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Multi-Image Display Systems Seamlessly Convert Video

Ensemble Designs’ MV82 multiviewer can be controlled from a tablet.
Studio and field production services are taking advantage of increasingly sophisticated multi-image display systems, converting video from mixed sources into a seamless combination of high-definition images spread over a single control room monitor or video wall.

Today’s multi-image display systems, or multi-viewers, have come a long way from the analog television era, when production crews were forced to watch quad-split images on tiny black-and-white NTSC monitors. It was not unusual for a single mobile production truck to have upwards of 150 individual monitors that the crew had to view and maintain.

The systems now eliminate that, throwing their images onto almost any large-screen display. And compatibility is key. Modern multiviewers now show all video images and graphics that an organization has available, converting them from any source, broadcast stream, LAN or the web.

Chad Heupel, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Communication Media, has embraced the leap in multi-viewer technology. The DCM produces about 10 shows a month for a wide range of government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, SAMHSA and the Army.

The FDA’s studio in Washington makes extensive use of multiviewers.
Heupel said flexibility is tops. With the new systems, DCM directors can call up as many different screen configurations as they need, save them on the computer and recall any pattern with a couple mouse clicks

“Because we do so much work for other federal agencies, we have to be able to adapt to what the individual clients need and are looking for in a production,” Heupel said. “We can go from a call-heavy production, where the director can see the pre-screens, to one that is videotape heavy.”

The new multiviewers solved a lot of problems, Heupel said.

“In old days you had a rack and monitor wall and things didn’t change,” he said. “If the director wanted to use a source, he had to hunt for it on the monitor wall. [A multiviewer] makes the production staff job easier.”

For studios that need to monitor many sources, the Sierra Video SV-MV-XX displays up 64 video inputs in a single multiviewer configuration or up to 2 x 32 inputs in a dual multiviewer configuration, said Jerry M. Lewis, the company’s product development manager. Sierra Video is a subsidiary of Kramer Electronics.

SV-MV-XX handles virtually any video format up to HD 1080p, 3Gbps or multiple video channels. Audio channels, audio meters, clocks and data can be integrated into a single display, or can be distributed and integrated among several displays for sophisticated studio monitoring and control purposes.

The rear panel of the Sierra Video SV-MV-XX multiviewer gives some idea of its capability.
“This is targeted for a major broadcaster and has alarms and the ability to show alarms and it can be done in different formats,” Lewis said. “It can go very deep into the broadcaster market.”

Sierra Video also offers the SVG modular HDMI/HD-SDI multiviewer, a quad-display device that can handle up to 20 inputs, Lewis said. The SVG line is a good fit for the smaller broadcaster, corporate office, government agency headquarters or house of worship, Lewis said. Both offer the optional K-Touch system, which allows the installer to integrate common touch devices as user interfaces into the multiviewer system.

Government video producers are often confronted with managing an array of modern and legacy systems. They must find a cost-efficient answer that is both flexible and will integrate what they are using today with what might be coming tomorrow.

“People want flexibility and don’t want to pay extra for it,” said Jay Shinn, vice president of For-A Corporation of America, based in Cypress, Calif. “They are buying to accommodate for today and in they future when they can migrating to 4K.”

The company’s MV-1620HSA is a compact (1RU) multiviewer that accepts up to 16 channels of mixed 3G/HD/SD-SDI or analog composite signals for monitoring on one or two screens. It can be cascaded with other units to display up to 64 sources at once, Shinn said. Both the MV-1620HSA and MV-4200 feature a Windows-based layout manager that enables 4K video to be displayed via four 3G-SDI inputs, he said. In addition to computer-based layout management, users can also stream video from the viewer over Ethernet.

Apantac, a privately held company headquartered in Portland, Ore., favors making devices that provide tight integration across a multi-source environment. The company’s Tahoma Universal platform offers a suite of multiviewers that display a variety of video and computer-multimedia signal types, said Thomas Tang, Apantac president.

Apantac Tahoma hybrid multiviewer
The Tahoma family accepts both computer and broadcast signals including HDMI, DVI, VGA, YPbPr, YC, composite as well as 3G/HD/SD-SDI sources and filters them through specialty algorithms for a multiimage display. The mix-and-match of both computer and broadcast signals offers a holistic approach to signal monitoring, Tang said.

“The ability to take in and convert the mixed format is where we really shine,” Tang said.

For example, the device can display a moving image, like a streamed video, next to a computer graphic, such as an Excel spreadsheet on the same surface, he said. “It’s important for the moving image to run smoothly and the spreadsheet to be clear,” he said.

RGB Spectrum, based in Alameda, Calif., adds 4K to the flexibility market with its SuperView 4K, which enables multi-windowed displays of UHD/HD content on compatible 4K monitors. When the SuperView 4K is combined with an Ultra HD monitor or projector, it produces eight megapixels of resolution with multi-window clarity and no dropped frames. When Ultra HD content is displayed, up to four HD (1,920 x 1,080-pixel) windows can be arranged on screen. When HD content alone is used, up to eight windows are available.

Multiviewers have evolved in recent years to meet the desires of users for low-cost solutions that are easy to install, easy to use and portable, said Daniel Maloney, technical marketing manager for Matrox Video, headquartered in Montreal, Canada.

“We designed our Matrox MicroQuad multiviewer to meet these needs,” Maloney said. “It was the first quad HDSDI-to-HDMI splitter under $1,000 and not only was the acquisition cost low, it also let users view multiple 3G-, HD-, or SD-SDI feeds on inexpensive HDMI monitors.”

The quad-split display is meant for OB vans, on-set productions and live events, as well as broadcast facilities or government production studios running on a tight budget. For example, Jones Mobile Television, an Arkansas-based video production company, recently completed an upgrade of their production trailer, replacing 150 CRT monitors with LED monitors that are mostly fed by 18 Matrox MicroQuad multiviewers.

“We chose the Matrox MicroQuads for their quality, ease of use, and very attractive price,” said Bob Derryberry, president and co-owner of JMT.

Ensemble Designs’ multiviewers, the Avenue MV82 and MV 164, have a unique tablet-based, operator interface that allows quick change of layouts on the fly, and the ability to solo audio from any cell in the layout or take any cell to full frame for analysis, said John Pichitino, Ensemble Designs’ technology evangelist. The company is based in Grass Valley, Calif.

“Now, the morning show for example can have it’s MV layout, and the noon show another, and the afternoon news a third and the 11 o’clock yet another, and the layout changes instantly from one to another—on the fly,” Pichitino said. “Couple that with the ability to design layouts offline, even with the existing layout on the air, and you have a very powerful and flexible combination.

“This has been getting rave reviews,” he said.

Pichitino raved about the system’s power. Ensemble Designs’ multiviewers have hardware for scaling that allows for clean filtering and full-motion video, he said. Users can place the same image in all the cells on a screen and they will see no delay from one cell to another. If there is a scene cut in the video, it happens at exactly the same time on each cell—no matter how many times it’s used. And, a customer can set up the multiviewers and be fully operational with different size cells, alarms, tally and cell labels in seconds.

tvOne, a solutions provider specializing in video conversion, offers the C2-6204 four-window 3G-SDI multiviewer. Part of the company’s CorioView product line, the C2-6204 has an intuitive interface, four 3G-SDI inputs plus a DVI-I input (for window, cascade or background use) to place up to four sizeable windows on a single surface, said Andy Fliss, the company’s director of global marketing. A subsidiary of Nortek, Inc., tvOne is headquartered in Erlanger, Ky.

The fifth input is a special feature of the C2-6204 multiviewer. It is available for use as a window source or a background to the four other windows. Plus it can cascade an input from another CorioView unit, adding four more windows per unit-display, Fliss said. Colored stereo audio bars are available for each window and show the live audio activity of an SDI source.

User-friendly devices are a priority for Illinois-based Cobalt Digital, said Chris Shaw, the company’s executive vice president, sales and marketing.

The new Cobalt 9970-QS 3G/HD/SD-SDI/CVBS quint-split multi-image display processor integrates five 3G/HD/SD-SDI or CVBS inputs onto a single 3G/HD/SD-SDI quint-split output. Each image can be flexibly inserted into the output surface, Shaw said.

For producers who install multiple cascaded 9970-QS cards, Cobalt Digital offers the 9970-QS-GUI, for simple click and drag control and sizing of all screens on a single display. This GUI provides real-time visual control for an operator without having to use the dashboard control menu, Shaw said.

John Pichitino, of Ensemble Designs, offered a look inside his crystal ball.
“Going forward, as facilities incorporate more and more IP and file based signals, multiviewers are going to have to decode and display these signals as well as those from legacy infrastructure,” he said. “In addition, UHD signals are going to have to be incorporated into layouts and 8K is on the horizon. So, the challenge of decoding and displaying multiple signal formats on a single display is a challenge facing multiviewer manufacturers in the near term.”