Following pieces on advances in videowall technology and the challenges facing videowall controllers. Steve Montgomery concludes his look at the technology by discussing their wide variety of applications, differing storage capabilities and how 4K is starting to impact the market.
The wide variety of applications for videowalls means that there are several well-established methods of delivering content. Digital media players that were originally developed for single standalone digital signage screens are now a common choice and these are also being developed to include a range of features that increases their versatility. An effective solution is to provide an individual player for each screen and synchronise its fullscreen HD playback with its partner players to single-frame accuracy. Content is created on a full-size canvas and then partitioned and stored as separate sections, each corresponding to an individual display; resulting in greater overall quality, absent of scaling.
Jeff Hastings, CEO of BrightSign, explains: “Videowalls are becoming increasingly popular, and BrightSign is focused on making the creation, publishing and management of presentations as simple as possible. The latest BrightAuthor tool, BrightWall, uses a drag-and-drop approach to build videowalls in any size and layout. BrightWall supports the use of a separate video stream for each display or stretches a single video across all the displays.”
Ease of use in controlling the wall is important, regardless of sector, as Rob Moodey of Matrox Graphics points out: “The daily test of usability is how easily the wall is controlled, often with presets that allow operators to switch layouts at the click of a button. For cost-sensitive markets such as digital signage and small meeting rooms, a simple mobile app that sends commands directly to the videowall is sufficient. For professional AV presentation environments and smaller control rooms, dedicated control systems are often used in conjunction with a single interface that enables operators to manage the wall in addition to other equipment in the room.
“In more complex multi-operator control rooms, videowall control points are often secured and wall control is frequently integrated directly within the operator console. Depending on specific requirements, budget and the tools that are available with the chosen videowall controller, integrators may choose to provide ready-built software, integrate videowall control within existing control systems, or develop custom, standalone software.
With restricted storage capability, small, low-cost media players rely on low-volume hard disks or memory cards to store content, which in turn means that the content for each section needs to be compressed prior to storage. In the majority of cases this does not limit their use. However there is some reduction in quality brought about by the compression process. The ultimate solution is to play uncompressed material; however, this requires much greater storage capability.
“Uncompressed video is devoid of visual artefacts and has greater bit depth, so gives superior results,” points out Matt Burton, director of 7thSense. “The Delta can deliver up to 12 synchronised streams, each an uncompressed, full-bandwidth video stream capable of producing a single image over 12 displays. Delta units can be daisychained together if more displays are needed. Uncompressed video is easier to edit – an advantage when last-minute changes are required – and is visibly superior, particularly in close viewing of very large displays.”
An added attraction to large videowall control is that of interactivity, as Jonathan Priestley, marketing director of MultiTouch, points out: “Interactivity moves a user past the display technology directly into the information, creating more of an experience. Business is getting personal and MultiTaction technology enables that requirement to be realised. Equally in non-commercial environments the ability to interact with information in a more intuitive and faster way gives additional benefits. At this point interaction becomes valuable and adds significantly to the appeal of a large videowall in many situations from retail right through to military uses.”
4K is starting to have an impact on the market. “For some applications, 4K displays can allow fewer splits and more seamless images. Displays are getting larger and costs are coming down, so this is further driving the demand for 4K,” claims Orrin Charm, Gefen's product manager. “This is definitely where things are headed and it’s going to become adopted very quickly once integrators see how seamless 4K UHD solutions can be and prices continue to develop competitively.”
“1080 full HD will continue to play a part in scalable screen solutions while content providers get up to speed with the new capabilities,” agrees Jason Dean, production director at Engage Production. “The intricacies of boosting, signal processing and decoding will continue to dominate any professional installation. However, DSP technology is not developing as fast as the screens. In future there will inevitably be a shift in native resolution to full 4K on each screen in an array.”