Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  December 2005

Video and Architectural Design

As video technologies change, their impact on building design changes, too.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

Pro AV has always affected building design and construction, although it may not have been considered as early in the process as it should have been. Each of the three fundamental components of pro AV systems: audio, video, and control has its own set of building design requirements. Control systems mostly affect cabling pathways and furniture design, and probably have the least impact of the three. Audio affects the acoustics of the space, which in turn influences space adjacencies, wall constructions, room finish selections, and HVAC design, among others.

Video is typically the major factor in architectural design because it affects both lighting design and space planning. And sometimes it can be expensive — especially when it isn’t considered early in the design phase of a project. It’s the part of pro AV that’s most likely to change the height of a ceiling and even a building, not to mention its relationship to room layout, size, and capacity.

It’s interesting to note that the impact of the visual component of AV has been around for long time. However, in pro AV it seems that this ancestral memory has somehow slipped many building professionals’ minds. Yet fortunately, many more of them now get the picture, so to speak.

The evolution of video

Ignoring movie, slide, and opaque projectors for the moment, let’s look at the evolution of video in architectural settings. In the first generation of pro AV video — the CRT monitor phase — the impact of video on the architectural environment wasn’t that significant. Not as many rooms required video, and the number of people who could simultaneously and adequately view video was limited by the maximum size of the display, which was about 40 inches diagonal.

During what could be called the second generation of video, the CRT video projector became prominent. Early challenges included low light output, which often limited image size, projection type (front or rear), and lighting design options. The primary impact of projectors was the larger size of the video image. While film, slide, and overhead projectors could display large images and had relatively high light output, seeing TV and computer images at a large scale was new, and CRT projectors’ low light output created special design problems.

In the third generation of video, CRT projectors were replaced with LCD and DLP projection, and light output began to climb. This meant that video images could be even larger, and high-resolution computer video could be displayed for large audiences without them having to be in the dark. While still not trivial, lighting designs for spaces with these projectors were less challenging than in the past because of the brighter projectors and more advanced projection screen materials.

Current trends

Now, we seem to be in the fourth generation of pro AV video — at least architecturally speaking. So, what makes it a new “generation?” Take a look at a few of the technology trends:

  • Projectors are so bright now that the image can actually be too bright in some cases. Brighter projectors can mean more leeway when it comes to lighting design, but we still need to be careful. Increased brightness has also led to some reduction in the need for rear-screen projection installations.
  • More widescreen projectors are available at a light output and cost that are appropriate for the mainstream pro AV market. This has several architectural and electronic implications. Using one large, widescreen projector with an appropriately sized screen and video processing may preclude the need for two standard aspect ratio projectors. If two widescreen images are required, the size and orientation of the room may also need to change, so they’ll fit. Standard aspect ratio images might not have been as much of an issue in the same room.
  • CRT monitors are being phased out for more space-efficient flat screen technologies such as plasma and LCD, and at larger sizes. This means flat, direct-view screens can be used in cases where projectors might have previously been required. As a result, lighting design is even less constrained for many rooms. And the problem of recessing or hanging CRT boxes has been reduced or eliminated.
  • More pixels are no longer required for adequate viewing of projected images in many applications. For example, a common desktop computer setup includes a 19-inch 1280x1024 LCD monitor viewed at about 2 feet away. Replicating this relationship in a room would require a projected image more than 7 feet high, if the viewer were seated 20 feet from the image. This puts the “computer monitor experience” in the middle of most adequately sized image viewing areas — at least in terms of resolution. More pixels on a desktop monitor or large screen may make the image look more like “paper” resolution, but it’s not required to read text at normal point sizes and viewing distances for an appropriately sized image.

The next generation

We may have reached a plateau in this architectural view of video evolution. In terms of projectors, higher resolutions and brightness won’t really affect the impact on architectural integration requirements. While advances in projector design such as increased brightness and resolution or added bells and whistles may be exciting for AV technoids, they probably won’t change how we deal with video projection architecturally. However, there are two related trends that may define what the next generation is, architecturally speaking: flat-screen display sizes and digital signage.

First of all, there are emerging flat screen technologies that will allow for even larger direct-view surfaces (100 inches diagonal and larger). This would mean fewer projectors, aesthetically cleaner ceilings, and more flexible lighting designs due to brighter, high-contrast, direct-view technologies.

Secondly, digital signage will become more prevalent. It’s an important market segment that has been infiltrating pro AV, and will continue to have an increasingly significant impact on system and building design. Its primary effect on architectural design will be an increase in basic infrastructure (power, data, and signal cabling), as well as on structural and lighting designs.

What’s not changing

Given all of these changes as a result of advancing technology, it’s nice to know that some things won’t change in terms of room design. For example, when integrating video images into rooms, there will always be a need for adequate image sizing and performing appropriate sightline studies to determine vertical and horizontal image placement and seating layouts. These design considerations are important no matter what display technology is being used.

Another constant is infrastructure design. Making sure there’s adequate power, data, and signal access to electronic displays will continue to be an integral part of pro AV design. Lighting is part of that infrastructure, and while direct-view displays allow for more flexible lighting designs, video display should never be ignored when lighting AV spaces.

Regardless of their evolutionary rate, audio, video, and control have an impact on building design, with video still leading the pack. For architects, engineers, and facility planners, knowing how AV — video or otherwise — can impact a building up front is the best way to avoid costly design problems down the road.



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