each display is routed the same way.

Philips ColorBurst LED lights were installed at the base of the globe, as well as overhead, to enhance its appearance. An Alcorn McBride LightCue DMX recorder, also triggered by the V16 Pro, synchronizes lighting effects with the globe's sound system. The LightCue records the output of any lighting board and a single rack records 512 DMX channels in real-time and stores preset looks.

The globe's sound system comprises Meyer Sound Stella-8C 8-inch coaxial speakers that are are ceiling mounted, as well as two Tannoy 110TB-X 10-inch low-impedance passive down-firing subwoofers. The audio feeds come from the Binloops. Halls says that the audio was mixed on site using an Avid Pro Tools system to tailor sound effects to the imagery.

"There are aircraft sounds and a missile launch and we got them tightly locked to the video," Hall explains. "The subs add to the punch."

In fact, the combination of sound, video, and lighting has created a powerful icon that stops visitors in their tracks. And no one seems to mind that the video "continents" are abstract approximations, even after the design/build team consulted with a professor of geography during construction. "Texas is kind of a defining feature for the map of North America," says Thatcher. "The only way we could make it fit was to pretty much wipe out Oklahoma. We felt bad about that."



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