A turn on the carwalk

AUTHOR: Inavate

Chris Fitzsimmons reports from the Frankfurt Motor show on the AV technologies used by motor giant Mercedes-Benz to make maximum impact with their motto of “Fascination and responsibility”.

When is a show booth not a show booth? When it constitutes an entire hall of the Frankfurt Messe! Such was the scale of the Mercedes-Benz exhibit at IAA (Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung) 2007. Better known as the Frankfurt Motor Show, the event took place between the 13th and 23rd of September, and attracted nearly a million visitors, who were treated to a feast of cutting edge automotive and AV technologies.

Nowhere was this use of the latest technology more evident than in the Festhalle dome, which accommodated the Mercedes-Benz brand. The theme for Mercedes’s booth was the road to emissions-free driving and to represent this road to the future, a 50-metre long, media-driven road called the Carwalk was installed. It provided the entry and focal point to a three story exhibit encompassing over 7000 sqm, the media elements of which were the brain child of Atelier MarkGraph, the company’s brand communications agency.

Responsible for delivering the video side of MarkGraph’s vision, were long term Mercedes suppliers XL Video, under the leadership of Denis Pabin, he described the construction of the Carwalk: “The deck wass made of Barco’s MiStrips, about 3,500 of them with the lines spread 10cm apart. This deck probably provided us with the biggest challenge. For the designers, the viewing angle was a real issue – they wanted people to be able to see the deck as they walked in, and it wass raised around a metre off the floor. In order to achieve sufficient viewing angle we added diffuser caps on top of the MiStrips.” The Carwalk was 50 metres long by 12 metres and ran with a resolution of 120 lines wide.

At the back of the deck was a second LED screen, a 12m wide Element Labs Stealth, which ran at the same resolution as the MiStrips on the floor. The two screens are treated as a continuous surface for the purposes of content playback, with the video being pumped from a DVS ProntoHD player. The Stealth screen is semi-transparent, allowing for some additional back lighting effects. It also behaves as a curtain for the Carwalk, raising and allowing cars to roll on from behind. The final part of the feature is yet another video wall. This time it’s a large Hibino screen made from 6mm pitch modules. 10.70 metres wide and 3.60m it is 1800 pixels wide and runs full HD resolution video content. The screen was driven by a separate DVS ProntoHD located in the technical room with the other.

Carefully synchronised with the video content on the Carwalk was an atmospheric soundtrack. Delivering this to the audience was a sound system designed and installed by Neumann & Mueller and project managed by Stefan Hartmann. Behind the Stealth screen ere located a pair of Duran Intellivox columns, which produced two separate sound beams. One shoots along the plane of the runway to visitors entering the exhibit, the second is directed up to the balcony on the first floor.

“At first we didn’t really utilise them full,” said Hartmann. “But during rehearsals and measurements we realised that on the first floor you need a signal coming directly from the screen. It was very east to steer the beam up to the balcony.”

The rest of the ground floor sound system for the sound track was made up of Sonus’s ZX101 ribbon speakers. Two of the three metre units were positioned either side of the Hibino screen on the carwalk and then a number of the two metre units were distributed around the floor attached to the supporting columns. The sounds played out were initially recorded in a studio, and the timing and levels were adjusted once the system had been fully installed.

DSP processing was provided by Yamaha’s DME system, a total of 2 DME64 units and 6 DME24s were used, all located in the central rack room with the amplification.

“I think we had a total of 55 d&b audiotechnik D12 amplifiers along with some further older Yamaha amplifiers. The DME’s allowed us to tune the system from one position and set the levels. We didn’t use any digital distribution – we considered it but it made no sense for this show to use something like Ethersound because the amplification was all centrally located,” explained Hartmann.

Video distribution for the LED displays was a combination of HD-SDI cables for the Stealth and Hibino 6mm and fibre-optic cable for the long run down the Carwalk.

XL Video provided show control for the Carwalk, this was in the shape of software named V-Control, synchronising the video content on the screens with the atmospheric sound and also the raising and lowering of the LED curtain. Carefully matching the video content on the three LED displays was another of the things identified by Denis Papin as being particularly tricky.

Once visitors had had their fill of the fashion-show like experience of the ground floor, they were lead up escalators to the first floor. This is populated by several stand-alone displays featuring different aspects of the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Service lounges give visitors a space to relax and decelerate before they move on to the climax of the exhibition.

A large number of stand-alone plasma displays with locally stored content are distributed around this floor. Their content is either served by near-by PCs or Bonsai SDI players, with inbuilt scheduling of pre-prepared content. The screens used were NEC 32” LCDs, 42” Barco Polaris HDs and 65” full 1080p Panasonic plasma displays.

Sound on this level was provided by a combination of d&b loudspeakers. Around 40 E3s are mounted in the ceiling and B2s were employed to deliver a bit of bass punch. Continuing around the top floor, visitors were treated to an excellent bird’s-eye-view of the Carwalk before returning to the lower level.

Behind the runway on the ground floor was a separate exhibit consisting of a studio stage dedicated to the F700 research vehicle, “Tomorrow’s Travel Limousine.” This featured a second, smaller Hibino 6mm LED Wall, again served by its own ProntoHD. Various presenters from Mercedes talked through the car’s various features via a Sennheiser head-mic and a local dedicated PA consisting of further Sonus Speakers.

The final stage of the exhibit is called “TecTalk”. Here, engineers from the different development fields supervise interactive tables and explain to visitors the various technological innovations demonstrated on the Carwalk presentations.

Whilst this may have been a temporary build, taking more time to put together and test than it was actually live, it bears all the hall marks of a serious installation. For XL Video initial rehearsals and set-ups began in March, and the build itself took about four weeks in total. The MiStrip floor was truly striking, and the view from the gallery even more so when watching video content sweep dramatically from the high-resolution screen, down the curtain and across the floor towards you. New cars and a feast of AV technology, what’s not to like?