Mad Systems’ new non-proprietary AV system option promises to change the way AV is done. Its micro-miniature components and WiFi-based control interface provides for a low-cost solution that provides the required flexibility for a new wave of personalized media delivery.
As we started talking about this, it became obvious that all of this was in fact quite possible, and actually affordable. All of the sudden, things fell into place, and our design efforts rapidly culminated in a set of new components that took shape in the form of the new QuickSilver™ AV system.
The component list is simple; all hardware components are non-proprietary, have internal memory, and can be controlled and updated using WiFi:
With these components in place, and using low cost laser projectors and monitors, things change — dramatically. The QuickSilver™ media server and the other components fit in the palm of your hand, so you can plug it into a laser projector or monitor – the other essential ingredient – and you can now run different media onto a simple painted surface. With memory now no longer being an expensive ingredient, there’s plenty of room on the media server to keep several high quality video files, so no need to run extenders.
The system elements are essentially autonomous – they all contain all their own media, and can be programmed to loop their content, so that even without the control system there is content everywhere.
Infrastructure is now minimal. Some WiFi points around the space, with of course still some cabling for more complex interactive solutions – but enough of a change that the installation of conduit is potentially massively reduced. The need to coordinate details between the EC and the AV installation team is reduced, cabling costs are reduced, and cable installation costs are more or less gone. Since there is no physical contact between components, even power phasing is not really an issue anymore. Just these savings makes it worthwhile to consider this solution. The QuickSilver™ wireless network only carries control commands during the normal day, so control bandwidth is not a problem.
Of course QuickSilver™ is great for ‘basic’ AV requirements that include display of media on monitors and projectors. It deals with the usual button presses and motion detectors, as well as a host of other potential system inputs. The audio replay units are not only great to provide amplified output to devices ranging from local speakers to handheld wands, but can also easily be used to create multi-channel non-repeating randomized soundscapes. Power management is simple, so no more need to flick breakers on or off to control power to the venue. So far, so good – a solution that can take over from more expensive existing systems and also yields a lower installed cost.
Then the real differences started to show – and for now, we’ll look at the most obvious ‘standard’ applications. One of the premises QuickSilver™ promises is that it is now viable and affordable to use ultra-short throw laser projectors to do signage and graphics. Once you start thinking about graphics and such in visitor centers, you can imagine the effort that goes into creating esthetically pleasing results that still incorporates all the required information to tell a story. These solutions always need to deal with ‘the average’ audience, often display at least two languages, and meet ADA requirements – clearly a bit of a challenge. Another obvious problem with ‘standard’ graphics is that it never gets updated. Fixed graphics also do not allow for any movement or a simple change, which is not particularly attractive for a new audience that is used to modern media delivery where everything moves and changes to catch their attention.
By using a projector, it is possible to change the way we handle this: we can have an English version, a Spanish version, a kid-friendly version, an ‘average’ audience version, an expert version, a visually impaired high contrast version, and a host of other versions for that graphic panel. Not only that — if there is news tomorrow that means we should change the story, we can do so (remember recent surprise announcements about human evolution, or the number of inhabitable planets). The designer, or the client can produce some new content on the existing graphical background, upload it to the media master that is part of the system, and the system will then update the necessary device itself.
On top of that, we can add little nuggets – the background image could change, or be animated, or have a fly landing on it every now and then with it walking around the graphic panel. Now we’re creating something new and interesting. Of course this wasn’t very possible a few years ago because of the cost of projectors, the cost of re-lamping them regularly, the noise, the size of computers, the wiring to connect them – there was a long list of items that prevented us from being able to do this. QuickSilver™, combined with the right display hardware, makes it easy and affordable.
At this point, we thought about framing projectors and gobo projectors. With projection mapping, we can create a framing projector using a small, low-cost, medium resolution laser projector and a QuickSilver™ media server and light up an exact part of a picture or prop. We can fade the edges, change color, and even add a pattern. We are now liberated from a light source that has nothing but a focus control and some knobs. We now have an option to create any shape you want for that framing projector. The next target was the gobo projector, including water projectors and fire projectors that somehow always leave something to the imagination. Again, a lower resolution laser projector with a QuickSilver™ source provides the ideal solution. Yes, you can have a fixed outline, and simple moving patterns, but fire and water simulation can be done with real imagery. Imagine using AfterEffects or Blender to create your next visual effect. You’re not limited to a square (or round) format. You can use black and white, or color. You can “use” a ghostly image for Halloween by just changing the file on the master media store, and then have Santa Claus land his sleigh later in the year. If a corporation rents the space there is nothing to keep you from showing their logo. We’ve had this gobo projector solution running in the lab 24/7 for some time, and it’s a great application.
Yes, you may want to produce more graphics and media – but the savings provided by this system will help.
The system is ready for a staff member to select a venue-wide media delivery mode whenever they want. If the bulk of visitors on any given morning comprises school groups, then a simple push of a button on a smart phone or tablet can change all the content, or the content of specific exhibits. If there’s a need to run subtitles in English, Spanish, or any other pre-programmed language in the theater– no problem: just select it and the system takes care of the rest, even if the show has already started.
This is where another quantum step was conceived. Now that we had developed a system with more flexibility than anything we’d played with before, how would we turn that into something even more powerful? We’d figured out that it was time to create a different approach to media delivery altogether, and take individual preferences into account. The new thought was to figure out a method that would allow us to stop treating everybody the same, and deliver personalized content. If your exhibit tells a story about a complex process, you really should make a kid friendly version, a ‘general’ adult version, and an expert version so that no matter who is there to listen to your story, the story is relevant. There are plenty of places where it’d be nice to have that available in a few languages, too.
We went about figuring out a method to make this work. In the past, people have tried to use everything from barcodes to RFID to attempt to do this, and we had been involved in prototypes going back almost 30 years that worked but were cumbersome. The problem with contacting methods is that nobody really wants to scan their wristbands, or tickets, or labels, or whatever. The problem with RFID and even iBeacons is that you might know where people are, but you don’t know where they’re looking. We therefore went back to an infrared beacon solution as that would allow you to know who is facing your exhibits. By having a lanyard based device that works with other similar devices, it’s possible for any given exhibit to know who is standing in front of that exhibit. Each of the badges transmit a unique number using invisible light, and a registration station allows the owner (or the visitor) to select preferences like the language to be used, their level of expertise, an age group, any special assistance that might be required. It could allow them to indicate a preference for history or physics – whatever is relevant to any given exhibit. In fact, our IR emitter is designed so that if you have a dozen or so people standing in front of an exhibit, we have a pretty good chance of knowing who is there provided they don’t obscure each other’s badges. The QuickSilver™ media servers pick up this data, and transmit the relevant information wirelessly back to the system controller. Now, decisions are made as to what version of the media to run, and if we should, for example, be running the English language version with Spanish subtitles, or the Spanish language version with English subtitles. At this point, it’s all possible.
This is where everything changed again, and soon we will discuss another fundamental change that provides a level of freedom from technology that has never been seen in the past next. We now have other patent pending recognition technologies to control QuickSilver™ – or indeed any other system that provides enough flexibility to tailor media delivery. These sensor-based overlays will completely change our perception of museums, visitor centers and anywhere else where media delivery is part of what we do.
In the meantime, it is important to note that we do of course not see QuickSilver™ as our only option. Mad expects to continue to provide systems based on current methods as we have done in the past. The QuickSilver™ system is not intended to be a panacea, it is just another great tool that has a lot going for it and will help us provide some remarkable and affordable solutions to our market.
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