22.07.08

Pushing the boundaries

AUTHOR: Inavate

Continuing its long running programme of investment, the MCC appointed Lighthouse Technologies main contractor for the replacement and upgrade of its scoring system at Lord’s. The company installed three new LED displays and subcontracted AMX to deliver content and control for the system.

Named for Thomas Lord, who was commissioned to find a new home for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), Lord’s Cricket ground was constructed on its present location in St John’s Wood London in 1814. It’s not the first home of the Club, indeed since its foundation in 1787 the club had moved two or three times before settling down at its home of the last 194 years.

For any serious cricket fan, there’s something deeply special about Lords. It has an aura of history as strong as any cathedral or castle. Maintaining that spirit, the spirit of cricket, in a world of technological and commercial advancement is a key challenge for the club in the 21st century.

However, that doesn’t mean that change is resisted for the sake of it. Over recent years the MCC has invested heavily in improvements to the pitch, the stands and the information systems in ground. The latest innovation has been the replacement of the two old scoreboards with three new ones.

Steve Jones, IT Manager for the MCC, who oversaw the project explained why: “We had two scoreboards put-in in 1999, they consisted of 16,000 light bulbs and it got the point where as soon as you replaced the bulbs by the time you were done others would have failed. It ended up looking patchy and awful.”

In 2006, the MCC finally bit the bullet and took the decision to replace the system. The club had also been using a temporary LED screen sponsored by Vodafone to show video other content during matches for big events and it was decided at the time that this third screen would become a permanent fixture and also that all three screens would have full video capability.

So, the brief boiled down to the following: replace the existing screens in the Allen and Compton stands with new ones and construct a completely new supporting structure in the Edrich stand to accommodate the third display.

The MCC engaged Gardiner and Theobald as quantity surveyors to put out a tender for a full design and build contract for the system. Following a shoot-out between 6 LED manufacturers Lighthouse Technologies were adjudged the winners. Jones explained the decision: “The Lighthouse screen provided more contrast than its competitors when displaying the traditional white text on a black background that a scoreboard requires. That was the major factor in their selection.”

Awarding Lighthouse main contractor status made them responsible for everything from building the foundations to designing and installing the support structures, as well as setting up the screens. Overseeing all of this was Graham Filmer, Lighthouse’s Project Manager for the Lord’s job. “This was a significant undertaking for Lighthouse because the company hadn’t taken on a full design and build before, “ commented Filmer, “but we were confident it could be done. All we had to do was remove two old scoreboards and their structures, install a new 20 metre high mast, and install three new screens. What could possibly go wrong?”

The solution Lighthouse settled upon for the displays was its P16i/o-II modules, with each screen being 11 panels wide by 8 high for a total area of 68.5m2 per display – the resolution being 704 x 384. That might seem pretty enormous for a scoreboard, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the viewing distance for some spectators was going to be around 200 metres.

Ligthouse then subcontracted AMX to drive the screens, serve the content also interface with the cricket scoring software – Total Cricket Scorer. Cricket itself is a veritable volcano of statistics, with the TCS database generating some 800 fields of data. The AMX system polls the database every second, before formatting the data for display on the scoreboard.

Bryan Crotaz R&D Director for Inspired Signage, who handled the system design and programming for AMX expanded on the system’s function: “There’s the basic score board, but we also have a number of different statistical slides that we can generate: current bowlers; current batsmen; innings total and so on.”

Handling the processing and polling exercise is a rack full of AMX Inspired Signage players. These are governed by an AMX Netlinx Controller.

However displaying the score is only half the battle. The other aspect of the screens is their full video capability. The English Cricket Board has an OB truck on site. This is linked into the Sky Sports vehicles and taking feeds and producing highlights packages. Maybe once or twice an over, highlights of that over can be run on the screens for 10-15 seconds. The feeds come over fibre in SDI format at 16x9. A 4x3 sector is taken out of the centre for the board, and advertising banners are placed around the outside.

AMX also handle the video routing and switching via an AutoPatch 8x8 Optima matrix, again controlled by the Netlinx device. All the video signals are scaled and layered, and all the XML scoring data compiled and laid out on the Inspired Signage players, and the scoreboard controller is able to then decide what appears on any of the screens via a specially created software interface.

Also located in the control box is a Zandar multiviewer. This brings in the outputs from each of the players, the video feeds from the OB truck and also what is being displayed on each screen, before displaying all of this on a single computer monitor. This allows the scorers to keep an eye on everything even though they can only actually see one of the scoreboards from the box.

However it’s not as simple as just blasting video onto the screens. It’s essential that the new content doesn’t get in the way of play. “We’re not allowed to have any movement on screens while the ball is in play,” explained Bryan Crotaz. “You don’t want to distract the bowler or the batsman. There is a contract closure in the OB truck, and if they decide that they have a particularly interesting highlight, then they can press the button, which will route the video to all the screens. When the button is released the screens revert to scoring.”

Despite a few set backs on the civil engineering side of things, such as discovering unknown Victorian Sewers whilst digging the foundations for the new structure, Lighthouse’s first lead contracting project has gone very smoothly, with the system up and running on time for the deadline of May 15th. Filmer identified the most significant challenge as being to construct screens and structures that were within the limits of the ones they replaced. The new screen in the Allen Stand, for example, had to weigh less than 8.5 tonnes including its supporting framework as it had to be suspended from the stand roof.

And is the MCC happy with its latest investment? It would seem so: “I think I’d be lying if I said everyone was completely calm before the first test match,” admitted Steve Jones, “But the system worked really well during the game.”