Reality Deck at Stony Brook University wraps an entire room with 416 Samsung displays.
What would you think of a video wall that encompasses all four walls in a medium-sized room, providing the current ultimate in large-scale immersive video viewing? How about a vast auditorium video wall made of video “tiles” that can not only display stunning images, but is as easy to service as moving Lego blocks?
These are two innovative video walls that exist right now in U.S. colleges. We will take a look at them both, but be warned: Once you learn about the Reality Deck and the Digitorium, you’ll never be satisfied with conventional video walls again.
Few things live up to the superlatives associated with them, but the “Reality Deck” located at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., deserves every over-the-top adjective that can be attached to it.
The reason? The Reality Deck is a 1.5 billion+ pixel monitor. You read that right: More than 1.5 billion pixels of video resolution.
Another view of Reality Deck at Stony Brook University
It gets better. Rather than being a flat wall display, the Reality Deck is a 3D room measuring 40 feet long, 30 feet wide and 10 feet tall; with walls completely lined with 416 Samsung S27A850D 27-inch WQHD LCD displays. For the record, a single WQHD monitor has a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 lines for a total pixel count of 3,686,400. A 1080p full HD monitor has 1,920 by 1,080 lines for a total pixel count of 2,073,600.
Collectively, the Reality Deck’s inward-facing displays have the ability to engulf the viewer with a fully immersive image. That’s not all.
“Thanks to our use of head-tracking and gesture control, the system can adjust what the viewer is seeing in line with their head positions,” said Ken Gladky, the university’s director of operations for computer science and the Center for Visual Computing. “But the real benefit of the Reality Deck is that you can walk within two to three inches of any display, and still see the image in absolute clarity without any blurring or pixelization. That’s how high the resolution is.”
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Yet again, it gets better: Unlike conventional displays where the user has to zoom in and out to get closeup details, the Reality Deck allows them to walk toward or away from the video wall display without any need to adjust the image at all. You can walk right up to see a small detail, then walk back to take in the whole picture; no zooming required.
An example explains how this works.
“We have a wraparound image from President Obama’s second inauguration on Capitol Hill,” said Gladky. “You can look down the Mall in this image to see faces in the distance, and then walk up to the video wall and see the details of those faces clearly and without distortion. That’s how good this system is.”
The Reality Deck is housed in Stony Brook University’s Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology, and was funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. It is more than a Star Trek holodeck fan’s dream: By being able to create large-scale, ultra-high resolution images that researchers can literally walk around and control the view with hand motions, the Reality Deck allows them to mentally interact with and understand visual concepts on a scale that hitherto was simply not possible.
“With the Reality Deck, you can do real-time tracking of flood inundations across the whole country,” Gladky said. “You can look inside complex molecules and interact with their elements; or walk through a 3D building model to see what it is like from all angles, and how it relates to its surroundings. The best part is that you can experience all of this on a scale that provides a level of context not delivered by a desktop monitor; not by a long shot.”
The room is also equipped with 24-channel sound; again to provide a realistic 3D experience for viewers as they move inside the space.
To make the Reality Deck’s display as seamless as possible, the University removed the plastic bezels from the Samsung monitors, then installed the screens in aluminum retaining walls with minimal edging to maximize the unity of the overall image.
“The video itself is delivered from 18 servers located in a nearby room, running a proprietary integration program that our Ph.D. candidates wrote,” said Gladky. Each server is equipped with four high-end AMD GPUs (graphical processing units; the kind used in video gaming cards); each GPU being capable of feeding six different monitors.
Given the Reality Deck’s size and physical layout, regular video cables would not be up to the task of carrying the WQHD signals from server to monitor―the distance would be too great.
“To get around this, we are using Gefen DisplayPort Extreme Fiber Optic Extenders in 75- and 100-foot lengths,” Gladky said. “Not only do the Gefen extenders cover the distance, but they reduce the amount of equipment needed to serve the display wall; thus reducing our power consumption and heat generation.”
Since being opened in November, the Reality Deck has proudly worn the title of “World’s Largest Video Wall Display.” Given the sheer size and scale of this astounding project, it is hard to believe that it will relinquish this title any time soon.
SUPER-FLEXIBLE VIDEO WALL
At 25 feet wide by 15 feet tall, the video wall inside the George and Ellen Rieveschl Digitorium at Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics’ Griffin Hall in Highland Heights, Ky., is eye-catching in its own right. However, as the largest U.S. installation of Christie Digital MicroTiles―285 in all―this video wall is a standout.
Mark Neikirk, executive director of Northern Kentucky University's Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement
Each MicroTile is a self-contained DLP/LED monitor (12 inches tall by 15 inches wide), with minimal edging that can be quickly connected to other MicroTiles in almost any shape and configuration.
In the case of the Digitorium, the individually addressable MicroTiles have been assembled into a single video wall display; albeit one capable of being electronically subdivided into up to eight simultaneous video windows. The flexibility of the MicroTile system means that installers can configure the monitors into strips, unusually-shaped boxes, or indeed any setup that works best for the display space in question.
“Our MicroTiles video wall acts as a stage backdrop for our main hall, which can seat 120 people,” said Joe Wendeln, the Digitorium’s lead technology support specialist. “Their light output is so good, that we can conduct live TV shots with spotlights in the space, without degrading the look of the video being shown.”
The Digitorium’s 285 MicroTiles are driven by two Vista Systems Spyder X20-1608 video processors. They can access a wide range of sources, including HD live feeds and playback, streaming video, HDMI and DVI video from a laptop. The Digitorium has eight side-mounted “opera boxes” that allow such connections, plus the signals from the main control room at the back of the hall. Signals are routed to the Spyders and MicroTiles by Crestron digital media signal equipment and Crestron’s 32 x 32 matrix switcher.
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The MicroTiles video wall is more than just flexible; it is also easy to maintain. Any tile can be serviced from the front using a special “suction cup” to remove the screen. Replacement is just a matter of sliding in the three replaceable parts: a power supply, the light engine or the cooling fans.
“Each of these units are rated for 65,000 hours of service at 50-percent brightness, and they run both cool and with high energy efficiency,” Wendeln said.
The Digitorium’s MicroTiles have a bit more than 20,000 hours on them now after 2.5 years of operation.
“All told, the MicroTiles allow us to deliver powerful, brilliant images, with minimal hassle and servicing since we opened this facility in the fall of 2011,” Wendeln said.
In addition to serving as a stunning display venue, the Digitorium’s MicroTile video wall can be used as a network operation center for either government agencies or private groups. Meanwhile, NKU students can display their videos and computer animations on the big screen during class; providing them with the ultimate “Wow” experience.
The two projects at Stony Brook University (part of the State University of New York system) and Northern Kentucky University use impressive technology and interesting architecture. However, many manufacturers have products that could be used in other advanced display situations.
Companies such as Rose Electronics, Cobalt Digital, Evertz, Extron, Miranda, Datapath and Matrox have image processors and matrix switchers for converting signal formats and routing them to the correct destinations. BrightSign has a variety of products to support video walls, including signage applications and digital marketing, and Planar, Sony, Panasonic, JVC, TVLogic, Marshall and others make a wide range of displays that can be used for just about any application.
The bottom line: There are conventional video walls, and then there are the Digitorium’s MicroTiles display and SUNY Stony Brook’s Reality Deck. The difference between conventional and these two is akin to the difference between an economy car and a Formula One racer.