Museums Use Audio, Video To Provide ‘Wow!’ Experience

Museums are experimenting with new video and audio technology to enhance their gallery exhibits, increase access to collections and enrich environments outside their walls in an effort to give patrons a bigger-than-life “Wow!” experience with each visit.
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Dataton’s Watchout systemMuseums are experimenting with new video and audio technology to enhance their gallery exhibits, increase access to collections and enrich environments outside their walls in an effort to give patrons a bigger-than-life “Wow!” experience with each visit.

The new trend enables museums to break from brick-and-mortar constraints without reducing the integrity of their collections, said Elizabeth Musteen, chief of multimedia at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

“It’s a way for the museums to remain relevant,” Musteen said. “You can have the best collection in the world, but if nobody sees it then you aren’t reaching a broader community.” For example, the Natural History museum installed the MEanderthal exhibit (a combination of “me” and “Neanderthal”), which allows a visitor to transform his or her face into the face of an early human.

This spring the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden featured the multichannel projection “SONG 1” movie, which turned the building’s circular 82-feet-tall facade into an enormous 360-degree screen. To create the display a computer program cut the film’s image into 11 overlapping sections, one for each high-definition video projector. A total of 41,500 feet of fiber-optic cables carried those images from four server computers in the Hirshhorn’s basement to the projectors mounted on the perimeter wall.

However, there is a balance for a Smithsonian museum to use such technology, Musteen said. “We have to make sure we design exhibits that are interesting, but don’t go too far and just become entertainment,” she said.


When designers needed an integration system for “Van Gogh Alive,” an ambitious traveling exhibit of famed Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, they turned to Dataton, a Swedish show control developer and manufacturer.

Dataton’s Watchout production-and-presentation system and the company’s Dataton Pickup audio guide powered the exhibit. Watchout is a multi-display, timeline-based software system with stereoscopic playback and 3D effects, said Fredrik Svahnberg, the company’s marketing director.

At the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, the exhibit featured more than 3,000 Van Gogh images at enormous scale on giant screens, walls, columns, ceilings and even the floor, immersing visitors in the vibrant colors and vivid details that constitute Van Gogh’s unique style. For the Phoenix installation, designers built and supplied a new system that had 10 multi-output computers running the show, each with its own Watchout version.

“‘Van Gogh Alive’ is a perfect example; a wonderful union of fine art with modern science that allows every detail of the artist’s work to be viewed in ways which simply would not have been possible only a few years ago,” Svahnberg said.


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Panasonic’s PT-DZ8700 projectorThe Papalote Children’s Museum in Mexico City looked to Panasonic during 2011 when operators decided to retrofit the museum’s aging video display system for its dome theater. Over the years, the museum had encountered many problems with the old XGA projectors. They were replaced with Panasonic’s PT-DZ8700 full-HD, three-chip DLP projectors. The projectors offered a number of improvements including 13-times-greater lumens and one annual lamp change, as well as Panasonic’s geometric-adjustment and edge-blending functions to cover the surface of the dome screen. The eight PT-DZ8700 projectors produce true-to-life images on the 830-square-meter screen, replacing nine old XGA projectors.

Panasonic also offers interactive touch screen displays for way-finding or educational purposes. The TH-47LFT30W is an outdoor-capable liquid crystal display (LCD) with an integrated touch panel that features excellent visibility in sunlight and is water- and dust-resistant. The 1,500 candle-power per square meter (cd/m2) brightness touch makes the screen a good interactive signage solution for even the brightest of open-air applications. A trans-reflective LCD panel is used to produce bright, clear images.


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projectiondesign’s F12 projectorContractors at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) in Philadelphia this year chose Norway’s projectiondesign, a projector manufacturer, for its audiovisual equipment, including the company’s F12, F22 and F32 projectors. The high-resolution F32 series features WUXGA, 1080p or SXGA+ resolution options for optimum application with a range of available resolutions. Each location in the museum needed a projector that would provide a specific throw distance, image brightness and resolution.

“It’s important for a manufacturer to have a wide range of products to meet different technical and application needs,” said Anders Lokke, marketing director, projectiondesign. “We have been able to supply projectors from three of our product lines for the new NMAJH building.”


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Stewart Filmscreen’s Semi-Rigid Acrylic Screen MaterialStewart Filmscreen Corp. offers museums its Semi- Rigid Acrylic Screen Materials, according to Dave McFarland, the company’s director of marketing. Imaging professionals who need high-performance, edge-blended immersive arrays designed with perfect cylindrical envelopment geometry use Stewart Filmscreen’s Semi-Rigid family of products, the company said.

The Semi-Rigid product is a modular assembly incorporating Stewart’s AeroPlex viewing surfaces with precision-arced framing to your custom specifications. The result is a cylindrical display, with category-leading optical performance and reasonable installation and building access parameters.

“We can run it up to 50 feet seamless,” McFarland said. “Because it’s semi-rigid and acrylic we can curve it to a cylindrical shape, a full circle or wave it,” he said. Semi-Rigid Acrylic Screens also “make a great video wall, especially in settings like museums where you want to tell a story over a linear space,” he said.

The advantage museums get by using the semicurved, acrylic material is in the surface, McFarland said. The screens are laminated in such a way as to provide “great uniformity, near-perfect image quality and great off-axis viewing for museum-type settings where you want the audience to see the image in perfect image fidelity from a wide range of viewing angles,” he said.


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Sennheiser’s Tourguide
1039 system
New audio technology is also changing the way exhibits are displayed. Earlier this year, Sennheiser introduced the Tourguide 1039 system for guided tours that interpret and provide assistive listening applications. Tourguide 1039 offers up to 75 megahertz of tunable frequencies, allowing users to transmit as many as 32 channels of simultaneous content, all with exceptional audio quality, said Vanessa Jensen, senior product specialist for Integrated Systems at Sennheiser. The system also offers an audio frequency response of 25–15,000 Hz, providing the receiver with a very natural, high-quality sound reproduction.

The system is easy to set up because it is fitted with a copy function. Once one receiver has been programmed, its settings can easily be transmitted via infrared to all the other receivers.

At the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM ) in Phoenix visitors are given Sennheiser’s guidePORT wireless receivers to guide them through the 75,000 square feet of exhibit space. As visitors move throughout the museum, guide- PORT detects their position and introduces the appropriate “soundtrack” to accompany whichever exhibit they are viewing. Audio seamlessly fades in and out according to their location within the facility.

Bob Ulrich, MIM founder and board chairman, was impressed with the system. “Sennheiser’s guidePORT system plays an integral role in our ability to deliver a seamless learning experience to visitors,” Ulrich said.


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Tour-Mate’s SC550 systemCanadian-based Tour-Mate uses a slightly different solution for its audio tours. The company’s SC550 is a headphone- less device offering MP3 sound quality, random-access capability, multiple language/tour capacity. All these features found in the SC550 wand give museum patrons a different touring experience.

“We understand that visiting a museum is a social experience and that a headphone device can take away or reduce that experience,” said Neil Poch, Tour- Mates’ president. “The wand reinforces that social experience while also providing audio tours that are memorable, educational and fun to listen to.”


Stewart Filmscreen Corp.:


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