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Shows on the Road

Five late-model Chevrolets tear around the narrow mountain pass, single file, their wheels flinging bits of gravel over the precipice. Their tires are nearly the size of the spectators, who reflexively step back even though they know it's only a projection.

Shows on the Road

May 1, 2002 12:00 PM,
By Chris Steinwand

Five late-model Chevrolets tear around the narrow mountain pass,single file, their wheels flinging bits of gravel over the precipice.Their tires are nearly the size of the spectators, who reflexively stepback even though they know it’s only a projection.

“High-Def?” asks one spectator.

The booth staffer shakes his head and smiles. “It’sbetter.”

Indeed, it is better. It’s five 50-inch plasma screens, plus a giantLED wall, all perfectly synchronized at 30 frames per second. What’smore, the bandwidth of the material, at 50 MB per second, is nearlythree times that of broadcast high-definition television.

This is the Chevrolet auto show booth, designed by Gail & Rice,Creative Technology and Forest Post Productions and powered by theAlcorn McBride Digital Video Machine HD. The high-tech wonder has beenpacking in crowds at auto trade shows from Los Angeles to Miami and hasproved a cost effective and reliable selling tool for General Motors.Visitors to Chevy’s booth aren’t distracted by grainy video,pixelization or lack of screen synchronization. In fact, the experienceis so much like being there, it has led more than one visitor to askwhether the content was acquired on 35 mm film. It wasn’t; thetrue-to-life imaging is just the perfect blending of high-end video,audio and control technologies.

When the world’s largest automaker does something that grand, peopletake notice, and that is exactly the goal of Chevy’s new HD video wall,traveling across North America during the 2002 auto show season.Visitors to the show are drawn not only to Chevy’s newest cars, butalso to the largest free-standing video display on the show floor,almost 200 square feet of high definition video designed to inform anddazzle.


the design of Chevy’s video display was a large undertaking thatpresented many challenges. The project had three main aspects:producing the content, encoding the HD-MPEG2 and building the displayitself. The companies responsible for producing the video and designingand constructing the booth had to work very closely throughout theentire process to ensure that all of the collateral materials and allthe hardware would be compatible.

GM chose Creative Technology to design and assemble the hardware forthe job. The company’s experience with automotive customers and withcustom LED displays were essential elements, as was their ability tosupport the displays after they were put into use. CreativeTechnology’s task was to design and construct three identical systemswith multiscreen, synchronized high-definition video and audioplayback. Because the auto show is a traveling show, the displays hadto be simple enough to be set up in a single day, and the gear had tobe rugged enough to withstand the rigors of frequent moving. Theoperation of the display needed to be straightforward so people coulduse it without a lot of training. It also had to knock people’s socksoff, performing flawlessly every time.

The basic design and the technical requirements were finalized justthree months before the first show at the Texas State Fair. CreativeTechnology called on the talents of its Los Angeles-based staff: RonRuberman, video engineer; Chris Bennett, LED lead technician; and ChadWilliams, control systems design, integration, programming and IT.

The equipment selection was critical. The components had to berugged, dependable and compatible with each other. As with every otherinstall, cost was an issue. Bennett specified the LED display first, anarray of 24 Lighthouse LVP-1010D LED panels assembled to create the5-by-17-foot display that would attract people to the booth. While thatwas happening, Ruberman and Williams finalized the list of equipmentthat would be used for the rest of the project.

“From the beginning I knew that the Alcorn McBride V 16+ wouldbe my show controller of choice,” said Williams. “I haveused them extensively in the past, and I know that they work.”The V16+ can control just about any serial device, and unlike many showcontrollers, the V 16+ is easy to program and configure.

The next task was to specify the video source. Alcorn McBrideDigital Video Machine/High-Definition (DVM/HD) video servers werechosen. “There aren’t many choices for high-definition serversthat can be trusted in a mobile environment,” said Williams.“Even fewer are down around the $10,000 price range. Anotherconsideration for choosing the Alcorn video servers is [that the]control protocols are built into the V16+.”

As soon as the DVM/HD was chosen, Creative Technology began toproduce drawings, order equipment and start testing. Each system hassix racks full of equipment and uses cables and connectors of thehighest grade. At the back of each rack is a custom breakout panel tomake interconnections easier. The panels are all labeled along with acable loom that takes just a few minutes to hook up. The V16+ seriallycontrols six Alcorn DVM/HDs, an Extron router, a Snell and WilcoxSupervisor L HD and a Shure P4800. The V16+ receives closure inputsfrom an AMX MX16+ remote and the SmartUPS 1400 to start varioussequences. Five DVM/HDs feed video to five Pioneer PDP-502MX 50-inchplasma screens while the sixth unit feeds the giant LED screen.

The system also incorporates equipment for troubleshooting, safetyand maintenance. For example, if there is a power fault, an APCSmartUPS 1400 sends a closure to the V16+, which then stops all of themachines. When power is restored, the V16+ automatically restarts thepresentation.

With such a sophisticated system, there are bound to be someobstacles to overcome. Williams described his experience with theinitial setup. “A few weeks before the Texas State Fairopened…Ron [Ruberman] and Chris [Bennett] informed me that theDVM/HD, outputting 1080i at 29.97 fps, was not compatible with the LEDdisplay, but it looked great on the plasmas,” Williams said.“With a little help from the engineers at Alcorn McBride andSnell & Wilcox, we realized that it was a sync issue. The DVM/HDoutputs trilevel sync while the Supervisor L HD is looking for bilevelsync to lock the video.

“With no fix likely to happen within two weeks, we called AJAto help us get a quick solution. They supplied us with an HD to NTSCconverter, so we had an image on the LED screen by the fair. The onlyproblem was it was not HD, and that was not acceptable.”

Fortunately, the engineers at Creative Technology are experienced inovercoming obstacles, and they were able to come up with a solutionthat allowed the DVM/HD and the LED display to lock together so thatthey could still feed HD to the display. The AJA is now used to downconvert to the preview monitor.

Other equipment in the show booth includes a Video AccessoryCorporation Blackburst Generator, two QSC amplifiers, nineElectro-Voice speakers, an Ikegami 13-inch monitor, a Hewlett-PackardProCurve 12-port switcher and a Stewart mixer.


the filming, editing and encoding for the presentation was all doneby Forest Post Productions in Detroit. Forest Post is one of only ahandful of companies that can shoot, master and encode HD material.Given its location in the motor city, it also does a lot of businessfor automakers.

The show content was acquired in HD using Sony’s Cine-Alta F-900 ata resolution of 1920 by 1080, 24 frames per second. This camera waschosen because, at the time, it was the only camera available thatcould shoot progressively at 24 frames. “We knew from thebeginning that we wanted to shoot HD 24p — it would provide verycrisp imagery and the look that viewers would associate withfilm,” said Kirk Miller, post-production manager at Forest Post.“The CineAlta F-900 did a superb job.”

The video was conformed on an Avid DS/HD, a top digital editingsystem for high-definition video. Most of the HD graphics used wereproduced with Discreet Logic’s Combustion, and the 3-D Chevy bowtielogo was created on 3D Studio Max.

“HD-MPEG2 encoding began in our New Media ServicesDepartment,” Kirk said. “The two-part encoding processincludes a real-time capture of each source as well as a hardware-basedaudio/video mix of the files. When encoding is complete, each stream isquality checked on Alcorn McBride’s HD Digital Video Server to ensureoptimum playback. The files are then cascaded across a series of sixremovable hard drives for delivery to Creative Technology.”

To increase productivity and provide greater delivery options,Forest Post purchased an extra set of six hard drives for the DVM/HD.They are used for rapidly updating content on each of the threetraveling tech walls at special venues and the auto show circuit. Whennew or revised content becomes available, Forest Post appends itsdrives with a complete series of revised files, then ships that set toChevy’s location on the road. Creative Technology sends back the olddrive set to Forest Post where it is mirrored with the revisedprogramming and made current. It is then sent back to the remotelocation and swapped out with the Forest Post drive set. Thisredundancy process makes it possible to keep all three shows up andrunning without incurring downtime for content revisions oradditions.

Forest Post Productions uses real-time HD capturing hardware andsoftware to encode HD-video with embedded audio to guaranteeaudio-video sync in the HD-MPEG2 streams. The process includes dualprime field and frame motion estimation along with zig-zag DCT scan,scene change detection and EDL import, resulting in an extremelyhigh-quality HD-MPEG2 encoding with a great deal of control.

A lot of technology and many people are working together to bringthis presentation to life. Normally a complex install like this isfixed in one location. This one is touring the country in threelocations. The display can be assembled in about a day (anddisassembled even faster), just as it was designed to do. It requiresone A/V tech, a tech assistant and labor. The display is simple to useand, once set up, runs itself. To see a list of show dates andlocations, visit the General Motors Web site at

Chris Steinwand is a marketing veteran of the pro audio/videoindustry, a freelance writer and the director of marketing for AlcornMcBride Inc.

High-Quality Video Is The Big Gun in Trade ShowCompetition

Trade shows and expos are big business in many industries.Automakers use the shows to generate interest in their new models andto gauge people’s reactions to new vehicle concepts, and thecompetition for attendees’ attention is fierce.

There are many ways to get people into a trade show booth and to getthem excited about the products there. But as exhibitors try harder todraw show attendees in, convention halls become a buzz of activity andstart to put people on sensory overload, which makes it even harder toget their attention.

Probably the worst contributor to sensory overload is sound.Bombarded with many sound sources at once, people cease to distinguishbetween any of them. Video is another story: People can alwaysdistinguish between video sources no matter how many they are presentedwith. That’s why video is such an effective way to draw people into ashow booth.

Once people are in the booth, video continues to be an excellentcommunication tool, but in a different way. Here outside noises anddistractions no longer matter as much; what is important is awell-produced video presentation with an easily understood, captivatingmessage.

The requirement for clarity in close-up applications such as tradeshow booths often demands high-definition video. The widespreadavailability of plasma screens, with their ability to accept HD signalsand range of mounting options, is a key asset. They also have largeviewing areas and the resolution surpasses what LED screens canoffer.

For More Information

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Alcorn McBride
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Creative Technology

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Forest Post Production

Gail & Rice

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QSC Audio
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Snell & Wilcox
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Video Accessory Corporation
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