Thinking outside the box

December 11, 2009

Interesting new technology from Mitsubishi Electric, as highlighted on EMT Worldwide.

Mitsubishi Electric has announced that it will demonstrate a new multi-touch (MT) interface for its Seventy Series DLP cubes at ISE 2010. The new interface transforms a standard multi-window display wall into an interactive workspace that can be used by several users simultaneously.

The multi-touch technology, developed jointly in Sweden by Mitsubishi Electric and i3 Sense, uses laser sensors instead of the more usual infra-red (IR) detectors or capacitive touch overlaysThe multi-touch technology, developed jointly in Sweden by Mitsubishi Electric and i3 Sense, uses laser sensors instead of the more usual infra-red (IR) detectors or capacitive touch overlays. As well as offering greater accuracy and responsiveness, the new system is much less susceptible to interference from sources of IR radiation such as sunlight. The technology makes it possible to create reliable multi-touch, multi-user interfaces in normally-lit environments such as control rooms, shop windows, or other public areas.
Mitsubishi has developed a multi-touch option for its Seventy Series DLP cubes that enables the entire display wall to become a single multi-touch interface. Multiple users can interact with the display at the same time, with the software tracking the hand movements of each user from one cube to the next completely seamlessly. Users can change size, orientation and position of any window by simply ‘grabbing’ it or ‘dragging’ the corners to the desired position. The ease with which users can work together and manage multiple sources offers exciting possibilities in applications such as command and control.

The multi-touch technology, developed jointly in Sweden by Mitsubishi Electric and i3 Sense, uses laser sensors instead of the more usual infra-red (IR) detectors or capacitive touch overlaysDaniel Quitzau of Mitsubishi Electric Sweden commented: "The Multi-Touch option creates a completely new class of user interface called a Natural User Interface (NUI). The strength of NUIs are that they are completely intuitive. The technology removes the need for the operator to have specialist training or to be aware of how the data is being managed. Configuring a display really does become as simple and as intuitive as arranging paper on your desk. Users are becoming much more familiar with touch interfaces through products like the iPhone. Windows 7 ships with native support for multi-touch applications and so it’s likely that we will see rapid growth in the use of multi-touch applications over the next few years. With this technology option now available in our control room displays, Mitsubishi Electric is very much at the forefront of this technology."

The Seventy Series cubes are available in 50in, 60in, 67in and 80in screen sizes in 1024 x 768 pixel and 1400 x 1050 pixel resolutions. All can be supplied with the i3 Sense MT option and it is possible for the system to be retrofitted into existing installations. Seventy Series products have built-in processing and interchangeable input cards to enable sophisticated multi-input display walls to be created without an external processor. For more ambitious projects, Mitsubishi’s VC-X3000 image processor and D-Wall software suite can be used to create powerful turnkey control room solutions.

Thinking outside the box

Sony invests in OLEDs, sees Blu-ray prevail

February 22, 2008
Sony is to invest more than $200 million to develop OLED displays, while nitride-based laser production could get a boost from Blu-ray’s success against HD-DVD.
Sony Corporation has unveiled plans to invest approximately 22 billion yen (about $203 million) to strengthen middle and large size OLED (organic light-emitting diode) panel production technology. With this investment, Sony says it intends to accelerate the shift to middle and large size, high-image-quality OLED panels.Sony began researching OLED technology in 1994, and has since positioned OLED as a future next-generation display technology. In December 2007, Sony launched the world’s first OLED TV, “XEL-1” in Japan, incorporating Sony’s proprietary “Organic Panel” to realize extreme thinness and superb image quality through a high contrast ratio, high peak brightness, accurate color reproduction and rapid response time (see Sony begins selling world’s first OLED TV).

In order to advance the shift towards middle and large size, high image quality OLED panels, Sony has decided to invest from the second half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2009 towards the further development of production technologies.

Sony will reinforce its TFT (thin film transistor) and EL (electroluminescent) layer coating processing facilities at Sony Mobile Display Corporation’s Higashiura factory, and plans to implement this production technology during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2010.

Sony says that it plans to continue to advance the development of OLED panels, positioning the OLED panel as a new device capable of expanding the future potential of televisions and other AV products.

A recent report from Frost & Sullivan estimated that the OLED display market earned revenues of $475.0 million in 2006, and that this will increase to $1.4 billion in 2013.

Blu-ray prevails in DVD format war

Sony’s Blu-ray Disc high-definition format has finally prevailed as the replacement for DVD after Toshiba announced that it would discontinue production of rival HD-DVD products.

Both formats use violet semiconductor lasers manufactured using the same indium gallium nitride (InGaN) material system that is used to make blue, green and white (phosphor-converted) LEDs.

Violet lasers were developed by Nichia, the world’s largest LED maker. However, most of the lasers used by Sony in its Blu-ray players, including the PlayStation 3 games console, are manufactured by Sony, which has a licensing agreement with Nichia.

From LEDs Magazine

New Mitsubishi product range benefits display integrators

February 20, 2008

Mitsubishi Electric has significantly expanded its offering to Systems Integrators with the launch of the brand-new new 3000 series Display Wall sub-system at ISE 2008. The perfect complement to its market-leading range of DLP projection cubes, the new family of modular display wall processors enables integrators to create very sophisticated display systems quickly and easily, without having to worry about compatibility or interfacing issues. Using the new sub-system, commissioning costs and project timescales can be drastically reduced without compromising performance, reliability or sophistication.

The hardware element of the new system consists of the VC-X3000 Display Wall processor and the VC-MK3000 synchronous graphics insertion processor. Both units can be used as standalone processors or in combination to create a powerful hybrid system capable of handling synchronous live video, DVI-I/VGA and data inputs in real time. The processing sub-system is complemented by the new D-Wall software suite, which brings together processing and hardware control into a single integrated environment, and allows extremely sophisticated display systems to be created virtually straight from the box.

The X3000 Display Wall Processor is a high-performance display wall processor designed for demanding control room or large-scale visualisation applications. A standard chassis is capable of routing 48 video inputs and 12 DVI/VGA inputs across 24 different outputs. The system is expandable up to 128 video inputs, 62 DVI/VGA input capture channel and 64 output channels via optional expansion modules. The X3000 can also accept multiple network inputs and is capable of servicing multiple client control stations and applications simultaneously. The D-Wall software provides separate colour-coded mouse cursors that allow up to ten operators to interact with applications on the display wall. Like all Mitsubishi hardware, build quality and reliability are of paramount importance. Based on a Intel™ Xeon dual core processor, the standard chassis comes with 1GB of RAM and 80GB HDD with hot-swappable backup, both of which are expandable. Redundant PSU, fans and RAID disk controller help ensure 24/7 reliability in critical control room applications.

The VC-MK3000 graphics insertion processor provides real-time, synchronous overlay of video and DVI-I/VGA sources and is designed for high-performance applications such as control rooms and C3i facilities. Sync in/out and gen-lock also make it ideal for TV studio applications. 9.6 GB input bandwidth is shared between 32 video or DVI-I inputs, allocated at 0.3 GB per channel. 16 user-configurable outputs provide a flexible combination of overlays and screens. Auxiliary base layer inputs enable additional software applications to share the VC-MK3000 desktop for maximum flexibility. Up to 10 VC-MK3000s can be cascaded together to provide hundreds of input sources.

Mitsubishi’s new D-Wall software suite unifies X3000 and MK3000 processors in a single, powerful control architecture spanning both applications and display hardware. D-Wall allows direct control of display wall settings such as brightness and lamp modes, as well monitoring parameters such as lamp hours. The software automatically warns operators via email should a hardware alert condition arise. Using D-Wall, complex wall layouts can be created easily by simply dragging and dropping inputs from whichever X3000 and MK3000 processors are attached to the system – either singly or in combination. Layouts can then be saved for instant recall. This intuitive software environment significantly speeds-up the commissioning process by making the physical integration of different sources completely transparent to the operator. The unified software environment also allows total flexibility to upgrade or modify the physical layer to meet future demands on the system. D-Wall can be used with a standard touch panel control to simplify the operation of complex display wall systems and reduce the chances of operator error. D-Wall can also respond to system events by switching to pre-programmed display layouts which automatically give prominence to the window generating the alert message, thereby reducing the risk of an alert going unnoticed.

Mitsubishi Electric’s new display wall sub-system underlines the company’s commitment to System Integrators. With the launch of this significant new range of products, Mitsubishi continues to place the highly-valued relationships it enjoys with its Systems Integrator partners at the heart of its strategy for professional display products.

Someone To Watch Over Me

November 9, 2006

Just because you’re not paranoid, it doesn’t mean that they’re not watching you – or so the saying goes. It’s a fact these days that there are very few human activities that aren’t being monitored in one form or another. From car parks to traffic flow; telecomms networks, utilities to financial markets, the acquisition and centralised management of large volumes of data is commonplace and becoming more so with each passing year. Paranoiacs and Orwellian conspiracy theorists might be having sleepless nights, but companies supplying the technical expertise behind command and control applications are doing increasing levels of business thanks to ‘Big Brother’.

Nevertheless, the reversal of fortunes in the communications sector has caused a shift in focus, thinks David Griffiths of Christie Digital: “Last year was a tough year for everyone. I think we all got hit by the slowdown in telecomms,  but manufacturers are searching hard for new markets”. And it seems, there are no shortage of opportunities. “We’ve seen growth in Europe, and in the UK transport market specifically”, says Synelec’s Steve Murphy. Synelec provided 12 cubes for London’s much publicised  Congestion Charging scheme. Early indications are that the scheme has been successful, which will almost certainly lead to similar schemes being trialled elsewhere. Synelec are currently engaged on a new traffic control project in Manchester, with more set to follow.

Along with transport, community safety schemes are showing strong growth. According to Steve Murphy,  the UK market now accounts for an astonishing 45% share of the world CCTV system market, with more new schemes being added all the time. “South Shields council’s CCTV surveillance system now accounts for something like 800 convictions a year. They are looking to expand this scheme with the opening of a new monitoring centre this year”, confirms Steve. UK government commitments on crime and transport, coupled with the imposition of tight fiscal restraints, means that technology-based solutions are being looked at with renewed interest by local authorities.

Applications and initiatives that would previously have been unfeasibly expensive are becoming not just viable, but actually the most cost effective overall solution. Like all urban authorities, Manchester City Council are required to balance public demands for improved services with cost. But in Manchester’s case, hosting last year’s Commonwealth Games placed additional demands on resources. Manchester’s response was the formation of a joint venture with National Car Parks Ltd, called NML, to enable the creation of an all new control centre.  “The goal of NML”, says project manager Neil Robson, “Was to create joined-up operation of Manchester’s city centre, traffic flow, parking and community safety.” In what Lord Falconer described as “The way forward for city centre management”, police, the local authority and NCP operate side by side within a state-of-the-art, purpose built command and control centre. “There were already a number of monitoring systems installed around the city, but the aim was to get rid of the traditional site-based CCTV and VCR’s and bring it all together under one roof”. The pooling of resources in this way has. enabled significant increases in operational efficiency while delivering a better public service. “We now have one of the most sophisticated control rooms in Europe”, continues Neil, “The careful selection of our partners was critical in achieving that”. NML appointed systems integrator Synectics (UK) as their lead contractor. Synectics in turn appointed Barco as their display solution provider. “What clinched it for us was the flexibility and scaleability of Barco’s Hydra system”, says Neil. With a projected lifespan of twenty years, upward compatibility is an important consideration. “We will want to add more channels as we go along. With Hydra, we can do that easily by simply adding more cards.” The whole system will eventually migrate from its current analogue to a digital video distribution network. Once again, this is accomplished by a simple card swap.

The centrepiece of NML’s control room is a virtual monitor array consisting of six Barco Atlas 84” displays. The left hand side of the display wall is used by Greater Manchester Police and local authorities to monitor and control the city centre, while the right hand side deals with monitoring the 19 car parks currently linked to the system. Driving the displays are six Barco Hydra controllers allowing operators to monitor any of the 412 cameras installed around the city centre. Footage from these cameras is stored digitally and can be recalled instantly. The NML control centre currently has over 60 Terrabytes of information stored on the system! Each operator’s workstation consists of three LCD panels running Flash-based GUI’s developed by Synectics in conjunction with Barco. For CCTV operations, Barco’s iSurveillance solution allows operators to monitor images, in a variety of display formats. Car park operator consoles have a virtual map which allows the operator to drill down from a map of the city, to an individual car park and then to different levels within that car park. Synectics’ interface also allows operators to control barriers remotely, monitor equipment status or manage the driver information systems situated on major routes around the city. 

Naturally, such sophistication doesn’t come cheap: “Involving companies like Barco and IBM seemed extravagant and expensive at the time but it was the only realistic option: A local CCTV company would not have been able to cope with a project of this size”. On face value, the cost of high-end displays and control systems might indeed seem expensive compared to a CRT solution. But, not so according to Neil. “All things considered, we’ve actually achieved considerable savings when cost of ownership is  factored in. When Barco and Synectics produced a detailed cost analysis of CRT verses projection, the projection solution was considerably cheaper over the long term”. The greater efficiency of projection cubes meant less maintenance, lower power consumption and significant economies in the air-conditioning requirements. Slimmer profiles meant less impact on floor space and less weight reduced floor loading, which in turn enabled savings in structural costs.”

In command and control, the integrated approach is essential: Jamie Farmer of Electrosonic: “Rather than just saying we’ll just put in a few displays and wire them up, there is a high service expectation within the command and control business. The service element is hugely important and an integral part of our ethos.” So is knowledge rather than tangible hardware actually the real product?  “Absolutely”, says Jamie. “We rely on our expertise to ensure that we interpret a client’s needs accurately and provide support from consultation right through to delivery.” Mike Kings echoes these sentiments:  “Yes of course we supply hardware into a project, but it’s the expertise and long term support that’s really critical. It’s that expertise that determines how we display the required information and therefore how successfully we can create useable software/hardware environments to support a customer’s activities. We see ourselves as a true systems integrator and solutions provider. That really is at the heart of what we do”.

Command and control projects are mission critical, technology-heavy applications requiring a great deal of expertise; not just in display technologies but a wide variety of data management and network disciplines. The different philosophies adopted by technology suppliers makes direct comparisons between them difficult. Unlike a projector shoot-out, for example, there’s much more involved than just lining up one manufacturer’s box against another and checking the price tag. Manufacturers are spread across an entire spectrum of opinion about whether display control systems should be based on hardware, software or a hybrid of the two.

Electrosonic pioneered much of the technology seen today in command and control, such as the videowall concept using projection cubes – a legacy that lives on with their Vector controller. But despite such an enviable pedigree, Vector has not penetrated the European command and control market as successfully as Electrosonic would have liked, mainly because command and control is now much more network rather than video-oriented. The cost of Vector’s very high quality video performance is not seen as justifiable in many situations. In response, Electrosonic are about to release a new system designed to compete directly with similar offerings from European rivals Barco and Synelec. But, despite the fact that price is clearly an issue in the market, Electrosonic have stuck to developing a proprietary hardware products in preference to hybrid or software-based systems.  “For a while, we were headed in the network direction, but I think we’re heading back the other way now”, comments Jamie. But why the change of heart? “It really is to guarantee the robustness of the system” explains Jamie. “With software based systems, you’re putting an awful lot of faith in that little processor which is also running everything else. Serious bottlenecks or security risks can be caused by trying to handle a lot of analogue video over the network, for example. A single analogue video input increases load on the computer’s PCI bus tremendously”.

System robustness is also high on Synelec’s list of priorities. “Customers want to have total confidence that in times of crisis, the system will deliver the information they need, where they need it”. Synelec employ a combination of hardware and network control  in their display controllers to produce what Steve Murphy terms a “Distributed Solution”. He elaborates: “We operate a full dual-redundancy approach which means key applications can be displayed via a network or an RGB route in response to external events”. In Synelec systems, the processing is shared across several elements of the system.  “Our RGB processing is done on-board each cube, so if a critical part of the network goes down, the displayed information can be automatically moved elsewhere to a pre-determined part of the display. It’s this decision-making ability and resilience that customers really want.” And they should know: Since 1986, over 95% of Synelec’s turnover has been derived from control room projects such as BT’s National Network Management Centre in Oswestry. “BT spent a long time looking at the available products in the marketplace before reaching their decision, which was based more on reliability and technology rather than cost. Of particular importance to BT was having no critical point of failure”. Steve points out that single tier solutions “do not offer much system resilience because they represent a single point of failure. A server-based solution, even though it might employ multiple network or RGB paths, still represents a single point of failure.”

Paul Nobel of Imtech, however, is not dissuaded: “I have the highest respect for all companies still making this technology, but I don’t feel it’s the future”. The future for Paul is command and control display applications which are entirely software based, running on freely available off-the-shelf servers. Imtech used to manufacture hardware videowall controllers until Paul had what he describes as “a revelation”. “I realised how absurd it is for relatively small companies to be making hardware. Developing and supporting hardware products is very, very tough.” Imtech’s Activu system is entirely software based, using the existing client LAN/WAN infrastructure to distribute signals. In the USA, Imtech are in the final stages of commissioning an Activu-based system for the New Jersey Transport Authority, which at 255’ long and between 5’ and 10’ high, is believed to be the largest command and control display ever built.  “Our clients love Activu because it delivers network power that they didn’t think was possible”. Imtech claim to have experienced “no problems “ with reliability and to be able to “meet or exceed expectations for operational performance”. Imtech also make a strong case that their software solution approach offers major advantages in terms of future proofing, cost effectiveness and customer support. Activu’s development cycle is continuous and Imtech provide updates as part of its support programme. As for the hardware, Paul says, “The components are all off-the-shelf and sold world-wide on a massively huge scale. We, and our customers, benefit from those economies of scale. Furthermore, these are companies which offer 365, 24/7 response anywhere in the world. Not us, not Barco… not any of us could match that”.


“What we have created at Imtech is a concept-driven operation”, says Paul. “We want to de-mystify the hardware so that we can point to one of our products and say ‘it’s just a computer’ or ‘it’s just a cube’. I think that’s where it’s going, in just the same way that all projectors now essentially look the same. It’s the quality of the company behind the product: Customers want to see a company that stands behind its technology”. It’s this establishment of credibility in terms of expertise rather than just hardware that’s vitally important. Visucomm’s Magician system is an example of a hybrid solution combining both standard and proprietary hardware with specialist software. Recent projects for Visucomm have included a system for the US Army in the UK and a complete refurbishment of the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority’s control room for the Glasgow underground using 67” Clarity RP displays.

There are of course many different options when it comes to the choice of display. And once again, there is more than one opinion on which technology will replace CRT as the de rigeur display technology. While Mike Kings exposes the benefits of Clarity’s single chip LCD cube,  David Griffiths of Christie claims “Everyone now seems to be acknowledging  DLP as the preferred display technology in command and control”. According to Christie,  the accuracy of colour rendition distinguishes DLP from LCD as the technology of choice. “Colour reproduction becomes incredibly important in command and control applications”, says David Griffiths. “It’s essential that colours are reproduced accurately because much of the information you are displaying is colour coded and you are expecting operators to act based on the information they see.” Brant continues, “We recently completed a control room installation for Italian Railways in Pisa. Yellow and orange are both used in the display, and it’s obviously hugely important that operators can clearly distinguish between them”. For the Pisa project, Christie worked with Dutch company Ansaldo Signal NV Group, specialists in railway signalling with an impressive 13% of  the world market. Christie’s display is comprised of twenty six DLV1280DX projection engines, rear projecting onto DNP high contrast screens. The choice of rear projection over the use of projection cubes was significant, as David Griffiths explains: “Customers have less money to spend but require more display ‘real estate’. We regularly get asked for screens of 100” diagonal or beyond. The advantage of rear projection is that you can achieve bigger sizes using less projection equipment”.

Analysing and understanding the scope of a project in its entirety is arguably more critical in command and control than most other display applications. “You have to have a far greater understanding of how it all works together – there’s a lot more involved”, says David Griffiths. “It’s not just about hardware, and it’s not just about software: The emphasis is on providing solutions.” Do Christie ever see a time when control room technology becomes commoditised with plug-and-play network boxes and displays? “Different customers require different things. It’s not so much price oriented as driven by the ability to provide the service. That can’t be commoditised”. David continues, “Providing solutions is very different from saying to a customer ‘how many boxes do you want’? Brant Eckett adds: “Solutions rarely come off the shelf”. Despite the hotly contested opinions amongst the command and control community, there’s few that would argue with that.

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