The new All Blacks Experience, conceived by Ngai Tahu Tourism and New Zealand Rugby, employed BrightSign players and Toulouse (an AV, lighting, and technology consultancy), to provide a full interactive and immersive sporting experience of the New Zealand Rugby teams.
According to the company, the overall concept was designed by Workshop E and offered an interactive journey where all visitors could celebrate New Zealand’s rugby heritage, achievements, and culture while also learning about the rugby teams that includes the All Blacks, the Black Ferns, and the Maori All Blacks.
Planning the Concept
The company revealed that the All Blacks Experience is made of one floor of approximately 1,800 square meters, adjacent to a number of high-end hotels in Auckland’s popular Sky City district. Inside, the center comprises 10 locations, or ‘zones,’ each with a different set of hardware supporting the storytelling about the experience of being an All Black, a Black Fern or a Maori All Black. Together, these zones immerse visitors in the history, culture and the people and allow them to hear directly from past and present legends of the game.
The company said that visitors also get the opportunity to test and match their rugby abilities like kicking, catching, line out, and accuracy skills against New Zealand’s best players in the hands-on, interactive zone. They also receive insights and direction from coaches and players to understand what it’s like to perform under pressure on a high-performance team.
Finally, they are offered the chance to be a part of the iconic haka through a four-meter-high screen experience, thus making them both, a spectator and participant, to the celebrated event.
Finalizing the Goals
According to the company, the All Blacks Experience was conceived as a physically dark and minimalist environment, so the hardware needed to be housed discreetly but easily accessible for servicing. The company added that sleek interactives were key to the overall aesthetic and the visible installation components needed to be in line with this vision.
Additionally, one element which made this project exceptionally demanding was the anticipated intensive level of use where visitors would be guided around the Experience by a well-trained, enthusiastic, and highly knowledgeable host. BrightSign stated that the tours would depart every 15 minutes, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, so the hardware needed to be robust and reliable for extensive use. Moreover, the players needed to deliver a wide range of content across the master control systems, synchronization between edge-blended and multi-channel audio playback, and video to deliver content to small intimate screens, large interactive touch screens along with huge projection screens.
Discovering the Solution: BrightSign
According to the company, the variety of requirements provided an inherent challenge for Marc Simpson, managing director of Toulouse, and the rest of the team.
The unique needs of each zone required individualized solutions that had to be carefully worked through and there was no one-size-fits-all for this project. For example, the Shaping Zone offered interactive games that demonstrated the psychology and emotional development stages of All Blacks training, presented on 26 individual touch screens that allow each tour participant to pitch their skills against the opposing team.
At the other end of the scale, the Haka Zone presented a stadium pre-match playing on a four-meter-tall and 17-meter-long blended projection screen, with sound belting out through 14,400 watts of amplification during the haka.
On the other hand, the Step-Up Zone presented a completely different challenge for both, the visitor and the AV designers. Here, a series of playing cages with four-meter-tall portrait projection screens were the game surface of choice as visitors compared their skills against the All Blacks themselves when they kicked, passed and threw a rugby ball.
For Simpson, there was only ever one player option in the frame: BrightSign. Simpson clarified, “We selected BrightSign players for this new installation as we have a long history with the product. It is robust, flexible, responsive and easily adaptable to our needs. Given that we were installing during the pandemic, making supply lines challenging, we needed a product that could guarantee availability and ease-of-use and reliability for the client. Toulouse uses BrightSign players extensively in installs because of their robust and solid proven track record. Delivery was within the installation timeline, and the players worked across the range of platforms – from intimate to large-format projection.”
Executing the BrightSign Technology
According to Simpson, the All Blacks Experience is powered by 36 BrightSign HD224 players and 30 HD1024 players supplied by Midwich. The players run screens varying in size from 32-inch Signage Screens to a 13-meter-wide edge-blended, curved, 3x projector screen.
Simpson added, “We find these players extremely user-friendly to install and program. They accommodate the client-provided media seamlessly. In addition to the delivery of content to the screens, they can perform many of the functions of a control system, eliminating the need for a separate set of hardware and reducing complexity.”
Additionally, the doors and lighting throughout the Experience are controlled by the guides using handheld remotes interfaced to the BrightSign players. The players also coordinate the tours, forming the front end of a sequential queuing system warning guides if they are in danger of catching up with or conflicting with the experience of another tour. They also collect data from the RFID scanners that visitors use to swipe into games. The BrightSign players transmit data from the visitor’s wristband to the ticketing server that stores the details and returns a personalized greeting or other appropriate message to the screen.
“BrightSign offers us versatile platforms that provide robust and pivotable solutions, allowing us to create unique pathways for each zone without compromise,” remarked Simpson.
Security was central to the thinking of Toulouse where Simpson explained, “The All Blacks Experience needs to be exactly the same for the millionth visitor as it was for the first visitor. Content is delivered over a ring-fenced Gigabit network within the All Blacks Experience. This is to avoid any unintentional changes or updates without care and consideration. As control over new content is critical to maintaining quality, we decided to not utilize an automated content management system. This gives us complete confidence that the Experience will power up every morning without fail, no screens of death, no updates, no issues.”
Achieving the Results
Though the concept for the All Blacks Experience in its current form originated around 2018, much of the development work for the project took place in lockdown. Simpson acknowledged the efforts of the Toulouse team in delivering a technically complex and demanding project within the allotted time and budget.
Simpson concluded, “Toulouse integrated the players into the design to meet the technical needs of the Experience. We then installed the players onsite. We find these players extremely user-friendly to install and program. They integrated with the client-provided media seamlessly.”
Phil McGowan, general manager of the All Blacks Experience, also remarked on the success of the project. “Even though we opened during a global pandemic, the reaction we saw from visitors was everything we hoped for and more,” said McGowan.
He added, “Rugby fans emerge very emotional. The All Blacks Experience has performed flawlessly since opening. Blank screens or screens displaying incomplete content would destroy the magic and the atmosphere we have worked so hard to create. The technical installation conceived and executed by the Toulouse team based on BrightSign players has delivered fully.”