Installation Profile: NYC Inc.

Smart screen technology greets global visitors at the Big Apple information center. 4/14/2009 8:00 AM Eastern

Installation Profile: NYC Inc.

Apr 14, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Smart screen technology greets global visitors at the Big Apple information center.

In Conference

New York City Information Center

In a $1.8 million project, the New York City Information Center brings tourism and technology together with the help of integrator VideoSonic Systems. Visitors can plan their stay in the Big Apple with the touch of a finger using customized GestureTek touchscreens that display activities based on the search criteria they plug into the system. Photos by Anthony Donovan

First impressions count for a lot in business, and NYC & Company—New York’s marketing, tourism, and partnership organization—understands that. It largely prompted the creation of the official New York City Information Center, located at street level in one of the city’s signature skyscrapers just north of Times Square. And as appropriate for a city called Silicon Alley, there is plenty of technology integrated throughout the 2000-square-foot center.

Packing a lot of equipment into the space called for a somewhat different relationship with service vendors. In this case, VideoSonic Systems—a New York-based systems-integration company that specializes in integrating audiovisual technology for museums, universities, corporate buildings, and retail facilities—was chosen as both the project consultant and the technology integrator.

“Serving as both the client’s consultant and systems integrator meant that not only did we need to specify the equipment, but that we would be responsible to install it and maintain it,” says Glenn Polly, the integrator’s president and owner. “VideoSonic’s responsibility was to interpret a very loosely defined operational specification from the content producer, and locate and then integrate the hardware and systems that could support the functionality for the visitor’s experience.”

Tables and Walls

Visitors to the center soon encounter exotic video technology, starting with GestureTek ’s touch-sensitive object-recognition engine, which is manifested in three tabletop display housings that were custom-manufactured for VideoSonic. Beneath the display screens are projectiondesign F10 high-definition WUXGA 1920x1200-resolution DLP projectors, configured for a 16:10 aspect ratio. While GestureTek’s screens are found in museums and other facilities around the world, Polly says that this is the first time the system has incorporated both finger-sensitivity and object-recognition capabilities.

Riding on GestureTek’s engine is a Flash program created by Jake Barton at Local Projects in New York. The program is based on Google Earth software that allows visitors to self-navigate a tour of the city on the screen, choosing museums, restaurants, clubs, and other sights by using an active “puck” that will log each choice. The content is actually pulled from a database maintained by NYC & Company, whose staff enters information related to events, openings, restaurants, shopping, theaters, and transportation that appears as responses to a visitor’s selection.

“Multitouch tracking has only been around a few years, and there’s no operating system specific for it,” says Ed Betts, director of business development for GestureTek, who adds that much of the engine runs on open-source technology.

Installation Profile: NYC Inc.

Apr 14, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Smart screen technology greets global visitors at the Big Apple information center.

Three high-definition WUXGA 1920x1200-resolution DLP projectors are configured for a 16:10 aspect ratio for tabletop touchscreens running GestureTek’s touch-sensitive object-recognition engine. Riding on the GestureTek engine is a Flash program based on Google Earth software that allows visitors to self-navigate a tour of the city on the screen. Visitors can then print out a custom itinerary or send it to their cell phone as email or SMS text.

The puck is then taken to one of two information pylons loaded with a GestureTek object-recognition camera that reads the bar-coded data from the puck. One pylon generates an itinerary that can be printed out or sent wirelessly to a visitor’s phone or PDA as email or SMS text. The second pylon will replay the itinerary on 4x4 videowall, composed of 16 Salitek Orion MIS-4230 42in. 640x480 plasma screens that project a single image at a cumulative 1920x2460 resolution. Each individual monitor is mounted on a custom RPV swing mount to facilitate rear-panel access for servicing; the mount also provides fine-tune movement adjustments to achieve the seamless effect.

Another bank of video displays make up the FAQ stations. These are four 32in. Sharp Aquos LC-32D64U LCD screens that were sent to CyberTouch, a custom screen fabricator in Newbury Park, Calif., to have touchscreen functionality fitted to the displays.

“At the time, last June, no one was making widescreen touchscreens in a resolution higher than 1280x768,” Polly says. “We needed higher-resolution touchscreens, so we had CyberTouch custom integrate these for us.” The touch functionality comes from a thin film bonded to the display with a USB control cable connecting it back to the pylon.

Polly says he had used GestureTek’s finger-sensitive touchscreens before, and once the company confirmed it could combine that and the object-recognition feature, it made for an irresistible turnkey solution.

“I knew that GestureTek’s gesture interface could be incorporated into a touchscreen-type table, and that they have made several tables using this technology, and through earlier conversations, I knew that GestureTek was also working with object-recognition technology,” he says. “I approached GestureTek with the parameters and other information that I had about the content software, and asked them to take a crack at perhaps delivering the final product. I knew that part of the engine was already developed by GestureTek, and since they already had a head start on the object recognition, we could pretty much quantify what custom software development was required to finalize the product.”


Two Bose FreeSpace DS100S surface-mount loudspeakers are installed in the soffits on either side and on the sides of the videowall, augmented by a surface-mount Bose FreeSpace 3-II Acoustimass FS3B subwoofer. These make up a full-range system for music and effects from the program audio loaded on the hard drives in the control room. Four more Bose DS100S loudspeakers are ceiling-mounted for paging and background music applications.

Each of the GestureTek interactive tables has a Tannoy Di5 loudspeaker above it, embedded in an architectural detail in the shape of an “I” (for “information”). These produce beeps and other sound effects that act as cues as users scroll through the maps on the tables.

The FAQ video displays each use a specialized SonicBeam 24 mini line array from Brown Innovations. Each array is wall-mounted next to a display.

“The line arrays are the best choice for this situation because they’re very good at keeping the audio tightly focused on the person at that screen,” Polly says.

Installation Profile: NYC Inc.

Apr 14, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Smart screen technology greets global visitors at the Big Apple information center.

Wiring, Control, and Content

“I’m a big fan of AV over Cat-5,” Polly says, enumerating the various cabling for all of the systems.

Four strands—one each for audio, video, Ethernet, and serial control—are run in plenum and come to each AV point in the facility. One exception is the FireWire bus that runs fiber-optic cable from the cameras inside the GestureTek displays to the back of the house racks. Since signal strength limits the FireWire to a relatively short run, it’s converted to run on fiber-optical cabling with Gefen CAB-2LC-300 fiber-optic transceivers. (All of the high-resolution video is run to the displays using a Magenta Research UTR transmitter and receiver baluns.) The Cat-5 cables are terminated to a Hellermann Tyton 50-4405, 48-point, Cat-5 patch panel inside a 44-space Middle Atlantic MRK-4436 patch-bay rack. Baluns are also used to convert analog audio to run on the Cat-5 cable.

The video’s high resolution called for DVI and HDMI connectors, necessitating a handshake between the HDCP source and the display’s digital identification code. That would need to take place at every cycle, so Magenta Research baluns were used to essentially fool the display into sensing that a source was constantly engaged.

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The control room is centered on a Crestron Pro 2 processor with Crestron’s C2ENET-2 dual-port Ethernet card and a CN-PWS75 power supply. The Crestron control’s RoomView software is programmed to run a system diagnostic check during each automated on/off cycle, can send malfunction alerts, and can be updated via an Internet connection.

Video content is stored on a server with two 160GB hard drives and 4GB of RAM. The large storage size was dictated by both the high-definition nature of the video and the interactivity features.

On another content note, in a city as densely packed with restaurants, shops, theaters, and other tourist destinations, some kind of hierarchical method had to be applied to determine which locations would show up onscreen. The solution is a proprietary search-engine-optimization algorithm, which is not surprising given Google’s involvement in the center.

The center’s technology complement is complex and edgy. VideoSonic has a two-year maintenance contract with NYC & Company for the systems. (NYC & Company is responsible for maintaining the databases and content.) Polly says he’s scheduling periodic routine maintenance visits to the site rather than waiting for an emergency call.

“Much of this is very new technology, and we don’t completely know what we’re up against yet,” he says. “There was no way to completely pretest all the components together.”

Budgeting for systems and components was also a challenge for the $1.8 million project, which is expected to host more than 100,000 visitors a year.

“The budgets for items such as touchscreen monitors, videowall monitors, audio system, and computers were tangible,” Polly says. “The tables were a challenge to budget given the little information I had related to the software and the parameters given for table size, image resolution, and duty were set [at a] high notch. GestureTek was able to provide us with a firm [quote] for the tables and also provide the technicians to set them up and get them on line.”

For a city whose mayor is Michael Bloomberg, a name synonymous with corporate communication (he also presided over the official opening in January), the New York City Information Center is exactly the kind of room you would want to walk into when visiting New York.

In Conference

The New York City Information Center doubles as a variably configurable space for announcements or press conferences.

A podium is positioned near the videowall, offering a nice over-the-shoulder angle for custom video programs for corporate or political announcements and press conferences. Conference-application audio is provided by a Shure ULXP24/SM86 wireless microphone system and a wireless lavalier system using a Shure WL185 microphone and a ULX1 belt-pack transmitter. A MX418 podium microphone on a gooseneck was added to the podium as well. The audio from the podium and wireless systems have a splitter wired inside the podium that will let news crews tap directly into the audio feed from those systems. —D.D.

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