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Video Signage at Cowboys Stadium

It’s the most overwhelming video venue in all of sports. The Dallas Cowboys Stadium with a huge midfield screen, nearly a mile of ribbon display, and motion graphics to delight fans and the TV audi 6/14/2012 6:18 AM Eastern

Video Signage at Cowboys Stadium

Jun 14, 2012 10:18 AM, With Bennett Liles




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It’s the most overwhelming video venue in all of sports. The Dallas Cowboys Stadium with a huge midfield screen, nearly a mile of ribbon display, and motion graphics to delight fans and the TV audience. ANC Sports just completed the huge video display upgrade and CTO Mark Stross here to take us behind the scenes, coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

Mark thanks for being with us on the SVC Podcast. This is a great opportunity to get behind the scenes in the Cowboys Stadium. Everybody’s seen the place and the digital video displays just knock you over. There’s so much going on its just incredible. But before we get into all of that, first of all, what does ANC Sports do and how did you get into this massive video display upgrade at the Cowboys Stadium?

ANC is a multi media solution provider and throughout North America we actually put in advertising, we develop content, we actually mount LED DLP LCD screens, we build giant HD video screens with our partners like Mitsubishi and our aspect of the build is actually to provide the software so it’s really nice to be in our specialty in Sports because what we actually pride ourselves on is we take over the mission critical element and the mission critical element is being able to have the produced content, the statistics, the score, the game prompts all to go out to all the displays and coexist always in the singular moment and when you think about it ANC has actually developed systems in software that actually allow us to really be in the forefront of the game though we add our magic to what the vendors like Mitsubishi do to building the largest video screens in the world. We try to create the most versatile open-ended software to make these things run.

And what was going on with the upgrade? I know they already had a fabulous place there so what did the Cowboys Stadium need more than what they already had going for them?

That’s a really good question and I would say the first thing the Dallas Cowboy Stadium had going for it was vision. The second most interesting nugget was they brought together partners that were able to do their thing extremely well and what we did is we lit up very long distance video boards and we made sure that all the systems ran, that there was no interference, no glitching and more importantly everything was incredibly crisp and sharp and beautiful to watch. So from our prospective what ANC brought to the table and why this was challenging was the distances.

That’s a huge place, just the scale of it is fantastic. My first thought would have been, how do we get all this done within the allotted time, so was this a hurry up or what was the timeframe on getting it all done?

It’s always hurry up, when you’re given a project like the Dallas Cowboys and you said go you always worry and you always start doing lots and lots of pre-preparation and then a lot of second guessing and then re-preparation to make sure that you get it right. What was interesting about the Cowboys is we were using our greater partner Mitsubishi and when you have their expertise in the manufacturing and the construction of video boards and you bring together our ability to help them mount it and what I mean by mound is actually get the content to the boards and in addition to that provide the synchronicity between all the elements of the score, to the main video board and also to the fascia systems and the outlying boards. What really comes into focus is the scope and each partner had to bring a tremendous amount of expertise to each portion of the scope.

And of course, one of the big jobs here and maybe the primary problem was the distances involved in sending high-def video. Right, I mean we have an LED boards that’s over 4,000 linear ft. long. When you think of aspect ratio of 38 pixels by 14,000 it kind of boggles the mind that’s a very thin slither or a ribbon that you’re drawing a contiguous video signal on and our software is able to do it by utilizing a tremendous amount of memory and a tremendous amount of resource and that’s one of the reasons we started to implement a 64 bit operating system is to be able to handle these extreme distances and for us, staying ahead is not just coming out with software that serves one client extremely well but to try to service our unique clients with their needs better than anyone else. It’s hard, sometimes the outcome can be frustrating but what is neat is when you finally bring it together and you take that frustration and turn it into a compromised synergy of effort. What I’ve seen happen in these stadium projects is magic because what you find along the way is there’s sometimes things you just can’t do and what I love is once you’ll identify that then you’ll try to push around that item until you finally achieve it.

The 4 thousand linear foot ribbon display is one of the big attractions. Now what sort of content do you show on that?

Well game prompts, advertising and then of course fan prompting, spectacular pieces that integrate with the main video board and also we’ll try to gain the attention of the crowd and when you have a synchronized event, especially in all the boards, and you specifically see it in all of your peripheral vision it scoops you in. You immediately watch and what I think what is neat about the Dallas Cowboys our experience is they’ve got you exactly where they want you and you’re transfixed to the whole visual experiment of having boards literally in every portion of the building. It’s an amazing place to go and visit and to watch a game. It‘s also amazing because I think you are forced to watch because of the grandeur and the spectacle of that.

I would think that a huge problem for content producers is just coordinating that much square footage of display space and having the right things showing at the right time.

You need to learn on these projects what content will look best on those boards. If you think about it when you’ve got something that large sometimes content that will work on a small television screen just will not work on a big board so it is interesting to watch the producers and the directors in the control room learn how to actually minimize and to maximize different items on their boards to achieve the same feel that you would have at home if you were watching a television set and what people don’t realize is the larger something is the production needs to shift and change because the eye can’t actually scan all of it. So what’s been interesting is watching the changes in how shows are produced for that aspect ratio and for the mere size of something like the Dallas Cowboys.


Video Signage at Cowboys Stadium

Jun 14, 2012 10:18 AM, With Bennett Liles




And just getting the video signal to that many places over such long distances is a big job so why did you decide on the Gefen DVI and USB fiber-optic extenders. That’s a very competitive field so had you used those before?

It’s a very competitive field and there are other vendors. Gefen has always worked with us very, very closely and that’s been important when we first was starting out there was lots of things we didn’t know and we had no expertise in and when we went to Gefen they explained their products and they allowed us to do things that we formerly could not have done, the extension of everything from keyboards, mics to signals to processors has all become longer, more complicated and more vital. A lot of teams today are putting their computers behind walls in other rooms and just want the control areas to be in a completely separate area. With that kind of complexity you then need to come up with devices that will actually separate those signals and allow you to also see exactly what you would if that PC monitor were in a traditional set up and Gefen really comes through for us.

And you were using the Gefen KVM matrix switchers to make that happen, too.

Yes and that’s part of our back up system too which is important. When we have failures our system is able to use switch over to another computer and instantly takeover. That’s important and as you can imagine really failure’s not an option when you’re at the Cowboys.

On these live sports broadcasts there’s a lot going on and there’s a lot at stake so you’ve gotta have a good backup for everything.

Yes you do.

Everybody who has seen televised games there is curious about this. That huge scoreboard display that hangs over the middle of the field. Have you been inside that thing?

No, I wish I had. This is what I can tell you, I have seen it on the ground, I have been able to walk up to it when it was on the ground and look up into it but I was never in it. All I’m going to say is its vast and when you’re underneath it you feel very small.

I saw the pictures taken during the installation when they were about to lift it and it was like hoisting a battleship up to the top of the stadium. What a monumental job just getting that thing up there without damaging something.

One thing I want to say that’s interesting is when Mitsubishi was designing this board and everything about it was a first, it was interesting just hearing about some of their discussion about how to weight the cranes and to pre-weight the actual board so that way the mantle would be bowed in the correct degrees so that they could put the faceplates on the boards and everything would stay structurally sound but more importantly not move so that they are misaligned modules and because of the grandeur of the board you can imagine some of the complexities of the simplest problems that we’ve taken for granted because we’ve done many, many times over now become more complicated. So just weighing down the board before lifting was more challenging.

Just like pulling a huge multi-ton puzzle to the roof and hoping that all the pieces stay in place while it gets up there.

Exactly.

Everybody knows the stadium’s been there for a while. It wasn’t a right off the floor new construction so were you working with existing cabling, putting in all new lines or a mix of both?

Well it was brand new construction and the truth is we were working with many different vendors. We were working with some of the Mitsubishi vendors, some of our own vendors and subcontractors to bring in to do wiring so the cable runs were done by many different vendors and the reason is, and you can probably appreciate this, there were some runs that were made for different reasons and multi-purposed. When you’re building something this complicated as this building a lot of your decisions get changed along the way to compromise with other peoples plans.


Video Signage at Cowboys Stadium

Jun 14, 2012 10:18 AM, With Bennett Liles




And one of the more intriguing parts of this that we touched on before is the control aspect of it. I can’t even imagine what the learning curve must be on just mastering the equipment. What’s the advantage of having the 64-bit VisionSoft operating system at the stadium?

You know, it’s interesting. You’re never going to please everyone and VisionSoft is a 3D representation of a stadium so when you’re actually running VisionSoft you can actually project onto 3D little objects the preview of what you’re actually running and this allows you as an operator to always keep your eyes on the ball so our system’s a little bit different than other peoples because we actually allow you to see what’s going on and you’re always can see your playlist even if they’re in the Z axis which would be in distance so they would be maybe tucked away in the background and with transparencies you will always see your work. When we designed this system what we realized is as we put in more and more boards the operator was not able to keep their eyes on all the displays and more importantly they needed to have a confidence monitor to know those displays were firing so in VisionSoft we are patent pending on certain technologies that we use to actually bring that confidence information back on to a 3D plane and so that way the operator would know that, yes his machine is firing, and that’s very helpful knowing that the board’s are lit up so when we designed VisionSoft we really tried to go in a very different direction and it’s been neat to watch it being adapted and see how many video boards people are running with it and also knowing that the system has grown because of the 64 bit memory usage and we’re able to truly run clips that other competitors truly just can’t run and we’re always constantly striving to improve the amount of resolution VisionSoft can run to. So all in all, the 3-dimensional interface, the concept of being able to see your preview and know that’s actually running on your other computers in the stadium and in addition to that all the statistics, the stats, all the inputs that VisionSoft can run our system is really just an incredibly expandable cool visualization tool for the operator to actually run a game and know what he’s running.

You’ve had the chance to install it and watch it work. Has that given you any ideas for future versions or system upgrades?

Well absolutely, one of the coolest parts of being in technology is that you are pushed by the market and by seeing what other people are doing, not just your competitors but in general the whole technology market place so for me I’m excited we are working on a brand new front ended interface so we’re going to be upgrading the 3D system to a newer form of visualization surface. I think that going forward we are going to see VisionSoft become more and more useful. We have a character generation module right now that’s coming out that is extremely powerful and we’re going to be adding video inputs, we’ve not rushed into the marketplace like, again, our competitors have in that way because we wanted to make our system open ended and then bring in video in an open ended way and we’re going to bring in video exactly the same way we’ve done the content on the fascia system keeping it really flexible and realizing we have no idea what the top end of video resolution will be in the future therefore we’ve got to from the design from the get-go thinking ten years ahead figure out what is the most open ended way to do this. So very, very exciting developments in the VisionSoft in fact, a little bit of self-promotion but next week I will be going to Italy to be honored by the International Stadium Business Awards and VisionSoft has been nominated as the top—in one of the top five finalists for product innovation. I don’t know if we’ve won yet, it would be nice to win but more importantly what an honor to be one of the finalists and I think for ANC it proves the point that we’re striving to be excellent.

Absolutely and it’s great when the experts in the field take notice of all the work you’ve done. Now with something that complex, how difficult is it to learn to operate the control of it all. Is there some kind of apprentice period for the operators?

You know not really, VisionSoft is designed to allow people to pick it up within two to four hours the basic VisionSoft. The complexity comes in when you start building and designing the complex scripts to do the complicated linkages between video boards and that’s done at the onset and then once you actually have your scripts built for VisionSoft which is where things go on all of your stat systems the system is really just a playlist building infrastructure where you build your playlist, you decide if they’re going to be in batches and batches allow you to group playlists together and then you have incredibly cool tools within the batches that allow you, for example, to interrupt what you’re watching and then come back to exactly where you went out of. So let’s say for example you’re doing advertising you go to a fan prompt, you come back from the fan prompt, the advertising starts exactly where you left off. Those are the kind of cool features that VisionSoft and its batch system has, I believe, excelled in providing our customers with additional perks and features. At the end of it VisionSoft is very flexible and moving forward VisionSoft, I believe, has one challenge which is how do we meet the ever shrinking pixel. What that means is as the pixel shrinks in size the resolution and demand of VisionSoft increases exponentially and that means we’ve got to be always thinking about the evolutionary step because when I started an indoor fascia system was around 22-23 mm. and then it went down to 16 and now we’re talking about 8 mil or 6 mil and then eventually we’re going to get down to what? 1 mil?

Tremendous just thinking of all the possibilities and what it’s all going to look like for the fans and the TV viewers.

I mean it should be literally, we’re going to get to a point where we’re going to be able to put up the sods on buildings and completely shift their design and it will look so photo-realistic that it might as well be the real thing and we are marching towards that and its software packages like VisionSoft in the forefront of figuring out how you make that stuff work.

Well, now we’ve got electronic architecture and electronic acoustics. It’s been a fantastic story to read about and I’m sure it was great being right there in the middle of it. Mark Stross from ANC Sports, thanks for being here to tell us about it.

Thank you very, very and this was a pleasure to actually be able to discuss one of the most exciting projects I have ever worked on and what is nice about it is it’s a legacy piece that I will be able to tell my children about and it took a team of people and a very dedicated team of people that I have worked with from Mitsubishi to Jerry Cifarelli who is our CEO and our founder who basically had the vision to bring together such a crack team to be able to take on such challenges and from my prospective VisionSoft has been a real dream to be able to work on and actually bring forward so thank you for the privilege of telling you about the Cowboys and what ANC did.


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