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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 15, 2012 at 3:00 AM

Mariners adding huge display at Safeco Field, largest in MLB

Unable to wait for the Thanksgiving sales, the Mariners went ahead and bought a huge new TV for Safeco Field.

Huge is actually an understatement.

Last week the team began work on what will be the biggest video display in Major

League Baseball and one of the largest in professional sports. It’s the centerpiece of the biggest upgrade to the ballpark since it opened in 1999 and a technical marvel that could become a tourist attraction on its own.

At 201.5 feet by 56.7 feet, the display is nearly a block long and wider than the record-holding jumbo display at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. It’s ten times the size of the ballpark’s current video screen and has a viewing area of roughly 2,182 42-inch TVs.

And yes, it will still display hydro races – but the boats will now be rendered in full 1080p high-resolution.

Here’s a simulated image provided by the Mariners:

Scoreboard Rendering 2.jpg

Work has already begun to dismantle the ballpark’s original scoreboard. The new display should be operational in March, in time for the April 8 home opener versus the Houston Astros.

It’s replacing a cluster of displays and signs, including a 26 by 46 foot standard-definition video display, billboards and a matrix board displaying stats.

Instead of simply upgrading the old panels, the Mariners opted to install a single large display. The Panasonic HD LED system can be reconfigured digitally to have the look of a traditional scoreboard, with riveted panels that reflect the ballpark’s architectural style (shown in another rendering, below).

Scoreboard Rendering 1 (2).jpg

Or it can switch in a blink to a vivid, fullscreen display for replays.

Kevin Martinez, vice president of marketing, provided an example of how the display may be used.

“So Felix Hernandez just strikes out a batter in the top of the eighth inning,” he said. “We’re going to go live to Felix, who tends to be an animated, excited guy. We’ll cut to shots of the crowd and then a replay of that moment.”

The display is the biggest portion of $15 million that the team is spending on maintenance and improvements to the field for the 2013 season. That includes the relocation of the outfield fence and other amenities that will be announced later, but it’s mostly the big display.

Under the team’s agreement with taxpayers who funded the ballpark, the Mariners are responsible for keeping Safeco Field a “first class facility” and the old displays weren’t up to snuff. The matrix board was on its last legs and failed during a few games in the 2011 season.

Like any sports fan remodeling their home, the Mariners saw that they had a huge expanse of space and opted to install the biggest possible TV.

“We have this big structure that has a smaller video screen, a scoreboard and signage,” explained Dave Curry, the team’s vice president of technology. “The idea first was to go all LED so we had a flexible palate, if you will, to be able to change and move things around and just be much more dynamic.”

Then they decided to really go for it.

“As we were looking at the size of the structure we started thinking, ‘if we could get this thing to be native 1080p that would be the ultimate resolution,'” Curry said.

The display will have 1080p by 3840p resolution and 4,147,200 pixels. It’s actually made up of mutiple panels, about nine inches square, that are assembled like tiles. It will have a total viewing area of 11,425 square feet. The Cowboys’ 160 by 72 foot display covers 11,520 square feet.

Plastic panels will protect the display from impact, though hittters have yet to reach the scoreboard at Safeco Field.

Dropping perhaps $10 million on a TV isn’t an attempt to one-up the neighbors, Martinez insisted, although the Seahawks and Sounders did upgrade the displays at CenturyLink Field in March. The football stadium received Mitsubishi LED displays – a 44 by 50 footer in the north end, and an 84 by 24 footer in the south end.

Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale noted that the upgrades are covered by a different budget than team operations, so they won’t affect plans to boost the team payroll and make it more competive.

The challenge will be keeping players’ eyes on the field.

Here’s a picture from the Mariners, of the old scoreboard being dismantled:

BigScreenBreakdown02.png

Here are more technical details of the display, provided by the Mariners:

Dimensions: 56.7 feet high by 201.5 feet wide

Total viewing area: 11,425 square feet

Resolution: 1080 pixels high by 3840 pixels wide

Display technology: Panasonic 16 millimeter LED surface mount. Light emitting diodes are mounted directly onto printed circuit boards.

Operating system: Vendor ANC Sports’ VisionSoft. The 64-bit OS also powers Safeco Field’s out-of-town scoreboard and LED fascia displays. The system allows for 32 gigabytes of memory per thread per video board, enabling 100 percent real-time speed through all of the venue’s displays.

The previous scoreboard included a 26 by 46 foot ProStar video display and 34 by 76 foot incandescent matrix board, plus fixed billboards. It had total dimensions of 56 by 200 feet.

Comments | Topics: Billionaire techies, Digital TV, Gadgets & products

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