As we go down the road of environmental projection it’s relatively easy to add some projectors. It’s a lot harder to to get something to reliably feed the projectors the video content. We have gone through a few different setups at this point. I’ll run through what we’ve done so far and go over some details of each.
We started with ProPresenter running from a MacBook Pro. This gives you a lot of options for a reasonable price. At our campus we have a site license for the software so that was the best place to start.
ProPresenter worked fairly well. If you have an iPhone or iPad you can remote control ProPresenter to trigger the videos. It can struggle with some formats or higher res videos though even on a fairly powerful machine.
Then we needed to trigger some videos at precise times. Videos with lyrics for example need to be timed right or they’ll look pretty silly, ha ha. ProVideoPlayer lets us trigger video clips through MIDI. We used this feature to receive signals from Ableton Live. I’ll go more in-depth with this setup in another post.
Once set up the videos are just playing along with the click track and when everything works right. You have videos triggering automatically and it’s great. This extra level of control allowed us to take our videos to the next level. Timing things out with verses and choruses adds that extra level of production that really pays off.
Both ProPresenter and ProVideoPlayer are packed with a lot of features for the money and really are great tools. Both are limited by your hardware though. The framerate and resolution of your videos will be limited at some point. They’re good options but they’re not as good as dedicated media servers with custom software and hardware.
Green Hippo Hippotizer HD
This leads us to the Hippo. In order to play back true 1920 x 1080 HD content perfectly you really need a media server. There are a few options out there but the one that seems to be leading the pack is the Green Hippo Hippotizer HD. It’s used all over the place, big award shows, the Super Bowl, some of those singing competition shows, lots of stuff.
Once you step to a real media server you gain tons of features. Rock steady playback is just the beginning. Now you can manipulate your content in real time. Speed up, slow down, change color, apply filters that completely change the look, etc.
Rarely will you have a large wall that’s perfectly flat. Most stage walls have angles and curves that will distort your projection. With some abstract motion graphics that not really a big deal but once you start showing any kind of natual landscapes or text you want a goemetrically correct image. The Hippo provides all the warping tools you’ll ever need to correct for any shape surface you want to project on.
There’s also the image blending tools needed to blend any number of screens together in any arrangement. So you can create a seemless image with multiple projectors side by side, top and bottom, or a combination of both.
Media servers can also control lighting fixtures. The most common use for this is controlling static LED fixtures. So if you have LED fixtures throughout the stage and you want them to always match the looks of the videos you can do that pretty easily. Just map everything out in the software and it does the rest
Now with all these features comes some more complexity and there’s a little bit of a learning curve with a media server comepared to the simpler software only options. I got to demo the Hippo and without and real training I was able to load my media and get things playing back. The more advanced features will take some more work but loading and playing media is pretty simple even though it’s a powerful device.
It’s because of all these features that we will be going with a dedicated media server when we finally install our environmental projection system. We will need all of the screen warping and image blending features to create a seemless image across our curved rear wall using multiple projectors.
All of the media server features come at a cost, they’re typically fairly expensive gadgets. The Green Hippo’s range from about $7,000 up to almost $50,000. Coolux has their Pandora’s Box media server and they have a software package that start’s under $1,000, that’s another option to check out. You’ll have to weigh out what project you’re working on and what features you can and can’t live without and find what’s right for you. Between ProPresenter, ProVideoPlayer, Green Hippo, Coolux, and even QLab you have a lot of options.