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The technology behind the RWC

12 Oct 11

The Rugby World Cup has been an amazing event, but it is technology that has made sure the atmosphere and excitement is maximised for audiences both at the games and at home. Here are a few of the cooler innovations behind the event (originally printed in August’s NetGuide).

Panasonic’s Super Screens

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of touring Eden Park for a viewing and demonstration of the new Panasonic Super Screens that have been installed for the Rugby World Cup. Going in, I wasn’t sure what all the hype was about – they’re just big screens, right? Wrong. I was blown away! Although we have been using outdoor LED screens for at least 25 years, these are not just your average screens. These 110 square metre monstrosities are the equivalent of a 606 inch television set, with each one made up of 1080 LED panels and 1.1 MILLION pixels!

Since the screens need to be visible in complete summer sunlight, they have more than 2000 times the level of brightness you would find in the average home television. They also provide a much wider angle of viewing, and should anything go wrong during a game (for example a pixel is lost), the panels can be swapped out extremely easily and quickly, without even disrupting the action on screen!

The screens were first installed in September of last year, which allowed engineers nearly a year to play with, test and perfect them before the Rugby World Cup. There have been at least two engineers stationed at Eden Park full-time during the games to prevent any disasters.

When touring the premises, we were actually given the opportunity to climb up into the screens for a behind the scenes look. You might be wondering how this is possible, but the screens are actually three-story-high structures about the size of a small house!  Once inside, we got a close look at the panels that make up the picture on screen, and also got to see the extensive ventilation system installed to keep the structure cool even in mid summer heat. You will probably be surprised to learn that even with such an elaborate cooling system, the screens generate the amount of power equivalent to just one house fan, making them extremely energy efficient.

The Eden Park control room

When creating the screens and setting up the control room, the engineers had the "five S’s” in mind:

Simplicity – small control area, simple to operate

Scalability – can be used for future events as well, such as the Cricket World Cup and FIFA Games

Stability – reliable

Security – prevent the possibility of hacking

Sexy – something that can be sold to patrons

In addition to the five S’s, their main priorities were that the screens be as big as possible and to achieve patron interaction. For this reason, in addition to the two Super Screens, there are around 300 plasma televisions in place throughout the stadium, which can be used for screening of the games as well as for digital signage. Both the super screens and the plasmas are centralized, meaning they can be controlled from any device, such as an iPad or iPhone.

The control room is surprisingly small and actually rather underwhelming. Our Panasonic guide explained that many technical people are shocked at the small size and sheer simplicity of the area – but that was the intention. The room consists of a vision mixer, audio mixer, a number of viewing screens and a simple, touch screen controller for scaling, brightness and picture/picture.

All of the technology we toured at the stadium had been taken from the history of past Olympic Games, and New Zealand is only the second place in the world to have these next generation Super Screens installed!

Home theatre

Any avid sports fan will probably tell you that when it comes to watching sport, just any old TV simply won’t do. Movement, especially unpredictable action like in sports games, is one of the trickiest elements to render properly, and choosing the right TV can make a world of difference to your sport viewing. Most of us know by now that high definition is the only way to go when it comes to sports, and now we are even beginning to see 3D technology incorporated as well, but there are some other key features to look out for when TV shopping.

Traditionally, plasma displays tend to offer the most cohesive movement. One of the problems we often saw with early LCDs was a motion-response lag where pixels fell out of sync with the image on the screen resulting in a ghosting effect, where images stay on the screen just a bit longer than they are supposed to.  However, nowadays with so many amazing advancements in both technologies, it is difficult to choose one over the other as the clear winner.

Some things to consider when looking for a new TV specifically for watching sport are the response time, refresh rate and integrated image processing. Response time is the time it takes for a pixel to change from active to inactive (from black to white). This is measured in milliseconds and the lower the response time, the better the movement, especially if you are viewing the action on a very large screen.

Refresh rate is the number of times per second that an image is scanned. The standard TV system uses 60Hz, but there are some screens that double the rate featuring 120Hz, or even up to 240 Hz, which ensures a smoother picture.

Integrated image processing is the process that scans the incoming signals and picture lines to reduce screen flicker.

Of course size also matters. The bigger the screen, the better experience you are going to get. There is no way around it. If you are serious about sport viewing, you should be looking at a 42-inch TV set or larger, especially if you plan to host big viewing parties.

Official RWC 2011 video game

Just in case you can’t get enough of the Rugby World Cup, August 26 saw the launch of the official Rugby World Cup 2011 video game for the XBOX 360 and PS3 gaming platforms. The game promises to ‘reflect in detail the incredible action and passion of rugby’s showcase sporting event with the most accurate Rugby experience ever created’. The game allows players to choose between 20 participating teams and play out national rivalries in authentic match venues with true rugby stars.

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