Video Walls and Their Importance in Monitoring Centers
Convergence and the role of big data make video walls increasingly critical to the success of monitoring centers.
Marrying a variety of software and hardware, the goal of a video wall in any operations center or monitoring center is to provide operators with the visual information they need to monitor, assess and respond accordingly to a variety of threats.
“Whether it’s a large-scale, wall-to-wall install of monitors or a simple two-by-two video wall that allows operators to see what they need to see in a smaller facility, video is central to the success of a GSOC,” says Dan Gundry, director of national control room sales, Vistacom, Allentown, Pa.
As video walls are primarily used to highlight critical information for operators, it is essential to understand the types of data that could be important for both standard operations and emergency situations. This common operational picture (COP) is then viewed by operators and other stakeholders to provide the right actionable information and enhanced situational awareness, Gundry says.
Keeping in line with the overall security industry trend of increasing convergence between technologies — including video, audio, access control, intrusion detection and more — video walls are being used to display a growing amount of information in a quickly accessible, user-friendly format.
“Video walls are incorporating more and more content than ever before from remote sources and pushing content out to remote locations, so today’s video wall processors must display IP-based content along with traditional sources connected directly to the chassis,” says John Henkel, director of product marketing, RGB Spectrum, Alameda, Calif. “Additionally, remote workers are common these days, so the processor must also be able to send the wall or any area of interest to a mobile device.”
Begin With the Basics
For integrators charged with designing and installing these solutions, there are a number of factors that go into a successful project, beginning with the basics.
“The two most important criteria when planning for a video wall are sight lines from the operators to the displays and the consideration of the right content that is to be displayed,” Gundry says. “We’re therefore seeing video monitors that can be adjusted to help fight operator eye strain and fatigue based on the time of day, as well as the rise of LED displays that provide a clear picture of incoming data points.”
The importance of operators’ comfort in their workspaces cannot be understated in sourcing equipment for and designing video walls.
“There are a variety of physical characteristics of video walls that also merit careful consideration for maximum efficiency, including the attributes of an operator’s workstation (sit/stand versus stationary), height of their chair, line of sight to maximize what they can see, and their comfort level when sitting and monitoring a scene for hours at a time, says Grant Wylie, senior product manager for LED signage solutions,” NEC Display, Chicago.
For security, where any downtime could literally be the difference between life and death, the purpose and quality of monitors also should be a primary factor for video walls, which introduces even more criteria for selecting equipment.
“The displays selected should be of a control-room grade, as opposed to displays intended for conference rooms or lobby video walls, have remote and redundant power supply options, and be fully rated for 24/7 operation,” Gundry says.
The key aspects in addressing overall value for monitoring companies are the visual characteristics of the display, the content to be displayed, end user expectations, and, most importantly, the customer’s budget, Wylie says.
To that end, understanding the minimum acceptable viewing distance compared to the optimum viewing distance of a display’s pixel pitch (PP) is critical to success.
“All too often we hear of requests for displays that must have sub-1mm PP because the customer thinks they need a Retina display, but when we get into the actual consulting aspect for the customer, we find that they can actually utilize something closer to 2mm — or higher in some cases — due to the real-life viewing distance of the audience and the type of content that will be displayed. A change like this can result in an overall cost that is a third of what was originally thought to be needed,” Wylie says.
Developing Technologies Drive Reduced Costs
With nearly all of the latest security devices and applications leveraging Big Data, the amount of information available to command centers will only continue to increase, placing increasing demand on the processors behind video walls,” Gundry says.
“The processor that drives the content and arranges it on the wall should be scalable enough to ingest these different types of content and to add new sources over the life cycle of the video wall,” he says.
Not surprisingly, in terms of technology, one of the biggest impending changes concerns those processors. Currently, chip on board (COB) is the leading foundational technology for direct-view video walls. The technology eliminates the cost of a surface-mount device package, allows for increased contrast ratio and offers the potential for reducing the cost of these displays by allowing alternate methods for placing the red, blue and green sub-pixels through pixel sharing, but also comes with drawbacks.
“Unfortunately, COB requires very thin metal bonds for each LED, which is very difficult and costly to manufacture at the level needed for the typical video wall, which requires millions of pixels for each display,” Wylie says. “Also, these wire bonds are very fragile, which leads to a larger number of defects in the manufacturing process, which can amount to scrapping as much as 30 percent of the manufactured product.”
There is an alternate process currently in development, known as Flip Chip. Similar to traditional COB designs, Flip Chip swaps the locations of the LED substrate and other components to eliminate the need for wire bonds, reducing the cost and complexity of the manufacturing process.
“This technology is much easier to manufacture with fewer defects and lower costs, plus it offers the same operational and visual benefits as the traditional COB technologies,” Wylie says. “I suspect we will see more and more COB options through 2019 and into 2020.”
As evidenced by this coming shift in the technology behind video wall equipment, integrators must stay up-to-date on all the latest developments in technology that may improve or enhance control rooms, such as artificial intelligence and virtual/augmented reality.
“Today’s security threats require a predictive and preventative stance, so an integrator must adopt the same mindset and seek out partners that are interested in emerging technologies such as analytics and machine learning that enable operators to stay ahead of the game,” Gundry says.