LED walls were hot at NAB, as Barco, Lighthouse, Daktronics, and Mitsubishi Diamond Vision showed new products at their booths on the show floor. The LED panel manufacturers are gearing up to get ahead in the image processing race. But it was an event off the show floor in Las Vegas that had LED watchers abuzz.
In what can be described as excellent NAB timing, Celine Dion's long-awaited show at Ceaser's Palace opened on March 28, just in time to get nicely tweaked for a VIP contingent from the NAB show, who saw the performance and got a backstage look at the technology of the newly (and totally) refurbished Colosseum at Ceasar's Palace.
As impressive as the lighting and sound system is for Dion's "A New Day" show, it's safe to say that the mega-LED wall from Mitsubishi Diamond Vision steals the show. When you think about a 34x110-foot LED screen in an indoor theater, it's hard to imagine that it would not dominate the set and the room, overwhelm the lighting effects and, in effect, act like a big TV screen, overpowering the production.
But that's Las Vegas. If you've seen Cirque du Soleil's "O" at the Bellagio, you know how big they are building rooms and how big they are designing stages and the stagehouses in these rooms. For "O," the stagehouse is nearly as big as the rest of the theater--they needed every bit of it to fly all the props and rig all those flying dancers.
At the new Colosseum, which seats 4,000 people, the proscenium opening is 120 feet across by 45 feet high. The LED wall, at the rear of the stage, sits 80 feet from the seats in the front row orchestra. That's a huge stage. The overall effect is that of a second proscenium at the back of the stage, turning stage rear into a wide window on a larger world and opening up a palette onto which is painted a mixture of live camera feeds and backdrops that do not overwhelm the production but comment on it, adding a visual depth that otherwise would have only been possible (maybe--a big maybe) with a much larger stagehouse and dozens of projectors.
That's how they make a 34x110-foot LED screen work well with other set elements. How does the Mitsubishi Diamond Vision LED screen work? The screen is 8mm dot pitch. At the overall size, that means 1280 dots high by 4160 dots wide, or over 5 million individual dots of RGB. It is run at 60 frames per second at 240 hertz refresh. (A nice processing trick they do to improve the scan rate: they refresh from the center of the screen, up and down simultaneously, not from the top of the screen down, to get a faster refresh.) The system uses Diamond Vision Digital Screen Controllers for HDTV, using 1080i input sources via SDI inputs, and Sony HDC950 high-definition cameras for the live video feeds.
Another reason the LED wall doesn't overwhelm the show is that audio rules this production, the Doremi video playback units chasing the audio timecode generated by the live musicians. There is no "canned" video, in the sense that the show constantly changes, with a lot of the video from live cameras. Dion adds or cuts verses of songs at will, improvises, stops and chats with the audience, and slows or speeds up numbers depending on the mood of the night. The video always waits on the audio timecode, so it never feels canned.
The sheer size of the LED wall is a first for a concert environment, and there were and are many physical/engineering contingencies to deal with. It took four months to manufacture the wall, with over 20 design engineers involved. The total weight of the screen is 24 tons. It runs off a 600 KVA power supply. It has variable silent fan control to eliminate noise during quiet passages in the performance.
This massive LED system is obviously designed to be ensconced in the Colosseum for years. Are we likely to see similar rigs in other venues? Well, this is Vegas. They can get $120 per ticket and up (way up) night after night for Celine Dion. It's hard to replicate the economics of this venue, but it would be foolish to ignore what facilities--such as the new Colosseum and the facility at the Bellagio--are doing to revolutionize staging and production. Keep a close eye on what they are doing with LED and other new display technologies in these innovative productions.