WorldStage, the new brand for Scharff Weisberg and Video Applications Inc., developed and installed an innovative live, moving LED display system for the new studio design for ESPN's premier NBA show.
Kia NBA Countdown is the pre-game show for ESPN's NBA games on Wednesdays and Fridays and NBA Sunday game broadcasts on ABC. The show emanates from the ESPN Los Angeles Production Center at L.A. LIVE - across the street from STAPLES Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. The new set design went live on December 25, 2012 to support five NBA games, which aired over ESPN and ABC on Christmas Day.
At the beginning of the project, scenic designer Michael Hotopp envisioned a display system that would be reconfigurable via motorized armatures: The system would enable the display panels to fly through space and relocate themselves as single displays or different-size combinations. WorldStage president Josh Weisberg collaborated with Hotopp to develop a system with a "tracking" feature that would allow the content fed to the displays to synchronize with the movement of the displays. This feature created a virtual image space within the studio so the displays could move through physical space as well as virtual image space.
The project found WorldStage teaming up once again with ESPN's Noubar Stone, whom the company had partnered with on ESPN SportsCenter's HD set in Bristol, Connecticut. After discussions with Stone, LED video tiles were determined to be the right technology for the application. LED tiles provide an extremely bright and punchy image and offer the ability to be housed in a "bezel-free" mount, if desired, making them ideal for this application.
The team contacted Fred Gallo's team at PRG Scenic to accomplish the task of designing and implementing an automated scenic mechanism capable of handling the weight of the display panels with movement precise enough to create the multiple configurations required without threatening to damage the very fragile tiles.
WorldStage created a custom configuration of Lighthouse Technologies' 4.44mm LED panel system to fit the desired dimensions of the display. Both WorldStage and ESPN had previous experience with Lighthouse LEDs and felt that they provided the right combination of resolution, brightness and color depth for the requirements.
WorldStage called upon another familiar product, the Coolux Pandora system, to achieve the tracking synchronization. Outfitted with HD-SDI input cards, Pandora could output content resident on the servers in combination with live content fed from the studio's broadcast switching system.
One more technical piece of the installation remained: a control system that could meet ESPN's needs for minimal operator interaction during broadcast. Since the system consisted of multiple media servers, broadcast telecast equipment and the moving LED panel scenery controller, the control paradigm posed a major challenge. The solution was a custom-designed user interface created by WorldStage media server programmer Michael Kohler with the Coolux Widget Designer toolset.
Kohler's custom interface permits the operator to pre-load complex presets into single-button triggers in anticipation of display movement. When the scenery controller is triggered, the Pandora system senses the movement and runs the presets as loaded.
The automated LED panels mark the first application of this type in a live broadcast environment; other studios using moving displays move them manually during commercial breaks. All those involved in the ESPN project expect that the use of the system will grow in complexity as the studio explores the extensive capabilities of the application.
"We were gratified to be part of the team that brought this magical system to life," says Josh Weisberg. "It creates some of the most dynamic visuals ever seen on a sports studio broadcast and confirms ESPN's position as the most dominant and innovative sports broadcaster in the world."
At WorldStage Tj Donohue was project manager, Barry Grossman video system designer and Bryan Dominick display and video installation lead tech. John Gluszak was the ESPN engineer on the job.
WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.