Install of the Month

When Dharma Master Hsin Tao envisioned the Museum of World Religions more than ten years ago, he imagined a public sanctuary that would celebrate the
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Install of the Month

Jan 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Bryan Hinckley

When Dharma Master Hsin Tao envisioned the Museum of World Religions more than ten years ago, he imagined a public sanctuary that would celebrate the world's many religions while using technology to reach young people. To fulfill his dream, Hsin Tao chose Ralph Applebaum Associates, Electrosonic Systems, Donna Lawrence Productions, as well as Maltbie Associates as the U.S. architects, A/V system designers, media producers, and exhibit fabricators. With the help of local contractors, their museum expertise combined the Western museum style with Taiwanese traditions.

Located outside Taipei, the Museum of World Religions attracts visitors looking for an unbiased view on the many religious traditions practiced throughout the world. Juxtaposed against the antique museum artifacts, contemporary museum technology exemplifies the museum's motto, “Respect for all faiths, tolerance for all cultures, love for all life.”

To meet the technology requirements and support the museum's motto, Electrosonic designed an A/V system distinct to Taiwan. To aid with installation, translation, and procurement, the company teamed up with Nico Technologies, a local A/V systems integrator. Apart from the language and cultural barriers, the construction of the facility was one of the job's biggest challenges. The Taiwanese contractors weren't used to Western building practices. For example, the museum includes the first terrazzo floor in Taiwan.

The guest experience begins with a short multimedia elevator ride. People travel down the entry corridor into the Golden Lobby, where they are introduced to symbols of the various religions featured in the museum. The Golden Lobby leads to the 120-seat Creation Theater, home to Origins, a film created by Donna Lawrence Productions in the United States. The theater is the first example of using projection technology to tell the story of ancient traditions that form the basis for all modern religions.

The Creation Theater consists of a 20-foot-wide Stewart screen, and architectural acoustic panels hide the EAW speakers that produce a 5.1 audio experience. An Electrosonic SD video server provides NTSC S-video to a Christie Vista X5 DLP projector. Because the project was so far away, the show track was not mixed in the theater. A Lexicon DC-2THX takes the stereo audio feed from the SD video server and digitally creates a 5.1 surround-sound experience. Operators activate the show through an AMX touch panel that interfaces with an Electrosonic ESCAN, which is the museum's system controller.

After the Origins film, guests exit below the Creation Theater screen and enter the Journey of Life hall. Panasonic LT-711XU projectors display the five stages of life — birth, youth, middle age, old age, and death — on curved fiberglass sections of a sphere. The deeply curved screens, each about eight feet wide by six feet tall, create a projection surface. The standard Panasonic wide-angle lens provides a long depth of field that avoids any focus issues with the concave screens.

The Journey of Life has five of the museum's 30 interactive displays, consisting of a Microtouch LCD touch screen and two Lift industrial headphones. The interactives led to some major technical challenges for Electrosonic. The engineers did not review Electrosonic's facility conduit requirements, and substantially undersized the conduits. To reduce the cable size, Electrosonic used Cybex Longview Cat-5 extenders to send the VGA video and touch-screen control over Cat-5 cable.

Also, the multimedia producer for the interactive systems was a local Taiwanese software company that required the 30 interactive computers to run a Chinese version of Windows 2000. That created a substantial challenge to the non-Chinese-speaking Electrosonic team that needed to network and load all the software into the computers.

Guests then ascend the stairs to the Great Hall, the main exhibit area that has displays about the world's main religions. Five religion exhibits flank each side of the Great Hall, and each includes religious artifacts and symbols.

Each religion exhibit resides behind floor-to-ceiling glass and is about 18 feet wide by 10 feet tall. A Pioneer RM-2550 folded video wall displays video imagery next to each display. The video towers created another major challenge, because the architects designed the visual imagery to go from floor to ceiling. Because no space was allocated for the CRT engine that resides below the screen in a typical folded cube, Electrosonic inverted the cubes so the CRT pointed down and the fold, now at the top, hid in the ceiling. A custom bracket suspended the resulting inverted video tower and rolled the units out of the way for maintenance.

The ten video towers receive a portion of a 1,080i high-definition signal that is split between five towers. Because the towers are 10 feet high and guests can get within 6 inches of the screens, the highest-quality source image is necessary. The HD is sourced from two Mediasonic MS9200P HD players that are gen-locked together. The 1,080i sources each contain the video for five TV towers and are fed to two Electrosonic Vector image processors that resize and split the signal for each of the 40 video cubes. C-Through software allows pixel control of the distribution, creating a clean split to each tower. A Fostex D-1624 digital-audio multitrack slaves to the HD players through SMPTE time code and plays 12 channels of audio through the ten hidden Tannoy i5 and 20 ceiling speakers in the Great Hall. An interactive station in front of each display lets guests learn even more about the religion.

At the far end of the Great Hall, the Taiwan Religion display includes local religious icons, and a Pioneer plasma screen highlights some of the local religious practices. Throughout the museum, four additional 40-inch Pioneer plasma screens and five more interactive stations display videos and provide information about the museum's activities. Upon leaving the museum, guests can place their hands on two etched-glass handprints. Microtouch Thru-Glass sensors behind the glass send an RS232 trigger to one of the interactive computers, and a farewell blessing is displayed on a 40-inch Pioneer plasma screen above the handprints.

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