In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Robert Schoneman, Special Events and Projects Manager at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina about their large scale digital signage project. Joining the discussion is Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision in Shawnee, Kansas. The company completed a new interactive kiosk in the Blumenthal Center’s Spirit Square.
Links of Interest:
- The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Rise Vision in Shawnee, Kansas creating innovative digital signage platforms
- LG Commercial Lite LED displays used in the project
- Panasonic AW-HE40 HD PTZ Camera
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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision and Robert Schoneman of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. You can find show notes and product links for this one at svconline.com.
The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina has transformed their signage using LG Commercial Lite TVs in the Belk Theater lobby and an interactive kiosk in their Spirit Square. The Blumenthal Center’s Robert Schoneman and Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision are here to give us the story. Coming right up on the SVC Podcast.
Robert and Ryan, great to have you both here. Robert, Special Events and Projects Manager, tell us about the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. I’ve seen some pictures of this place and it really looks fantastic.
Robert: Thanks, yeah. We appreciate that. We are, both a facility that bears our name and also a multi-venue operator so in this case we’re talking about the lobby of our Belk Theater, which is one of the three venues that’s in our facility here in Charlotte. [Timestamp: 1:13]
And you have had for a while now a substantial digital signage upgrade going on in the theater lobby and that has taken you from using a lot of print sources to a more modern system. So what were the primary goals of this signage upgrade project? What did you want to do with it?
Robert: We did. We replaced print signage as well as DVD’s that we were using to show promotional material. So the goal was to make it for the bars and concession areas to have digital signage displays where our staff – the bar staff, the front-line staff – would actually be able to update the available inventory for the bars that day. So as they run out of things or as they change things they would be able to show that in real time on the screens, and for our marketing department to be able to show promotional videos in the lobby without having to burn DVD’s and cart them around to all the various different facilities. And to move to HD; because we were using DVD’s we were in standard def. So the goal in all of that being to improve the customer experience to make it easier for people to see their choices when they’re standing in line for concessions, to give people the opportunity to see other shows that are coming to either the venue that they’re in presently or one of the other facilities that we operate. [Timestamp: 2:27]
And as you mentioned, saving tons of time for people trying to burn DVDs and running around changing printed signs. I’ve seen pictures of it and the LG monitors look great the way they were placed and I’m sure the theater visitors are going to get a much better experience out of that. I want to bring Ryan Cahoy in here, Managing Director with Rise Vision in Shawnee, Kansas. Ryan, I’m curious about the relationship here. How long has Rise Vision and the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center been working together? How did Rise Vision get started on this project?
Ryan: You know, I believe they’ve been using us since early 2014. And to be honest, at Rise we really didn’t have that much involvement in the initial evaluation, selection and when they started deploying. And the beauty of our system is anyone can create and account and register displays and start building content without any involvement from us. So the most important thing is the do-it-yourself types. People like Robert that roll up their sleeves, start working with the software, seeing what’s possible. So really, all the kudos for deploying this goes to Robert and his team. [Timestamp: 3:26]
We’re going to be getting into how they did that and that’s one of the most interesting parts of this whole story. When you see the Blumenthal Center there are windows everywhere. During the day it’s got to be very bright in there so what is the ambient light situation in the theater lobby area? That must have been something of a challenge for your technical team in placing those displays.
Robert: There’s quite a wide variety of light environments. We have displays that are set back inside a concession pod where there’s not a huge amount of ambient light, and we have displays that are mounted to a white wall in a lobby that has an entire wall facing out on the street of glass and a glass dome. So the light levels vary quite a bit. [Timestamp: 4:08]
I would think that you would have to be very careful in mounting the displays to keep the reflections and viewing angles in mind especially with the difference in night lighting and the change in sun angles during the day.
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously one of the big considerations, especially for what we’re trying to do, was we want to make sure people can see it. We want it to be visible. If you’re standing in line to get something at a concession stand we want to be sure you can see it before you get to the front of the line so you’ve already made your selection. We want you to be able to see our marketing materials while you’re in the lobby without having to be right on top of the display. [Timestamp: 4:41]
And these were all LG Commercial Lite displays which seem to have hit the spot with your team. Did you use a lot of different sizes on those?
Robert: Yeah. The LG displays, the Commercial Lite displays, really hit the sweet spot for us as far as the feature set. We’re using displays in that space from the 47-49 inch range all the way up to, I believe, 60. [Timestamp: 5:01]
Your visitors, especially when there’s a big crowd, aren’t going to be standing right in front of each monitor so the viewing angle on these must have been a primary factor in what you finally decided to use.
Robert: Yeah, absolutely.
Did you go through a long selection process for the displays or did you know pretty much what you wanted from the beginning just by looking at the specs?
We had some experience with some other displays from other large manufacturers. And for this application we knew that we needed a specific price point and we needed a specific cabinet appearance, and we needed them to be readily available in different sizes with a common control set. So those requirements on top of just the specification requirements we had really left us with one available choice and that was the LG displays. We never actually demoed any of them, though. It was bought sight-unseen just based on specs. [Timestamp: 5:53]
I use them myself and they do work well and I’ve found them to be very dependable. Once you got the monitors up that was only half the battle. Ryan, Rise Vision was called in to help set up in particular the Spirit Square kiosk. Has this project been fairly representative of the way you usually approach things?
Ryan: Every project has got a little bit different requirements depending on their content and what they need to do. In this case the initial setup of things for the basic content, like the menu boards and that, was all done by Robert and their team. We weren’t too involved in that. Where we kind of came to the forefront of this project was after a couple of years of using our free platform, the team at Blumenthal came to us with a sketch of what they needed; some interactive content. So they engaged our creative design team to build out an interactive experience for the Spirit Square to honor some local artists. So our creative team, once they got engaged they did a few wire frames and some mockups to capture the design, and then we built all the content out in HTML. So our role was simply to take their vision and then translate that into something that worked well on a touch-interactive screen. [Timestamp: 6:57]
That’s a remarkable process when you begin the creative interaction with a client and figure out not only what they say they want but exactly how they want it. You really have to be able to translate the visualization of how all of this is really going to look. Robert, what types of sources are available on those lobby monitors? Do you do promos of upcoming events and that sort of thing?
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. All the displays can show any of the players that are showing content, but primarily the displays show concessions menus, a live feed from the theater, or a promotional video loop of upcoming events. [Timestamp: 7:32]
How do you do the live feed from the theater? I thought I saw on one of the videos a camera mounted toward the back of the house.
Robert: We have a Panasonic HD PTZ camera that we use and that sends an HDSDI signal out, which we convert into our modulated video system and that distributes the signal out into the displays. [Timestamp: 7:55]
Do you also send any audio at all on any of the system sources?
Robert: We do. We have audio embedded on some of the channels in the QAM modulated system, not all of them. And in some applications we’re de-embedding the audio to peel it off to external speakers or distributed speaker systems. In other cases it’s actually coming out of the speakers in the TV’s. [Timestamp: 8:12]
And where is the control point for all of this? I would think everything is arranged in one central secure place and what sort of control system do you use for this?
Robert: Yeah. So all the players and the modulators and everything are all in the head end, which is in a room on the other side of the facility. What are we using for control?
Right something like Extron, Crestron, AMX, something like that?
Robert: We’re actually using a system called Display Express. It’s an innovative product we sort of came about by accident, but the really cool thing about it is it sends the control signals as a channel over the modulated video feed. So there’s a low-frequency channel that’s inserted into the QAM modulated video system and that channel carries the RS-232 control data. And then there’s just a little box you stick behind each display that peels off that channel and converts it from modulated serial, if you will, back to a DB9 RS-232 connection. So the cost of entry there is exceptionally low. It’s very easy to deploy because you don’t have to home-run anything to all of the displays. So we just loop RG-11 or RG-6 to call the display end points and then put the necessary terminations behind them and put these little addressable boxes in and that’s all there is to it. The front and to it exposes itself as a web page so there’s just a rack-mount server machine in our room and you can control it from an iPhone, an iPad, laptop – whatever you want. It has presets to turn the displays on, change the channels, change the volume, do other things. [Timestamp: 9:43]
And we’re going to get more into the mechanics of the installation because one of the most interesting things about this to me on the nuts and bolts side of it is the fact that your technical team did all of this in-house.
I know that must have been a big challenge just scheduling it around all of the events and things. We’ll get into more details that next week in Part 2. Ryan, I know Rise Vision did an interactive kiosk in Spirit Square and we’ll talk about how that came along. It’s great having both of you here and I can’t wait to hear more about all this next week.
Good to have you here today with Robert Schoneman and Ryan Cahoy. Show notes for the podcasts are on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com. Get back with us next week to hear the rest of the story on the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s digital signage transformation. That’s on the next SVC Podcast.