Eye-popping 360-degree display highlights New Mercedes Benz Stadium
By Mark R. Smith from TV Technology
ATLANTA—After getting an eyeful of the massive main video boards that have been featured in new ballparks and stadia in recent years, sports fans had to wonder what the next step would be by the time Atlanta’s techno-cool Mercedes-Benz Stadium—which is billed as the most technologically advanced stadium in the world—opens this month.
The wonder was how much bigger a video display can get before it intrudes on the actual game that’s happening beneath it. But the crew and the contractors at AMB Group, the parent company of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, made that sentiment a moot point while going even bigger with a new idea.
For when the fans look toward the heavens when the Falcons need a dramatic score to win a game, they can send their prayers through Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s (here it comes…) “Halo Board.”
While video displays have been created in various shapes and sizes in recent years, this ensemble is a 360-degree, 62,000-square-foot circular testament to technological fortitude—under a roof that opens like a camera lens and is modeled after the Roman Pantheon. It will offer Falcon fans some interesting opportunities to share video and information, exercise the imagination and sell advertising.
“I haven’t seen anything of this magnitude,” said Tyler Jones, senior project manager with Daktronics, of the board that rests within the eight-section mega-circle of the roof that hangs under what’s known as the “Oculus.” He added that the company’s install outside of the Barclays Center gave it “something to draw on for the Atlanta project.”
That had to help the Brookings, S.D.- based company during the bidding process for the job, which commenced after the design of the stadium came back to the Falcons from HOK, a Kansas City, Mo.-based architectural firm.
“We were eventually awarded the job,” said Jones, “and there was a great deal of coordination with all of the people behind the team,” which included HOK Structural, then BuroHappold Engineering and IBM, the technical partner on the stadium that installed a passive optical network comprised of 3,770 miles of groundwork fiber cables.
Jones said Daktronics had “almost three dozen” workers on site; for the sake of comparison, that’s about two dozen more than the company needed five years ago to install the flat board in rightfield at Miami’s Marlins Park.
As far the construction of the Halo Board is concerned, its shape wasn’t quite the challenge one might think. “We can make the boards about any shape that is needed,” Jones said, “since 14.4 inches per square is our standard and we build around that. Within the Halo, the squares run 48 high and 896 wide,” totaling more than 43,000 squares.
Within the Halo, Daktronics also developed a 277V power option specific to the board, in lieu of the normal 120V power supply. “That allowed the Falcons to forgo using a number of smaller transformers,” said Jones, noting that it is embedded within the display.
The manufacturing process for the Halo Board began at Brookings headquarters in mid-October and ran until early February, and required the talents of more than 100 people to build; the install began in May, with that type of lead time necessary when Daktronics “had 616 pieces to mount in the stadium roof,” Jones said.
IN THE CORNER
“The information technology staff told me that the column has more square footage than the main boards in 17 other NFL stadiums,” Jones said, and it is fully visible to passersby outside the venue.
There is no end zone board on the east or west sides of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which does include Daktronics ProRail ribbon boards on its north and south sides. They act as the railing for the upper deck and are topped with glass and handrails.
Mike Meglathery, senior project manager for broadcast systems integrator Diversified, described setting up the Halo Board as “technically challenging” for various reasons, not the least of which was obviously its size, which he termed “the equivalent of 12.5 video screens in a circle at 60 feet high, but it’s also a quarter-mile around.
“The biggest challenge was driving an image that can go all the way around it with pixel accuracy and synchronously,” he said. “We had to get all of the boards in sync.”
The Halo Board also required a “first of its kind graphics system” from Ross Video, the Tessera platform, which was developed for the Falcons and designed to offer enhanced IP video routing and connectivity.
Gus Drosos, technical principal at HOK, Kansas City, also noted the unusual approach that all involved had to take at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “We had a tall structure” to address, meaning the 14.5-acre roof “was 198 feet above the ground. It became apparent that if we used that real estate to integrate a smooth ellipse, we could create a ‘theatre-in-the-round’ to give the fans a full immersive experience.”
Drosos said that, initially, what became the Halo Board “was segmented, but as we worked with the Falcons, it became apparent that making it round would work.” Thus was the establishmsent of a 70-foot tall board, “with a 10-foot gap on top until you hit the flat roof would work.
“We saw the Halo Board as an opportunity to take the scoreboard out of the line of sight,” he said, and the Falcons “were excited about the possibilities of the board, because the team’s video operators can drive a car or bounce a ball around it. No one has done this, so there is an evolution of ideas going on. The potential for what they can do with this board is unprecedented.”
Jones noted that “the most important thing I learned from this project was that the communication between the architects and designers, as well as the contractors and those who worked in manufacturing, was especially important. That’s what made this happen.
“It’s pushed us forward,” he added, “because there will be more interest in this type of video application. Stadiums are trying to push the envelope and we’re anticipating more interest in this type of design as we move forward.”
Meglathery agreed. “It’s stunning what it does and it will elevate the in-stadium fan experience. This the showpiece video board for America at this point.”