On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Jason Ault, COO and co-founder of Coffman Media. The company was chosen to install a 600-module, 50- cabinet unit, 60ft. by 7ft. LG 4mm Direct View LED video wall for video art at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Jason reveals the panel selection and mounting process that was used to deal with widely varying ambient light levels in the hallway where it is located. It is the first installation of its kind in North America.
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At a big convention you’ve got attention grabbers in every direction but the one in the connecting hallway of the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio will stop you in your tracks with a barrage of art in motion. Ambient light levels made it a tricky installation but Coffman Media was up to the task and co-founder Jason Ault is about to tell us how they got it all to work, coming up right now.
Jason it’s good of you to take time to be with us on the podcast today. Nice having you along.
Bennett, thanks for having us on and I look forward to chatting with you.
Okay. We’ve got a big digital signage display project to look at. We’ve been doing a lot of sound systems so this will be a good break for us. This was done at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. A good right-in-the-neighborhood project for your company. So tell us what’s up lately with Coffman Media.
Yeah, absolutely. So Coffman Media was founded in 2010 by myself and two other business partners. And we’re just a leading digital signage solutions provider based here in Dublin, Ohio with a footprint reaching as far as Trinidad Tobago, Jamaica and a lot of places across the United States. Our team focuses on helping clients harness the power of digital signage to connect with their audience, their customers, their clients while simultaneously achieving their goals for their business or organization in the healthcare, corporate communication, quick-service restaurant, education and retail verticals. [Timestamp: 1:49]
All of that experience had you well set up for a strikingly beautiful addition to the Greater Columbus Convention Center. This was just part of a larger renovation for the facility. How big a project was the whole thing?
The overall renovation was right around $140 million and took over three years of design and construction to complete, with the grand opening that happened in August 2017. And as you mentioned, we were a small part of that larger renovation with the Direct View LED video wall. And we did some other digital signage throughout the concourses as well. [Timestamp: 2:23]
And where did Coffman Media come into this whole big process? Was that big video display something they had in mind right from the beginning or did they look around in that hallway and decide they needed something special there?
I think they had the idea from the beginning. One of their board members actually visited the World Trade Center complex mall back in 2016 and visited the 280-foot Direct View LED that was installed there. And he had this idea to install and similar but smaller-scale version of what he saw in the convention center connector hallway, which connects the north and south halls. So from the get-go they wanted to do that. They looked through a lot of different solutions and options, but we were contacted in March of 2017 by Reese Brothers, who is the art curator for the Greater Columbus Convention Center as they were on this quest. And we had met Reese Brothers and couple of years back. They couldn’t find any solution that could meet the quality to be at that 4 millimeter pixel pitch that they saw in New York and also stay within their budget, so that’s when we were engaged and started walking through the process of presenting what we could offer to them. [Timestamp: 3:31]
A very high traffic hallway connecting wings of the building and this thing is huge and impossible to miss. It’s made of 600 display panels and the overall size is something like 60 by 7 feet?
It is. It just came under a couple inches shy of 7 feet tall by 60 feet wide.
And one of the complicating aspects on this is the fact that the other side of that hallway is a complete wall of window that throws in a huge range of ambient light levels.
[Chuckles] Absolutely. The ambient light was going to be a big concern for us. As you mentioned, opposite of the video wall is 100 percent windows, floor to ceiling, and come around 3:00 – because that faces due west – we have sun just beaming onto that video wall. So we had to go with a solution that had enough brightness in mind so we didn’t lose the integrity of the content that was going to be shown on this display. [Timestamp: 4:24]
How far back from the video display can viewers get? This thing is big enough to where you would have to get back some distance to see the whole thing?
Yeah. Optimal viewing distance is four feet or so; three-and-a-half to four feet per pixel or per millimeter of pixel pitch. So optimal viewing distance is right around the 14-15 foot mark. But the hallway is probably 30 feet wide, if not just a little bit wider, so they can get plenty far back enough to where they can see the complete visual, but they can also get very close to it as it within grab of the standard passer-by or child or adult alike. [Timestamp: 5:00]
And what sort of content do they see on this video wall? It’s a convention center so it could be just about anything. It’s mainly sort of a motion art display isn’t it?
It is. They’ve done a really great job. Reese Brothers had this idea to kind of curate all of the physical art that was throughout the facility into a digital format. So a lot of the physical pieces you see throughout the Greater Columbus Convention Center have been digitized in a very unique and engaging way onto the display as well as their partnership through the Trade and Visitors Association Experience Columbus. They also provide some really stellar graphics. And then they’ve contracted with a lot of media companies and the Columbus College of Art and Design has also placed some content on there as well. So they’re using it as a very community-based art display as well as getting into advertising upcoming events and conventions that will be housed at the facility as well. [Timestamp: 5:53]
You knew that the widely-varying ambient light level would be a challenge on this so what sort of display selection process did you go through? Were there a lot of different makes and models considered or did you already have your eye on one product from the start?
Knowing their budget form the very get-go, because they were very transparent in that aspect. We knew that Direct View LED was going to be the route we had to take rather than using a backlit LED/LCD panel to create a tiled video wall. So it was right to the mark taking a look at what pixel pitch can we get close to, and it just so happened that what they saw in New York was a 4 millimeter pixel pitch. And what we could present to them and be under budget was also a 4 millimeter pixel pitch. So we were like-for-like and luckily that LG unit comes in 1,000 nit brightness, so we were able to combat the ambient light concern as well. [Timestamp: 6:44]
And that’s the 4 millimeter LG Direct View LED.
In order for the installation to go quickly a lot of things had to be done to prepare the space. What did you have to do to get the wall ready and the space all set to get all of these things in there?
Yeah, that’s a great question. When we first walked the facility there was a blank white wall. No thoughts of anything else going on there. So first we had to start with once we peeled back the drywall, what are the structural elements behind there that we have to work with? So we had to take a look at putting over 3,500 pounds of display on this wall. Can the integrity of the building support that additional weight? So we had to go through the engineering process and luckily we were able to find out that the beams we were going to be tying into was able to facilitate more than enough weight that we were going to be adding. And then go through bringing in the electrical that’s going to be required to power such a very large display as well. And last, but not least, block out the wall as well, so adding in the plywood backers, if you will, to be able to affix the mounting solution when we got time to install the unit in August 2017. [Timestamp: 7:51]
That’s a lot of weight and a lot of power. Were there already people moving around through this hallway? Was it already open when this was going on?
We were open from start to finish. And in fact, throughout the course of the three-year renovation, the building never lost a beat, never lost a convention during that aspect. So that was a very big tip of the cap to the larger construction crews that were doing a lot of the facility renovations. But we actually built a contractor wall that was about 10 feet deep by 80 feet wide so we could work comfortably within the environments from our electricians and our data folks to our final installers for the display cabinets. [Timestamp: 8:28]
It’s clear that once it was all in and set to go, the hallway got really shined up because when you see it in the images, the floor is so shiny it looks like there’s a twin display down there, too.
[Laughs] Absolutely. They really like that flooring. And that was something we had to be cognizant of, of not marring that, because that was already in place during our final installation. So it is a very well taken care of space and it just turned out phenomenal. [Timestamp: 8:53]
Once the display panels are in and connected, where are they controlled from and what sort of software do they use to create and push content to them?
Sure. The control point is about 30 feet away from the actual video wall itself. That’s where we have a small rack that houses the three LG controllers and a single media player that has three video outputs. The content on the video wall is being powered by our long-standing CMS partner, Signage Live, which gives access to the Greater Columbus Convention Center via any web browser. They can log in and remotely change the content, change schedules, day part, what have you. They’re able to do that from the comfortability of any web browser. [Timestamp: 9:33]
Great project to be a part of and it sure looks fantastic. I’m sure that when people are using that hallway most of them aren’t just passing by but they really can get immersed in this massive motion art presentation. Thanks for telling us about it and next week we’ll get more into mounts and the working metal and using tools part of it. We’ve been talking to Jason Ault, co-founder of Coffman Media and the sixty-foot-wide video art display at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Looking forward to hearing more about it.
Excellent. Thanks, Bennett, for having us, and we look forward to speaking again.
A whole wall of art in motion and it wasn’t as easy to get set up and working as it would appear. Next week Jason will be back with the Peerless AV mounts, the interconnection wiring and how Coffman Media pulled it off with the place open for business the whole time. Get back with us for all of that on the next SVC Podcast.