Part of a new look for ITV's Lorraine television programme centres on a seven-screen video wall that exploits the benefits of two x4 display wall controllers from Datapath, a world leader in multi-screen graphics technology.
"We had an exciting chance in April to give the Lorraine programme a fresh new look," explains Richard Jack, Studio Director for the Lorraine show. "As a result we sat down with our set design team and started to generate ideas. We wanted a look that felt comfortable, stylish and homely. One of the suggestions was to have a selection of photo frames on the wall housing pictures of Lorraine's family, friends and special moments. It was then that we had the idea of 'mirroring' the photo frames on another wall with seven plasma screens which could be used to show features and for Lorraine to interview guests."
Lorraine is the weekday morning news, lifestyle and entertainment show for ITV, presented by Lorraine Kelly. ITV Studios produces the show, which airs on Monday to Friday from 08:30 until 09:25, following Good Morning Britain. Previously, the Lorraine show shared the use of an 8 x 3 video wall arranged in a traditional straight array, but the thinking was different for the new look set.
"We could have used the same configuration but the original video wall was designed to be 'newsy', so it lacked the homely feel we wanted for the redesign," says Richard. "The new video wall had to appear more organic and natural, and less corporate."
The final design was a seven screen plasma array arranged as though they were photo frames on the wall, in various sizes and orientations. To turn the idea into reality, however, required a little more research into display wall controllers than Richard initially bargained for.
"Although it's probably beyond my usual level of detail, I found a number of potential solutions on the internet, including the Datapath x4, which looked ideal for our application," he explains. "Other ideas and products were proposed, but when we drilled down they weren't quite right. As a result, I sought assurance from Datapath that the x4 was the way to go...and so it proved."
For the new Lorraine video wall, Richard wanted to run any live source through the screens. Rather than simple video playback, this meant the system needed to interpret other studio sources straight to the plasma screens in real time. Acting as "a live processor" the selected technology would need to take the feed, split it, and convey it to the relevant screens.
"Although there are seven screens we didn't have seven playback mechanisms – we had to drive from a single source," says Richard.
Having decided to acquire two Datapath x4 display wall controllers, the AV installation company set about configuring the system. As a process, the system is fed from the studio with 1080i (interlaced) signal before conversion to 1080p (progressive) using a DataVideo DAC-70 up/down/cross converter. This in turn is converted via a Kramer FC-332 into HDMI format before being output as two identical feeds into the two x4 display wall controllers.
"We have seven images in one frame – which we call the 'polyframe' – with the x4 controllers programmed to take relevant parts of the image and send them to the screens in the Lorraine studio. To the naked eye it's not ultra-high resolution, but when we put a camera on it we only get 1920 x 1080 pixels anyhow, so it looks fine."
Ultimately the project has proved highly successful with the new video wall used extensively since Lorraine's new set was first broadcast to the viewing millions in April 2014. Moreover, the project is also a huge triumph from a budget perspective.
"The video wall started out as just a sketch and was never in the budget for the new set design," says Richard. "As a result, it had to be created for as little as possible. We are extremely pleased to say that we managed to acquire all the screens and video processing technology for an amazingly low total cost. The Datapath x4 controllers have therefore proved an extremely cost effective solution for what we consider to be a quality outcome."