Case Study: The Wonderwall system utilising a Datapath Twinfinity Quad output graphics card

Wonderwall: a breathtaking demonstration of what can by achieved by marrying off-the-shelf computer systems, innovative software...

Wonderwall: a breathtaking demonstration of what can by achieved by marrying off-the-shelf computer systems, innovative software and imaging technology

Evolution is a venue on the edge of Leeds, which, by day stages corporate events and, in the evening, turns into one of the city's finest nightclubs. What makes Evolution so special is the computer controlled, multimedia-rich arena that houses a 360-degree screen with advanced audio facilities. The costly screen is one of only two currently in use in Europe.

Technical manager Andy Loughton explains why they felt the screen was necessary. "When this centre was being designed, we needed to offer something different from the traditional lasers and smoke machines favoured by other night clubs in the area. Local businesses also expressed an interest in a venue that suited their presentation and training needs."

The centre has two large, open plan arenas that can hold a 1000 people with four bars and a restaurant. The main arena has a 360-degree computer controlled screen and spatial sound system. At the heart of the Wonderwall system lies a custom built PC by CTS systems. The system controls the output to 15 digital projectors through a Datapath Twinfinity Quad output graphics card, running under Windows 95 operating system. The Twinfinty is a high-powered graphics card, which outputs four separate video streams with the option to overlay live video. Designed by Rugby based CAD specialist Datapath, the card has traditionally been used in high end graphics applications such as Computer Aided Design, military flight simulators and multi-screen financial systems.

The video signals can be mixed between a number of sources including digital video files stored on the computer, still images, animation and feeds coming from satellite or television signals. Loughton explains: "The system we have here is very versatile, multiple input sources can be mixed together all in real time. To get this level of functionality we used a 16 input patch desk and our own custom built switching and control equipment."

The software and hardware allows a multitude of graphic effects to be run in real time, such as stretching images and video overlay on chroma keying. To demonstrate some of the powerful features of the system, Loughton superimposed a cartoon character over a member of the crowd and then displayed it, simultaneously, on all the monitors across the club. Although primarily for entertainment, the system can also be used by businesses for hospitality, publicity events and training.

A recent corporate event run by EMAP Radio at Evolution put to good use the centre's facilities. Julie Sorrol, EMAP Radio Manchester marketing manager explains: "We needed a location that allowed us to run our event without excluding any of the participants. With the wrap around screen and separate rooms linked by video cameras, people can relax away from the main crowd yet still see and hear what's going on in the main room. It's also a cool venue, helping us make our event fun and memorable for our guests." The event went very well, with over 100 guests taking part in a music-based multimedia quiz and presentation.

At the moment the system allows only a quarter of the total screen area to be independently controlled. The CTS computer system has the capability to run multiple Twinfinty's cards, providing individual control over each of the 15 digital projectors. The system has been a big hit with both Evolution clubbers and serious business users alike. Richard Murphy, Evolution's general manager, says: "Our parent company, Allied Domecq, spent a lot of money in setting up this venue, and in such a competitive area we have done remarkably well. If our success continues, you may see our unique Wonderwall in a club near you in the not to distant future."

Will Garside

Read more on Data centre hardware