The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: News Signage
Jun 9, 2009 12:00 PM, Staff Report
Newseum, Washington, D.C.
The Noventri SF-3000 digital signage solution selected for the 250,000-square-foot Newseum in Washington, D.C., is powered by Harris InfoCaster technology, distributing content to 37 flat-panel displays (31 42in. Toshiba and six 24in. Samsung models) on six floors. Noventri created a consistent signage environment around the public floors by installing the majority of the displays in portrait format, meaning the screens project at a greater height.
The digital signage explosion has reached a point where electronic displays have seemingly penetrated every public space, including entertainment, retail, public safety, and transportation. Digital signage has become a touchstone in virtually any environment where consumers crave information.
It’s no surprise then that digital signage is being used to improve the visitor experience in some of the nation’s most progressive museums and galleries. The Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot news museum with 15 theaters, 14 major galleries, and 130 interactive stations, is a good example of a museum using signage to deliver information to visitors as they study the exhibits. (More on the Newseum.)
The Newseum is a hotbed for modern AV technology with its seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail spaces, and visitor services. Audio and video surround visitors as they experience a museum that combines five centuries of news history with current technology and hands-on exhibits. The digital signage installation is an extension of a broadcast and AV operation built around two cutting-edge studios and a master control center, delivering a blend of informative text, video, and rich graphical content to eyeballs throughout the building.
“The digital signage operation is a very tight, co¬ordinated collaboration between our engineering, broadcasting, web, and marketing groups,” says Tom Turco, director of web services at the Newseum. “We have a consistent design team to create branded content that complements our galleries and exhibits. The signage network enables us to communicate a variety of information to our visitors—whether providing the time, place, and topic for different theater programs or promoting offers in the Newseum Store. It has proven to be very versatile.”
The first step in creating the infrastructure for the digital signage system was wiring the building as the walls were being erected with 18,105ft., or 3.4 miles, of fiber-optic cabling serving as the backbone for video and a sizeable length of 9451P plenum wiring for audio.
The Newseum opened its Pennsylvania Avenue location in Washington, D.C., in April 2008, and the timing of the construction allowed the various integration and engineering teams to implement an AV and signage backbone within the new architecture. The digital signage network was then delivered and installed by Noventri, a division of Specialized Communications. The Noventri SF-3000 digital signage solution selected for the facility is powered by Harris InfoCaster technology, distributing content to 37 flatpanel displays on six floors.
Noventri designed a custom package based on the Newseum’s digital signage requirements, determining what was needed on the infrastructure and distribution side, in addition to InfoCaster tools for content creation, management, and playout to multiple displays. The first step was wiring the building as the walls were being erected with 18,105ft., or 3.4 miles, of fiber-opticcabling serving as the backbone for video and a sizeable length of 9451P plenum wiring for audio.
“Fiber was an ideal choice due to the distance required for video distribution around the building, and it gives the customer an all-fiber video network,” says Tim Rollins, project manager for Noventri. “The design and deployment of this project has future expansion in mind, so all fiber is run through interducting of up to 3in. to accommodate the bigger paths. This not only provides room for growth, but protection from other electrical wires. Interducting isn’t very common in this industry, but the massive amount of technology in this building made protection a priority.”
The informational nature of the Newseum’s signage network is reliant on content, and the Harris InfoCaster solution as installed by Noventri is highly versatile as a creation platform. The Noventri SF-3000 provides content-creation capabilities, a central network manager, and multiple media players to handle the creation, management, and playout of content on all 37 displays. The entire solution is powered by Harris InfoCaster software.
Three creation stations—one of which serves as a backup system—offer the same capabilities, but they are quite different in terms of responsibilities. The main content-creation seat is located in the graphic-design department, where operators create page layouts using text, graphics, and video—much of which is produced inhouse.
The video is imported from five editing rooms featuring Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems, a standard component of its broadcast and AV operation. Digital video from the editing systems is moved around the facility via a Grass Valley K2 server and transferred to the InfoCaster-powered creation stations via the Windows Media format.
“The graphic designers typically lay out the page format with text and graphics and then drop a piece of video into a certain region of the display that usually comprises one-third of the screen,” says Bud O’Connor, director of engineering for the Newseum. “InfoCaster software recognizes that this piece of video relates to a specific part of the page, and that video loops for as long as that page is live on one or more of the displays.
“The creation station is ideal for what we do because the product has roots in the television broadcast industry. The internal graphics engine can handle the transparencies, key levels, moves, and manipulations like a broadcast character generator. There is a slight learning curve for our nonbroadcast operators, but we chose it because it is synonymous with our TV operations.”
A second creation station resides in master control on Level 3, the heart of the Newseum’s broadcast and AV operation. The glass-enclosed master control room is visible to the public, with two long, kidney-bean-shaped consoles facing a bank of monitors. The creation station is positioned just in front of the glass and essentially serves as an engineering station for schedule changes and general monitoring of the signage network.
The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: News Signage
Jun 9, 2009 12:00 PM, Staff Report
Newseum, Washington, D.C.
The network manager and 29 media players reside in the central equipment room with the rest of the infrastructure equipment, including video-distribution amplifiers from Thinklogical and a Peavey MediaMatrix Nion for audio routing and digital signal processing.
The network manager and 29 media players reside in the central equipment room (CER) with the rest of the infrastructure equipment, including video-distribution amplifiers from Thinklogical and a Peavey MediaMatrix Nion for audio routing and digital signal processing.
The InfoCaster systems comprise three equipment racks, with the routing, distribution, and signal processing equipment populating a fourth rack. Content is typically scheduled one to three weeks in advance, depending on the target audience. The displays on the public floors traditionally complement exhibits or serve as promotional tools for the food court and store, meaning that displays change rapidly and content is scheduled much closer to the born-on date. Upstairs on the conference levels, content can be scheduled several weeks in advance of meetings, often serving as welcome messages for external companies that book onsite conference and events. Video is often repurposed from main floor displays.
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All scheduled content is delivered to the network manager in the CER and transferred to the appropriate media player just before going live. The players output DVI video and connect to DVI extenders within the Thinklogical distribution amplifiers. The DVI signals are converted to light and distributed over fiber to the assigned display screens where the signal is converted back to DVI for image generation on any of the 31 42in. Toshiba or six 24in. Samsung displays. The 42in. signs are 1920x1080 progressive, which refreshes HD images at 60 times per second for premium video quality.
Audio is treated as a separate entity from the signage, as is the distribution. When audio is used to complement an exhibit, a Peavey MediaMatrix Nion distributes audio from the CER over CobraNet to Dakota Audio loudspeakers that reside inside the display mounts. The directional mini-arrays give the Newseum engineering team flexibility on where to direct sound, which O’Connor says is critical to remaining unobtrusive.
“We’re very careful with how we use audio,” O’Connor says. “We don’t need a commercial coming out of nowhere in the middle of a Lincoln exhibit. The audio is equalized and routed within and from the Nion MediaMatrix, and there are amplifiers colocated with each speaker. The Dakotas are directional arrays that limit the audio to a tightly contained area and maintain the fidelity we need.”
The overall point of the signage network is to inform and entertain visitors while maintaining that consistent look and feel across the network. Operators laying out the pages take advantage of branding tools within the InfoCaster platform to create a similar background, using certain color schemes, fonts, and graphical elements for Newseum channel branding.
“One of the great things about InfoCaster is they can just drop the content directly into the appropriate regions of the display,” says Wil Conklin, director of sales at Noventri. “If the operators import videos, they just time out the sequence and then push it over to the network manager and players. They also use the TitleMotion capability within the InfoCaster software to create the titling and text animations for the signage.”
Noventri created a consistent signage environment around the public floors by installing the majority of the displays in portrait format, meaning the screens project at a greater height. Only five screens are installed in traditional landscape format for horizontal, TV-like viewing. These screens are situated above the two broadcast studios, and they often display live content that bypasses InfoCaster via a broadcast routing switcher.
“The entire network is very attention-grabbing, and Noventri did an outstanding job bringing all the signage elements together,” O’Connor says. “This has been a very organic process, and we’re still learning how to drive the bus. Very few companies have a department of digital signage, just as very few had dedicated web departments a decade ago. It will be interesting to watch everything evolve.”