Multi-monitor installations for digital signage
The secrets to successful multi-monitor installations are proper planning and the right hardware and software, writes SARAH KELLY, corporate marketing manager, Matrox Graphics.
Digital signage splashed across a large-scale video wall can be impressive, but facility managers, along with their IT and AV (audiovisual) specialists, face a variety of challenges when integrating a multi-monitor installation.
First, there are the physical challenges, which pertain to the actual assembling and hanging of a video wall. Mounting experts will have to take into account space availability, structural safety and thermal variables, as well as overall aesthetics. Cabling can also be a challenge as your multi- monitor array becomes larger.
Next – and the part the most critical to a successful display wall project – are the technological challenges that revolve around both what you see (the monitors themselves) and what you don’t see (the hardware capturing, distributing, scaling and driving the content to the displays). At each step, you’ll have plenty of options from which to choose, including the type of displays and the size of the wall itself.
In terms of monitors, HD displays with very thin bezels are becoming more affordable, while ultra-bright solutions also exist to overcome a lack of lighting. As a result, it’s becoming easier and easier for facilities to build great-looking, multi- monitor signage walls using off-the-shelf displays.
Some spaces even take it to the next level by integrating single- or multi-touch displays in their arrays, generating a higher degree of personal engagement. This becomes an even more immersive and interactive experience when spanned across multiple screens.
Video walls of two, four or more displays
The choices of ‘behind-the-screen’ technology – that is, the multi-monitor hardware – are just as broad and important as the visible elements. They will be driven by what you want to see on the wall and how you want to deliver, display and control content.
At the smallest multi-monitor level, AV specialists can pair external multi-display adapters with media players, laptops or desktop computers to drive two or three screens. This would constitute a true plug-and-play installation as there is no need to open up the ‘box’, which can potentially void system warranties.
Look for adapters featuring sturdy, solid-state construction that are compatible with your presentation software.
Easy-to-use desktop management software is also a must. It helps you set up your displays and ensure content is displayed on your wall the way you want it. Look for features like bezel management to help you compensate for seams between displays.
If you’re looking to install larger video walls, you may consider using a system with a specialised multi-display graphics card. Add-in boards can drive multimedia content across multiple high-resolution monitors and make for cost- effective options that generate rich, eye-catching content that stays visible a large distance away.
Look for energy-efficient, fanless hardware to save on electricity costs and prolong the life of your installation.
If you want to capture and display more than one source on your wall, you’ll need to consider more of a multifunctional video wall controller that lets you scale, switch and manipulate source content on your wall.
In order to properly evaluate hardware, first consider how many inputs (sources) and outputs (displays) you will require.
The type of content you want to capture and display is also a key consideration. For example, you may need HDCP-compliant (high-bandwidth digital content protection) hardware if you want to capture Blu-ray disc, cable or satellite feeds.
Resolution and frame rate are also key – if you are installing Full HD displays, you’ll want a video wall controller that takes advantage of all those pixels when scaling source content. If you’re not sure what the future holds, consider scalable solutions providing high-density with a small footprint that allow you to add more inputs and/or outputs later.
For example, serving as components within a specialised video wall controller system, Matrox Mura video wall controller boards let you start building video wall controllers using just one board, with up to four universal inputs and four Full HD outputs on a single-slot, fanless add-in card. You can also combine multiple boards in a single system to create walls with up to 54 HD inputs and 54 HD outputs.
If you want to display a source that isn’t located right behind your video wall, you might consider using an AV-over-IP (internet protocol) appliance to deliver video and audio over your existing IP network. Look for low-bandwidth solutions that provide high-quality extension without requiring additional network infrastructure investments.
Network administrators will appreciate solutions that are low-bandwidth by default, while providing intuitive software allowing remote monitoring and adjustment of bitrates and other parameters.
The value of hardware control
It is worth highlighting the value that a good control option brings to the table. An installation can deliver on performance, but not necessarily the level of customisation you need, leaving administrators with a potentially frustrating desktop management experience. See what’s available in terms of bundled applications and don’t be afraid to explore third-party software control options to ensure you get all the features and functionality you require.
The sum is greater than its parts
Physical and technological challenges vary from installation to installation, and it’s critical to consider all variables when properly evaluating a project.
Facility managers and AV/IT specialists have to find the right balance between existing infrastructure, available technologies and the desired outcome to deliver the highest quality designs while minimising installation and support headaches.
With proper planning and the right hardware at your disposal, your multi-monitor installation is destined for success.
CASE STUDY: AUCKLAND MUSEUM
Today, multi-monitor technology is being integrated in all types of environments, including tourist destinations. This is how Auckland Museum addressed the challenges of a recent multi-monitor installation.
The Auckland Museum, one of New Zealand’s finest Heritage buildings with over half a million annual visitors, recently sought
to modernise the main entrance’s static information display. Looking to transition
to the digital age and dynamically promote current and upcoming exhibitions and galleries, the museum contracted locally-based Wallflower Advanced Digital Signage to integrate a high-performance video wall.
The digital signage firm already had video wall installation experience, having leveraged multi-monitor adapters and graphics cards in the past. After exploring the available wall space, Wallflower recommended a 4 by 4, 16-monitor video wall.
Equipment used was the Matrox M9188 PCIe x16 octal- monitor graphics board – featuring high density (eight displays) and high resolution (1920 by 1200 per DVI display) monitor support and multi-card support – plus 40-inch Samsung 400UX-3 LCD monitors. The 16 monitors were operated by a single PC running under Microsoft Windows 7 XDDM mode.
From a control perspective, Wallflower stuck with what it was familiar with and integrated its proprietary Wallflower Network content-management software, which allows system operators to manage in-house-designed multimedia to be run at specific times and dates.
Of note, video sync was achieved via the Wallflower software – without any DirectX support – so high-resolution content could be displayed across all monitors at a total resolution of 7680 by 4320.
The 3.5m by 2m video wall now serves as the official welcome banner in the museum’s main entrance, instantly engaging, informing and entertaining visitors with crisp, clear and dynamic content. The staff have also embraced the wall, noting the tremendous stopping power it has with passers-by.
“There’s no better way for visitors to begin a museum tour than to be wowed by our video wall immediately upon entry,” says Margi Mellsop, marketing manager, Auckland Museum. “This stunning visual platform gives us the proper communication channel to uniquely bring the past to the present, while enhancing our visitors’ overall museum experience for years to come.”