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Images Erupt From The Screen

Mount St. Helens facility’s audiovisual upgrade creates ‘dynamic visuals’

The U.S. Forest Service recently upgraded the audiovisual equipment at its Mount St. Helens monitoring facility and which is used to educate visitors on the re-birth of the mountain.

Roger Sadler, Johnston Ridge Observatory’s chief of operations, checks the code in the automatic projection system. Photos courtesy of Johnson Ridge Observatory

The Johnston Ridge Observatory is located about five miles from Mount St. Helens, and part of its mission is to educate visitors about volcanoes, how volcanoes are monitored and what happened to the area around the volcano after the 1980 eruption, said Roger Sadler, the facility’s chief of operations and maintenance at the facility. To support the observatory’s mission, the facility relies on a network of audiovisual equipment, he said.

As part of a tour, the observatory shows a 17-minute film—“Message from the Mountain”—about the eruption that occurred on May 18, 1980. The film shows the buildup to the eruption, what happened on that day, and what has happened since, Sadler said. “In 17 minutes they can get the whole shebang,” he said. Once the film is complete visitors would then move around the park and find one the rangers who lead presentations on a specific topic such as plant re-growth, the return of animals and the re-birth of Spirit Lake, he said.

An important part of the observatory’s infrastructure is its audiovisual equipment, and which until recently consisted of three laserdisc players and three projectors, Sadler said. That equipment had been in operation since 1992 and it began to show its age, he said. “It was becoming obsolete.”

Christie HD6K-M projectors were integrated as part of the audiovisual equipment upgrade.


Even during its “best” times the projectors were a problem, because for the full effect of the movie, the edges of each projection had to be blended, Sadler said. Every few days we were spending several hours on edge blending, he said.

“These projectors had three lamps and lenses, so we were running nine lamps and lenses onto a screen and then we were edge blending all of this together onto the screen,” Sadler said. But blending the images together “was becoming extremely problematic because the projectors are even more obsolete than the laserdisc players,” he said.

In addition, when the system needed replacement parts, the parts could only be found at repair shops that cannibalize old equipment, Sadler said. Each projector lens was several-thousand-dollars, and despite replacing the lens, the projectors were still producing a very poor image, he said. “By the time we shut it down for the last time, it was difficult to watch,” he added.

To update their audiovisual capabilities, Johnston Ridge Observatory turned to integrator Human Circuit (formerly Professional Products Inc.). Kevin Filano, a Human Circuit engineer, says the renovation included an upgrade to the content player, along with the video and audio control systems in the observatory’s auditorium. In addition, the existing video content—originally produced in 4:3 aspect ratio—was up-converted to high definition to maximize its potential by increasing the format to 3476 x1080.


By integrating the newest technology in media wall image processors, projector edge blending units and high-resolution features, more dynamic visuals are created on the existing screen, which is 30 feet wide by 10 feet tall, Filano said.

Before the upgrade, the auditorium was only used for the video about the mountain, which was the three images stitched together in this movie, Filano said. “That’s all they showed in this very nice auditorium,” he said. However, the requirement was to put in a new system so the observatory could still show the same film, but also add in new films, he said. And the observatory has done just that. It now shows a new feature, “Mount St. Helens: Eruption of Life.”

However, in addition to the two films that the observatory now shows in the auditorium, the upgrade enables the staff to conduct presentations in that facility using the duo projector set up. “It gives them a lot more functionality that they can use this place for other events rather than just showing the movies during the day,” Filano said.

In addition, while visitors wait to see the main features, they can watch a new short film—“Mount St. Helens: A Living Laboratory”—which is shown on overhead monitors in the hallway outside the main theater, Sadler said. The short provides a look at some of the scientific discoveries made at the volcano.