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Museums Capture Minds With Innovative AV Systems

Providing experience, not just facts

Freelance cameraman Jorin Hood shoots video last fall at the Colonial Williamsburg living history museum, for the grand opening of the facility’s Armory complex.

Museums have been captivating visitors since the beginning of their existence. Over the years, technology has been innovatively employed to enhance the museum experience, particularly with the use of audiovisual production.

Museums across the globe have implemented this technology in their exhibits and galleries as a new way to entertain, inspire, and provide an interactive learning experience for their visitors. We take a look at some of the most exciting museum audiovisuals currently being used.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., has exhibits on the history of the Marine Corps since its founding. Many of these exhibits have powerful audiovisual components, and not always the ones that you might expect.

One of the most fascinating exhibits at the museum is the entrance to a scene that depicts a battle position on a hilltop in Vietnam. To enter the scene, you walk through the vibrating fuselage of a helicopter, just as if it was delivering you to the hilltop. To add to the realism, the inside of the helicopter sounds like the real thing and there’s even a whiff of hot oil from the chopper’s machinery.

Alcorn McBride V16 show controller

In the same gallery, a “Poor Man’s Video Wall” uses a six-channel feed for sixteen vintage 1960s-era televisions. These televisions were restored with the operative components of Panasonic and Sylvania brand televisions, and are fed by six Pioneer DVD-7400 DVD players into an Extron MAV1616 video switcher, then into a Panasonic WJMS424 quad splitter. The system is operated by an Alcorn McBride V16 show controller, which is preserved in frame-accurate harmony with an Alcorn McBride SMPTE timecode generator. The interactive display features eight-channel audio, dispatched through Tannoy I-5 speakers, a Rane ME-60 equalizer and QSC186 amplifiers.

At the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, an exhibit called Price of Freedom shows what life was like on the home front during World War II. One presentation is “Rosie the Riveter,” a gallery that escorts visitors through a reproduction of the World War II rivet gun. Visitors are guided through the steps to accurately rivet war planes using systems that include AMX control equipment with custom software, LED lights and sensors, and message displays.

Panasonic WJMS424 quad display processor

The most complex and expensive audiovisual production in the Price of Freedom exhibition is a puppet show portraying and analogizing the events that escalated to the Boston Tea Party. Three versions of each puppet character are appointed to a circular stage and a Clipstrip lighting system projects lighting onto the stage and creates a “virtual curtain” in lieu of an actual curtain.

The puppets use multiple servomotors, similar to what is used in remote-controlled cars and planes. Throughout the puppet show a timeline is displayed using an audio and captioning program operated by a single Pioneer DVD-v7400 DVD player.


The National Museum of Natural History, which is also part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, uses audiovisual technology to heighten the museum’s exhibit of human skeletons. McCann Systems and Audio Visual Technology assisted with integrating audio and visual elements in the “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake” exhibition, which explores the history of the early settlers in the Chesapeake region.

Through forensic investigation, “Written in Bone” offers an investigation of human skeletons that gives insight into the people and events that shaped American history.

This exhibition is brought to life with the integration of audio and visual components into nine informative media-rich areas. There are seven LCD displays and ceiling-mounted Dakota speakers strategically placed throughout the exhibit to effectively heighten the overall exhibit experience.

One of the most popular exhibits at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, Calif., is the “Crossroads” table. The museum popularizes, preserves and celebrates popular music in all its forms using a complicated-but-intuitive high­-tech multimedia table.

The table is large and touch-operated, with room for 20 people. Visitors are played a compilation of different musicians playing at the same time and in harmony. As a selection from more 150 different musical styles is explored, the displays offer relevant songs, images and text information. Each display can present multiple images thanks to RGB Spectrum’s DualView multiviewers.

MORE INFO Alcorn McBride:

Christie Digital:

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RGB Spectrum:


This exhibit, along with the other audiovisual exhibits in the Grammy Museum, was created and installed by Design and Production Inc., a company that specializes in audiovisual systems for museums. The company searched for a multi­-image display technology that offered smooth performance and high-quality images, with the capability to manipulate content quickly and easily. They came up with RGB’s DualView system, which are appreciated for their display versatility. Viewers can customize their viewing experience by manipulating the size, position and orientation of images.

In the exhibit, eight computers send graphics into four DualView multiviewers, which consolidate the graphics, feed them into four Digital Projection iVision 20 SX+XB overhead projectors and project the images onto the touchscreens. Six inputs can be attached to a DualView multiviewer, of which two can be played concurrently.

The multiviewers also possess internal scalers that translate the input signals to match the projector’s resolution, creating the best possible image quality. The Grammy Museum labels the “Crossroads” exhibit as unique among museums, so it comes as no surprise that it has received high acclaim and that visitors still flock to it.


The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation includes exhibits with an audiovisual aspect at its three museums, which claims to have the largest living history museum in the U.S.

Bill Wagner, director of production at the Williamsburg Foundation, is responsible for audiovisual equipment in certain areas of the museum. This includes television facilities that are used to deliver programming about American history for several grades of school students.

“HD broadcast studio with four cameras, which sends out programming over 50 PBS stations and 60 other educational/cable stations,” Wagner said. “This programming happens one day per month, twice a day and goes into 46 states.”

Another area of responsibility for Wagner is the SD production truck, with a HD/SD satellite uplink. “We do multi-camera remotes in the Historic Area as live feeds for webcasts,” he said.

In the Lane Auditorium, rear projections are used for meetings. In the Visitors’ Center Theatres, a single 70mm film has been playing without interruption since 1957: “Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot.” Also in the two theatres is 20-year-old video projection technology.

Each of the museums consists of multiple theaters and auditoriums, each responsible for their own installations and maintenance. In the Williamsburg Foundation’s Art Museums, the Hennage Auditorium has remote-controlled cameras used for lectures, forums, meetings and conferences. The auditorium has a NewTek Tricaster switcher to switch video and control projection on a large screen.

The museum has gone HD for its broadcast studio: four Panasonic AK-AC3800 studio cameras. In the last four years, the Foundation has had all of its field work done by a pair of Panasonic AJ-HPX3700 P2 HD VariCam camcorders. Within the next year, the VariCams and AK-AC3800 will be used for pre-production and live broadcasts, called Electronic Field Trips.

EFT hosts live event broadcasts via the Internet and television. The EFT program allows millions of children all over the world to view and experience interactive history lectures from the museum.


At the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, a Planar Clarity Matrix LCD Video Wall System and Planar Mosaic video wall is being used as a way to engage visitors by distributing art and data. The six-by-one arrays of Clarity Matrix displays along a touch table that enables visitors to select from a massive digital library of print and visual material.

The U.S. National Archives in Washington uses a Planar Clarity Matrix LCD Video Wall System as a touch table to engage visitors.

San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts recently received a donation of high-performance projection systems from Christie. The Christie Solaria series DCI-compliance based system makes use of a Solaria One projector along with the Christie SKA-3D cinema processor and Xenolite long-life lamps. The Solaria One projector has a built-in Christie IMB server, touch panel controller and software to manage the playlist.

According to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are 35,000 museums in the U.S. A large number of these museums use audiovisual technology in some way to bring life and interactive learning to their exhibits, using both audio and video.

Museums keep history alive with perspectives as broad as the Smithsonian and as focused as the National Cowboy Hall of Fame (in Oklahoma City). When it comes to the work of museums, audiovisual systems play a huge part in making the subject matter accessible to the public.