Capturing imaginations

A groundbreaking venue in Norwich, UK makes use of projection to create 24m of screen. As content providers are challenged by the opportunity, the client says it is only imaginations that provide constraints. Anna Mitchell reports.

When the library that served a small city in the East of England burnt down in 1994 the Millennium Commission and Norfolk County Council took the opportunity to build a £65 million (€75 million) multipurpose building to serve the local community. In 2008 The Forum Trust, a charitable organisation that runs The Forum in Norwich, opened a tender process for the provision of audiovisual facilities to serve a new facility called fusion.

The successful bid was submitted by Snelling Business Systems, a local integrator that was well known in Norwich from extensive work with the city’s university. Toby Wise, managing director of SBS, oversaw the project and said the company had to be creative to come up with a solution, adding that the original scope was quite wide.

A chargeable ‘heritage’ attraction was to be replaced with an open access ‘digital gallery’ and the technical solution was based around a 24m wide by 2.5m high edge blended curved display screen.

“There was discussion of putting in holographic systems, LED systems all kind of technology,” began Wise. “But, the practical aspect of it was that The Forum Trust are just custodians of the system and the content is provided by others – notably the BBC at the moment. The BBC aren’t set up to create holographic content for a 24m wide screen.”

A solution was found using five Panasonic three chip DLP 1920 x 1080 projectors mounted with bespoke ceiling mounts and Lang AG frames. Each projector is fed with its native resolution over fibre optic DVI link. The source for each projector is a remote custom spec Bluechip Ulitma industrial PC running Dataton Watchout V4 software.

The week I caught up with Wise, fusion was being used for a “Wii Challenge”, part of a project called Kids Go Live. “We’ve got a series of Wii boxes in there that are interlinked. It’s probably the biggest video arcade game kids can get their hands on! The great thing is next week, they’ll be doing something completely different”.

Wise explains that interactivity was always designed into the system. “Within the Watchout system we can either trigger external events; in other words an event on a screen can, for example, trigger lighting or fans within the room. Likewise, video can be triggered to run on areas of the screen by actions such as breaking a light beam or stepping on a pressure pad.”

The fusion gallery contains two audio systems. Originally SBS installed five Panphonics soundshower directional loudspeakers, one below each projector. “We actually evolved the way these are used as the project progressed,” says Wise. “Once again, we don’t create the content and directional sound is quite specific to the content. We originally put in fairly small soundshowers, more or less linked to the projector. This worked fairly well for small audiences but we’ve been doing launches and events in there with 150 people or so and they just aren’t loud enough. So we changed the type for a larger unit that essentially performs the same function. We also engineered a whole room sound system for these larger events.” Two Renkus-Heinz IC7 powered speaker systems and two powered Tannoy ceiling mounted sub woofer units are fed from a Biamp Nexia PM audio processor. This models room acoustics, provides volume control and offers microphone mixing functions for the Sennheiser microphone system.

Overall system control is provided via two AMX touchpanels with bespoke programming to client requirements, the AMX system controls all AV equipment including selection and running of various Watchout shows. It also provides feedback on system health and interfaces with room lighting to set scenes.

The idea behind fusion is it will constantly evolve and provide the flexibility to handle whatever challenges content creators throw at it. SBS has signed a contract that will see it support the differing challenges for the next three years. We don’t know what the future holds for fusion but, according to John Smith, manager of strategic developments at The Forum Trust, it has already proved a success. He described visitors as “bewildered” and “exited” when entering the facility, adding that content providing partners were only “constrained by their imagination”.