Boosting the appeal and value of live programs with video walls

As many top broadcast networks compete for the same viewers, it’s become vital for them to boost the graphics appeal of their live shows, reinforce their image branding, and convey the most comprehensive and timely news to viewers. With video wall technology making significant advances and accomplishing such goals, broadcasters have been adopting it in record numbers of late.

Aljazeera English (AJE) and MBC Al-Arabiya, as well as Sky News Arabia, are among the global broadcast networks leveraging video wall technology for live presentations, including world news, business news, sports, weather, elections and user-generated social media commentary. 

Due to their immense size, video walls are typically the focal point of the set. When used behind the anchor desk, they continuously display visually striking, fast-paced graphics and video clips that add dynamic energy to any live program. When positioned alongside the anchor desk or set, presenters can walk or stand in front of them while pointing out elements of interest on the display for heightened dramatic effect. 

Creating a distinctive look

At AJE, Ali El Husseini, head of studio graphics explains, “Over the last few years, we’ve used the latest video wall technology to bring better imagery and presentations to our diverse viewers. Having such a powerful tool for presentation gives us the ability to display different types of visual graphics, charts and facts to help illustrate and present our stories.”

He continued, “Our video wall gives our news set a fresh artistic feel. It breaks up the monotony of the typical news story and makes it more visually interesting to watch. We also use it as a backdrop for most of our current affairs and special programs, as well as to reinforce the Aljazeera brand.”

AJE has a giant video wall from Barco consisting of two rows of thirteen 13 x 2 68in monitor cubes powered by two HD Viz Engines from Vizrt, which provide real-time rendering and compositing. The engine delivers live 3D HD/SD and 2D HD/SD. It can broadcast stereoscopic 3-D graphics direct to air, as well as output real-time graphics and live video to the wall and other on-set and interactive displays. Advanced SDI video processing capabilities can be used to consume live video inputs, composite them with graphics and animate them in three dimensions in real-time.

AJE’s video wall is situated behind the news desk in the studios of its Doha, Qatar headquarters. However, the network also has multiple smaller video walls across its broadcast centers in Washington D.C., London and Kuala Lumpur that are also used to create distinctive presentation spaces.

“During the 2012 U.S. general elections, there was more use of our video wall than in any other coverage all across Aljazeera’s network,”

El Husseini said. “It was used to showcase 3-D maps, poll closings, projections and more, all with real-time data feeds. We also used a variety of sophisticated transitional scenes all across the video wall, and our presenters were driving the display from different parts of the set interactively during the live news broadcast.”

For viewers, the ability to see a wide range of content displayed at once on an immense video wall — such as HD video, real-time data-driven statistics, world maps, graphical animations and Twitter feeds — quickly conveys a complete picture of any breaking news story or other significant events and trends.

Getting in total control

Video wall displays, including real-time data-driven graphics, can be controlled in the traditional way from the gallery, or from anywhere in the studio using a customized application that controls displays remotely using an Apple iPad tablet. Also, for greater personalization, users can develop their own software to control the video wall in exactly the way they want through public REST interfaces.

The latest updates in control make a huge video wall display no more complex than controlling a simple character generator (CG).

Adding video wall software to an existing graphics workflow should not change the way graphics or visual content are created or the way equipment in the graphics chain is integrated and configured. It should seamlessly integrate within the newsroom workflow and newsroom computer systems. Because of this, broadcast journalists have a powerful solution right on their desktops enabling them to convey even the most complex topics in an easy, intuitive manner.

Once the newsroom rundown is created or updated, the on-air talent can easily select graphics and animations from the rundown and display them on the video wall. As the presenter speaks, having the ability to dynamically control the display of relevant graphics and visuals on the video wall gives his or her live report a natural, organic flow. 

Complete solution

MBC Al Arabiya — a major broadcast network based in the UAE — required its video wall to be part of an integrated, automated setup that works seamlessly with its Avid iNews and Harris ADC-100 automation systems. Because MBC is an Arabic broadcaster, the entire workflow solution had to fully support the Arabic language and character sets, which read from right to left, as well as MBC’s custom font.

MBC’s video wall consists of 27 50in Barco monitors arranged in three rows of nine cubes. All are controlled by an Avid ControlAir system that allows one person to manage the entire scenario so that the content follows what the presenter is explaining to viewers. MBC uses Viz Video Wall ER in conjunction with management, control and design software.

“We feed several types of graphics scenes, including branding elements and animations that explain what is going on in the daily news. We also feed data such as the latest financial market updates, weather and sports,” said Fadi Radi, graphics senior manager for MBC. “Using the video wall software, we can split the same scene into multiple engines to get the maximum quality.”

Scalable configuration

With the significantly improved performance of the latest versions of rendering software running on state-of-the art hardware, it’s now possible to produce the same quality of output with fewer rendering engines than were previously required, which helps to minimize the cost and complexity of operating a large video wall.

“Our video wall is used for both scenario explanations and branding of the shows,” Radi said. “All of the graphical templates are done in a way that they can be fed to the video wall to show the various data coming from a centralized hub computer, such as financial and election data, as well as 3-D objects and other content that help explain the news.”

MBC also shows live data-rich tickers on the screen.

“We use 3-D scenes heavily to explain a variety of scenarios, including news, medical and scientific developments,” Radi added. “People like to see all the angles of the story, and by using a video wall, we can have the presenter stand there and explain all the different aspects of the story. It acts like an interactive tool that can show the audience the hidden parts of the story in a very impressive way.”

In one of its studios, MBC also has an interactive touchscreen that is used in conjunction with a smaller video wall. The anchor’s tablet can control content stored in a rundown generated by the newsroom, and makes no distinction between the target display platforms in the studio.

Dynamic data-rich displays

Since rendering engines are typically used for a broadcaster’s entire on-screen presence, including on-screen and transmission graphics, interactive touch-screen graphics, virtual set graphics and video wall graphics, each engine shares the same back-end storage system and can also take advantage of the communication mechanism built into each to share and synchronize content among the different platforms. And the same graphic design tool is used to design for all the output formats, ensuring consistency among the platforms and efficiency in the design process.

Sky News Arabia

Sky News Arabia, a 24-hour free-to-air Arabic language news channel, deploys a similar graphics workflow to deliver its live news graphics to air. News graphics, including real-time data-driven graphics, are displayed on-air as part of live reports and integrated within story videos and displayed on the network’s 9.8m x 2.1m video wall. Graphics templates can be filled with elections, sports, business news, social media and other relevant data streams. In Sky News Arabia’s large, main studio, on-air presenters stand in front of the news wall and use the display to explain and support key points about news stories they’re reporting. 

Sky News Arabia does not use fixed touch screens, but rather relies on tablets for control, which allow the presenter to call up and switch between graphics displayed on the video wall. The presenter can drag and drop objects, draw objects and shapes, and trigger animations from the iPad.

According to Khaloud al Ghamdi, Broadcast Computing Manager, Sky News Arabia, the network’s creative design department receives daily requests for graphics to be created for the video wall from producers in the news, sports and finance bureaus.

“If the graphics are static and no live data integration is required, then the creative design department will produce and deliver the material,” he said. “If data integration is required, then the broadcast development team integrates and delivers the final graphics.”

The video wall is used for a wide range of news topics, from the latest standings in a sports tournament to stock market data to election results to key current events and news developments. Specific examples of its use include:

  • Financial market graphics such as top gainers, stock indices or exchange rates displayed through graphs and charts and integrated with live data from Thomson Reuters.
  • For sports, graphics showing sports football results, fixtures and standings, leagues details, starting line-ups, F1 track diagrams, etc. — all integrated with live data.
  • Daily video for various ongoing events and key developments around the world such as elections, protests, etc.
  • Interactive graphics controlled by using an iPad to show sports team formations, social media trends and election results, etc.

Interactive sports graphics are a prominent part of Sky News Arabia’s broadcasts. The presenter can drag and drop player icons on the playing field, create player formations, and draw different shapes like circles, arrows and lines using the iPad. Live, financial data, in the form of tables, statistics, graphs and bar charts, are displayed and interacted with during the broadcasts.

Vizrt’s Viz World mapping software is used on the video wall to create graphics correlating with the latest reports on political and economic developments in a region. Sky News Arabia developed a live interactive graphics map during the U.S. Presidential election last November to display specific results and state-by-state results. Integrated graphics were also used for last summer’s Olympic Games in London to display the country-by-country medal table results.
Future developments

The technologies and products associated with video walls are continually advancing, and customers can expect to see new features and capabilities in the near future.
One recent development is the ability to combine the video wall with the same camera tracking used for virtual sets. The result is a “virtual window” to allow video wall content to be adjusted based on the movement of the camera to give the display an illusion of depth. Other developments on the horizon are video walls that extend around corners, curved displays and video walls that have interactive properties.

Customers like AJE and MBC Al-Arabiya, as well as Sky News Arabia, are also starting to create their own innovative and interesting uses for video walls within their live broadcasts.

Petter Ole Jakobsen is CTO at Vizrt.