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Displays Technology

Turning SF's Bay Bridge Into a Giant LED Display 99

waderoush writes "It may be the biggest art hack ever: a project to install 25,000 individually addressable LED lights on the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. New York-based 'light sculptor' Leo Villareal was in San Francisco last week to test the vast 'Bay Lights' art installation, which will officially debut on March 5 and last for two years; Xconomy has photos and video of Villareal running the light show from his laptop. To optimize his algorithms and figure out which patterns would be most interesting or arresting, Villareal needed to experiment on the bridge itself, says Bay Lights director Ben Davis, who has raised $5.8 million for the project so far. 'This has never been done before in history — literally debugging software 500 feet in the air, in front of a million people,' says Davis."
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Turning SF's Bay Bridge Into a Giant LED Display

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:01PM (#42738175)

    ...there's a lot of hyperbole in that article. While 25,000 LEDs is larger than your standard Christmas light display, this is hardly an unheard-of scale install. A couple points:

    - These appear to be single-color LED 'pixels', so its safe to assume that each 'pixel' is one control channel. The standard entertainment control protocol allows 512 control channels per 'universe', meaning the entire install is just under 50 universes. That's going to be larger than your standard theatrical show (some shows being in the 10-20 universe range), but I've done plenty of shows that use far more universes than that (Thanks media servers. Love you and Hate you).
    - Legacy cabling systems (DMX) would make controlling 50 universes a bit challenging, however sACN systems (essentially DMX over IP) would make this fairly trivial.
    - I should hope they're not actually 'debugging' software for this. There are plenty of industry standard systems that could control this wihtout the need to write your own software. Indeed, there are even systems that would take in a video signal and output the necessary control commands to the LEDs, so you wouldn't even need to do the standard lighting programming.
    - You're not going to be able to output 50 sACN universes from a laptop, so the laptop is probably just a frontend to installed hardware somewhere else. Then again, as someone who does lighting for a living, I'd just like to say that laptops make crappy control surfaces (specialized control surfaces FTW).
    - I'm confused as to why you would need to do anything other than final integration testing once the fixtures are installed on the bridge. Turn everything on, do a linear chase to make sure everything is installed in the correct order and talking, maybe run a cue for giggles, and you're done. There are plenty of industry-standard pre-vis tools (i.e. Cast WYSIWYG) that would eliminate the need to design with the rig up-and-running. Most larger events takes weeks to design and program, and you would normally never have the luxury of having the actual rig to play with for that amount of time.
    - Doing lighting projects like this are hardly uncommon any more, and there have been plenty of projects that have used bridges. I'm not saying its not a cool thing to do, but its not as 'groundbreaking' as the article states.

    Either the article is all hyperbole to make the project sound more exciting, or the so-called 'light sculptor' has really no idea what he's doing.

I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best. -- Oscar Wilde