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Eric Wogsberg, Jupiter Systems

Jupiter Systems is a leading manufacturer of videowall processors. The company’s founder and CEO talks to Llanor Alleyne about the sectors that keep Jupiter in orbit

How did you come to be working in the visual display technology business? My background is in process control, and information is very important in that area. The company, which was founded in 1982, has always focused on visual technologies. We were doing graphic display terminals for big computers, followed by multi-display terminals for people who needed to look at a lot of information at one time. Later we started working with projector companies, who came to us and said, ‘We know you are driving monitors on the desktop, can you drive projectors?’

We already had everything that we needed to handle multiple outputs; the critical thing was to make these outputs appear as if they were one logical display. This worked well with the display technologies that the projector manufacturers were coming out with, so you can have displays that sit next to each other and they would look like they were part of a continuous sea of pixels.

What are the most significant changes that have taken place in the industry during the company’s lifetime?
The amount of data that’s online that can be tapped, at a second’s notice, to be displayed to someone who needs to see it, and the amount of information that is available via live video. There is also an urgency about operations these days, whether we are talking about a traffic management system or a network operations centre – you don’t want to let things slip through. A term that is used is ‘situational awareness’: people expect to have access to real-time info and to be able to share that.

All of that feeds into the modern display wall. Prices of displays have come down significantly as many people began to use flat-panel LCDs rather than rear-projection cubes, whose cost is maybe 20-25% of the traditional rear-projection cube. What we see is more kinds of enterprises that can afford a videowall, and the videowalls being built are bigger than they were in the past. What do you see as Jupiter’s unique selling proposition today? As a company, we’ve made the conscious decision just to focus on the devices that collect and manage all of the signals, the data that needs to go to the videowall, and we try to make managing all of that information easy and, as a result, powerful.

We’ve also made a conscious choice to offer two different kinds of platforms for our users. One is the display wall controller that includes a very powerful PC running the Windows operating system. This is something Jupiter pioneered and, in fact, our line of Fusion Catalyst controllers feature Windows 7. What’s important is the different sources of information that people need to see on the wall includes high-definition streaming coming from cameras all over the area and data generated on a desktop. However, it also includes specific applications used to run a business. A different way of saying that is: a videowall made up of an arbitrary number of displays is, in fact, treated by us as one very large desktop.

The second platform we offer is the Pixelnet platform. As opposed to a simple box with input cards and output cards, with Pixelnet we took the input technologies and the output technologies and created nodes. We also embraced an Ethernet networking technology to connect an input node associated with a camera to an Ethernet switch over standard Cat6 cable. That kind of scalability for our users represents investment protection and a flexibility to change how they do business over time.

Jupiter also designs all of its own hardware and software. Every system that we sell has been purpose built, specifically to be used for a display wall. It’s not an off-the-shelf computer with video cords added to it. Jupiter covers a number of different application sectors. Where are you seeing the strongest growth currently?Certainly the security and law enforcement sector has been strong for us. And it’s that situational awareness, being able to see what’s going on in places and take action on what we’re seeing there, that matters in that sector. Military applications have also historically been strong for us. We’re being used by half a dozen military organisations in Europe.

Another sector that has been particularly strong for us, including in Europe, has been traffic management. We’ve seen governments, both national and local, installing very powerful traffic management systems, which allow them to keep an eye on roadways, either via cameras or road sensors.

How does the European market for your products differ from the US market? Do you address the European market differently as a result? The products that we sell in Europe are the same products that we sell in North America, Asia and Latin America, because what we see is a similar set of needs no matter where you are: I have to run a business; I have to manage a city; I have to deliver infrastructure. Those requirements, whether they are in the public sector or the private sector, are identical around the globe.

In every country where we have business we have well-trained and committed resellers. Our belief is that a local reseller who understands the local market is the right way to get business done and to satisfy the customers’ needs. Our list prices in Europe are identical to those in the US. We do more than half of our business outside North America. We are a global company. There really is no reason for us to treat one country different from another. Our goal is to meet the customer’s need with the best possible product, but we also want to be easy to deal with.

How big an issue has HDCP compliance been for you?
HDCP really only applies to entertainment content, specifically things that are played off of discs. Our customers, by and large, are not launching entertainment content. They have more mission critical things to pay attention to. It certainly hasn’t come up as a compliance issue for us.

What technology challenges are you helping customers with at the moment? The transition from standard-definition video to high-definition video, especially in the private and public security sector. Certainly in cities like London there are cameras everywhere and it’s impossible not be in range of a camera. We’ve seen that as an important development and we’ll be showing some new technology allowing for the streaming and decoding of multiple channels of HD video at InfoComm.

The other thing that we are seeing is support for larger systems. The falling prices of the display technologies have driven people to design bigger walls because money stretches further. That means systems that we build need to accommodate more and more outputs and inputs. One of the products we’ll be introducing at InfoComm handles very large numbers of inputs and outputs.

Would you like to make any predictions about the industry and/or the company in, say, five years’ time? It is certainly the case that the future holds more video, not less. The team and management style mandates that everyone be able to see a common operating picture. As operations act on a new sense of urgency, the ability to see it all quickly drives more videowalls in addition to bigger ones. We benefit along the way from the cost curve. As the displays become cheaper, that drives growth to the business. Jupiter’s choice to use open architecture and embrace some elements from the PC industry means we benefit from technological advances and price decreases there, which allow us to build bigger, faster, more powerful systems without incurring additional cost to do that. When we see new and interesting work we will adapt, but it will always have to do with the visual display of information. That’s our strength.