The US$3.4 billion, 1,390-room, MGM Cotai Integrated Resort, in Macau, China – MGM’s second integrated casino, hotel and entertainment complex in the territory – opened earlier this year with an innovative, multi-dimensional sensory experience at its core: Spectacle.
Housed in a vast atrium space at the heart of the resort complex, MGM Cotai’s Spectacle comprises an immense LED canvas made up of 25 huge LED display walls, is over four storeys high and spans the length of a soccer field. The LED displays comprise approximately 73 million pixels at 4mm pitch, and boast a surface area spanning more than 800sqm. (In addition, similar-sized exterior screens comprise 12 million pixels at 8mm pitch.)
The displays are engineered in different shapes and are set at different levels to form a horizontal wall under a meticulously engineered, column-free, long-span ‘diagrid’ structure. Approximately 1,000m of UHD LED displays combine to make the world’s largest area of permanent indoor LEDs, and the Spectacle is programmed with digital art from some of the world’s foremost artists showcasing the beauties of China and the natural wonders of Asia.
Also featuring more than 700 LED lighting fixtures, combined with over 130 high-performance speakers, Spectacle includes production cameras and a full matrix, to allow the LED screens to operate in live mode to capture events within the atrium.
The intention is that the space appears to be alive, continually evolving and responding to changing conditions such as visitor behaviours, weather, time of day or season. As Grant Bowie, CEO and executive director of MGM China Holdings, comments: “Everyone wants to know what is Spectacle… It’s a digital canvas, a reflective space, it’s mesmerising, whimsical and entertaining. You really have to see with your own eyes to understand it…”
Electrosonic and its trusted partners Smart Monkeys, Analog Way, Grass Valley, disguise (formerly d3 Technologies), Meyer Sound and QSC are among the companies supplying the expertise and technology required to create the Spectacle’s immense LED canvas and immersive audio system.
The integrator’s Design Consulting Group specified the choice of technology for the Spectacle AV control system and LED walls – plus outdoor and lobby displays – with significant collaboration from Smart Monkeys in designing the video and control head-end (control centre). Electrosonic partnered with Smart Monkeys to design and program a fully IT-integrated system featuring its ISAAC control system; Electrosonic also provided Spectacle’s complex engineering, integration and project management.
Close collaboration between all of the stakeholders from the design phase onwards was key to the success of Spectacle. The three-year project involved design/specification, LED manufacturer evaluation, engineering, production and programming phases.
In its largest project delivered to date, Analog Way supplied 20 Ascender 32 switchers with 80 2K outputs to cover the Spectacle’s LED screens. disguise furnished eight of its 4x4pro media servers with 12 outputs each, sending data to the atrium’s ceiling and lighting for a twinkling starscape and other effects.
The same systems and equipment used for Spectacle also drives the MGM Cotai’s exterior and lobby LED screens.
Analog Way was involved throughout the process, with design assistance, periodic design reviews to consider any changes or new requirements, as well as working closely with the on-site team to deploy the control system, and training for MGM’s on-site technicians.
Training and support
For disguise, after the deal had been agreed, “next step was to deliver training and support to Electrosonic in Burbank on initial delivery and build-out of the system,” explains Hans Beijer, VP sales Americas at disguise. “Further training was then scheduled at Smart Monkeys in Miami, to train their operators and programmers on our software workflow. Our teams turned out to be very compatible and immediately took off in the same direction.” Electrosonic hosted a team MGM’s technicians in Burbank for two full weeks of training on the entire system.
The project presented a new challenge for disguise, compared with its core market of live events and concert touring, where timescales are generally measured in weeks. It was also the company’s first contact with this end client, as well as being an overseas project.
“The overall timeline was very long, [with] months between steps moving forward,” says Beijer. “Initial meetings on the project were in February 2015, final spec was decided in April 2016 and our order shipped to Electrosonic in August 2016. Onsite installation commenced in February 2017 with final opening and project delivery in February 2018.”
Electrosonic, along with its partners, designed and fabricated the broadcast-quality head-end system supporting 104 million pixels. Electrosonic delivered 15 equipment racks for the Spectacle video and control headend, along with two BGM audio racks, one theatre show control rack and over 100 QSC amplifiers for distribution in dozens of equipment rooms across the resort.
“This massive head-end system supports 72 million pixels across 25 individual 4mm LED screens that stretch 1,000m around the Spectacle space,” explains Josh Cottrell, senior account manager at Electrosonic. “Twelve million pixels are pushed to the exterior LED screens and 20 million pixels support a large lobby screen.”
The challenges faced by Electrosonic were similar to those found on most other huge construction sites. Logistics, staging coordination and shifting construction schedules were a particular challenge.
“With dozens of rooms and various parties involved, one faced the usual problem of showing up to a room for which no one had a key!” says Scott Decker, Electrosonic production manager. “This was all to be expected, and required an ongoing, concerted coordination effort.
“The installation was comparable to other large LED wall projects and came with the same challenges one expects when so many talented but far-flung groups are involved. Considering the size of the project, and how many groups were involved, MGM’s team did an excellent job facilitating communication and collaboration across the project.”
“The scope of this project is quite incredible,” opines Andrzej Lubaszka, chief technologist, Analog Way. “Considering that the Spectacle is one continuous integrated system in the same room, it is the largest single integrated system that Analog Way has sold to date.”
According to Lubaszka, Spectacle uses over 13 times more outputs than the Comcast Experience in Philadelphia, which also utilises Analog Way LiveCore Ascender switchers, and is five times larger than 20 Times Square, currently boasting the highest-resolution screen (8K x 4K) in Times Square and utilising four Ascenders.
“After demonstrating the latest capabilities and solid reliability of Analog Way’s LiveCore platform, we worked with Electrosonic and Smart Monkeys to design a solution,” adds Lubaszka. “The resulting design was a system of twenty Ascender 32 units, which drive a collective 80 outputs to manage all of the LED displays, [with a capacity of] up to 176 megapixels.
“Even though I’m sure the control system is quite complicated, as it needs to seamlessly manage the entire fleet of equipment, the team at Smart Monkeys was very efficient at incorporating the Ascenders into the control system. Electrosonic did an excellent job coordinating all of the moving parts.”
Numerous moving parts, multiple stakeholders, hundreds of metres of LED displays and LED lighting and dozens of high-performance QSC and Meyer Sound loudspeakers in a surface area spanning more than 800sqm across four storeys: Spectacle surely lives up to its name, both in terms of its end product and the collaborative design, build and production process that led to its completion.