Skip to main content

More Content With Content

Take a look at video walls in the command and control environment and it's apparent that content is king. But when it comes to video walls or multi-screen displays in the corporate environment, content is more like the emperor's new clothes. Everybody thinks it exists, but when the time comes to unveil the expensive new video hardware, the screens are bare. Or worse, the screens are showing PowerPoint presentations.

Video wall content doesn't have to include animated bullet points. With the amount of user-friendly video editing software and DV cameras out there, the content creation process is becoming more accessible. In fact, even high-definition video content isn't as distant a prospect as it used to be, as still images can now be easily converted into HD video content. So the next time you find yourself one week from project completion and your client hands you an envelope full of historical photos they want to see on their video wall, do not be afraid. A little ingenuity can go a long way.

If content creation is still a bit intimidating, consider the added qualifications you'd have as someone who's worked on both sides of the video wall equation. Just such an expert is Jon 9, who claims fame as one of the first professional video wall programmers trained in the U.S. in 1987. Since that time, Jon 9 has used his expertise to design and implement video wall systems and content for corporate and entertainment industry clients.

"People get so hung up on the hardware," Jon 9 observed, "they think that if they buy a lot of great display technology it will solve all of their problems. Then they run out and get a VHS tape and stick it in, and then they can't figure out why it doesn't look good."
Jon 9 works primarily in the entertainment sector these days, and his hardware know-how has done him plenty of good. Add to that his experience developing video content for Hollywood clients, and you have a very viable solution. How does he do it? With software. That's right, the programs that are available to anyone willing to make the investment can make content kings out of court jesters.

"There are an awful lot of people out there that know how to use Adobe Premiere," Jon 9 noted, "and now that you can use Photoshop and Premiere together with high-definition video, I think that should open hi-def up to a lot of corporate applications. Additionally, for the house of worship market-another area where people don't necessarily have the kind of production expertise that you find in the broadcast market-Photoshop and Premiere put better content within reach."

Jon 9 has been using Adobe Photoshop's latest iteration, Creative Studio 2 (CS2), since early 2005. By June of this year, he was putting the finishing touches on a video installation optimized by the ease of blending text, graphics, still images and video into one playback file with Photoshop CS2 and Premiere Pro.

The project was initiated by management at Las Vegas' Riviera Casino for the 20th anniversary of Splash, the longest running show on the strip. The show needed an update, with new talent and a new video look courtesy of Jon 9. The first step was upgrading a video system that previously was comprised of left and right video screens that were impossible to see simultaneously with the action on the stage. Jon 9 replaced these with three 9 x 12-foot screens on the stage, and put a scrim behind them as an additional video display option.

The Riviera sought a video program based around still and moving panoramic images of the casino, the strip and historical photos and video footage of Splash. In order to achieve what Jon 9 describes as a "fourth forced perspective" with this wide expanse of video imagery, he specified that the two outside screens on stage be trapezoidal in order to enlarge the picture and create a sense of depth.

The video content that Jon 9 produced is displayed by four Dataton-controlled Pioneer 7400 DVD players feeding three Sanyo projectors aimed at the screens, and a fourth projector for the scrim. The Dataton system ensures that the video is in sync with a separate audio track coming from FOH. "I've used Sanyo projectors a lot and I really like them," Jon 9 said. "They've been doing very well. They're economical and yet they gave us enough punch, reliability and adjustability to handle the keystoning we did to get the images to fit on the screens."

While keystoning did some of the work required to make the images fit the screen configuration, most of the fourth dimension forced perspective effect was achieved with Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop CS2. "In creating the content," Jon 9 explained, "I did a lot of mixing of still graphics and photographs with backgrounds that were created in high-definition. In order to have the high-resolution effect of large panoramic images stretched over all three screens, with graphics appearing over the panoramic background, I created a custom format of 2160 x 486, which is the width of all three screens."

Creating the backgrounds first, Jon 9 then digitized them into high-definition video at 720p or 1080i, and brought them into Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5. He used multiple layers of 720p video that was mixed and stretched into an uncompressed AVI file that was 2160 x 486. He then rendered the file, and brought it into Photoshop to create created the graphics and photos as different layers in a single a multi-layer Photoshop file in 720 x 486. "This allowed me to make sure that when I did effects like dissolves where I wanted certain elements to be static, backgrounds that dissolved over all three screens behind the static graphics, I could be absolutely sure that everything was going to line up. And because I was doing it produced the graphics in layers, and I could check the alignment between layers back and forth," Jon 9 explained. "So it was almost like doing animation in Photoshop."

Having created graphics from text and processed archival photographs in a big multi-layer file in Photoshop, Jon 9 then exported the file as target frames and imported the target frames into Premiere Pro. He then divided the video images up into three pieces for the left, center and right screens, and placed the graphics over each one of the pieces of the background, rendering each segment separately and putting them onto DVD.

"The advantage of doing things that way is that I knew that all three pieces for the three screens were exactly the same file length, and I knew that the backgrounds were going to line up perfectly, frame by frame, because it was all created as one single, large file, and I could check the alignment between layers," Jon 9 said. "That system worked out really well. I went through the whole production process and I burned the DVDs, and really couldn't check them until I got there, and when I did, everything lined up perfectly."

Where before it was detrimental to the resolution of photographs when transferring still images to video, high-definition video allows the quality of the image to be preserved. "Working with Photoshop and Premiere is a great combination because you can go into Photoshop, do all the tweaking you want with the photographs, and then export very quickly into Premiere to set them in motion," Jon 9 said.

The process of mastering everything in high-definition can also save money on the hardware end if the video is then split onto DVD players. "This is a great solution for people who don't have high-definition playback equipment, which can be very expensive," Jon 9 observed.

"Over the last six or nine months there have been so many developments on both the software and hardware side," Jon 9 continued. "The combination of the enhancements to Photoshop with CS2, and the fact that Premiere handles HDV, are really significant. Handling the HDV input process, editing and output is seamless on Premiere. There are no hassles. It handles HDV exactly the same as it handles standard-definition video. I can tell you that having been in the HD world when the first editing software came out for high-def, that wasn't always the case."

Kirsten Nelson is a freelance content producer who translates the expertise and passion of technologists into the vernacular of an audience curious about their creations. Nelson has written about audio and video technology in all its permutations for almost 20 years; she was the editor of SCN for 17 years. Her experience in the commercial AV and acoustics design and integration market has also led her to develop presentation programs and events for AVIXA and SCN, deliver keynote speeches, and moderate and participate in panel discussions. In addition to technology, she also writes about motorcycles—she is a MotoGP super fan.