At LMG, we've strived to be an early adopter of cutting-edge equipment ever since we opened our first office in 1984. In today's staging environment, that translates to high definition solutions. Our mission is to provide clients with the best technology solutions for what they want to accomplish, and in pursuing this goal we have strived to bring innovations to the presentation industry.
As such, I'm always on the lookout for the latest and greatest equipment while trying to avoid the short-lived "flavors of the week." When I first saw the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna switcher at NAB, I remember leaving the show thinking it was the only really innovative thing I had seen there. The Kahuna enables the user to integrate all formats and aspect ratios, including 4:3 and 16:9, and deliver them to HD video displays while simultaneously recording the feed in standard definition. I figured out very quickly what this would mean for LMG in terms of presentations and live events where clients really need to impress their audiences.
Especially for show tours like Discovery Upfront, where the Discovery Network only has one chance to win-over potential advertisers and sell the upcoming season's lineup. Evident through its programming, the Discovery Networks--which encompasses channels such as Animal Planet, Travel Channel, Discovery HD, TLC and, of course, the Discovery Channel--prides itself on brilliant visuals and intense audio. The network is recognized for its vivid cinematography and high-end production values.
Building On a Solid Foundation
About a year ago, we decided to build the world's first high-definition, multi-format, truck-in-a-box, which we dubbed HD-1. Designed and engineered around the Kahuna from Snell & Wilcox, the technology enables users to intermix high-definition and standard-definition sources in the same switching system without the need for up-conversion. We can switch, route and record multiple formats simultaneously. For example, we can switch a 1080 format on screen and have a standard-definition record at the same time. For ease of use, the rack layouts are specially designed to roll into place.
The design of the first system required an intensive, six-week process in which a core group of four engineers worked 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week. Building the entire system took close to a month. The second system took about a month to build, but was obviously a less intensive process with a successful, working model as a reference.
We debuted the first system in early 2005 during a pharmaceutical company product launch at the World Congress Center in Atlanta. After six months, we were already juggling show schedules, thanks to high interest from vendors and clients. As a result, we were constantly shipping the system back and forth from coast to coast. It became evident that we needed a second system, and we decided to move forward and build a second system--HD-2--so we have one on each coast.
Now, we have two HD packages based around Kahuna switchers--each system valued at $1.5 million--which are the world's only multi-format high definition truck-in-a-box systems.
Flexibility: A Life-Saver
Many of the people we work with have footage and graphics from archives or past events that may not be available in HD. Our system allows us to use multiple formats, which has proven to be a life-saver on more than one occasion. We also selected a system that allows us to utilize 1080 and 720 formats, which offers flexibility to our clients for their needs. Until now, there has been no product within our industry that could offer this functionality without some type of limitation.
For those who don't have a multi-format switcher, two different switchers are used. Sources are up- or down-converted to achieve a consistent format, which alters aspect ratios and ultimately sacrifices quality. Up-converting video signals to match high-resolution graphic images makes video images appear soft and out of focus. Alternatively, down-converting computer graphics to match video sources results in a loss of resolution. The fewer steps involved in processing, the lesser the chance that the equipment could manipulate the output quality.
As companies in the presentation and staging industry have begun to round the HD curve, we've learned that HD images not only look cleaner on big-screen displays than SD images, but they also make a much stronger impression on the viewer. Though the benefits of the HD presentation are clear, the actual move to HD represents a significant cost and investment. Determining the right path to HD is critical. With the Kahuna on board our HD flypacks, I knew we'd have the ability to bring HD to our clients without compromise.
When we show our HD system and the Kahuna to our customers, it has a big "wow" factor. It produces phenomenal-looking computer images, and the video images off our HD cameras are terrific. The Kahuna's FormatFusion technology lets operators integrate any SD material--handheld camera feeds, graphics or archive footage.
Because we use cameras, switching, display and projection all in HD, we're able to provide an HD digital link from camera acquisition all the way through to the projector. Operators can do technically incredible things that we couldn't have conceived of before, and it's making a huge impact on our client audiences. Operators can accommodate graphics and feeds as they come with speed and flexibility. In terms of signal flow, we get a better quality signal without delay because the Kahuna has eliminated the need to up- and down-convert outside the system.
We've been working with the 3-M/E version of the Snell & Wilcox switcher, and we've also added a fourth M/E controlled separately by a side car panel to enable one operator to manage live screen feeds while a second monitors line cuts and records unique to the show. This added degree of flexibility enhances both the look and quality of visual presentations.
TV Stations to Stages
The main reason behind this leap into the high-definition world was the reliability of the product. The Kahuna switcher was designed for use in a broadcasting environment, where reliability is an extremely important attribute. With a live broadcast, you only have one shot to do it right--which is the same in our industry. At a live event, you can't really stop and do another take. So, we felt the transfer of technology from broadcasting to event staging was a no-brainer.
Using the stability of broadcasting technology in the corporate environment allows us to offer our clients a system that is not only unmatched in terms of the actual technology, but also adds a layer of security. As the Kahuna meets broadcasting standards, it helps to take the worry of failure off our clients' minds. Our clients couldn't be happier with its performance. Typically, once clients experience the HD system, they don't want to go back.