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AV Enhances the Museum Experience

Makeing collections more accessible

At the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, sound reinforcement speakers (black squares on the ceiling) provide public address coverage.

The days of museums being dusty institutions bereft of modern technology are over. Today’s museums are exploiting the very latest in AV technology to bring the public closer to their artifacts — and entertain them at the same time. Here are four examples that prove this point.


At the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, there’s a the reassembled garage brick wall from Al Capone’s St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Organized crime played a pivotal role in the creation and growth of Las Vegas, so it only makes sense that “the city built on sin” is also home to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — a.k.a. The Mob Museum. Housed in the restored former Las Vegas Plot Office and Courthouse—where hearings for the U.S. Senate’s Kefauver Committee ripped back the curtain on organized crime — The Mob Museum is home to three floors of historic exhibits and artifacts. Collectively, galleries dedicated to themes such as “100 Years of Made Men,” “We Only Kill Each Other,” and “Bringing Down the Mob” detail the Mob’s sordid history and law enforcement’s efforts to bring it to heel.

Audiovisual equipment is central to The Mob Museum’s storytelling, from historical audio and video playbacks to large-format video projectors and interactive touchscreen displays.

“All told, we have about $2 million-plus in AV gear,’ said Ryan Markus, The Mob Museum’s IT manager. “It really makes the history organized crime come alive for our millions of guests.”

The Mob Museum’s control system, which operates out of two separate AV rooms, is built upon Alcorn McBride control/networking technology.

“We use Christie Digital and Digital Projection video projectors, RGB Spectrum video display processors, Panasonic and Sony HD monitors, and Elo touchscreens in the museum,” said Markus. “We are also capturing/streaming events held within our second floor platform to our website ( using Blackmagic Studio Camera HDs, Atem 1 M/E Production Studio 4K and HyperDeck Studio Pros.”

Known as “Courtroom Conversations,” these streamed events feature interviews with retired mobsters and FBI agents, among others, sharing their experiences.

The power of AV for storytelling is nicely illustrated in The Mob Museum’s second floor courtroom, which was one of 14 courtrooms nationwide that hosted the Kefauver Committee hearings.

“The courtroom is set up as it was back in the early 1950s when the hearing here took place, except for the addition of AV equipment,” Markus said. “On either side of the judge’s dias, there is a huge suspended video screen (two in all) illuminated by two Digital Projections video projectors (four in all). The judge’s dias also has a see-through screen hanging over it, allowing us to project a video ‘judge’ who presides over the immersive experience in real time.”

Without AV, The Mob Museum would still be a compelling collection of fascinating photos and artifacts; the latter including the reassembled garage brick wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (during which Al Capone’s gang executed members of the rival North Side Gang). However, there is no doubt that AV brings the museum’s exhibits to life for visitors — and motivates many of them to come back again and again.

“Today’s guests want to amazed and entertained as they learn,” Markus said. “AV helps us achieve this goal at The Mob Museum.” But as the Museum’s website says, “you didn’t hear it from us.”


The atrium at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

One of the greatest challenges for any museum is to make their collections truly accessible to visitors, without putting the actual collections at risk. Add the need to stay within tight budgets while accommodating each visitor’s individual tastes, and the odds against surmounting this challenge using conventional means seem overwhelming — unless you are the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In a bid to meet all these goals, the Cleveland Museum of Art has installed 150 Christie MicroTile digital video displays. These thin-bezel 12- by 16-inch touchscreens have been combined to create the “Collection Wall,”; a 40- by 5-foot interactive digital display wall in the Museum’s Gallery One.

In tandem with a Christie Interactivity Kit, up to 16 people at a time can use the Collection Wall to find the artwork they want to see on site, then load it into an iPad (their own, or one on loan from the Museum) to create their own Walking Tours using the Museum’s ArtLens app.

“The Collection Wall is an effective way to bring our visitors in contact with the art they want to see,” said Jane Alexander, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s CIO. “We also use MicroTiles in our Line and Shape video wall, where users can draw lines and other shapes using the MicroTiles’s touchscreen capabilities; interacting with artifact images that echo these lines and shapes from our collection.”

As well, Christie MicroTiles are employed in six “Lens” interactive video stations, allowing visitors to interact with specific display items. The “Make a Face” Sculpture Lens uses facial recognition software to match a visitor’s face to artworks on the Museum’s collection, while the “Make Your Mark” painting lens lets them to experiment with one of three abstract painting techniques to create their own on-screen art.



Biamp Systems:

Blackmagic Design:


Christie Digital:

Digital Projection:







RGB Spectrum:



The Mob Museum:


“This use of AV has proven to be tremendously popular with our guests,” said Alexander. “It helps us make our collections accessible in a sustainable and highly-compelling manner.”


The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington’s Dulles International Airport is where the really big planes go to roost. This vast airport hangar-style building is home to large aviation artifacts such as a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the original Boeing 707 flying prototype, a Concorde supersonic passenger airliner, the “Enola Gay” B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the space shuttle Discovery. They are supplemented by many other historic aircraft suspended at various heights from the Udvar-Hazy Center’s lofty reinforced ceiling. There are many other important aeronautic artifacts there as well.

Even in a space as big as the 760,000-square foot Udvar-Hazy Center, practical AV considerations matter; including a facility-wide PA system to inform visitors of scheduled events, closing times, missing children found, and public safety alerts such as fire alarms. This is why 18 AV closets ring the building’s exterior walls.

These closets contain audio amplifiers for driving a range of suspended speaker arrays and ceiling speaker pods, ambient microphones that detect noise levels nearby and adjust the amplifiers’ volume levels to make sure the messages get heard. All this is connected to four paging stations equipped with voice microphones, to a media server loaded with prerecorded/prescheduled audio messages, and the Udvar-Hazy Center’s fire alert system.

The original 1990s-vintage power amplification system wasn’t up to the task of clear announcements in the cavernous space, so a new system recently fired up that does a better job of handling announcements. Installed by systems integrator AVI-SPL, the new system consists of Biamp Vocia digital signal processing amplifiers, signal converters/processors and message servers.

Since going live in December 2014, the Vocia solution is better adapted to the considerable space and high placement of the speakers. Guests can now hear what the museum wants them to hear, no matter how crowded or empty the museum may be. So far, the Biamp Systems’ solution has been reliable and trouble-free.


Casa Loma is an unfinished castle in Toronto.

Built 1911-1914 by coal magnate Sir Henry Pellatt, Toronto’s Casa Loma is one of the city’s most famous mansion museums. As the name suggest. Casa Loma was Sir Henry’s castle; so much so that it eventually bankrupted him. The 98-room unfinished castle with ornate stables and outbuildings subsequently became a museum.

Today, it is operated and maintained for the City of Toronto by Liberty Entertainment Group, which hosts various revenue-producing corporate and community events at the castle.

Liberty Entertainment Group’s production services vendor ESG Show Services brought in Clark Graff from 4nR TeK of Ventura, Calif. to co-design the facility with ESG’S CEO Wes Thuro. Thuro and Graff achieved this by truss-mounting six Casio XJ-US310WN projectors to illustrate screens set within the side walls’ archways, and two Casio XJ-H2600 projectors to project on curved gray concrete end of a pool. A Sony VPLFHZ55/W projector was hung to illuminate the theater’s main screen above the end-located raised stage.

“Given that Casa Loma is a designated heritage building, we couldn’t make any structural changes to the pool area while installing the equipment and screens,” said Clark Graff, owner of 4nR Tek. “Fortunately, there was an installed 12-inch truss running lengthwise above the pool area, and we were able to fit additional trusses to support the lights and video projectors.”

The nitty-gritty: Video for the Casa Loma pool theater comes from a Playout Composer system for nine projectors designed and built by 4nR TeK, which also runs Vioso projection mapping software. The room’s video is fed from a remote equipment room, which is fitted with a NewTek TriCaster TCXD300 live production unit and Roland V800HD video switcher. The pool area is fitted with eight EAW UB52i THX compliant speakers (in 7.1 surround configuration with two in the center of the room) and a Meyer Sound UMS-1P ultra-compact subwoofer under the stage. The audio is time-aligned and equalized by an Emotive UMC-200 preamp processor and fed by a Behringer X32 digital mixing console.

“It was a difficult room to outfit, given that the restrictions we had to work within,” said Graff. “But the pool theater is very cool and works really well.”