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Videowall installations in control rooms

Steve Montgomery reviews the methods used to create large scale videowalls that enable the display of high resolution video and data streams needed in control and surveillance applications.

Control rooms provide a central point for operators and surveillance staff to monitor and manage mission-critical applications throughout many industries and security installations. Their purpose is to reliably present key information and enable timely response to be made to operational situations.

Most control room installations take advantage of the ability of display technology to create a large, continuous, videowall that serves as a single common display presenting multiple streams of data. Individual operators within a control room have access to the same data, ensuring that they are all aware of the most important aspects of the overall system. Supplemental displays at individual workstations then offer specific information and individual control
capability to allow specialist operators, allowing them to access their own particular specialised areas.

Depending upon the needs and requirements of the application, the videowall may take almost any shape or form and be created from single or multiple display elements. It may even be separated into major and minor walls to accommodate special user requirements or to fit the physical layout of the room itself.

Single and multi-projector displays, rear-projection video cubes and increasingly, multi-screen LCD display walls are used throughout the industry to deliver the optimum display for each individual installation. In each, the selection of the most appropriate technology, layout and format is based upon the needs of the user, the available space and the methods of operation: the number of operators reliant upon the display and the need to ensure that they can all see the screen easily and the images presented by it, no matter how far off-axis they happen to be.

Individual applications require different forms and quantities of data to be shown on the main videowall; which is effectively a blank canvas on which user-specified data is to be displayed. That data may be received into the system in a plethora of video and data formats, from an ever-expanding range of source devices in increasing quantities. At any instant just a small subset of the available data is likely to be of importance and pertinence to the operators, and it will change throughout the time of day, over an operational process or whenever an unexpected or emergency situation arises.

Every installation must, therefore, include a mechanism for incoming data streams to be selected, resized and positioned on the videowall, a process that should be managed under user control to deliver the instant changes in data presentation required to effectively respond to changing conditions. It is the task of the videowall controller to provide this capability. This device receives incoming data, allows the user to select the most appropriate streams, processes the video to make it compatible with the type of display technology in use, resizes and positions images to the desired format and transmits the final output to the display device.

Each control room is unique and will be configured according to complex and comprehensive user requirements; to suit the volume and types of incoming data. The wide variety of video and data sources in use today means that videowall controllers must contain a sufficient level of inherent flexibility and configurability to suit the desired installation and adapt to any future expansion or change in input formats. In addition to pure, uncompressed, SD and HD video streams from surveillance and security cameras and media recorders, other streaming video formats are commonly encountered, including H.265 from video conferencing systems, MPEG and H.264 from media servers and IP video streams. Data screens output from general data processing and control computers in the form of DVI, RGB, DisplayPort and other video formats regularly need to be handled on the videowall. In addition, proprietary data formats like SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) and BACnet (Building Automation and Control Network) are frequently encountered in process control installations and must be accommodated.

Consequently these devices have evolved, in the main, as hardware-based, modular systems that allow selection of interfaces and expansion and updating through the use of plug-in modules. A wide variety of manufacturers have devised solutions to meet any sized installation. Each offering includes specific functionality through control software that is intended to appeal to users within different market sectors, ensuring easy and effective operation of the overall system.

Datapath’s VSN800 series controllers, for example, can manage videowalls consisting of up to 64 individual elements in a single chassis, with further expansion possible through the addition of expansion chassis. Its Control-red videowall control software allows OEM suppliers to build efficient display control and content management applications, making full use of the underlying hardware capability, whilst being protected from the intricate details of hardware resource management.
The Extron Quantum range of controllers is capable of receiving and processing 3G-SDI, HDMI, DVI, RGB, HDTV, 4K Ultra HD and other video sources. Hundreds of additional DVI or RGB sources can be streamed over an IP network to the Quantum Elite using the Extron QGE 100 graphics capture encoder.

To facilitate operation and control, many videowall control systems are accessible though client-server software packages to provide local or remote wall management. The Dexon Systems DXN Video Wall controller is typical and offers easy-to-use graphic interfaces that allow quick and efficient set up, control and supervision as well as the ability for touch screen control integration that enables operators to select and manage the screen display. Operators can respond to individual circumstances and revert to preselected layouts depending upon situations.

Matrox has developed the MuraControl software that enables users to remotely switch, scale, and manage input sources on any Matrox Mura MPX-powered video wall using drag-and-drop style touch or mouse interfaces by means of an iPad or Windows PC and a standard network connection. Using a simulated version of the video wall displayed on the user device, administrators can easily and intuitively control the wall. Commands carried out on the tablet or PC are echoed on the video wall in real time.

As the requirement to display ever greater amounts of information at increasing video resolution evolves, videowalls and their control systems will continue to deliver sophisticated and extensive information and data display in the most demanding control room environments.

Useful links
Dexon Systems
Published on: 18/06/2014

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