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PRG’s Mbox Extreme Populates Jay-Z Urban Landscape

Screens Director Drew Findley and Video Director Dirk Sanders worked with PRG Mbox Extreme media servers to merge video content and live camera work for Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 tour.

Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 tour brings together the artist’s urban edge, innovative video technology and live camera content creation that keeps on top of their game. The city skyline video wall set, designed by UVA’s Matt Clark, offers multiple video surfaces to create compelling imagery throughout the show but the real technical magic is in the complex video system feeding the video walls. Sanders and Findley take full advantage of the capabilities afforded them by combining the Control Freak Encore DMX Bridge system with the PRG Mbox Extreme® v3 media server.

Production Resource Group (PRG)

provided a five-server system for the tour, which has played arenas and stadiums around the world.

Sanders, who manages all the live camera feeds from backstage, explained the flow of the video system. “I am responsible for the cameras and the line cut which in turn becomes a source that Drew uses for content. Drew then controls the output of the Control Freak system and the Mboxes,� he said. “The Mboxes, the cameras and the director’s line cut, are inputs into the Encore System. Encore’s output is what goes to the screens. At front of house Drew blends the content with the cameras to create the looks and effects.�

Findley believes that the video system provides the maximum creative flexibility. “Every song is approached differently. From front-of-house, I can select what outputs are routed where. Our Encore system has 12 layers; I can take one layer and make it an Mbox and make another layer a camera. I can have multiple media servers on one surface. The power of multiple Mbox media servers is a big advantage, especially when it comes to doing effects with live cameras. There are quite a few camera effects where I need the same camera on three to five layers, all with a little bit of a different effect layered on top. If I used a single Mbox I’d be using all the processing available to get a 1920 by 1080 camera output. So it becomes really useful for me to take an additional media server, put that on a layer in Encore as a background, and create a ‘content background.’ I can take another Mbox and have that one do an effected camera-look, the inside the first effect. I use keying effects inside the Encore to composite and I can even take another Mbox and feed that back to Dirk so that he can use that content in some of his side screen cuts where he wants to mix in with some of the camera looks.�

“Drew and I are in constant communication during the show,� noted Sanders. “He uses my cut through the Encore and Mboxes in a number of creative ways that are heavily effected and knowing where he is going next allows me to get the shots set up that would work best for each effect.� Sanders added, “It gets a little wild. Mbox has fantastic live capture capabilities so we can get cameras to the screen through Mbox and do effects on them. The Mboxes have been really reliable and road-worthy. It has allowed the design to progress as the show has progressed.�
“Crossfading on the same layer allows me to write looks and cues without having to know exactly what look I am coming from or what look I am going to,� said Findley. “Being able to set a crossfade time while I select the video files gives us a live element to the show, just like the lighting.� Mbox has native HD-SDI, SD-SDI and DVI outputs built-in, avoiding the altered color and added frame delay caused by the convertor needed by most other servers to format the video for use in most systems. In addition, it has true genlock. With other media servers you must use a convertor to genlock the output for synchronization. Mbox actually uses the genlock signal to alter the output from the computer insuring that multiple Mboxes will all draw the same frame at the same time. In addition, Mbox has native SMPTE Timecode inputs, so locking video files to SMPTE is as simple as plugging in the audio line, renaming a file and setting the play mode.

Findley’s favorite feature of the Mbox on the Blueprint tour has been Virtual Screen crops. “Virtual Screen cropping was incredibly useful,� Findley stated. “This feature is somewhat hard to explain but extremely cool if you have a number of video surfaces that will use one Mbox for playback. I was able to create screen crops for every tower, face of a tower and for groups of towers so I can instantly target content and cameras wherever I need them. I can define my ‘screens’ and then on a per-layer basis decide if a piece of content will playback on the whole output or just in one screen. Later I can redefine the screen layout and all my programming will update, meaning I can move my screens around in the pixelmap and don’t have to reprogram.�

Findley has been pleased with PRG’s support throughout the tour. “PRG has upgraded the Mbox computers and the graphics cards so I am able to do quite a bit more now with the same software. The Mbox is the most complete media server solution out there and PRG’s support has been over the top throughout the tour.�

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About Production Resource Group

— Production Resource Group, L.L.C., (PRG) is the world’s leading supplier of entertainment and event technology to a wide range of markets, including corporate and automotive events, concerts, special events, theatre, television and film, trade shows, and installations, such as theme parks, museums, retail stores and performing arts centers. PRG provides integrated services and equipment, including audio, video, lighting, rigging, staging, and scenery and automation systems, for these markets from more than 31 offices in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.