AV Overhaul at Consol Energy Center Part 2

Video monitors, ribbon displays, and a 15ft. LED screen all carry the game action at Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center. Chris Mascatello of ANC Sports is here for part two with details on the 1/27/2011 5:45 AM Eastern

AV Overhaul at Consol Energy Center Part 2

Jan 27, 2011 10:45 AM, With Bennett Liles

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AV Overhaul at Consol Energy Center Part 1
David Corathers of Mitsubishi Diamond Vision talks about the installation of a huge center hung scoreboard video screen, LED ribbon displays and other video monitors in Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins....

Video monitors, ribbon displays, and a 15ft. LED screen all carry the game action at Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center. Chris Mascatello of ANC Sports is here for part two with details on the control aspect of the project using VisionSoft.

SVC: Chris, thanks for being here for the SVC podcast to tell us about ANC Sports and their video display projects in sports venues and in this case it’s installation that was done at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
That is in Pittsburgh. [Timestamp: 1:02]

OK and it looks like a major place here with seating for over 18,000 on hockey games and even more on other events. ANC in this case was partnering with Mitsubishi on this and Mitsubishi did the installation of the display screens, hardware, and ANC handled mainly the control aspect of it.
Yeah, Mitsubishi was the prime contractor on this particular job. They are the manufacturer of the LED displays and they’re also our partner in most large-scale premium major league sport applications. ANC in this particular case was a subcontractor with Mitsubishi and we provided the software for controlling the various displays as well as we provide game day operations to the Penguins and the arena. We also did nearly all of the graphic design work for the various ribbon boards and center-hung scoreboard displays. [Timestamp: 2:03]

The stadium was under construction while you were doing this right?
Yes, usually when they do new construction such as this arena the broadcast control room and in our case the ribbon board and video display controls are the last things to go in, and usually we’re working in a hard-hat environment, so it’s an interesting process, but when all is said and done, we’ve seen it before and you just deal with what cards you’re dealt. [Timestamp: 2:34]

And you have a lot of things going on with the broadcast people and the operation of the inhouse displays. How far away is the display control point from the center of the game action in there?
The control point is actually in one of the corners on what they would call hockey press level, so it’s a pretty good view from up top of what’s going on in game action as well as obviously the displays themselves. [Timestamp: 3:01]

OK, so you can actually gauge the reaction of the crowd to what you’re showing them on the screens out there.
Absolutely, the broadcast suite that is basically producing the game—they’re cutting the game with their own switcher system, replay, character generation, etc. They’re in a little bit more of a sound-controlled environment for obvious reasons, but the ANC operator for our VisionSoft system, which is controlling the ribbon boards—the LED screens that are embedded in the hockey dasherboards as well as the various secondary displays in the center hung—that person is actually on the front row of the hockey press area. So it’s a very much a wide production, and you can really feed off of the vibe in the arena as the operator chooses various game prompts and those types of things. [Timestamp: 3:51]

What kind of video format are you using for the long signal runs?
The main frame, the main line is fiber-optic, and it’s for better or worse a proprietary HD-SDI signal. So in addition to the video that’s being fed from the various LED processors, we’re also carrying secondary control data for display brightness and some two-way relay for system checks and temperature, those types of things. So it’s for better or worse we use traditional SDI and HD-SDI relay equipment, but the protocol its self is a custom tweak on that, and that’s pretty much a standard with all of the LED video companies. [Timestamp: 4:37]

OK, tell me a little bit about the VisionSoft application. That’s the software that actually controls what’s running on the displays right?
Correct VisionSoft is ANC’s patent-pending software system that is basically a multidisplay controller which allows for these major venues that might have between eight, 10, and in the case of Pittsburgh, roughly 15 displays running simultaneously. VisionSoft allows one operator to control the content that’s going out to all of those displays. Really it was a revolutionary product when we introduced it about five years ago. It’s traditionally the same types of systems would have to be run from two, three, four or even five operators, and so you had the human error aspect of synchronization being off or someone missing a cue. With VisionSoft, we were able to put it all within one operator, one button press using essentially using a macro playlist execution, which we call intelligent buttons, and with the click of one intelligent button you can send an entire building to Coca-Cola. You click it again and everything instantaneously goes to Budweiser, etc., etc. And that’s another reason why we used fiber to make sure that we have instantaneous transition and no latency across the lines. And you would have to assume that when you’re dealing with game clock and official scoring, we have to be accurate to better than a tenth of a second. [Timestamp: 6:09]

AV Overhaul at Consol Energy Center Part 2

Jan 27, 2011 10:45 AM, With Bennett Liles

OK, so you can run predetermined sequences of animation and then maybe jump in at any time and put up something in response to the ebb and flow of the game?
Absolutely, if a goal is scored by the Penguins, we’ve got a big button on the display that is goal. We hit it and instantaneously all the displays that are assigned within that macro executable will go to the goal animation. Our timing and our latency is so low that traditionally we actually beat the horn and the goal light judge so it’s really, when timed out correctly, it just immediately creates an explosive effect within the area. [Timestamp: 6:5]

And this venue’s not just used by the Penguins. It’s used by a lot of different local teams and with the digital displays you have the capability to customize the look with logos and so forth to tailor the look of the place and give it the flavor of the home venue of any team that’s using it.
Absolutely, the ability now with these digital signage systems, it allows you to brand the building for whomever the occupant tenant is for that particular day. And going into high school basketball tournaments, college basketball tournaments, even marketing or a community relations events, it really is a great ability to increase the value to the various events, and the move in the last few years has been to get away from all fixed signage and go to all digital, which is an impactful set of displays to really push the envelope in on the technology front. [Timestamp: 7:46]

You can do so much with the VisionSoft application. I would think that there might be some kind of a rather steep learning curve on this. Do you train people on this and if so how fast do they pick up on it?
The training, it’s pretty quick. Within a couple of days of training and usually two, three, four hours a day—not a lot—we have the operators ready to go and run a full game. The key to using VisionSoft is understanding the metaphor of the intelligent buttons, and once you realize that within any given intelligent button you’re assigning this display shows this particular piece of content, it really becomes very, very powerful. The set up is the only part that really requires much thought. Once the system is set up almost anyone can come in and get a 5-minute crash course in training and be able to switch amongst the various playlists and stat displays and run a game. So it’s proven to be a very flexible and user friendly platform. [Timestamp: 8:51]

I would think that would be significant because the games are live events, and if you have an operator who doesn’t show in time and if it takes some kind of an Einstein to run it, you could be in big trouble if you don’t have the right person at the controls at game time.
The difficulty in the broadcast realm with things like switchers and board opts or using a replayer and EVS system, we’ve worked to stay away from that such that, like I said, of 15-20 minutes of training, you would probably already know 70 percent of how to run the VisionSoft system. And as you said, there’s always the potential for inclement weather, traffic, so you need to have the ability to have someone go into that seat live and be able at least to get through the minimum of what’s expected. [Timestamp: 9:38]

Yeah, there’s a lot of material shown on that system. How are all the graphics and animations created for these displays?
ANC Design, which is a subsidiary of ANC Sports, does the lion’s share of the graphic design and the animated content for the Penguins and the various other events. [For] the Penguins, we use another or a few other companies to do some of their video production work like their game open or their player isolation head shots and features, but we all work from the same elements and 3D pieces, so across all the displays there’s a unified look. The key to any of these digital display systems is the content. You can have a Porsche, and if you don’t feed it the right content, you’ll be running along in first or second gear. It’s really the studying the content that makes these things. [Timestamp: 10:33]

Yeah, I guess it could be a help getting instant feedback from the fans because that’s something the TV people don’t have. That’s a strictly one-way medium, but you have your audience right there where you can see and hear them, so I guess you know right away what charges them up and what may be missing on that.
We get into […] the generic pieces like “Make noise”, “Get up”, “Let’s hear it”, and then the power play animations are obviously a goal. You’re really going to be firing the crowd up, but the secondary piece is the way that the marketing or promotion department for a given team or arena handles the TV timeouts and what you want to do is you want to keep the crowd—if you’re going to a TV timeout with some momentum—you really want to keep that energy level high while also delivering on the promotions and the events that are going on during that timeout. So it really helps keep the momentum going for the home teams at these events. [Timestamp: 11:35]

AV Overhaul at Consol Energy Center Part 2

Jan 27, 2011 10:45 AM, With Bennett Liles

And we talked about the possibility of having people problems and having the operator ready to go. What about the possibility of having a serious power glitch somewhere? How fast can you get the whole system back up and running if the power goes down?
Well, all of the VisionSoft systems in any arena are running on a UPS with a minimum of 15 minutes of store, and in the newer facilities—really everything that’s been built new construction in the last two or three years—they keep the crucial mission-critical systems on building- or stadium-wide UPS. So it would really be a major, major catastrophe where we’d be in a full power down situation with our VisionSoft hardware. Pretty much that system is going to stay online and then as soon as powers are turned to the video displays, the image output will be going out just as though nothing had happened. So if we had a full, total power loss and UPS failure, you’re looking at a couple of minutes max to bring all of the servers back online and feed an image out to the video displays. [Timestamp: 12:45]

And that might be the last thing on people’s minds in getting the play action back up on the displays in that kind of situation.
Yeah, well the one thing that does come into play is on the ribbon boards and the various displays we’re tied into, the emergencies systems and the boards will default automatically to way-finding a message mode. So it informs of where the emergency exits are and it really does play more of a factor than you would think for something that traditionally is a crowd-pump vehicle and marketing and those types of things. When the power goes out they rely on us to make sure that everyone gets out in a orderly fashion and knows where to head on the way out of the building. [Timestamp: 13:31]

Yeah that would be a vital feature on this system to be able to keep the crowd informed as to where to go and what to do and that’s where their attention would still be. So with all of this to do, how many people all together does it take to handle the displays? Is it just the single operator?
It’s only a single operator to run the VisionSoft system during an event, and then on the broadcast side, I would have to guess that they probably have 20-25 people between the replay, CG, technical director, director, producer, and then the camera opts and the runners, etc. So it’s a big production that goes on to making everything sing on game night. [Timestamp: 14:13]

And all these are LED displays all over the venue?
Inside the bowl are LED screens as well as a few larger displays on the concourses, and then a lot of the statistical information, clocks, scoring, etc., are also tied into the IPTV network that was put in. And most IPTV systems are a mix of plasma and LCD displays in the suites in the concourse, concession areas, restaurants, what have you. [Timestamp: 14:45]

Well, LED screens have come a long way since the days of just having nothing but these big scoreboard numbers flashing. Where do you think all of the LED display technology is going?
The big hurdle a few years ago was getting up into the HD realm, so that was the real beachhead for LED in the center-hung indoor video screens. And Verizon Center [and] TD Bank North in Boston were really the first two to get to HD, and now it’s becoming more and more of a standard feature in these arenas. The [goal] with any of the LED product is to maximize the contrast, the brightness of the displays, viewing angles, and we’re to the point now with the main video displays in Pittsburgh [that] you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between that screen and extraordinarily high-end plasma or LCD that you might have at home except obviously we are talking 15ft. by 25ft. or so. [Timestamp: 15:50]

Right and I guess you had some challenges there as far as the architecture in between the fans sitting closest to the display and those at the greatest distance. You get some seats up too close and you can’t really see what’s going on if the resolution isn’t that high.
Yeah and that was a problem in the early, say, 10 years ago when LED video screens indoors were becoming the current generation of product. The spacing at that point was 14 and maybe 12mm in between pixels on the display. People in the front rows and the closest in the viewing distance to the center-hung structure could see some pixilation on the display. Probably about eight years ago, 10 mm spacing dot to dot became the standard, and it looked good and you had, for the most part, a smooth image with the exception of really the closest seats. And then when we made the move a few years ago to 6mm, there’s no seat in the house that’s going to see anything but a smooth, perfectly resolved image. At the same time, that 6mm center-to-center dot spacing also gives you the ability to do HD in those particular displays, so it’s really remarkable how quickly the LED products have evolved and at the same time it’s gotten less expensive, more reliable, brighter with better viewing angles. It’s night and day. [Timestamp: 17:18]

And somewhere during that process of higher and higher resolution they changed over from the basic technology of discrete LEDs to surface-mount devices?
Correct. Yeah most of the things that prime a person when they hear LED, they think of lamps—little Christmas tree lights, the little red bulbs that you’ve had in your alarm clocks for the last 20 years, and that is the traditional outdoor discrete LED. For the first, let’s say, three to five years—really the late 90s to early 2000s—that was the type of product that was being used inside. As surface-mount technology began to improve and become more reliable, the main video screens shifted into surface-mount, what we call, 3-in-1 LEDs. So that’s your red, blue, and green within one surface-mount package. And then one of the things that AMC was really the front runner in was pushing to also use the 3-in-1 surface mount LEDs for the ribbon boards, matrix displays, every display within the building, and that was really key to making the product look as good as it possibly could. You have somewhat of a limited viewing angle, and it was a product that was designed for the outdoor application at a much higher brightness. You only need about half the brightness indoors or less to achieve the desired image quality, and you would be much better using the surface-mount LEDs that gave you nearly 180-degree viewing. [Timestamp: 18:46]

Well, it’s come along way and like anything else, there’s a lot of technology working behind the scenes so that people can just forget about that and enjoy the show. So what other projects does ANC Sports have coming up? Anything special you want to tell us about?
Yeah, we’re moving into the planning and execution stage heading into major league baseball for 2011 right now. And we’ve got two really interesting projects that we’re working on. The first of which is a major scoreboard project at Fenway Park up in Boston. The old girl has seen about eight years of significant renovations and improvements by Fenway Sports group and John Henry and the ownership team and management team up there. This year is going to be the last year of their improvements, and the cherry on top is the addition of nearly a 5000-square-foot video screen that’s going to be flanked by some very large about 15ft. by 100ft., in one case, additional secondary informational video displays. So you’re really bringing what, in my mind, is really the crown jewel in major league baseball, bringing the video technology for the fans up to the most modern level possible. So that’s something we’ve been working on for years and now to finally get to the finish line for a installation this winter and into the early spring. We’re all looking very much forward to that. And then the second project is one that we’re doing at Safeco Field out in Seattle for the Mariners. We started working with them on the LED side last year with a small project in left field replacing their existing out-of-town scoreboard, and that was what they called “phase one”, and now phase two of their project is adding nearly 1,000 linear feet of ribbon board to Safeco Field. And it’s really nice. Both venues we’ve had to work very closely with to ensure that they kept some of the old-time feel of the ballparks, and Safeco Field is very much of the same mold as Camden Yards and AT&T Park out in San Francisco in that they don’t want something that is over the top in terms of appearance but really adds the technology—the new feature sets of the technology—to the ballpark without having to make a trade off in the old-time feel of the park. So it’s two nice projects that we’re really looking forward to as we get into the spring and then we’re now looking at the fall, or the summer and fall for outdoor stadium or colleges, and even as hard as it is to believe, NFL projects for next July, August, and September. [Timestamp: 21:45]

All right Chris, we’ll keep an eye on those and make sure you take lots of pictures because I’d sure like to see those.
Pictures, it’s the other thing that’s really came of age over the last few years is the ability whether it’s with a phone, an iPhone, a flip camera to document these projects and do it in a really low-maintenance and low-cost fashion so that we can run a blog and really document the work that goes into these projects. [Timestamp: 22: 11]

And a lot of work and coordination it is.

Well, thanks again for being here Chris for the SVC podcast on the Consol Energy Center video display system. Very interesting project.
Thank you for having me.

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