Last year, Dataton launched Watchout 3 at LDI and took home the Projection Product of the Year for the latest version of the multi-display production and presentation system. Watchout is designed for large-scale, high-impact presentations, as it is used to create widescreen and multi-display productions for corporate events, theatre, operas, trade shows, and for installations including museums, theme parks, corporate headquarters, and shopping malls. With Version 3, Dataton has brought the product up to date with a variety of new features.

What It Does

A Watchout system consists of the following components: a Production Computer, Display Computers, and an Ethernet network. Here is a brief overview of each component:

The Production Computer is the focal point for Watchout production work. This is where you collect all the source material, or media, to create the presentation. Using the Watchout Production software you simply drag media into the presentation, positioning it in the Stage window and along the Timeline. The Production Computer talks to the Display Computers through the Network, transferring media files for you as required, as well as controlling the playback of the show.

The Network ties the parts together, allowing the Production Computer to manage all Display Computers. The Network is created by connecting the computers to a common hub or switch. As you add new media to your presentation or revise existing media, these changes are automatically propagated, via the Network, to the appropriate Display Computers. The Network also transfers your display configurations, timeline programming, and other aspects of your presentation to the display computer. With all this material residing on the display computers, very little information needs to be sent over the network during playback, avoiding network congestion.

You need one Display Computer for each display device (projector, monitor, etc.) used in you presentation. Display Computers handle all the hard work associated with rendering still images and video. They also apply edge blends and play sound files. The fact that there's one computer for each display device makes the system scalable to virtually any size; as more displays are added, you also add more computing power to drive these displays.

In addition, each computer in a system running Watchout must have a Watchout license key connected. The Production Software can be used on its own without a license key. License keys are only required when using the display software.

“The new thing with Watchout 3 is a completely redesigned user interface, which makes it more comparable with other modern creative media-editing systems,” says Fredrik Svahnberg, director of marketing and sales for Dataton. “More effective, faster to work with, and also, it has a full-quality preview inside the Production software, which is important since you can download it from the web, get going, and see what you are doing without having to buy the product. That is a strategically important feature for us and for the users, of course. But apart from that it is a complete redesign, remodeled, more modern user interface. Basically, we built the platform to invent and add new effects and new features that we are doing right now. We have released 3.0 and 3.1; we are going to release quite a few updates and new features. We also have built-in geometry correction now, so you can project on more than just flat surfaces. That is an example of one of the many features it is possible to do now with version 3. We have updated it with all the most modern techniques and technologies.”

The new version does sport a remodeled user interface. The Stage window is improved and offers high-quality preview. It has new settings for preview quality and a masked preview mode. Users can even preview live video and remote computers in the Stage window.

Displays can be rotated to any angle to create unique display arrangements. There is improved keyframing for all movements. The new rotation tween track gives users precise control over rotation speed, degree, and revolutions. Other tween track features let users flip and scale images more easily, select and move multiple tween points, and edit motion paths, acceleration, and deceleration very accurately.

“What you have in the Watchout system are two parts,” says Svahnberg. “You have the production side of it, where you actually build and make the compositions, and run the whole program. You have that on one computer. And then you have a piece of Watchout software that actually feeds on through to each display. What you can do now is work offline with only the Production computer and the Production software, and you see exactly what you are doing. The starter software version allows you to save; you can do anything that you can do in there, but the only thing that you cannot do is download the media and the compositions to the Display computer for playback. Basically, somebody who knows the product now can actually build a whole presentation by just downloading to a PC and running the software. To put it up on stage, you will need a license key for each computer system.”

How It Came To Be

“Watchout was originally shown in Stockholm in December 1999, but the first release was spring of 2000,” says Svahnberg. “It was only six years ago, but really, it was only at that time that all the technology was coming out to really make projection more accessible. Now, we make and play everything on our PCs, and we forget it hasn't been that long — only five or six years ago that this became possible because of all the components that became standard — without them, this would not be possible.”

According to Svahnberg, Watchout 3 was a planned next step. “It had been in the plans all along,'' he says. “When we started to build Watchout for these kinds of applications, it was extremely important to have a reliable product that could also deal with all the media formats that exist out there. We do everything with high-def video, which didn't exist a couple of years ago. We needed really reliable playback, and it is especially important when you are running on normal PC computers, which some people are very nervous about using. It has to be a very robust product, because we do very prestigious projects for a very large audience, so reliability and the quality of the playback have been the two most important things initially for us to establish. We have been quite good in establishing all of those things. Now we can play full-quality images and high-def video and even do high-def capture of high-def video sources and dynamic sources, as well. We established all of that first, and now we will put quite a lot of energy actually inside the Production software to add more features, to make the users life easier.”

What's Next

The current version of Watchout that is out now is 3.11. Version 3.2 of Watchout is scheduled for release in mid-September. “Upcoming releases will incorporate more interactive possibilities and external control. Watchout needs to work with lighting consoles and other things that need to trigger it,” says Svahnberg. “More support for applications like interacting with actors on stage and events and things like that — also more support for maintenance features for fixed installations. These are the two main things for Version 3 that will prove itself in both the staging and rental applications but also the fixed installation, which is becoming a very big application for Watchout.” Not comfortable with standing still, Dataton is already at work on Version 4, which is in the development stages, and its release is planned for mid-2007.

Training for end-users is an important part of Dataton's growth plans. Dataton has Dataton Centers — essentially service providers — around the world to support Watchout. “Starting in October, there will be monthly training — advanced and basic training — at Show Sage, the Dataton Center for the US, which is located in the Detroit metro area,” says Svahnberg.

“We are really happy with the growth of the product over the years; it is in new markets and new applications,” says Svahnberg. “It is nice to be able to improve the ability for the users. They are really the ambassadors of Watchout. They invent new uses and new applications.”

Randy Briggs from Scharff Weisberg comments, “A few of the new features I like in Watchout 3 are:

  1. Better quality preview on the Production computer.

  2. Geometry Correction. Previously, one would have to use additional hardware to keystone correct (or if you wanted to ‘shape’ the output to a set piece). Now it's built right in.

  3. The ability to rotate the image is also a nice new feature.”

“I just used Watchout Version 3 at Goodspeed for a production of The 60s Project,” comments designer Wendall K. Harrington. “Not being a programmer myself, the thing that is most valuable to me — and it is very valuable — is being able to preview the sequences on the programming computer. Leah Gelpe was my programmer for that project.”

Sean Nieuwenhuis, principal of sensory overload productions inc., uses Watchout as his primary display software, and there are some features he really likes in Version 3. “The revamp of the Production software, which encompasses many changes to the user interface, has made programming shows much easier and faster than in previous versions. The high resolution preview has made accurate programming offline a real option. While I miss having a Mac version of the production software, the new functionality made the change to PC production computers worthwhile, and with the new Intel Macs on the market, I look forward to being able to use a single laptop to do both. (We still produce most content on Macs.) The new image shaping/warping functionality has been a great addition to the product, allowing for quick onsite fixes when dealing with less than optimal projector placements, and we are experimenting with using this new function with curved screens and spheres as projection surfaces.”

Nieuwenhuis would like to see added to the next release of Watchout, “The ability to define the real world physical size of a display in the Stage window or the ‘pixel pitch’ of each output. This would allow the user to more easily combine multiple screens and projectors of different sizes and resolutions and let you animate content across them without worrying about changes in image scale.”

Greg Page, president and CEO of Nashville, TN-based PK Pictures, Inc., feels Version 3 is a good business choice. “We're always looking for the cutting edge technology for our clients: what we can offer them that can't get elsewhere?'' he says. “But we also deal with the reality of fixed budgets, so we have to find ways to save our clients money too. Watchout lets us replace a ton of expensive switching, routing, and playback gear with an affordable, integrated, scalable solution. This frees up funds for more creative and programming work, which is where our strengths lie.”

“The greatest new feature in Watchout 3 has to be the geometry correction,” says Page. “This allows us to create blended projections on odd shaped surfaces, without the expense and signal delay of downstream image processors. This feature has allowed us to blend 12 projectors across a giant, multiplane canopy for MTV and do 360° circular presentations for clients such as Coke and Turner Broadcasting. We've used Watchout for everything from the world's largest corporate show, State Farm, to single screen marketing presentations. It's really a Swiss Army knife for us.”

Page offers his thoughts about what he would like to see improved about the product. “The feature set is amazing. There's very little that I need done in the course of a show that it can't do. Performance has received priority over interface, and though much improved, there's still work to do. I've always considered Adobe After Effects to be the benchmark for flexible, powerful timeline interfaces.”

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