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Set up by the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), the groundbreaking Digital Lab is a new £50 million state-of-the-art facility at the University of Warwick in Coventry, designed as a high-quality research environment.
Its mission is to become the world’s first multi-disciplinary centre, enabling leading digital experts to come together and deliver groundbreaking research, which can impact on all sectors of the economy to create wealth. The Lab will initially focus on Digital Healthcare, Digital Manufacturing and Service, promoting innovation and boosting research opportunities between academics and user organisations.
New highly realistic virtual environments will be sought for training surgeons — to provide more experience before the first real cut is made. New approaches to hospital processes will be trialled in virtual environments to select approaches with the greatest benefits to the patient experience.
New product introduction will be enhanced through techniques that will place consumers right at the heart of the design and ‘mass customisation’ production process. At the same time, emerging interactive high dynamic range and 3D visualisation techniques will be used to bring together designers with customers in the conceptual design, prototyping and testing of products in virtual reality. Combined with new approaches to factory design and quality control, this will set the scene for a vast range of future products.
Built next to WMG’s International Manufacturing Centre (and part of a new £13m building), the 5,000 sq. metre facility — opened this Autumn by the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon Gordon Brown — is the first of its kind in the world. The facility provides end-to-end hi-definition quality using native HD projectors from Christie, while site wide AV distribution through an access grid is central to the design of system integrators, Pure AV.
WMG was originally set up by the University to provide innovative solutions to industry through research, education and collaboration, and the new multi-disciplinary research centre is their most ambitious project yet.
Following a competitive tender process, Lancashire based Pure AV were appointed system integrators in February 2008 as a result of a highly innovative and conceptual design proposal.
“The fact that we already had a good working relationship with WMG probably helped,” said one of the Directors (and project manager), Richard Lister. “As each faculty has its own priorities our initial task was to interpret the individual requirements and implement an integrated solution — cost was not the main driving factor.”
The site has been built around a 100-seat main lecture theatre, which sits at the hub of the operation. Here, two ceiling-mounted Christie HD6K projectors are front-projected and edge-blended onto a 6m x1.8m widescreen using 1.4-1.8:1 HD zoom lens. This is complemented by three further satellite teaching rooms (including a ‘Usability Lab’ and two teaching rooms) operating under AMX master control.
Installed with a Christie HD405 single-chip 4100 ANSI lumens device the Usability Lab has a separate control room divided by one way glass to show how people interact in a simulated home or office environment.
With 25 individual workstations, the teaching area is hands-on, and divisible into one or two spaces. The dual 16:9 smartboards are addressed by a further two networkable HD405’s, to offer high-quality CAD visualisation, interacting through the white board.
Pure AV say that Christie projection had been placed on the specification based on successful experience with their products over the years; in fact the company had earlier specified a Christie DS+25 DLP and a DS+60 DLP projector for WMG in two lecture theatres in the main building.
However, before confirming the spec for the new building they conducted a thorough product evaluation to ensure that all the project hardware would meet and surpass the minimum standard set down in the well-defined brief.
“WMG wanted a cutting-edge infrastructure and every display needed to be able to screen in 1080p high definition — from the lecture theatre to the various meeting rooms,” says Richard Lister. “Site-wide HD video had been consistent from the outset.”
The company’s solution was to design an access grid to connect all the AV systems together — with the facility to display info on screen via a central high definition video server or digital signage system. Distribution is via a signal routing matrix over a Cat6 infrastructure, allowing any display — including the Christie projectors — to show a feed from the grid.
“With the two edge blended HD6K’s we can display up to four sources at once in a variety of different formats, from two 1080p images or three standard definition images side by side,” explains Lister. “Everything is under AMX control and there’s even a cinema mode which fills the 6-metre wide screen with a single image from a Blu-Ray player.”
Pure AV had managed to upgrade to the pair of HD6K’s, edge-blended through an external image processor, once the original proposal for a rear-projected solution had been rejected. “Through discussions with the client and equipment manufacturers the decision to change from rear to front projection was made primarily due to blend issues on a rear projected image,” say’s Pure AV’s project manager. “With the money we saved on the screen and mirrors we were able to upgrade the projectors.”
Christie’s HD6K 6,500 lumen 3-chip digital projector belongs to the brightest native HD resolution family on the market. Lighter, brighter and with lower power consumption than competitive models, the 10-bit processing and variable contrast ratio of 1600-2000:1 combine to offer crisp, high-resolution images. The HD6K also features two HD input channels that will also allow 4:4:4 signals, digital dark level adjustment, ILS™ on zoom and focus, and DMX 512 communication capabilities.
Via the external processor an assortment of input feeds can be sent to the projectors using VGA, HDMI and DVI standards. These include Polycom Hi-Def Video Conferencing, linked to two Sony HD cameras for recording purposes, and further feeds from the central video server. Other playback devices include Blu-ray DVD, PC’s and visualisers, with the main output routed to the access grid.
“This allows anyone in the building to view a conference in the auditorium or record in HD onto the video server,” said Richard Lister, whose company has also designed a full digital surround sound system to create a real cinema feel to the auditorium.
Digital Labs’ manager of digital technology, Gavin Edwards, who wrote the original specification, couldn’t be happier.
“This building was intended to be focused around IT research and we needed an AV system with a wow factor to create an environment for the collaborative research. This was achieved with the cross building access grid, enabling us to distribute the content and record it through a central video server.
“At the same time the Digital Lab was designed to be fully HD compliant and the auditorium exceeds all our expectations in as much as we can have up to four moving images on the screen at any one time.
“The image quality generated by the Christie projectors is absolutely fantastic — better than most cinemas, because the vibrancy and quality of the picture are superb. At the teaching end the projectors are competing with high ambient light levels but still look bright and cope well with the windows.”
Warwick Manufacturing Group now has the funding earmarked to take them to the next phase — which will be the construction of Digital Lab 2 on the Warwick University campus.