Bartha Visuals has been providing the audiovisual support for the general sessions at the National Future Farmers of America Convention for the past four years, and every year its goal has been to incorporate some type of new technology into its setup that will enhance the quality of the various presentations delivered in the main hall.

The FFA offers high school-age students from across the country the chance to participate in a wide range of agriculture-related education activities. At the annual convention, students get to walk the trade show floor and participate in workshops, seminars, tours, sessions, even a talent show. This year's show attracted 53,000 attendees and was held at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Bartha Visuals' responsibility was to provide the audiovisual set-up for the general sessions, which were held in the 20,000-seat Freedom Hall arena.

For this year's show, held at the end of October in Louisville, Ken., Bartha Visuals turned to Folsom's new Encore Video Presentation System and Barco's new SLM R12+ Performer projector to provide extra dazzle. The two products did not disappoint. “We got a lot of comments from people who were very impressed,” says Bartha Visuals account executive Jerry Spencer. “They had not seen anything like that before. I had people I didn't even know coming up to me and asking me what we'd done.”

The new technologies enabled Bartha to create a bright, high-resolution, blended, widescreen experience that featured effects and imagery that would have been cost-prohibitive to produce just a few months earlier.

To match the vastness of the space, Bartha Visuals utilized three large screens that formed the backdrop to a dramatic stage area. The 20ft. × 48ft. center screen was the largest of the three screens, and it was fronted by a steel grid wall structure that created a video wall effect and allowed the center screen to blend in smoothly with the gridded look of the surrounding stage set. Nestled on each side of the center screen were two 18ft. × 24ft. screens, creating a total image area that spanned an impressive 96ft.

Imagery was front-projected onto the screens by two Barco SLM R12+ projectors and two Barco ELM G10 projectors. The two R12+ projectors were hung side-by-side to create a blended image on the center screen, while the two G10 projectors lit up the two side screens.

Supporting the projectors were three Encore video processing systems, with two dedicated to providing the blended image, and the third one dedicated to handling the IMAG feeds to the side screens. A single Encore controller was used to run the show. Video and graphics input were provided by a dual-channel Doremi disk drive, a Beta SP deck, and six individual computer sources. Live IMAG imagery was provided in SDI format via five Sony DXC-D35 cameras.

With this setup, Bartha Visuals was not only providing the FFA audience with a bigger screen than it had ever seen before, but it was also providing a screen configuration that gave more impact to the messages being delivered during the various presentations. “With the Encore, we could communicate the key messages more effectively, because we could put the graphics on the large blended screen and leave the live IMAG images up on the outboard screens,” explains Spencer. “That way we didn't have to cut back and forth between the two views. It is such a huge venue that the people in the back really needed to have the IMAG on the large screens all the time, and with the Encore, we could give them that view without interrupting the message being delivered on the center screen.”

Spencer says they also used the blended center screen to occasionally throw up enormous still images of activities occurring elsewhere in the convention center. “We'd never been able to do that before,” he says. “The images were big enough so that everyone in the arena felt like they had a front row seat.”

Spencer credits the ability to create those big images to Encore's digital scaling and blending technology. “The scaling and blending quality was superior to anything we'd seen before,” he says. “At one point, we took one of our Sony cameras and flipped it to 16:9 mode and then stretched the image across the entire 20×48 screen. It held up really well.”

Bartha Visuals also dazzled the audience by taking advantage of the Encore's ability to put two PIP video windows up on the blended screen simultaneously. The windows could be placed anywhere on the screen and could be enhanced with borders and drop shadows. This was particularly effective during the talent show.

“With Encore's PIP capability, we could put multiple camera views of the performer up on the blended screen at the same time, while a third camera shot yet another view that was projected onto the outboard screens. That was another thing the audience had never seen before,” says Spencer.

The most stunning looks of the event were produced when Bartha Visuals combined Encore's features with the lighting effects from a High End Systems' Catalyst media server. “During certain times when we didn't have content to put up on the screen, we'd turn control of the video server over to the lighting guys,” says Spencer. “They'd use the blended projectors to create these stunning moving backgrounds that worked in unison with the lighting effects on the rest of the stage. They could create very abstract backgrounds, or they could create something like a sunset scene where it looked like the sun was setting on the stage.”

Bartha Visuals' Chris Zervos served as the lighting designer for the FFA show and credits the Catalyst for making the show look so sharp. “We had four layers of playback of either video or still images,” he explains. “So during programming, with every look we had the Catalyst pump out an image and send it to the video guys. During the show when they didn't have something to put on their wide screen, we just sent them something cool we thought they would like, and they always did.”

Aside from the custom content of FFA graphics, images, and animation, Zervos said that the stock content on the Catalyst — including images and Quicktime movies — worked exceptionally well, with the only hiccup being the image size. “Catalyst pumps out 4×3 images and we had to stretch them to fit the wide screen, but it was so abstract that nobody could tell it wasn't normal,” he says. “All the backgrounds were programmed in with the lighting to match whatever look we had onstage.”

As for the lighting rig itself, Zervos says that all of the colored lights were automated, while the conventionals were used for the washes, specials, and to light the podiums, “basically just lekos and PARs corrected up to daylight to match the moving lights.” The automated lights were provided by Florida-based Paradigm, who also provided a couple of technicians. The moving light package was comprised of Martin MAC 250s, MAC 600 Washes, MAC 2000 Profiles for patterns on the stage deck, and Martin Performances. The conventionals were all ETC Source Four lekos and PAR64s.

While Spencer credits Encore's blending and scaling capabilities for making such effects possible, he also credits Barco's R12+ project for creating such a sharp looking image. The projector delivers 1400×1050 resolution, 11,500 lumens, and a 1700:1 high contrast mode. “We first saw the R12+ at InfoComm in June, and we were blown away by it,” says Spencer. “We were most impressed by its resolution and its brightness as well as its size. It's a third smaller than the Barco ELMs we had.”

This show marked the first time Bartha Visuals had used either the R12+ or the Encore. In fact, the Encore was not yet released, giving Bartha Visuals a few pre-release quirks to deal with. Nevertheless, Spencer says the products worked well together and were easy to use.

So easy, in fact, that the video crew was able to perform most of the PIP movements and special effects on the fly without advanced planning. That's not normally how they work, says Spencer, but it was necessary in this case as the crew needed a chance to get familiar with what the system could do.

One thing Spencer is certain of is that without the Encore, it would have been impossible to produce such a visually sophisticated show. The Folsom BlendPro system that they've used in the past simply lacked the PIP and special effects features necessary to pull it off. And although the Montage from Vista Systems does offer similar capabilities, its price put it well beyond the reach of the budget for this event.

Ryan Pellicano, Folsom's design engineer, acknowledges that the new Encore system is designed to be a more affordable alternative to the Montage system. But in addition to its price advantage, he says the system has other advantages as well. One is the quality of the blending, which he insists is superior. Beyond that, he says, a big advantage is that Encore sports a scalable architecture that makes it possible to link many Encore systems together to create a 32-screen show.

“Our biggest strength is our use of what we call parallel screen processing,” Pellicano says. “The Montage uses single virtual image mapping, and as a result it has a specified number of pixels within its pixel space to work with. In our system, if you need more pixel output to make bigger, wider screens, you just add another box. So there is almost no limitation to how big you can make your screen.”

While the FFA show didn't come close to approaching the Encore's screen size limit, it was still dazzling enough to make the audience sit up and take notice. “The clients were very impressed with what Encore and the R12+ brought to their show,” says Spencer. “They really appreciated the overall look of the show, the brightness of the content, and the way it was all laid out in widescreen format. They thought it was just impressive.”

Stephen Porter is a freelance writer who has covered video, graphics, and digital content creation technologies and applications for more than 15 years.

Managing editor Mark A. Newman contributed to this story.