High Precision Projection Mapping at the Air Canada Centre
Like something straight out of a 1980s sci-fi movie, high-lumen projectors are helping artists illustrate virtual reality. The year might be 2015, the year that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to the Future, but the video below (make sure to switch on 1080p) looks like something straight out of Tron:
With the use of twelve 20K lumen Christie Digital projectors and their proprietary CANVAS media server, Immersive Design Studios helped the Maple Leafs put together this impressive on-ice show at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
What caught us off guard was the incredible pixel precision and alignment with the on-ice graphics, so we reached out to Immersive Design Studios to learn more. (Disclaimer: We were NOT paid by Immersive to write this article and we do NOT have any monetary interest in the success of their products).
To learn more about the set-up, we spoke with Immersive’s co-founder, Thomas Soetens. According to Thomas, the Air Canada Center was set up with two rigs of six 20K lumen Christie Digital Projectors, double stacked for luminosity, blending together 12 high resolution images. While the resolution is impressive and allows for the image clarity seen in the video, what truly impressed us was the fact that all 12 projectors were driven by ONE media server. Yes, a single media server driving 12 WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution projectors. What kind of media server has that kind of power? Turns out it’s a neat, compact proprietary design by Immersive Design Studios called the CANVAS.
CANVAS Media Server
The CANVAS Media Server is a technical powerhouse, with the ability to drive up to 16K of output resolution per unit without issue. But what makes the unit so unique is Immersive’s projection mapping software, which allows for on-the-fly pixel calibration down to 1/10th of a pixel. It was also designed from the ground up for game-engine inputs, resulting in ultra-realistic, virtual reality experiences.
On the Fly Projector Calibration
One of the challenges of large scale projection mapping is projector alignment and calibration:
“We hear these stories all the time: Temperature changes in the venue can affect the projector trusses and then there’s an alignment issue. With our solution, we can make the repair then and there.”
Many large-venue projectors like Barco’s HDX series ship with onboard warping/alignment software, but with additional inputs from multiple media servers, one can imagine the complexity in aligning all of these projectors. Immersive believes that with their software and media server, they have reduced dark time (the time to set up for a show) down to just minutes.
“For example – to redo the lines on the ice [rink], others would have to re-do the perspective mapping. Re-doing the lines with our system would be done on the fly with vector mapping.”
Thomas wasn’t willing to share too many specifics on the calibration software due to trade secrets, but he assured me that the interface is ultra-simple.
“As an artistic design company, we understand the technical challenges artists face. With our simplified media server, we take control away from hardware operators, and put it in the hands of content makers.”
And we think that’s a good thing.
Decreasing Points of Failure in Projection Mapping
More components means more points of failure; centralizing the media server and driving more outputs from one device leads to increased reliability. By using only two of these media servers, the team can guarantee uptime by powering half of the double-stacked projectors with each device; if one goes down, the brightness only drops to half-luminosity without loss of image.
“Crunching 4k resolutions will be a massive increase in compute requirement, and having a single source to your projector is the most intelligent solution as it reduces latency, points of failure, and forward-compatibility.”
On these large venue projectors, one of the most expensive projector repair issues we find is a conflict from the ancillary onboard PCB’s related to Image Processing. By offloading this functionality on to the media server which is lighter, easier to work on & ship, and cheaper to fix, we believe that large venues and rental houses can cut costs on projector repairs as they switch to PCB-light projectors.
Realtime Game Content Engine for Projection Mapped Virtual Reality
According to Thomas, the main difference between CANVAS and its competitors is that the CANVAS was designed from the ground up for game content with live inputs.
“We were never interested in building just a better playback server, CANVAS is the first server supporting game engine content and therefore opening the door to an entire new medium.”
How can Projectors Better Accommodate Projection Mapping?
Key challenges for large venue projectors are size, heat, and noise. Rather than focusing on high tech features and software, Thomas believes that the projector manufacturers should leave that to the media server and focus on making brighter, lighter, smaller, and more reliable projectors.
The Future of Projection Mapping
Seeing this kind of projection mapping in a sports arena makes us wonder about other applications. Immersive has already worked with two ice hockey rinks, as well as NBA teams like the Raptors.
But what about more immersive applications, like virtual reality games? Turns out that’s already in the works. The CANVAS media server has the ability to integrate live data into the projection mapped feed via a proprietary game engine. We hope this means full-scale, virtual reality experiences in the near future.