The Changing Face of Multi-Image Display Systems

Today’s systems are exponentially more capable, and they play well with LANs
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Back in the days of analog television, a multi-image display system was a hardwired device that allowed multiple video images to be combined and then seen on black-and-white NTSC monitors. One of the most popular was the ‘quad split,’ which put four different camera views on a single TV screen.

by James Careless

Now that we live in the digital age, multi-image display systems can do far more – and do. So if you are considering adding a multi-image display system to your video production/monitoring center, here’s what you need to know.

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The Harris IP Multiviewer Fixed Multi-Displays Pass’e

Today’s multi-image display systems are sophisticated, real-time configurable and capable of doing much more than a simple quad split. They are no longer hard-wired and inflexible.

“Today’s multi-image display systems can do more than just combine video feeds to your monitor wall,” says Paul Noble, CEO of Activu Corporation. Based in Denville, N.J., Activu provides end-to-end “netcentric,” software-based solutions for mission-critical command and control centers. “We can send visual information across the network to wherever you want,” he says. “ We can send live video feeds and graphics to wall displays, desktop screens and even smartphones. We can also reverse the flow, so that employees with smartphones can use them to send photos and video directly to your command and control center.”

Expansion is Not a Problem

Expanding a multi-image display system used to be hardware intensive and time-consuming, but no longer. The advent of software-driven systems, combined with the easy addition of new monitors into those systems, has made expansion straightforward and easy to execute.

“Today’s systems are truly scalable,” says Mark Dustan, regional sales manager with Jupiter Systems of Hayward, Calif., which is a worldwide supplier of display wall processors. “This means that you can add monitors relatively easily; a fact aided by the arrival of low-cost, thin mullion flat panels that are simple to install and connect. So there is no longer a need to tear the video wall down and start from scratch, nor to disrupt day-to-day operations while doing an upgrade.”

The Move Is On To IP

In the old days, analog televisions, and the multi-image technology that fed them, used video specific baseband signal transmission. Without getting too technical, it is sufficient to note that those systems operated in a video universe that was incompatible with Internet protocol (IP) networks. As a result, such video networks required dedicated coaxial networks to move their signals around – and just did not integrate with IP-based local area networks (LANs).

Today’s multi-image display systems have changed this. That is because “the move is on from baseband to IP,” says Kerry Wheeles, head of Harris Broadcast Communications’ director of product marketing in Toronto. “This transition is transforming multi-image displays from video standalones to integrated elements of an organization’s IP infrastructure, with all that this implies. With this IP compatibility, multi-display image systems can now show all the video, images and graphics that an organization has at its fingertips – and any it pulls in from other sources; locally, across the LAN or from the web.”

“We are seeing a tremendous commitment to IP on the part of multi-image display users,” says Noble. “From an installation standpoint, this makes life much easier for us. Rather than requiring a separate coaxial backbone, we can now piggyback signals on a client’s existing network.”

Things Are SHRINKING

Multi-image display systems are indeed getting smaller. A case in point: Montreal’s Miranda Technologies makes a comprehensive line of “multiviewers” sold under the Kaleido brand name. The 96-input/8 multi-viewer output Kaleido-X is the largest one in the line, and yet it only requires a 7RU enclosure. The smallest is the Kaleido-Modular multi-viewer card with 8 inputs and 2 outputs.

“Customers want smaller products in order to save space and economize on price, without sacrificing quality,” says Louis Caron, Miranda’s product development manager for multi-image. “The beauty of these Kaleido multi-viewers is that they hit all these goals, plus they consume less power than older systems. As well, any processor from the Kaleido-X family offers an expandable path to create systems with up to 1152 sources and 288 outputs.”

The Kaleido products contain an alert system designed to catch operators’ attention. For example, an Army department using the Kaleido-X processor has coded their sources with a color, Caron says. “When a particular source is displayed on the monitor wall, the source label and the video frame changes color based on its color code.” To prevent visitors from seeing “top secret”—or other classified—content, the Army operators have access to a “panic button” that clears all classified material from the monitor wall.

Myriad Digital Standards

“Back in the analog days, multi-image viewers had to cope with a handful of standards,” says Jupiter’s Mark Dustan. “Now that the world has gone digital, the number of standards seem to have grown into the hundreds,” he said, adding, It’s not just digital video that has pushed the envelope; the use of streaming media has also increased the base of standards that must be supported – and more seem to be coming every day.”

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The Harris Hybrid Multiviewer Government video managers—be they in program production, education or security/surveillance—must remain aware of that reality when they are selecting multi-image display systems. Questions need to be asked and answered: Will the system integrate seamlessly with what is being currently used? And will it keep up with what might be coming tomorrow?

Smaller USERS, BIG PICTURE

There is one last truth to be grasped about multiimage display systems: That the technology is being deployed by smaller and smaller players, thanks to a drop in price and global adoption of IP standards.

“The time was that multi-image display systems were only used by major governmental organizations,” Dustan said. Now those systems are “being deployed in regional traffic centers at the state and city level,” he said. As IP technology becomes more prevalent, multi-image display systems will continue to be adopted by smaller and smaller agencies. That is a because of their usefulness in displaying and conveying mission-critical information in real time. “When you want to see the ‘big picture,’ nothing does the job quite like a multi-image display system.”

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