All Things Media Servers!
ETA Magazine talks to CT Middle East about the use of Media Servers for Projection Mapping!
James Crump, CTME Sales Manager
How do media servers help the operator/ designer with their objectives?
Media Servers allow the operator and designer to layer, sequence and display their content in context. Depending on the choice of Media Server, it gives the user a large amount of processing power to manage and playback content. Creative Technology Middle East has invested a large amount into their fleet of media servers with many different media server solutions all offering multiple 4k outputs. The media servers all have configurable output cards to allow the operator to break down to output signals internally and distribute them to the display preference of choice, such as projectors or an LED screen. The Media Server allows the ability to play multiple items of content on different displays or to be able to split a canvas across displays.
With many of the Media Servers available through Creative Technology, you get the ability to prebuild your show and visualise it through the Media Server before you get to the venue or location. You are able to previsualize the entire show in real-time to be able to fully navigate the event to give the key stakeholders a clear idea of how the event will work in the space. With Disguise for example, the client would be able to be shown the previsualized show from the designer dongle in pre-production meetings allowing them to view and potentially develop the storyboard before show day.
Media Servers also allow the operator to trigger audio, lighting and other timecode dependent triggers to be able to deliver a higher level of automation and show complexity that could not be achieved without the processing power on offer with the Media Servers.
What are some of the key features you would look for in a media server?
With a number of Media Servers now on offer, the different functionality features can often be the deciding factor in which one to use.
One of the initial considerations would be the cost of purchase. As with many things in life, the manufacturer brand, options available, and key features can significantly affect the purchase cost with fully loaded media servers costing into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One key factor in the decision would be the number of outputs the Media Server is able to deliver. Many of Creative Technology’s Media Servers are capable of providing multiple 4k outputs. Live events, on the whole, are growing in size year on year from a technology point of view, LED screen pixel pitches are becoming more fine so many shows now have displays that are above the HD pixel space, so having the multiple 4k outputs means this is possible and helps future proof suppliers for the continuing advancement in display technology.
Ease of use and availability of trained and experienced programmers and operators. While there are many Media Servers available on the market, the number of experienced programmers and operators varies depending on the chosen server and also to some extent the geographical location of use. For Creative Technology, training of engineers on the Media Servers is a key element in the purchase decision and goes hand in hand with the specific server selection.
Creative Technology undertake a large amount of projection mapping projects and choosing a Media Server that allows you to layer the content onto a 3D canvas and pre visualise the output is a key factor in the selection of server.
How do they prepare for a projection mapping show?
We would normally start with an architectural 3D model of the area to be projected onto. Using tools like Mapping Matters, Cinema 4D, and Disguise, we would first check coverage, lens calculations, lux levels, and pixel convergence. From that, we would start building the project in a previz environment using our chosen Media Server. As soon as available, we would get a full scan of the surface completed and, after some clean-up and sanitisation of the model, drop this in place of the original architectural model. As with all projects, pre-production is everything.
Can you highlight a challenging project?
Al Wasl Plaza at Expo 2020 was by far the most challenging project for the team, from pre-production of a single canvas exceeding 200milion pixels to the installation of 250+ projectors weighing over 130kg at a height of 25m, to running over 50km of cabling. Overcoming these challenges was mostly through diligent preparation. For the canvas, we brought in the Media Server manufacturer very early into the project to make sure they were as invested into the delivery as us. This allowed them to test and work through any problems before we even got to site to start the installation. Likewise, we worked with the projector manufacturer to design and build a custom lifting frame that we could connect directly to a crane and predefine the angles of every projector on the lift to allow for the projector to drop into its custom made enclosure. Site conditions were another major factor on this project, the install started during winter, and unusually for Dubai, it was a very wet winter which caused many issues with moving large MEWPs and cranes around the site. For this, setting realistic expectations for what the team needed to achieve each day was the key.