Technology is King at D.C.'s Newseum

April 1, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Newseum - the new 250,000-square-foot museum of news in Washington, DC - offers visitors an experience that blends five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and an unprecedented offering of sophisticated interactive, hands-on exhibits. Seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail shops, and visitor services rise above The Great Hall of News, a 90-foot-high atrium that showcases breaking news. With 14 major exhibit areas, 15 thefaters, two broadcast studios, and more than 130 interactive stations, the Newseum has essentially set a new benchmark for the ultimate 21st century museum visitor experience. It is probably the first museum ever to use cutting-edge audio, video and acoustic technologies to deliver almost every aspect of the visitor experience.

SH Acoustics was responsible for the acoustics and audio design. The design team faced a challenge in fostering an enveloping sound environment in the towering open space of the 90-foot high atrium of the Newseum's Great Hall of News without having excessive sound bleeding into other areas. Steerable line array loudspeakers, which deliver the sound as close as possible to the audience, were installed, and a network of slimly-profiled speakers precisely control how much sound is generated and in what direction, based on the location of the performance or program source. These highly sophisticated loudspeakers provide a kind of "pancake" effect-the sound is effectively kept within the height of the loudspeaker-which offers wide horizontal, but narrow vertical coverage that feels enveloping, yet not overwhelming. In addition, to provide sound coverage to visitors utilizing the series of bridges that overlook the atrium, over 100 different small, low-level, close proximity speakers were unobtrusively concealed in the bridge floors.

For the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, where visitors can immerse themselves in the many roles required to bring the news to the public - photojournalist, editor, reporter or anchor - the challenge was to provide proximity sound at each of the nearly 100 interactive stations that would allow an enveloping audio experience for the user, but wouldn't intrude on neighboring stations. Miniature line arrays were carefully positioned horizontally (rather than vertically) on either side of each station's interior, to provide a stereo feel, yet keep the sound narrow and contained.

Each of five separate, but not completely contained, Sidebar Theaters within the 8,000-square-foot News Corporation News History Gallery use"enhanced stereo," which allows for the primary sound to be delivered very "close to people's ears" so that listeners experience fullness of sound without loudness. With all speakers concealed in the walls to eliminate any visual source reference, the perception that the sound is emanating from the source of the video is greatly enhanced. With thin walls, multiple adjacent spaces, and limited space, big traditional full-range loudspeakers were not an option within the theaters. Instead, all audio sources are based on activated sound technology; even architectural panels were transformed into sound radiators, including the actual screens.

The unique Robert H. and Clarice Smith Big Screen Theater, which houses a 100-foot wide screen and utilizes up to five different projectors to present produced media shows, live breaking news stories, and events, presented a very complex set of challenges: how to deliver the sound in an enveloping manner in a room with a 100-foot expanse, prevent sound from bleeding into any of the neighboring galleries, and make the sound perceived as "pulling" from the screen. To accomplish these goals, dozens of very small (2-inch-thick) speakers, concealed in the floor below a walkable grating, were installed throughout the seating area.

The installation allows visitors to the Newseum to be virtually "freed" from the potential distraction of unsightly loudspeakers and acoustical treatment, and can revel in what is truly a completely enveloping sonic experience.

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