Technology Integration: Video

May 1, 2008

Not Your Father's Video

By Chuck Wilson

Buildings are more than meets the eye. Oftentimes, it's what's inside that intrigues. While brick and mortar create a solid foundation, infrastructure supports the expanding array of video and display technologies in today's buildings. As structures evolve, the importance of these systems nearly rivals those of electricity and telecommunications.

Within offices, videoconferencing allows two or more locations to interact simultaneously via two-way video and audio transmissions. Schools rely on large-screen displays in lecture halls, museums utilize video to broaden the scope of information in exhibits, and every location—from churches and commercial theaters to airports and quick-service restaurants—requires display technologies for messaging, building security, and more. Once relegated to advertising, digital signage has become a medium to direct traffic, provide instructions, or simply entertain.

Video and display technologies bring new options and a constantly changing set of guidelines for proper implementation. If this seems confusing and makes you wonder if it's all worth it, the answer is a resounding yes. Used strategically and with mindful planning, the technology can actually reduce the cost of a building and the time to build while providing the owner with the advantages of safety, return on investment, operational efficiency, and, in commercial cases, even new revenue streams.

Architecture is a synthesis of technology and art. Today's architect must contend with functional and construction requirements as well as the growing need for video and display technology. Owners want the whole package—aesthetics and high-tech performance. This greater emphasis on technical aspects results in a constant search for economic efficiency. Video and display technologies can be seen as part of a new aesthetic, one that marries form with function.

How, then, does one best explore the implications and dynamics of video and display technologies in relation to how they will be used by the architectural community?

Consider that almost all new video and display design—whether broadcast, studio, medical, or military applications—begins with processing high definition (HD) video signals. A frame of HD video has five to 12 times the numbers of pixels as a frame of traditional video. This increase in pixels directly translates into an increased need for video processing components that drive most HD video systems.

Many times a video signal chain is created by connecting different blocks built by different teams, each with differing interface characteristics. This requires a greater effort to allow the interfaces to talk with each other coherently.

Architects must ensure that a standard interface protocol connects the different blocks and controls functional block operation. The important characteristics of such an interface should be open (non-proprietary) and have low overhead in terms of logic and performance.

There are many such standards; the most popular use packet-oriented methods to send and control data from one video processing block to the other. These protocols are open and usually freely downloadable via the Web.

Within a video signal chain, some blocks can be self-supporting and some require preprocessing, postprocessing, and video interfaces such as SDI and DVI for capture and display. As these building blocks become more sophisticated, systems designers can also build functions such as up-conversion, cross-conversion, and down-conversion to support the multiple formats used as the world transitions from analog to digital video. To facilitate rapid video system design, architects must provide a comprehensive suite of new building blocks for video applications that offers a range of complex features—from motion-adaptive scaling to color conversion and 2D filtering. All of these functions must have easy plug-and-play capabilities.

The intent of approaching system design in this building block fashion is to enable designers to focus on the functions that are most critical to meet system requirements and ultimately serve those that matter most: a building's occupants.

Chuck Wilson ([email protected]) is executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association.

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