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Case Study: ASTROLab, Québec

ASTROLab, an astronomy activity center located at the Mont-Mégantic National Park in southern Québec, has built a new 12G-SDI AV and streaming workflow, demonstrating how tech can complement national park guest experiences and provide outreach beyond the park’s borders. The new workflow powers ASTROLab’s daily science presentations in its interactive theater, allowing them to live stream the presentations to audiences around the world.

The custom 4K installation was designed by Solotech, a systems integrator well known for its work with Céline Dion, Justin Timberlake, Cirque du Soleil, Centre Vidéotron, Staples Center, Bridgestone Arena and more. Located in the world’s first protected IDA Dark Sky Reserve, designated for its exceptional quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment, the ASTROLab is a 95-seat auditorium and astronomy activity center. Presentations are projected on a 27’ by 18’ screen and cover a range of topics such as cosmology, space exploration, light pollution and more. To support these, the ASTROLab uses ATEM Production Studio 4K, Smart Videohub 12G 40×40, HyperDeck Studio 12G, Blackmagic Web Presenter, two Blackmagic eGPUs and 16 Teranex Mini converters.

ASTROLab presentations require two presenters on stage at the same time. The main presenter walks the audience through the given topic, while the second operates a panel powered by the Blackmagic system that controls all the lighting, sound and video projections in real time. “While the presentations are scripted, we encourage audience participation and questions. With the ATEM Production Studio 4K and Smart Videohub 12G 40×40, we’re able to instantly adjust the images to reflect impromptu conversation within a matter of seconds, just by clicking a button,” said Guillaume Poulin, one of the ASTROLab’s senior presenters.

“Switching from one HDMI signal to another would take a lot more time and the result wouldn’t be as smooth. Having the Smart Videohub 12G 40×40 at the SDI level allows us to operate the theater even faster.”

Since the images and video are projected on such a large screen, it’s critical for the ASTROLab’s content to run at 12G-SDI 4K at 60 frames per second for a smooth and comfortable viewing experience. To achieve this, the ASTROLab team incorporated two Blackmagic eGPUs into the theater control panel, one for each computer, to output two signals in 4K at 60 frames per second. Additionally, the Blackmagic eGPUs improve graphics performance and accelerate computational tasks, which is beneficial for maintaining instant seamless transitions. Separately, all video inputs get converted to 12G-SDI with the Teranex Minis.

Poulin explained, “Prior to implementing Blackmagic Design, our real technical challenge was getting content projected on the screen in 4K at 60 frames per second. This is particularly important for astronomy footage. Attempting to achieve this with any other gear was a strain both technically and financially.”

According to Ghislain Veronneau, technical project manager, Solotech, “One of the biggest challenges we faced was projecting multiple video sources in 12G-SDI 4K at 60 FPS. We also needed to facilitate completely fluid cross fades on demand on a massive screen. In addition to these technical parameters, it was imperative to maintain a budget that the client was comfortable with. We were able to deliver a custom budget-conscious solution of incredible quality for ASTROLab. The final on-screen rendering that we were able to achieve is remarkable.”

Further expanding their reach, the ASTROLab leverages a Blackmagic Web Presenter to bring live presentations into classrooms around the world via video conference. “The ATEM Production Studio 4K’s picture in picture viewing allows us to show the presenter talking in the upper corner while the image currently being shown in the auditorium can be viewed full screen by the students,” said Poulin

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