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Expanded Environmental Projection

Expanded Environmental Projection

My good friend Nicholas Rivero, along with the help of AJ Morgan and Jason Norris, recently had a project that really impacts people doing Environmental Projection and those wanting to expand past 1, 2, or 3 projectors from a single computer.  There are a lot of reasons why most churches shouldn't go any wider with their EP, but when necessary, this is a cool solution.  (Nick is a creative and tech genius, the video director for Chris Tomlin and Toby mac, and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.  You should take him to lunch.)

Got a cool project that some friends and I had been working on......

A church outside of Birmingham, AL previously installed a 3x3 monitor wall put into their lobby for doing digital signage.d  They had one solution installed for playing back content across 9displays but it was fairly clunky and not too user friendly for a novice tech person.  After doing quite a bit of research over the past 5 months, a friend built a custom computer that is capable of driving 10 displays: 9 outputs for the 3x3 video wall, and 1 control display to fit their need.

What does this all mean?  It means that we are able to run ProPresenter across 9 displays but, to the end user, it acts like just one display.  We can also have a much higher output across all 9 displays than if we had just taken a single output and split it across the 9 (which is what a lot of people do in scenarios like this).  In this case it was 1280 x 720 per display, so 2160 x 3840 total (that's almost 8.3 million pixels total, fyi).

In doing some research, we hit some limitations that we had to research.  The list of things we had to figure out were:

1.  Having enough physical outputs to cover 10 displays.

2.  Having enough physical outputs on one graphics card (there's a reason for one card).

3.  Software that could allow us to span an image across multiple outputs.

So we landed on a custom built PC to do this.  Why a PC?  Because all of these limitations were achievable on the PC.

Number of outputs/on one graphics card:  The reason for one graphics card, in short, is because when you use multiple graphics cards they have a hard time talking to each other.  This problem is much harder on the Mac, and there are some ways around it on the PC, like DirectX, but I won't get into full detail as to why 1 vs 2 cards.  We'll just leave it that we used 1 =) As you can probably guess, we used 3 Triple Head to Gos to make it all come together.  Each horizontal row of LCDs had a Triple Head, so the system was really connected to 4x outputs, 3 THs and 1 Control Display.

Software limitations:  ProPresenter, and a lot of other presentation apps, can only send their output to 1 display.  So, if you're system sees, in this case 4, independent displays attached, the software can only send it's output to 1 of these 4.  That's a problem when you're trying to span 3 Triple Head outputs.  How do you work around this?  Something called "display groups".  You can group displays together to act as one single output.  Our 3x3 monitor wall appears to the computer as a single 2160x3840 display, while it is in fact 3 separate outputs running 720x3840 per TH.

What's cool is the future.  Technology is changing daily and even since the building of this box new graphics cards and software solutions are appearing everywhere.  New 27" iMac's now support dual display output, meaning that in theory, you could do two TH's on one iMac!

This also has other applications outside of the digital signage world.  Think about being able to do EP with 9 projectors instead of just 3?  Or, doing a video staging concept with 6 or 9 displays but just having one computer to load content to and manage it all from?  The possibilities are endless!

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